Thursday, December 6, 2012

Doha, dear (A repeat from December 2011)


In honour of the UN's annual climate alarmapalooza at Doha last week, I thought I'd reprise a little piece I wrote a year ago, after the 17th Climate Kerfuffle at Durban, South Africa - because since then, the only thing that's changed is that there is more empirical evidence than ever that the Sun controls terrestrial climate, and still no empirical evidence whatsoever that carbon dioxide - let alone the 5% of atmospheric CO2 attributable to human activities - plays any role whatsoever in twisting the planetary thermostat.


The UN's annual climate conference (17th Conference of Parties, or COP) at Durban wrapped up this past weekend.  I'll spare you all the gory details; basically, delegates kicked the can down the road, agreeing to hammer out a new binding framework agreement by 2015 with provisions for greenhouse gas reductions that would kick in around 2020.  Negotiators painted this as a victory for diplomacy, climate skeptics as a victory for skepticism, and environmental crusaders as a guarantee of apocalypse.

I'm not going to rant and rail about this; I'm simply going to offer 3000 words on it in the form of three pictures.  Charts, actually.  Together, these explain the outcome at Durban.

The first one explains the problem with climate science:

The AGW thesis asserts that temperature responses will scale linearly with forcings, the most important of which, according to the IPCC, is anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.  However, anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions account for less than 5% of atmospheric carbon dioxide - and as this chart shows, according to measured data, there is no correlation over the course of the past decade between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and average global temperature.  All of the arguments underlying the Kyoto Protocol, and all conceivable successor agreements, are based on linking anthropogenic CO2 to temperature - and yet temperature does not appear to respond to CO2 at all.  That's the first problem.

Here's the second problem:

The data are from British Petroleum.  That's a chart showing the CO2 emissions of the world's top 14 emitters - every country that currently puts out more than 400 million tonnes of CO2 per year.  Only three of them matter: the US (dark blue), whose emissions are declining; China (scarlet), whose emissions are skyrocketing; and India (beige), whose emissions are climbing slowly but accelerating.  Every other major emitter is lower than these three, and is showing stagnation or decline.  Accordingly, any emissions control or reduction agreement that requires reductions from the US or any other western state, but does not require significant (i.e. massively disproportionate) reductions from China and India, is utterly pointless - as is talk of any "carbon debt" owed to the "Third World".

Incidentally, activists at Durban made much of Canada's alleged "delinquency" on the carbon file.  Take a look at the data and explain to me why Canada (a delightful fuschia) is a bigger problem for the environment than, say, China.  Or India.  Or the US.  Or Japan.  Or Germany.  Or for that matter South Africa, whose emissions are at the same level as ours.  And don't be fooled by arguments about "per capita" emissions; that matters to us, but Gaia doesn't care how many people live in your country; she only cares how much CO2 you pump out.

Speaking of "carbon debts", here's the third and last chart:

This is data from Japan's Ibuki satellite, which measures carbon dioxide flux.  What is shows is the daily rate of change in CO2 flux over various parts of the planet, in the four different seasons.  As we all know, most of the world's human-produced CO2 is produced by northern hemisphere countries, because that's where most of the industry is (the only state in the above list that isn't in the northern hemisphere is South Africa).  And we see from this data that the CO2 flux changes massively from season to season.  In high summer, the northern hemisphere is a massive carbon sink.  In autumn, with the exception of the northereastern US states and parts of Siberia, the northern hemisphere is a net CO2 producer.  In the depths of winter, the northern hemisphere - except for the Middle East, the Subcontinent, and Central Asia - is a net CO2 producer; and in the spring, the northern hemisphere, except for Europe and Northeastern Canada, is a net CO2 producer.  Looks pretty simple, doesn't it?  After all, we burn more fuel to stay warm in the autumn, winter, and spring, don't we?

Well, it's not that simple. Take a look at China.  It's the only country that doesn't change colour.  Throughout the year, China is a net CO2 producer.  The oceanic bands are interesting, too; in the winter, when the northern hemisphere is producing a lot of CO2, the North Atlantic is absorbing CO2 like crazy.  This is because cold water can hold more dissolved gas than warm water.  It's also worth noting that the temperate southern hemisphere oceanic bands seem to be absorbing a lot of CO2.

Why does this matter?  Well, take another look at Canada.  We're supposed to be climate criminals - and yet it's the seasons, not human activity, that are the key determinant of our status as a net carbon emitter or consumer.  It's tempting to blame the change on the use of heating fuel, but that explanation just doesn't hold water; if you look at fuel consumption patterns for the US, fuel oil consumption peaks in the winter, when gasoline consumption troughs, and vice-versa - except that US consumers use twice as many barrels of gasoline as they do of fuel oil at any given time.  In other words, you would expect CO2 emissions to be higher in the summer time, when gasoline consumption is high, and fuel oil consumption is low; but summer is when CO2 flux over North America is at its lowest. 

The answer lies in the forests, and in photosynthesis.  When it's summer, the northern hemisphere - the boreal and temperate forest regions - becomes biologically more active and consumes more CO2 than it produces.  In the winter, photosynthetic activity declines, and CO2 emissions climb.  CO2 concentrations, in other words, seem to respond less to fuel consumption patterns than to seasonal variation leading to change in the metabolic rates of plants.

Bottom line is this: as these satellite observations illustrate, we understand an awful lot less about where CO2 comes from and where it goes than we purport to understand. Maybe the caliphs of carbon at Durban [and Doha! -ed.] ought to consider taxing states that don't grow enough trees per capita.

Yeah - can you imagine anyone from Qatar agreeing to that?