News reports and editorials about human-caused climate change are a daily feature of modern life, as politicians, environmental activists and industry leaders grapple over how to mitigate or avert the expected global catastrophe to ensue.
Gregory R. Wrightstone takes a different view.
“We see that many of the predicted climate calamities … are, in fact, not happening, and that conditions are improving in many cases,” he said.
Wrightstone is an AAPG Member and author of the book, “Inconvenient Facts: The science that Al Gore doesn’t want you to know.”
He spoke at a topical breakfast session last month at the annual Unconventional Resources Technology Conference entitled “How Rising Temperatures and Increasing CO2 Are Benefitting the Planet and the Human Condition.”
Wrightstone explained that his book and presentations focus on what is happening today and the recent past.
“We find that the predictions of pending climate doom are just that – predictions of what may occur 30 or 50 years in advance, based on climate models that over-predict warming due to increasing CO2 by 2.5 to 3 times too much. It is important to distinguish between speculation of what may occur and what is demonstrably happening today,” he said.
Rather than global catastrophe, though, increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere are having a positive overall effect on the planet and its inhabitants, he argued.
Wrightstone said the evidence shows Earth is growing greener, and temperature-related deaths are declining.
‘Hobgoblins of Alarm’
Then why are new reports of climate-related developments viewed with such alarm?
“Many scientists within the government and private institutions are heavily invested both psychologically and professionally in advancing the narrative of human-caused climate catastrophe. Good news about an improving planet dispels the idea of imminent doom related to our burning of fossil fuels and typically goes unreported – like the greening of the Sahara has – or unfunded,” Wrightstone said.
“H. L. Mencken warned us of the need for governments to create imaginary ‘hobgoblins of alarm’ in order to frighten the population into accepting onerous and harmful regulations such as the Paris Climate Accord. No nation would accept such economically crippling regulations unless they could convince their citizens of the immediate need to enact them and they have succeeded masterfully,” he contended.
Wrightstone said data shows that parts of the Earth are growing greener.
“Probably the greatest example of a prospering planet comes from the work of NASA showing a ‘greening’ of the Earth,” he said.
Wrightstone cited a study entitled, “Greening of the Earth and its drivers,” by an international team led by Zaichun Zhu, a researcher from Peking University, China, using satellite data from NASA’s moderate resolution imaging spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s advanced very high resolution Radiometer instruments. It was published in the journal Nature Climate Change in April 2016.
“According to Zhu, 25 to 50 percent of the Earth has increasing vegetation – greening, while only 4 percent shows a net loss – browning. Several factors are contributing to this remarkable planetwide improvement, including CO2 fertilization, soil moisture increase and, to a lesser degree, a retreat of tundra and tree lines owing to the gradual warming,” he said. “One huge story is revealed in the southern Sahara where 300,000 square kilometers of the Sahel region are turning from desert into a lush grassland. Google ‘NASA’ and ‘Greening’ to see for yourself. The NASA experts attribute it to climate change.”
“The increase in soil moisture is due to a combination of increased precipitation and the CO2 fertilization effect. The increased precipitation occurs because higher temperatures allow for increased water vapor in the atmosphere, which then leads to increased precipitation. Increasing CO2 fertilization effect leads to smaller sized stomata and lessened water requirements, leaving more moisture in the soil. This increased soil moisture is leading to decreases in forest fires, droughts and intense heat waves, to name a few examples,” Wrightstone continued.
Likewise, predictions of higher death rates resulting from increasing heat and extreme weather are not materializing.
“We once again see the opposite is occurring,” he said, referencing a study entitled, “Mortality risk attributable to high and low ambient temperature: a multicountry observational study,” by a team led by Antonio Gasparrini, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study was published in the July 25, 2015 issue of the medical journal, The Lancet.
“In the largest study of its kind, Gasparrini reviewed 74 million temperature-related deaths from 14 countries and found that 20 times as many people died from cold as from heat. It only naturally follows that any temperature increase would significantly decrease that number. In the United States there has been a 98-percent decline in extreme weather-related deaths since the early 20th century and the numbers continue to decline,” Wrightstone explained.
