The standard line on climate is that the science is both settled and simple. Which makes one wonder why so many billions of government dollars must continue to pour into research on the subject. But as we showed in our video “The Simple Physics Slogan” featuring William van Wijngaarden, the notion that it’s “high school” physics is just plain wrong. And we’re happy to see that new research by van Wijngaarden and the distinguished Princeton physicist Will Happer has found that when you take the complexity into account, it seems the danger has passed. What a relief, you might think, especially to the alarmists.
If true it is very good news indeed and very much contrary to the orthodox view. We’ve all seen those charts showing atmospheric CO2 over the last 800,000 years or so and the sudden spike since 1950. And we’ve all been told that CO2 drives temperature, even that it’s the “control knob” on the global thermostat. Some of us have observed that if so, the knob seems to be broken, only to be told “just you wait”. (Or that the last 20 years were hotter than hotness, that 2020 is the hottest year ever and so on. Or both.) But according to van Wijngaarden and Happer, there’s another very real possibility.
It may be that the greenhouse effect, which speaking of oversimplification does not resemble the action of a greenhouse, tapers off rapidly. Which in some sense we already knew. It is generally accepted, by alarmist as well as calmer types, that the amount of warming caused by CO2, the so-called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity or ECS, is a fixed number relative to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, which by itself means that indeed the more we add, the less effect any given quantity has. If going from, say, 300 ppm to 600 ppm raises temperature 1.5 degrees, you’d have to go from 600 to 1200 to add another 1.5 and from 1200 to 2400 for the next one.
So it is already widely agreed that the curve mapping warming on to GHG concentrations does not accelerate upwards as in the usual scary charts; it decelerates rapidly. (This shape of the curve doesn’t depend on whether ECS is high or low though the temperature does, and for what it’s worth estimates of ECS seem to be trending downward over time.) But if Happer and van Wijngaarden are right, the effect is even more dramatic. Indeed, they say, “at current concentrations, the forcings from all greenhouse gases are saturated.” The GHGs are already doing all the warming they can, and adding more will have almost literally no effect.
If so, it’s very good news, right? So all the people very concerned about the health of the planet will rush to check it out, fervently hoping it’s true, right? I mean, surely they don’t want there to be a crisis just so they can save us from it or keep getting grants. That would be incredibly short-sighted and self-centred.