A recent movie, ‘Thank You for Smoking‘, amusingly highlighted the lengths that PR reps for the tobacco companies would go to distort the public discourse on the health effects of smoking. Lest you thought that was of merely historical relevance, we would like to draw your attention to two of the funniest videos around. Lifting a page straight out of the Nick Naylor playbook, the CEI (an industry-funded lobby group) has launched a new ad campaign that is supposed to counteract all those pesky scientific facts about global warming.
The first ad (both available here) deserves to become a classic of the genre. It contains the immortal lines ‘CO2: they call it pollution, we call it Life!’ – it is beyond parody and without content – and so you should definitely see it. The second ad has a little more substance – but is as misleading as you might expect.
They only discuss one scientific point which relates to whether ‘glaciers are melting’. Unsurprisingly, they don’t discuss the dramatic evidence of tropical glacier melting, the almost worldwide retreat of other mountain glaciers, the rapid acceleration of fringing glaciers on Greenland or the Antarctic peninsula. Neither do they mention that the preliminary gravity measurements imply that both Antarctica and Greenland appear to be net contributors to sea level rise. No. The only studies that they highlight are ones which demonstrate that in the interior of the ice shelves, there is actually some accumulation of snow (which clearly balances some of the fringing loss). These studies actually confirm climate model predictions that as the poles warm, water vapour there will increase and so, in general, will precipitation. In the extreme environments of the central ice sheets, it will not get warm enough to rain and so snowfall and accumulation are expected to increase.
To be sure, calculating the net balance of the ice sheets is difficult and given the uncertainties of different techniques (altimeters, gravity measurements, interferometers etc.) and the shortness of many of the records, it’s difficult to make very definitive statements about the present day situation. Our sense of the data is that Greenland is probably losing mass – the rapid wasting around the edge is larger than the accumulation in the center, whereas Antarctica in toto is a more difficult call.
However, one should step back a bit from what has been going on in recent years, and consider what is likely to happen in the future. The last time the planet may have been a degree or so warmer than today (about 120,000 years ago), sea level was around 5 to 6 meters higher – and that water must have come from Greenland and (probably) the West Antarctic ice sheet. With projected future rises in emissions of ‘Life!‘ (though we like to call it ‘carbon dioxide’), these sorts of temperature rises are clearly possible, and the danger that would eventually pose to the continued existence of some ice sheets is clearly cause for concern.
To summarise, while CEI clearly demonstrate that their job (paraphrasing Nick Naylor again) “requires a certain …. moral flexibility”, the rest of us can be grateful for the amusement they appear to have accidentally bestowed on the world.
Update 21 May: Engineering Professor Curt Davis says TV Spots are Misrepresenting His Research
135 Responses to "Thank you for emitting"
Caspar Henderson says
Very funny, but let’s not forget people keep smoking even when they repeatedly see messages telling them that it very seriously damages health. The same is likely to apply to behaviour contributing to GHG emissions.
James Hrynyshyn says
More annoying is the fact that one of the two CEI ads refers to two papers in Science that the narrator says undermine the argument that sea level rise is resulting from climate change. But it turns out that both papers actually support the prevailing consensus on climate change. Of course, the CEI doesn’t actually expect anyone to check their “facts.” But I hope we can at least draw some attention to this problem. I detail the incongruencies at http://islandofdoubt.blogspot.com
Part of the problem is that quitting smoking is something very personal that an individual can do to reduce their risk of cancer or other health problems. But with pollution etc, however good I am about turning off the lights, only driving when necessary, recycling my newspapers etc, there’s hundreds of others who don’t give a proverbial. For example, because our bills are included in the rent, my housemates don’t see what’s wrong with having the heating on and the windows open, or leaving lights or appliances on all night, or running the dishwasher when it’s virtually empty.
How do we turn personal responsbility into real global change?
Steven T. Corneliussen says
Thanks for this. The ads are hilarious, if you don’t care about your grandchildren. Forgive me, but I can’t resist taking this opportunity to note that this episode shows yet again that RC simply must not listen too closely to those who insist that RC should stick rigidly to science and science only. It is impossible to deal with the science, such as it is, in these two commercials without involving
* a sense of absurdity,
* a knowledge of parody (and of self-parody,
in the case of that first ad), and
* an awareness that not all discussions take
place in the earnest, straightforward —
and in my view, admirable — forum that
science can usually assume for itself
within science’s own domain.
