Opinion / Politics / Technology

Common Sense on Atmospheric Carbon – Stop the Hysteria


Speaking intelligently about changes in global atmospheric temperature over time – whether looking backwards or forwards – is a dangerous business.  Those on left and right are coiled to pounce.  Still, in the spirit of scholarship, education, and optimism, a few thoughts.

First, everything related to climate is now politicized, which means if you support President Trump’s insistence on enforceable treaties, hard science, and a balance of public and private sector solutions, including absorption, sequestration, and carbon capture, you are a troglodyte, dense, depraved, a denier.  Discussion ceases.

On the other hand, if you think that centralized governments are the answer, that histrionics work, that terrifying little children into speaking before the UN is appropriate,  and that suppressing the private sector is the price of reducing carbon levels, you are on the right team, worthy, politically acceptable.  You have religion.  We can talk. 

This divide must stop.  Clearly, there are timeless oscillations in global climate, and core samples prove this as far back as we can measure.  These have historically occurred without human carbon emissions, even if the past 150 years track increased human carbon emissions. 

Let’s go further.  Increased atmospheric carbon – sourced to both natural (e.g. solar, volcanic, and recurring cyclic causes) and human carbon production – elevate overall global temperatures.  While other factors periodically accelerate, offset, maximize and minimize this process, temperatures have recently been rising. 

Now comes the big question:  Are we better off using gaps in data to delegitimize each other’s broad prejudices – the inveterate optimists and apocalyptic pessimists – or are we better off working together to distill a thoughtful analysis of recently rising temperatures, in part tied to elevated carbon levels? 

Let’s assume the unlikely, that we can work together. What is the answer?  Here is one.  President Trump could roll out a comprehensive – but workable – invitation to the private sector, as well as countries interested in a genuine carbon reduction, which includes three factors.

The first is carbon absorption or sequestration, which involves reduced deforestation, increased intergenerational reforestation, and a clear understanding that one meaningful way to reduce carbon is trees. 

If this sounds too good to be true, it is not.  While it undercuts the need for centralizing governments, redistributing of western wealth and the political advantages of stirring mass hysteria, it is part of the solution – a real part.

A 2019 Zurich study noted that extensive reforestation, especially by China, Russia, the US and Brazil, could potentially absorb up to two-thirds of the carbon created by humans over the past 150 years. 

Likewise, another 2019 study – based on supercomputer modeling and published in the journal Biogeosciences – offered that southern forests are absorbing carbon at a rate that neutralizes carbon production by southern hemisphere countries.  More, the rate at which these southern forests are growing, is accelerating with increased carbon absorption. 

On the other hand, the study warned that clearing, burning and otherwise deforesting these southern forests would reduce their ability to serve this carbon absorbing role. While “forests around the world are absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” the need is high to elevate, not reduce overall forestation.  Trees, it turns out, are central to carbon absorption – and restoring balance to the atmosphere. 

As a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research pointed out, we are missing a fundamental truth:  “Global forests are helping to mitigate climate change or at least helping to mitigate the impacts of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.”  We need more of them and need to preserve what we have.

Second, carbon is produced, in part, by fossil fuel extraction.  Thus, a big part of reducing carbon emissions does not involve halting air, land and sea traffic, but promoting within the private sector the sequestration or “capture and storage” of carbon during extraction and processing.

This is one reason that, in September, a group of 13 top oil companies have launched investments in “carbon capture” technology.  They know that reducing this element of carbon production falls to the private sector, and they are promoting this solution. 

Could governments agree to incentivize, offer tax breaks, and otherwise encourage growth of carbon capture, thus voluntarily – and profitably – reducing the overall emissions that occur in the fossil fuel industry?  Yes, of course. 

In a nutshell, while production aims for carbon neutral, “carbon sequestration technology works by trapping carbon in caverns or porous spaces underground,” often in liquid form.  This prevents intrusion on the atmosphere.  The industry aspires to “double the amount of carbon dioxide that is currently stored globally by 2030.”

Last, there are untapped ways of incentivizing higher levels of efficiency, alternative energy sources, and wider production and use synergies.  These again do not require hysteria, socialist or centralizing government policies. 

The broad range of scientific studies publicly available, while often wildly divergent in their assumptions, levels of editorial content, and predictions, offer support for all three methods of managing the current oscillation upward of atmospheric temperature, incidentally against a long-term trend of downward historic global temperatures. 

While nothing earthly will alter solar activities, volcanic eruptions, and other sources of carbon in the atmosphere, these three offer a shot at changing inputs, and reducing the level of carbon in the existing atmosphere, which scientists tell us may assist in stabilizing temperatures – or may not.

In the end, a more constructive approach to discussing global atmospheric temperatures over time is to stop politicizing the topic.  Rather than endless, often overly emotional diatribes, and the default to blame, a simple step forward would be combining the opportunities found in a public-private partnership dedicated to reforestation to promote carbon absorption, private sector carbon sequestration or capture in production, alternative options for energy generation, and higher levels of efficiency in energy use. 

Notably, none of these require socialism, centralized government, forced redistribution of wealth, or mass hysteria.  Perhaps a draft Trump treaty encouraging what the private sector and thoughtful academics are doing already would find support.  Or maybe not – since some will always prefer stomping, shouting and stirring the pot.  Just a thought.  

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