Unholy Fire

Civil Defense Perspectives May 2015 Volume 31 No. 4

The sharpest dividing line between hominids and all other organisms is the use of fire, wrote the late Isaac Asimov (A Choice of Catastrophes). There is evidence of fire having been used by Homo erectus in caves in China half a million years ago. A method of starting a fire from scratch was probably discovered by a member of Homo sapiens around 7000 B.C.

In Greek mythology, the Titan god Prometheus stole fire, which Zeus had withheld from men, and delivered it to mortals. In retaliation, Zeus ordered the creation of Pandora, the first woman, to bring misfortune to the house of man.

With fire, humanity had access to an inanimate energy source that was portable, controllable, and available in large quantity. It was indispensable, probably even in the Stone Age. It also gave human beings a weapon and defense that no other species could duplicate or guard against. By the time civilization began, the large predators had been defeated.

In 2000, Crutzen and Stoermer argued that we live in the “Anthropocene” era, a time in which humans have replaced nature as the dominant environmental force on earth (see DDP Newsletter, July 2012, http://tinyurl.com/pwvwy44). While they placed the start of the era in the 1700s, when the invention of the steam engine initiated the Industrial Revolution, “hunting and burning” by humans began much earlier. This is the most plausible explanation, write Ruddiman et al., for the “dramatic and unprecedented collapses” of species that had survived 50 previous glacial-interglacial cycles. About 65% of the genera of large mammals became extinct between 50,000 and 12,500 years ago.

In the Neolithic agricultural revolution, even more profound changes occurred: clearance of forests caused CO2 emissions, and rice paddies and livestock emitted methane (Science 4/3/15).

The very worst die-off, when 90% of species including the once-ubiquitous trilobites went extinct, occurred at the end of the Permian. Some attribute it to massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia, which released trillions of tons of CO2. “Living things endured multiple stresses as a result,” writes Eric Hand: global warming, ocean acidification, a drop in dissolved oxygen, and a buildup of toxic sulfur (Science 4/10/15).

In the same issue of Science, Clarkson et al. present a model of seawater pH using boron isotope data. This shows an increase in ocean pH of 0.4 to 0.5 units (alkalinization), followed by a “sharp drop” (acidification) of 0.6 to 0.7 units over about 10,000 years, which then returned to earlier, more alkaline values.

A figure labeled “Acid Bath” is captioned: “The rocks that record the deadly ocean acidification were once the floor of a shallow sea off the coast of the supercontinent Panagae.”

Humankind could not, of course, have caused this event 252 million years ago, but it is considered important in evaluating the threat of anthropogenic ocean acidification. The event involved the injection of 24,000 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere over 10,000 years at a rate of 2.4 GtC/y. The total far exceeds today’s economically viable fossil fuel reserves (3,000 GtC), and is at the upper end of estimates of unconventional hydrocarbons, e.g. methane clathrates. The current rate of increase, however, may be faster than then. Industrial emissions are about 8 GtC per year, and a net 4 GtC are added to the atmosphere each year.

Global warming’s “evil twin,” ocean acidification—or rather, the decrease in ocean pH, might also have been caused by another thing that volcanoes emit, sulfur dioxide. An alternative name for sulfur is brimstone, from Old English brynstän or “burn stone.” There may have been enough SO2 to cause intense acid rain, causing transient acidification of surface waters. Sulfuric acid is a much stronger acid than carbonic (TWTW 4/11&18/15).

There is not enough carbon in the entire atmosphere or in carbon fuels to acidify the ocean (DDP Newsletter, November 2009, http://tinyurl.com/px5qerx).

The Orbis Point

Is there an anthropogenic change in geological strata that meets the criteria for defining a new epoch? Simon L. Lewis of the University of Leeds and Mark A. Maslin of University College London consider 1610 and 1964 as possible starting dates for the Anthropocene Epoch. The Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP or “golden spike”) for 1964 would be peak 14C in sediments from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. This would mark an “elite-driven technological development that threatens planet-wide destruction.” However, they choose the Orbis (from the Latin for “world”) dip in CO2 with a minimum in 1610, which implies that “colonialism, global trade and coal brought about the Anthropocene.” After the discovery of America in 1492, there was transoceanic migration of species.

In a sidebar, the authors claim that the arrival of Europeans in the Americas caused mass death of 50 million between 1492 and 1650 from smallpox and warfare, and the depopulation of part of Africa by the slave trade. Reduced use of fire for land management and abandonment of agriculture permitted reforestation, allegedly causing a 7 to 10 ppm (about 3%) decrease in atmospheric CO2 and a 1.2 °C drop in global temperature   (Nature 3/12/15, doi: 10.1038/nature14258).

Scientific American then trumpeted: “Mass Deaths in America Start New CO2 Epoch” (David Biello, Sci Am 3/11/15). The “The growth of all those trees had sucked enough carbon dioxide out of the sky to…start a little ice age.”

“At least the…article admits the existence of the Little Ice Age,” writes Arthur Robinson, “which not so long ago was denied by virtually the entire human-caused global warming establishment.” This is “the only bright spot in this gruesome example of political and scientific error.”

Robinson explains that the “atmosphere-to-ocean equilibrium CO2 ratio is a temperature-dependent thermodynamic constant of nature.” The observed reductions in temperature and CO2 are, within experimental and observational error, precisely that expected from thermodynamic laboratory experiments. He notes that the current system is far from equilibrium; the half-time for removal of added CO2 from the atmosphere to ocean and biosphere is about 7 years (Access to Energy, March 2015).