RC’s fundamnental purpose is to go outside that domain to correct inaccuracy, and it seems to me that RC has done it well again here.
Hank Roberts says
Let’s hope the Skeptics (in this case they’re the pro-science people, these labels get confusing) can come up with some podcasts/sound bites/videos from this conference:
Wolfgang Flamme says
Parody … I often wonder what the average annual mileage of an active climatologist might be. Anyway, thank you for emitting.
Janice Kent-Mackenzie says
Thank you for the clarity of this posting. It notes in simple and clear language, in one place, all the relevant points that would have given me (a lay-person) courage to stand up at a public meeting last year and challenge assurtions against global warming made by a local geologist who is regarded as a national authority on glaciers and polar icecaps.
With lots of charts and graphs of geological ages, real climate change in our life-time was totally dismised; and his own research in measuring the density of icecaps via core samples was used to discount the melting of glaciers. The combination of both points was to used to infer denial of global warming or the possibility of sea-level rise our low-lying region.
To say more re such reductionist scientific presentations necessarily enters political outcomes outside the parameters of this site…but if other scientists (there were many in that room) will not speak up for career reasons [the presentator not only chaired a major research funding body but had castigated the science behind a major report then attracting world headlines] then scientists must do more to assist laypeople in crafting acurate counter replies in language the layperson can master.
Bjorn Cole says
I do like that nice spin about CO2 though – “we breathe it out and plants breathe it in.”
Of course, we require water to live as well. On the other hand, drop yourself in seven feet of the stuff and you won’t last too long. You can also get very sick and die if you drink too much of it and wash all of the vital salts out of your body.
Catherine Jansen says
“With projected future rises in emissions of ‘Life!’ (though we like to call it ‘carbon dioxide’)”
Would make a good basis for a counter-ad!
Rob Davis, Minneapolis says
>>highlighted the lengths that PR reps
Not true. The main character in this film is a lobbyist. He says so repeatedly. I’m sure tobacco PR reps are just as disgusting, but you should have the facts right.
Mark Zimmerman says
In debating a sceptic, what evidence (proof) do we have that the recent spike in temperature is unprecedented over the past 1,000 years?
[Response: Absolute proof only exists in mathematics. Evidence that this is likely can be found in all the northern hemispheric reconstructions done so far: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:1000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png – gavin]
Carl Christensen says
so let’s sum up the CEI & Cato Institute platform:
CO2 = Life
Freedom = Slavery
Ignorance = Strength
Hank Roberts says
“… Myron Ebell directs the Global Warming and International Environmental Policy project at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition, which was formed on May 6, 1997, “to dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis.”
In March 2001, the nonprofit Clean Air Trust named Ebell its “clean air villain of the month,” citing his “ferocious lobbying charge to persuade President Bush to reverse his campaign pledge to control electric utility emissions of carbon dioxide.”
In September 2003 Greenpeace obtained evidence in the form of a
to Philip A. Cooney dated March 2002, outlining their strategy for dealing with the problems caused by scientifically-based “Climate Action Report 2002″, which the US government had submitted to the UN. …”
It’s good to know that they must conflate scientists with global warming alarmists, and continue to use phrases like “we’re doomed”.
By g*d, if we cut back on CO2, how are we gonna git the children to school?!?
pete best says
what do you guys think of colecting some cash and do a couter AD?
if your up to it i will be glad to do the production…
Using the CEI’s logic, one could argue that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to happened to New Orleans. (Water: They call it a terrible flood; we call it “life”.)
Ed Arnold says
Those ads are repulsive. That ad about the guy’s kid about to get hit by the “climate train” is a good counter ad already. I’m sure someone knows the reference.
The counter ad could be along the lines of “too much of a good thing”. Or too much of a natural thing.
Start off with “Does the Oil industry think that you’re an idiot? Well, they’re sure treating you like one. They’re saying that CO2 emissions are good, so lots of them must be better. We all know what happens when there’s too much of a natural thing.”
