So it turns out cutting CO2 emissions won’t help. Who says? Not some shabby “deniers” in the pay of Big Oil. No. According to the Biden Administration. On April 28 the President himself told a Joint Session of Congress “I kept my commitment to rejoin the Paris Accord — because if we do everything perfectly, it’s not going to ultimately matter.” And his “climate czar” John Kerry, until recently a massive investor in fossil fuels as well as consumer of them for some reason, said at Biden’s “climate summit” that “even if we get to Net Zero, we still have to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, so this is a bigger challenge than a lot of people have really grabbed onto yet.” Got that? Paris is nothing. Net Zero is rubbish. We need to suck the CO2 out of the air. And if they build a machine to do it, let’s hope they know how to turn it off.
Now Biden’s remarks, apparently a last-minute addition to the speech, are superficially incoherent. At first glance you’d expect him to rejoin the Paris Accord because it would matter not because it wouldn’t. But his words had a certain logic since his point was that American reductions alone were no help (to say nothing of Canadian ones) and the whole world had to stop burning fossil fuels and hope it turned out OK. Good luck getting China and India and the Philippines on board.
Kerry’s have a certain logic too. But they underline just how vast, even reckless, the alarmists’ plans now are and how in this field the appetite seems to grow with the lack of eating. Once upon a time we were told Paris was the promised land. Then we were told no, 30% cuts from 2005 levels are useless. We must “blow past” those targets to 40% or more by 2030. (In Japan, 46% because their environment minister saw that figure in a “silhouette” in a vision and of course we want to take advantage of all such modern scientific methods.) And then… and then… to 100% by 2050.
His remarks also underline how far in the rear-view mirror anything resembling “the science” now is. To hear Kerry tell it, existing levels of CO2 already bake in catastrophe. Never mind that stuff about avoiding a 2°C increase. We’re talking jamming on the brakes, screeching to a halt, throwing it in reverse and motoring backward in a cloud of dust to… to… who knows what precipice?
It would be tedious here to remind Kerry that as recently as the LGM some 25,000 years ago atmospheric CO2 was a terrifying 180 ppm, just 30 ppm above the level at which most plants die. A few of the newer, “C4” photosynthesis ones that evolved to cope with historically unprecedented low CO2 levels would survive even at 150 ppm, including three key food crops: maize, sugarcane and sorghum. But about 85% of all plant species would die (there are just over 8,000 known C4 species, 5k of them grasses) including all trees except euphorbia. And we do not need to point out what impact this disaster would have on vertebrates, insects or anything else. We wouldn’t be around to enjoy the sugarcane, that’s for sure.
Of course it’s not clear how much Kerry wants to remove. His goals seem to be a moving target. Or how he wants to remove it; it will obviously require a far bigger straw than anyone currently has (see this piece by Francis Merton, particularly the end). But what if, just hypothetically, he and his ilk managed it? Like Bill Gates’ idea to reflect away sunlight, the danger here isn’t that the plan would fail. It’s that it would succeed.
If CO2 really is the control knob on the global thermostat, removing say 100 ppm should bring back the chilly conditions of the 1970s. Or, far more ominously, the cooling trend from around 1940 through the mid-1970s so we don’t just get back les nieges d’antan, we get the Little Ice Age and more. Either would reverse the enormous greening the planet has seen since around 1980 and condemn hundreds of millions to starvation. But if cooling triggered more cooling in one of those positive feedback loops alarmists are convinced dominate the global climate system, for instance by causing the oceans to stop degassing and start reabsorbing CO2, it could lead to a return to the harvest-threatening conditions of the 1600s and 1700s and even, potentially, glaciation and a mass die-off of vegetation that would wipe out most species including our own. And then we’d look dang silly as well as very dead.
Admittedly all these things are very unlikely to happen, partly because Kerry has no more idea how to draw down atmospheric CO2 than he has how to decipher Linear A and partly because the evidence that CO2 drives global temperature is weak and getting weaker. Indeed, the failure of the rise in atmospheric CO2 to diminish in the COVID lockdown even raises the question whether what we’re seeing has a substantial natural component (see oceans degassing above) despite an infamous effort to Photoshop it in. But the fact that these plans are fatuous is not to say they are harmless.
It would be quite possible to waste vast sums of money and wreck livelihoods and economies. And it would be just conceivable to achieve partial success and kill off millions of people. Besides, every month seems to bring new ambitious. Who knows what they’ll want come 2022?