In this project we are interested in three specific questions:
How does the Earth’s climate naturally change over time and influence its habitability?
What is the on-going relationship of the activity of human beings to the Earths biosphere?
Does human kind positively or negatively effect the environment and how?
The issue of climate science has become a hot topic in recent decades. This is particularly since the publication of the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is a body of the United Nations used for assessing climate science. One of its most recent reports is titled “The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius”, published on the 8th October 2018. It was prepared by 91 different authors and includes over 60 references. Some of the conclusions of this report includes a requirement for deep emissions reductions and rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with 2 degrees Celsius would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being. It also claims that a 2 Degrees Celsius temperature increase would exacerbate extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, coral bleaching and loss of ecosystems, among other impacts. In a precious report published in 2015 the IPCC also stated that for global warming to be limited to 1.5 Degrees Celsius global net human-caused emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by around 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ levels by around 2050. It is obviously from these reports that it is the consensus opinion of the IPCC that increasing CO2 emissions by (industrial) human activity is the main cause of climate change. From the way that this has been written, this certainly comes across with the impression of a serious urgency.
Within the Interstellar Research Centre we are interested in all threats to human existence, and so for this reason climate change, and human contributions to it, are of interest to us. Our official position is that we accept the possibility that human activities on this planet may be contributing to changes in climate, but this must be seen objectively in the context of historical natural climate change and that any discussion of it must be open, free, objective and non-political if all voices are to be heard and a proper understanding of this problem can be reached - and by definition creative solutions proposed.
Here are some important facts about human activity on Earth over the last century:
The current CO2 in the atmosphere is at around 415 parts per million. Over the last century or so, since the advent of the industrial revolution, it has increased by around 100 parts per million. That is for every 1 million molecules of air, every year 1 additional molecule of CO2 is added to the atmosphere.
Based on records, such as during the Last Glacial Maximum 18,000 - 20,000 years ago, photosynthesis in plants appears to stop working as effectively in the range 50 - 170 parts per million of CO2. Given we are at around 400 parts per million today, we are approximately only a factor of 2 away from minimum operating CO2 conditions for plant growth.
Based on records, such as prior to the last ice age which began 3.5 million years ago, plants appear to flourish in the range 900 - 1,120 parts per million of CO2.
Approximately 31% of the Earth land surface is covered by forests, and at the beginning of the 19th Century of these around 15 million square kilometers were mature tropical forests. Yet by around 1852 global deforestation sharply accelerated so that only around half of this remains, approximately 2.9-3 million square miles. It is estimated that with the current rate of deforestation by 2030 only around 10% will remain. It is inconceivable that the destruction of so much forests would not have an effect on the Earth’s biosphere.
The climate goes through natural periods of change and this is demonstrated by Oxygen isotope measurements of Greenland icecore samples which act as a temperature proxy. An evaluation of the climate record historically shows changes in average temperature by as much as 15 Degrees Celsius, such as at the end of the last ice age. Yet in the last century we are apparently concerned about a temperature change of around 0.9 of a Degree Celsius.
There are many other factors that influence the climate, and average global temperatures, that do not appear to be considered with the same attention as CO2 emissions by the IPCC. It is clearly a complex calculation involving solar energy, earth reflectivity, the land, ocean, forests, volcanism, the geomagnetic field, atmosphere, cloud nucleation, the influence of cosmic rays.
The 32 computer models appear to have systematic errors and are not accurately predicting the actual conditions of the average temperature variations, with the exception of one model produced by a team of Russian scientists (see below). These systematic errors are caused by parameterisation of the models (tuned) to simulate the warming of the atmosphere.
The Interstellar Research Centre is exploring an interesting idea that may explain the increased CO2 emissions in the last century, a portion of which may be related to human activity, but not specifically industrialisation.
L Gerhart & Ward, Plant Responses to Low (CO2) of the Past, New Phytologist, 188(3), pp.674-695, 2010.
N Tolbert, C Benker, E Beck, The Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide Compensation Points of C3 Plants: Possible Role in Regulating Atmospheric Oxygen, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 92(24), pp.11230-11233, 1995.
F Hourdin, The Art and Science of Climate Model Tuning, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, LLNL-JNNL-680477, 4 January 2016.