Food and a fat guy having a heart attack. “We need food to live. But too much of it….”
Rain, then show a flood washing away homes and/or people “Rain helps the crops to grow. But too much of it…”
“CO2 emissions are the same. Plants breathe CO2 in, but too much CO2…..”
then show dying plants, hurricanes and flooded shorelines.
That can be used to counter those “an escalated greenhouse effect that we are not controlling is good” boneheads, too.
Steven Poole says
The Glaciers ad is simply lying about what the studies it cites say. I emailed the co-lead author of the Antarctic study to check, and he told me: “Our article does NOT in fact support this statement.” I give more details and other analysis here.
pat neuman says
I’d like to see some facts on how ethanol compares to gasoline in the amount of GHGs emitted.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
This idea about CO2 being “life” seems to draw on a reductionist Western mindset that “analyzes,” cuts things up (like my relative taking the clock apart to see how it works, but can’t put it back together).
What we need is more holistic thinking, maybe a Taoist balance of sorts. Yes, the life world needs CO2, and it needs many many other things, like a good climate.
Or, see how long someone would last in a pure CO2 chamber. I don’t even think plants would like that. I understand they need oxygen at night. If plants could have a say, wonder if they would choose more CO2 or the climate as is today?
Lynn Vincentnathan says
Re #21, when calculating GHGs emitted in producing ethanol don’t forget to figure in the energy needed to pump water for irrigation, and to ship bauxite from the rainforest floors to make tractors, or the loss of rainforests from bauxite mining. And all the paper work & the trees, including ag school. And we have to build those ships to ship the bauxite, then turn bauxite into aluminum. Then we need energy to run the farm machinery.
Supposing windmills pumped the water, and mules pulled the plows. Then it might be making headway in lowering GHGs.
Roger Smith says
Regarding corn-based ethanol and other alt. fuels’ lifecycle GHG emissions, take a look at a few papers on a University of California professor’s site:
(new draft manuscript here: http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/publications/2006/LCAs_of_Biofuels.pdf )
Joel Shore says
Re #20: I wonder if there is any chance that the authors of those studies might be willing to issue a press release saying that they feel that the conclusions of their work have been misrepresented by the ads. If this occurs, this ad campaign could really backfire on CEI!
Brian Jackson says
Re #22 (Lynn): It’s not drawing on a “reductionist Western mindset”- it’s just political advocacy which tries to emphasize the “good” things about CO2 while completely ignoring the “bad” aspects. Like someone pontificating on the benefits of fire for warmth and cooking, while in the meantime your house is burning down.
I can think of a few choice adjectives for that kind of mindset, but “reductionist Western” would not be one of them…
I like the ads. They add a little balance.
Tom Fiddaman says
Re 21,23 (ethanol)
There’s a recent synthesis article in Science: Farrell et al., Ethanol Can Contribute to Energy and Environmental Goals, Science 27 January 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5760, pp. 506 – 508.
In short, “despite large differences in net energy, all studies show similar results in terms of more policy-relevant metrics: GHG emissions from ethanol made from conventionally grown corn can be slightly more or slightly less than from gasoline per unit of energy, but ethanol requires much less petroleum inputs. Ethanol produced from cellulosic material (switchgrass) reduces both GHGs and petroleum inputs substantially.”
The scary thing is, that as much as we can try and have an intellectual debate about this ridiculous and immoral campaign, there are about 200 million Americans who don’t know where Antarctica or Greenland are, let alone care, who will quite likely believe this rubbish. It is up to the other 100 million of you to sort it out and make sure that those of us fotunate enough not to live in the US don’t suffer because of your compatriate’s stupidity.
Are we in danger of running out of CO2? Thanks to CEI for bringing this urgent matter to my attention.
John L. McCormick says
Lets drink to ethanol!
It would help any discussion regarding ethanol as an alternative, renewable fuel to include the words “ice-free Arctic Ocean” in the same sentence. Then, we could challenge each other to think and speak comprehensively and not simply talk about corn-based ethanol to make us believe we have an “answer” to oil addiction and a plan to recycle carbon.
