David Bellamy and Jack Barrett: Carbon is the world's best friend

By Guest Columnists

New Zealand's climate change carbon liability is huge, estimated to cost around $522 million over the first five years of the agreement to buy credits to cover the shortfall in emission reduction promised by signing up to the Kyoto treaty.

But is this expense really necessary? Two world experts on conservation and the environment think not.

David Bellamy and Jack Barrett explain that, in fact, carbon is the world's best friend.
- Chris de Freitas

History has it that an apple fell on Isaac Newton's head allowing him to realise why "what goes up must come down" and go on to formulate the basic laws of physics.

Revisiting those laws in the infrared glow of the global-warming debate forces the realisation that, when it comes to radiant heat, "what comes down must go up" for if it didn't, the Earth would overheat.

Some 50 years after the end of the Little Ice Age, in a time we now call the pre- industrial age, the world appeared to be well content with an atmosphere containing 285 ppmv of CO2 and the average amount of water vapour.

Since 1992 we have had a special UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning the world that we are heading for real trouble, if the concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the five so called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere doubles its pre-industrial value.

Here are ten, let us call them Newton's Apples, that sow real seeds of doubt about the science behind the IPCC's conclusions.

(1) Measurements prove that the pre-industrial damp blanket trapped 94.7 per cent of all the infrared radiation as it escaped into space leaving a mere 5.3 per cent to warm the great interstellar sink directly. All this thanks to the fact that the spectral escape window was partially blocked by what we now call the greenhouse gases that kept the Earth warm.

(2) If we took no notice of the IPCC's warnings and burned all the known reserves of natural gas, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would rise to 454 ppmv.

(3) Now throw caution to the wind and burn all the oil reserves we know about- and the CO2 concentration would go up to 489 ppmv. Still nowhere near the dreaded doubled value of those "halcyon" pre industrial days.

(4) So let's pull out all the stops and burn at least one-third of coal reserves in all its forms. With an awful lot of mining we would make the now much-feared figure of 570 ppmv.

A point, at which IPCC's super computer models warn that the sky might soon come falling down.

They rarely mention the fact that around 600 million tonnes of extra potential plant fertiliser and about 1 billion tonnes of extra irrigation water hanging about up there, continue to help balance the biosphere while increasing the atmospheric pressure by a mere 0.3 millibars.

The atmospheric blanket would now trap 95.6 per cent of the infrared radiation (a mere increase of 0.9 per cent over those pre-industrial days) and the potential absorption by the combination of water vapour and CO2 is almost complete-thanks to the logarithmic relationship between concentration and radiance/absorption.

(5) Simple arithmetic also proves that at this moment of time in the IPCC's countdown to catastrophe the annual increase of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere is a mere 3 per cent of the natural turnover of this very important gas in the atmosphere. Thus leaving little doubt that there is massive buffering capacity in the system.

(6) A smidgen of maths proves that all the much "feared" doubling of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere actually accomplishes is a slight narrowing of the infrared 'window' through which radiation escapes to space.

(7) Checking the spectra also shows there is a window in that infrared escape route that can never be closed because there are no natural gases with the right spectral bands. If there were the temperature might then go up by around 5 degrees Celsius.

(8) Measurements also show that the infrared absorption spectra of all the greenhouse gases overlap to a certain extent; in consequence, their cumulative effect can never be realised. A cumulative effect that is already nearing saturation when no further heat will be trapped, thanks to the fact that the relationship between the concentration of any of the greenhouse gases and radiance/absorption is logarithmic.

(9) Despite all this incontrovertible evidence that the increase of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a benign and almost spent force, the global warmers beg to differ.

Their conclusion, drawn from a plethora of complex computer models, leads them to warn that an increase in trapped radiation of only 0.9 per cent might trigger a catastrophic course of events. A chain reaction that could be responsible for a runaway enhancement of global warming that could pose a threat to much more than our way of life.

To give their argument teeth, they appear to put all their eggs into the basket of what they call radiative forcing, building into their models only positive feedbacks related to water vapour that trap more heat.

(10) Newton's Law of Cooling perhaps drops the largest apple on the head of the IPCC's arguments of a melt down scenario. In the simplest terms, it proves that if the non-radiative properties of water (evaporation, albedo, mass transfer etc.,) were not already at work at the earth/ atmosphere interface, the Earth's surface would be some 13°C warmer.

So again there is a lot of negative feedback in the system.

The global warmers can hypothesise as much as they like about the cause and effect of trapping the last few per cent of the available infrared radiance by the greenhouse gases, but without admitting that there is another source of heat at play in the system their scare mongering is no more than hot air.

Take heart all those super climate modellers: There is still a lot of work for your giant computers to get stuck into.

Take a few gigabytes out of Newton's Apples and get cracking solving the real problems that face over 6.4 billion human beings as they move into an uncertain energy-hungry future.

Please remember that the main reasons for soil erosion, salination, floods, droughts, famines, the collapse of coral reefs and the extinction of species are habitat destruction, overgrazing and overfishing -- not a 0.9 per cent rise in trapped radiance.

Carbon dioxide is not the dreaded greenhouse gas that the global warmers crack it up to be. It is in fact the most important airborne fertiliser in the world and without it there would be no green plants at all.

In fact, a doubling of the levels of this gas in the atmosphere would bring about a marked rise in plant production-good news for everyone, especially those malnourished millions who can't afford chemical fertilisers.

Perhaps the time is ripe to really start worrying (again) about the fact that for the last 200 million years the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been falling. Indeed it dropped to dangerously low levels during recent ice ages.

The Plant Kingdom responded to this potentially catastrophic (no carbon, no food) situation by producing the so-called C4 plants that can survive low CO2 by using sunlight more efficiently.

Please talk to your plants and as you do, rest assured that they in effect will thank you, by recycling your waste carbon dioxide to make more plant material and return oxygen to the earth's atmosphere.


* Dr David Bellamy has been the writer and presenter of some 400 television programmes on botany, ecology and environmental issues and has published numerous scientific papers and books. He is the founder of The Conservation Foundation and the Ford European Conservation Awards, and has received numerous conservation awards.

* Dr Jack Barrett has a PhD in physical chemistry form Imperial College, London.

* Dr Chris de Freitas is associate professor in the School of Geography & Environmental Science at the University of Auckland.

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