“The effects of warming and increased CO2 have been overwhelmingly positive to date, with increasing food production leading the way owing to CO2 fertilization, increased soil moisture and lengthening growing seasons,” he added.
In addition to boosting agriculture, increased soil moisture helps lead to “decreases in forest fires, droughts and intense heat waves, to name a few examples,” Wrightstone reiterated.
The Key to the Future
The important, but often missing aspect of the debate over climate change, he said, is the geological perspective.
“One of the first things we learn studying geology is the law of uniformitarianism, which is often described as ‘the present is the key to the past.’ In climate science this should be turned on its head to use the geologic past to predict the future, or ‘the past is the key to the future,’” Wrightstone explained. “For more than 600 million years the Earth has been a laboratory with rising or falling temperatures and CO2 levels that we can use to predict what may happen by looking at the deep geologic past.”
“Too often in the climate science debate, only the most recent events or shortened time frames are used, rather than utilizing the longer geologic viewpoint,” he added.
Human measurements provide only a “snapshot in time,” extending back only a few hundred years, he said.
“One mantra of those promoting human-driven warming is that current temperatures are ‘unusual and unprecedented.’ That is true if one looks only at human-measured temperature records that begin in the midst of the Little Ice Age. The longer, geologic perspective of the last 10,000 years, dating back to the beginning of our current inter-glacial period, show that there were nine other similar warming periods, of which five had higher rates of warming than the 20th century, and all had significantly higher temperatures,” he said.
Wrightstone said we shouldn’t be alarmed by reports that CO2 levels have topped 410 parts per million.
“An increase of 130 ppm since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution barely registers as a blip when viewed in the longer geologic perspective. The average concentration prior to our current geologic period was 2,600 ppm, more than six times the current level. Inspection of this longer time frame shows that CO2 levels have been in a dangerous 140-million-year decline. They fell to 182 ppm at the end of the last ice age, the lowest levels since the Precambrian and perilously close to the 150 ppm ‘line of death,’ below which plants can’t live. We don’t have too much CO2; we are CO2 impoverished,” he explained.
“High levels of CO2 are not dangerous. Earth has experienced many hundreds of millions of years with levels greater than 10 times what they are today and both plants and animals flourished. The U.S. Navy’s submarines often exceed 8,000 ppm (20 times current levels) and there is no danger to our sailors,” Wrightstone reiterated.
The Downside of Climate Change
He acknowledged that warming does have potential downside effects, however, such as flooding from increasing precipitation, and movement and changes to fish, animal and plant populations.
“The greatest negative from warming would, of course, be continued global sea-level rise,” he said. “Sea level has risen about 400 feet since the last ice age but has varied as Earth has gone through cooling and warming periods over the past 10,000 years or so.”
Historical records show a sea level higher than today from the Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 AD), which dropped as temperatures fell during the Little Ice Age, he said.
“Our current period of rising sea level began around 1800 when summer ice loss began to exceed winter ice accumulation leading to glacial retreat – long before man could have any impact on climate. Sea level rise has been fairly constant at around eight inches per century (20 centimeters) since the early 1800s,” he said.
The Courage to Do Nothing
Wrightstone also had a lot to say about where to find reliable data, and how to use it reliably.
“Much of the data in my book and in my presentations are drawn from official government sites such as NASA, NOAA and peer reviewed studies,” he said.
“We see that otherwise good data can be manipulated through cherry-picking of time frames, selective reporting of results and interpretations of the data to further an agenda. In many cases data that doesn’t support the idea of human-caused warming is conveniently ignored,” he added.
Wrightstone argued that humans would be better served if decision-makers took a hands-off approach to climate policy instead of pursuing economically damaging policies that will have little impact on climate, Wrightstone said.
“The summary for my book is titled ‘The Benefits of Principled Inaction.’ The first and most important conclusion is that the correct policy to address climate change is to have the courage to do nothing,” he said. “It is estimated that the cost of the full enactment of the Paris Accords would be to remove $1.5 trillion per year from the world’s economies, yet only decrease warming by less than half a degree Fahrenheit, while necessarily raising the cost of energy for all the world’s citizens. Policy should, in the end, be based on objective truth, not a politically-driven agenda.”