Stephen Berg says
Re: #27, “I like the ads. They add a little balance.”
You mean like FOX News’ “balance” as in “fair and balanced”, which really means completely unfair and horribly unbalanced.
Give me a break, jae.
Stephen Berg says
An aside from this on which someone can comment:
A post on Deltoid was quite startling. See here:
Yeah, it appears that not only was Lindzen cherry-picking, he was cherry-picking with manipulated data. Here’s Lindzen’s graphic and a graphic based on data downloaded from the source he cites.
You can see that he chopped off the temperature for 2003-2005 in order to make it appear to have flattened out when it was rising.
Posted by: Robert | May 18, 2006 11:50 PM”
I wrote a counter-ad :::[Carbon dioxide ad – they call it a spot, we call it a stain.] Let me know what you think. If you have any rich friends who have the psychological need to save the planet – I would love to get it produced and run.
Global Warming Watch
Almuth Ernsting says
Re 21, 23, 28 Ethanol:
For evidence on ghg emissions from ethanol and biodiesel, also look here:
“Energy and greenhouse gas balance for Europe – an update” by CONCAWE ad hoc group on Alternative Fuels, Report 2/02
This shows how much land is needed for a very small reduction in ghg emissions (5.4 million hectares of land in Europe grown under the most energy efficient biofuel crops could reduce Europe’s CO2 emissions by 0.3%). Although some studies use slightly different figures, you are basically looking at an argument as to whether 5.4 million hectares would lead to 0.1%, 0.3% or perhaps 0.8% less CO2 emissions. And that is an awful lot of land, with intensive agriculture being one of the driving forces for the loss of biodiversity, for nutrient overload of the seas (those dead zones of algae bloom), fresh water pollution and soil erosion.
The destruction of rainforests for biofuel production is well-documented, too, and is intensifying. Moreover, I have just seen FAO figures that total world grain output is down for the second year running, and world food stocks are at the lowest level for decades – due to ‘adverse weather conditions’ in prime growing areas (including in the US). It’s a worrying trend and should make us think twice before we decide to burn ever more of the shrinking harvest in cars!
Lester Brown suggests that farmers should be able to get financial rewards for putting wind mills on their farms – that would give you a great deal more energy from far less land use (all the land around the wind mill is still of use for wildlife or farming). That seems a far more sensible approach to me.
Pat, you might want to have a look at the discussion paper I wrote, here: http://portal.campaigncc.org/?q=node/584#comment-533 (with lots more references).
Ferdinand Engelbeen says
Re ethanol and other bio-fuels,
Having some experience with LCA’s (life cycle analyses), be it for plastics (bio-plastics need some 5 times more -fossil- energy to produce than “conventional” oil based plastics!), I have the impression that the draft LCA provided by Roger Smith in #24 gives the most accurate answers, because it includes very comprehensive estimates of the emissions impact of land use.
In general, only the transfer of wood cellulose into gas or methanol has a clear advantage in GHG emissions to fossil fuels, others (bio-diesel, ethanol from corn) give near equal to far more GHG emissions.
And what I have seldom read – until now – is the impact of land use itself, besides emissions. If we want to replace a huge part of fossil fuels by biofuels, that will need a lot of extra land. Although in part in combination with animal feed production, current land use is far from sufficient to replace much of the fossil fuel consumption. According to Z-facts, one need about 1.5 times the surface of the USA (including Alaska) growing corn to replace current US fossil fuel use…
That doen’t imply that we shouldn’t replace already a part of fossil fuel by bio-fuels, if it is only to reduce the dependence on not-so-stable countries for oil imports. But research into biofuel processes with a better GHG yield, and engines/processes with better energy yield should have a high priority (including subsidies)…
[Response: I am mostly in agreement with Ferdinand here with regard to the life-cycle costs and potential limits on biofuel. For GHG, reductionn ethanol from corn really looks like a non-starter. I disagree about biodiesel, though, since the Department of Energy studies show something like a 3.5:1 gain in energy output over fossil fuel input, and that’s with soybeans. As my colleague Gidon Eshel pointed out to me, though, continued availability of water for irrigation may become an issue in some places. –raypierre]
Nir Shaviv says
With regards to:
“Are we in danger of running out of CO2?”
