By Dr. Jay Lehr & Tom Harris
Thanks largely to Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, “existential’ was selected as the word of the year by Dictionary.com. The on-line dictionary describes the phenomenon as follows:
Searches for existential spiked throughout 2019, especially after politicians used the word to characterize the dangers and disruptions climate change is widely held to pose for human life and the environment as we know them.
At a town hall on February 25, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders helped send searches for existential up over 179% when he called climate change “an existential crisis that impacts not just you and me and our generation but our kids and our grandchildren.”
Search volume for existential was higher than average throughout summer and fall 2019. August witnessed fires rage across the Amazon and Hurricane Dorian ravage the Bahamas. Many outlets and organizations discussed these disasters not only in connection to climate but also in existential terms. The non-profit Amazon Watch, for instance, framed the conflagration starkly: “ … it’s not only the Amazon, but our entire planet that is in crisis as the devastation of this life-giving biome poses a real, existential threat for all of humanity.”
September saw the worldwide Climate Strike and major speeches by the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. On September 18, Thunberg notably urged the US Congress: “I have a dream that the people in power, as well as the media, start treating this crisis like the existential emergency it is.”
Similarly, Oxford Dictionaries picked “climate emergency” as its word of the year. Clearly, alarmists are winning the war of words in the climate debate. Here’s why none of it makes any sense.
Our atmosphere is made up of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 0.9% Argonne, some trace gases and only 0.04% of carbon dioxide (CO2), the gas most often blamed by alarmists for the supposedly ‘existential’ climate change threat. There is no way that this minuscule volume of life-giving gas (the only reason we can inhabit the Earth) is a threat to life as we know it today.
Direct atmospheric CO2 measurements began in 1958 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. They show a steady rise in CO2 from 314 parts per million (ppm) in 1958 to 406 ppm in 2017.
The 40% increase from 280 ppm at the end of World War II to 410 ppm in 2019 is widely recognized to be mainly man-made, derived primarily from fossil fuels, including power plants, factories, and automobiles. But these CO2 levels are neither unusual nor dangerous when viewed in the context of the long-term record of our planet’s climate.
We know from our fossil record that CO2 levels throughout Earth’s history have averaged more than six times our modern concentrations. We also know that nuclear submarines submerged beneath the ocean for weeks at a time, average 5000 ppm CO2, with no health problem ever reported.
Antarctica has had the longest continuous accumulation of ice. It has provided data going back 800,000 years, while data from Greenland in the Northern Hemisphere gives CO2 data going back into the last interglacial period 128,000 years ago. Temperature and CO2 levels have varied during this long period, and importantly, temperature changes preceded changes in CO2. In other words, carbon dioxide has NOT driven temperatures for the last 800,000 years.
During each glacial advance, CO2 levels dropped to dangerously low concentrations, to below 200 ppm. These low levels were dangerous because the minimum threshold for plant life to exist is 150 ppm, and we nearly reached that ‘line of death’ during our most recent ice age. Not only is rising CO2 not a bad thing, it could save civilization for future generations, centuries and thousands of years into the future.
Dr. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, who now battles the lies that alarmists often tell to enrich themselves, believes the day will come when we will be crushing limestone to add more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. He seriously describes this future need because the record shows that over the past 150 million years in the fossil record there has been an alarming downward trend toward CO2 starvation.
Slide shown by Patrick Moore in seminar presentations in Montreal and Toronto, October 2019.
The forecasters of climate doom assert that CO2 levels have never been as high as today. Well that is only true for the past 800,000 years. They prefer to view the increase of 120 ppm over the past 150 years through the narrow lens of recent geologic time. To properly analyze the current levels, we need to put the data into the proper context. During our current geologic period, called the Quaternary, there has existed the lowest average CO2 levels in the entire history of the Earth. In the lush vegetative days of the dinosaurs, the CO2 levels stood in excess of 1600 ppm. The average C02 concentration in the preceding 600 million years was more than six-times our modern era level.
The combustion of fossil fuels has allowed humanity to increase concentration of this beneficial molecule and perhaps avert an actual CO2-related climate apocalypse. The climate delusion used by alarmists in their attempts to defeat capitalism and destroy human freedom would set us back centuries to a time when backbreaking work and shortened life expectancy was the norm.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not an existential threat, but the climate alarmists most assuredly are.
Portions of this article were excerpted with permission of the author of the book “Inconvenient Facts” by Gregory Wrightstone, which is recommended for everyone desiring the full story of the climate delusion.
Dr. Jay Lehr is Senior Policy Advisor with of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute which is based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Tom Harris is Executive Director of ICSC and a policy advisor to Heartland.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.