An otherwise excellent German TV documentary Klima macht Geschichte (http://tinyurl.com/ntbvg2h) explains how (natural) climate change made history—but ends with an absurd claim by Maslin that “we could make sure that all future generations will have a stable climate” (http://tinyurl.com/p6h2g9m).


The graph for “Historical & Projected pH & Dissolved CO2” from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website (http://tinyurl.com/6nyxlw7) uses data presented in 2010 congressional testimony by Richard Feely. This is still widely used to support the climate-crisis narrative, as on the science education website Quest (http://tinyurl.com/ntqndc3). The graph of atmospheric CO2 concentration begins around 1955, and the graph of seawater pH in 1988. But instrumental measures of seawater pH began more than 100 years ago, stated hydrologist Mike Wallace.

Wallace was stonewalled on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the missing 80 years of data, but was eventually able to extract it from the NOAA World Ocean Database.

He told Marita Noon that the omission “eclipses even the so-called climategate event…. In whose professional world is it acceptable to omit the majority of the data and also to not disclose the omission to any other soul or Congressional body?” (http://tinyurl.com/ls52zj9).

Measurements of pH since 1910 show an increase in pH (Figure 2, The Energy Advocate, January 2015). Howard Hayden writes: “So, Michael Mann hides the decline (in real temperature with respect to his model), and Feely hides the increase (in pH with respect to his model). Climate science is now in balance.”

The Ocean Acidification Database compiled by CO2 Science (http://tinyurl.com/d6897y2) contains more than 1,100 experimental results from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, detailing the responses of various growth and developmental parameters of marine organisms immersed in seawater at or near today’s oceanic pH level, as well as lower than that of today.The total response in “life characteristics” (calcification, metabolism, growth, fertility, and survival) shows a slight benefit for pH declines of as much as 0.25 points, which is beyond the range of maximal decline considered likely by 2100. This is very far from the often-presented apocalyptic scenarios: in the worst case, “[coral] reefs crumble and half of sea life disappears” (USA Today  12/13/07, http://tinyurl.com/qjqoeb9).

IPCC Suppresses, Hides Information

The UN IPCC is “becoming irrelevant to climate policy,” writes David Victor, because it allegedly seeks consensus, avoids controversy, and focuses too much on climate science. He states that we need to “embed social science”; seek “bold legal norms” such as striving for “zero net emissions”; do research on political mobilization and administrative control; and develop “different concepts of justice and ethics” to guide “new international agreements that balance the burdens of adaptation and mitigation” [global central planning] (Nature 4/2/15).

A group of nations, he notes, vetoed the use of graphs showing that economic growth is the main driver of emissions, since they implied that developing nations needed to curb growth.

The Working Group III summary states that annual economic growth might decrease by just 0.06 percentage points by 2050 if governments adopted policies cutting emissions to reach the goal of 2.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. One would have to wade through dense tables to see that only a fraction of the models say the goal is achievable, and through the main report to see that the small cost would arise under simplified assumptions far removed from messy reality.

Planning Your Meals to Save the Planet

Certain food choices benefit your health and the planet, writes Elke Stehfest. Greenhouse gas emissions are highest for ruminant meat, and lowest for most cereals, fruits, vegetables, and pulses. But how do governments bring about behavioral change? Production-side as well as consumption-side measures are needed, he suggests. “Agriculture and land-use change should be subject to targets and regulations similar to those for the energy and industry sectors” (Nature 11/27/14).

“Implementation of dietary solutions to the tightly linked diet-environment-health trilemma is a global challenge,” write Tilman and Clark in the same issue (doi: 10.1038/nature13959).

“It might seem extreme for universities to force vegetarian fare on their students (though many institutions now have a meat-free day),” opined Nature in an editorial about 24,000 people flying to an American Geophysical Union meeting. But scientists have a key role in finding ways to reduce emissions as people become more affluent, “even if it means hopping on a flight to the next United Nations climate conference” (Nature 3/19/15).

Holocene Warming Not Just in Europe

The Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period were not restricted to Europe, as warming alarmists suggest. From studies of the ratio of strontium to calcium content and heavy oxygen isotopes in corals and Tridacna gigas (giant clams), Hong Yan, Willie Soon, and Yuhong Wang conclude that these warm periods also occurred in the East Asia-Western Pacific region (Earth-Science Reviews 12/13/14, doi: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2014.12.003). This study adds to real-world evidence  that today’s global temperatures are within the range of natural variability (http://tinyurl.com/qclyy8s).

Unburnable Fuels

Although previously there have been concerns about the scarcity of “fossil fuels,” “in a climate-constrained world this is no longer a relevant concern,” write Christophe McGlade and Paul Elkins of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London, in a Letter to Nature. A large proportion of the fuel should remain in the ground to have a better-than-even chance of avoiding a global temperature rise greater than 2°C. The “global carbon budget” between 2011 and 2015 is about 870–1,240 GtC. No need to spend money on exploration because “any new discoveries could not lead to new aggregate production,” especially without carbon capture and storage (CCS).

In a commentary on the Letter, Michael Jakob and Jerome Hilaire note that 80%, 50%, and 30% of coal, gas, and oil reserves would need to remain unburned. The Middle East would need to leave 40% of its conventional oil reserves untouched. China and India would have to discard 66% of their coal endowment, and Africa 85%. The U.S., Australia, and countries of the former Soviet Union would have to forgo use of 90% of their coal reserves. They imagine a UN mechanism for distributing emissions permits and climate rent. Will all cooperate?

“We in Africa, we should not be in the discussion of whether to use coal or not. In my country of Tanzania, we are going to use our natural resources,” said energy minister Sospeter Muhongo (Nature 1/8/15, doi: 10.1038/nature14016).

Civil Defense Perspectives 31(4): May 2015 [published July 15, 2015]

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