In fact, we are, in about a billion years, at least according to Caldeira and Kasting (“The life span of the biosphere revisited, Nature, 360, 721, 1992), because the increased solar luminosity and ensuing global warming will cause the silicates to start reacting with the atmospheric CO2.
As for the question of attribution, let me remind that climatology is still not in a position to predict the global temperature sensitivity to changes in the radiative forcing (e.g., if you open the IPCC TAR, you’ll see that they often mention that the doubling CO2 temperature sensitivity is Tx2 ~ 1.5 to 4.5°C, i.e., uncertain to within a factor of 3!). In other words, we don’t really know what should be the anthropogenic effect. Moreover, there is no direct evidence, no smoking gun, which points to anthropogenic sources as the reason behind global warming. The only reason it is attributed to us humans is because we know GHGs should warm, we see warming, and there is nothing else to blame, but there is (e.g., look at this discussion).
In any case, the question of attribution (i.e., what caused the 20th century warming) is I think very minor, albeit interesting. The real important question is what is Earth’s climate sensitivity since this will determine if doubling the amount of CO2 (say, by 2100AD) will increase the temperature by 1 or by 5°C, and whether CO2 is just plant food or also a pollutant. (Personally, I believe the sensitivity is on the low side, about 1 to 1.5°C, simply because this is how Earth reacted in the past to changes in the radiative budget – See JGR-Space, 110, A08105, 2005 [abstract] [pdf]).
[Response: I’d be quite happy to take care of the problems of the next century now and deal with the problems of the next billion years a bit later. First things first. For that matter, you were quite happy to run roughshod over the basic scientific issues in your quest for a zippy one-liner. You didn’t mention that in Caldeira and Kasting, if the Earth didn’t go to a low CO2 state through enhanced silicate weathering, it would succumb to a runaway greenhouse instead. As I said, we’ll deal with that when we come to it (if we get past the next century intact), but I’d bet it would be a lot easier to grow crops in greenhouses with enhanced CO2 than it would be to live under an 80 bar steam atmosphere at over 1000K. If you need extra CO2, you can cook it out of carbonate rocks for an energy source well under a percent of the available solar energy.
We’ve heard the story about cosmic rays before, and the criticisms discussed in this article still apply for the most part. I agree (as does IPCC) that there is uncertainty, as stated, in the climate sensitivity, but you are completely unjustified in your claim that the cosmic-ray correlation (for which there is still no sound physical basis or quantified mechanism) supports the lower end of the sensitivity range. Much more careful studies, in which the actual radiative forcing can be quantified, pretty much show that the paleoclimate record is compatible with the full IPCC range, with both the higher and lower ends appearing less probable. That’s the situation we’re stuck with for now. It’s for the political process to decide whether to bet the store on the hope that the true sensitivity is at the low end, or to take seriously the consequences of the still very real possibility that the sensitivity is at the high end. It’s interesting that you now say that attribution of 20th century warming is unimportant, just at a time when that begins to seem rather certain. Of course, scientists are always interested in data they can use to test their theories, and that is precisely why the 20th century record is of so much interest. –raypierre]
[Response: I’d like to add a little challenge to Niv. My burning question is: Can galactic cosmic rays (GCR) be the main driver for the global warming over the last 50 years – the time interval that is most relevant to us? I looked at the GCR record, but found no trend in it – e.g. see my paper in GRL and references therein (alternatively see here and here). What’s more, the sunspot record does behave a bit funny in the 19th century – the solar cycle length really jumps between very high and low values (statistical outliers) – and the question is if one really can trust the series when going that far back in time (the observational network was much lower then than today). So, in my opinion, relying on very old evidence for relationship between solar forcing and climate carries a great deal of uncertainties . So when you bring in the question of attribution, and put the notion of GCR-driver next to an enhanced greenhouse gas effect, and can’t even provide evidence for that the chain of events actually takes place, then I reckon you are on thin ice. Also, we know that the climate system has a tendency to respond non-linearly with various feedback mechanisms, so even when one factor play a role, you cannot rule out others just from the climate’s response alone. For more in depth discussion on this, I can recommend my book Solar Activity and Earth’s Climate in a science library near you. -rasmus]
p.s.: An astrophysicist who checked Shaviv’s claimed meteorite clusters found that they are indistinguishable from a random data set, see abstract.]
AS far as land use for biofuels, haven’t I read something about utilizing algae (perhaps CO2 eating algae feeding on combustion exhaust? At any rate, couldn’t algae farms be situated on non-productive land or even in multi-level urban urban builings using fiber optics to provide sunlight?
If we became dependent on biofuel/biodiesel, what would happen if we had massive crop failures due to GW?
Marlowe Johnson says
jhm – yes there are a couple of companies that are looking at using algae to capture CO2 from coal-fired power plants; GreenFuel Technologies being the one that comes to mind. AFAIK space isn’t an issue as the power plants typically have lots of land surrounding them because of point-of-impingement issues. Also the new designs use a series of tubes to circulate the gas and grow the algae and this greatly reduces the space required compared to the lagoon approach. The process comes full circle when the algae is used to produce ethanol and/or biodiesel…
As someone that has spent a fair amount of time looking at the GHG impacts of ethanol from a LCA perspective, I think everyone is in agreement that corn is the least beneficial, while sugarcane and cellulosic are the most promisisng. Beyond that there is a fair amount of disagreement about the magnitude of benefits for each process/feedstock and ultimately this comes down to differences of opinion about where the boundaries are set within the LCA framework and whether or not the assumptions for the input parameters are accurate (and I doubt DeLucchi’s work is the ‘final’ anwser since it depends heavily on LULUC assumptions which are themselves controversial). For those with library access, a good summary was published recently by the International Energy Association “Biofuels for Transport: An International Summary”.
Another common tactic in the debate is to frame the issue as an either/or between land-for-food and land-for-fuel. The fact is that most corn grown is the U.S. is feed-grade corn, not the kind people eat. Moreover, one of the byproducts of ehtanol production from corn is dried distiller grains — which is used as cattle feed. The only time IMHO where this argument actually holds water is in Brazil where ethanol from sugarcane displaces sugar from sugarcane; right now world sugar prices are at historic highs because more of the sugarcane crop is being diverted to produce ethanol.
Who here wants to suggest that we need more sugar :)?
Hank Roberts says
>33 many other years differ on those two versions of the Hadley charts. It’s not just the last 2 years that differ, it’s many of them all the way through the sequence. The numbers may not be the same, need to check the cites.
Stephen Berg says
“Scientists note stunning loss of ice, snow
From elders watching the movement of sea ice in Nunavut to climatologists studying satellite weather maps, people are amazed and alarmed by how quickly spring is coming to the Arctic this year.
Record-warm temperatures have taken their toll on ice cover in Canada’s Arctic waters and snow cover on land.”
Listening to those ads is like hearing finger nails on a blackboard. It’s hard to imagine anything more misleading.
“In the Arctic, temperatures were 1 to 8ÂºF colder than normal and precipitation was 100 to 150% of normal. The snow pack was deeper than normal in most of the region.”
“Sea ice coverage was above normal in the Bering Sea at the start of the month, and the ice then advanced southward as northerly gales blew over the area. By the 15th, there was near record sea ice coverage for mid April in the Bering Sea, and above normal ice in Bristol Bay. At month’s end, the extent of ice coverage was at record high levels in the Bering, and close to normal in Bristol Bay.”
It appears that their ice and cold has moved to Alaska.
da silva says
FWIW, some comments on this whole thing at Sierra Club Compass, which references Real Climate often and has it in its links list.
Raypierre said: ” I disagree about biodiesel, though, since the Department of Energy studies show something like a 3.5:1 gain in energy output over fossil fuel input, and that’s with soybeans”
Left unsaid, is that soybeans are one of the poorest crops for growing vegetable oil, and is still more productive than Corn Ethanol. The Hedge plant Jatropha Curcas is native to the Americas, produces even more oil per acre/year, and uses far less water & fertilizer, and doesn’t need tilling and replanting.
Soy is a major player in the Farm subsidies racket.
Michael Tobis says
re #44; interesting, but for comparison have a look at Alaska’s February on the same site:
We have not yet reached the point that occasional local cooler-than-normal months go away altogether.
More to the point, the Arctic sea ice extent responds to a temperature signal that averages over several years.
The rather dramatic shrinking of the boreal ice cap over the last few years is already at the limits of historical precedent. If the trend continues for a few more years, as appears plausible at least, it will both be a symptom and a cause of the climate of the Arctic experiencing a profound and precipitous climate change, bigger even than what we have now.
Re 40 (Johnson):
Another common tactic in the debate is to frame the issue as an either/or between land-for-food and land-for-fuel. The fact is that most corn grown is the U.S. is feed-grade corn, not the kind people eat.
Animals eat the corn, and we eat the animals, so it’s still land used for food.
And I’m a little concerned that folks who point out that a new type of fuel will withdraw land from food crops are engaging in a ‘tactic’.
Lastly, this discussion points out (to me anyway) how entrenched we are in this paradigm. In order to maintain our society just as it is (despite calls in other areas for ‘adaptation’), we have to withdraw vast tracts of land from food production, when we suspect that in 45 short years, there will be 3B more people on the planet, requiring ~1M ha more land for food.
Sounds like a non-starter to me.
Nir Shaviv says
First, as for Caldeira and Kasting, you are correct. It was a one liner, I just found the “Are we going to run out of CO2?” question funny and thought Caldeira and Kasting would be a nice anecdote. Obviously, the technology in a billion years would be sufficient to deal with any such problem (assuming our descendents will still exist…)
As for things on shorter time scales. The question of whether cosmic rays affect climate is very important. This is because of several reasons:
(1) If cosmic rays affect climate then you will have another possible explanation to the observed global warming, since overall, the cosmic ray flux (at high energies, those which are responsible for the tropospheric ionization) has increased over the 20th century (increased up to the 1940’s then again from the 1970’s).
[Response: Some say that the cosmic flux has to decrease in order to get a warming, the hypothesis being that they affect the nucleation of cloud condensation nuclei and thus the low cloud cover (personally, I’m still far from convinced!). So, how do you propose that the rays affect the climate (I must have missed something here – admittedly, I didn’t look up all your links…), and why do you think that the other explanation is wrong and yours is true (they clearly cannot both be true). -rasmus]
(2) One can empirically estimate climate sensitivity on different time scales, by comparing actual temperature variations to estimated changes in the radiation budget. This can be done on time scales ranging from the 11-yr solar cycle to the Phanerozoic as a whole. The bottom line is that if the radiative forcing of the cosmic-ray flux / climate link is valid, then a sensitivity of Tx2 ~ 1-1.5° is obtained (and about 2°C if there is no cosmic ray flux climate link, i.e., still relatively low – this is all explained in the linked paper I sent above: [abstract] [pdf]).
[Response: weaker cosmic ray flux -> fewer low clouds -> decrease in sunlight reflected back to space), then you need to explain why the night temperatures appear to increase faster then day temperatures (for any amplification mechanism involving te albedo, you’d expect the opposite, as there is no sunlight to reflect on the dark side of the planet…). My understanding is that there is no evidence for cosmic rays playing a role in the recent global warming. Please explain if you can offer further insight…-rasmus]
As for the validity of the cosmic ray flux, the Rahmstorf et al. critique on the Milky Way spiral arms / ice-age epoch work on did not contain any valid points (see http://www.sciencebits.com/ClimateDebate), this is contrary to the Royer et al. critique which did contain an interesting point. It ended up changing the limit Jan Veizer and I could impose (from Tx2 < 1°C, to about 1-1.5°C), but it did not invalidate the apparent role that cosmic rays appear to play on the multi-million year climate variability).
As for the evidence, there are by now many results pointing towards the cosmic ray climate link. Just to name a few:
– Clear correlation between low altitude cloud cover and cosmic ray flux over the past 2 solar cycles. Incidentally, if you look at this correlation, you will see asymmetric peaks both in the cosmic ray flux and the cloud cover – one is sharp and the other is wide. This is interesting because the cosmic ray flux is the only solar activity related variable that is sensitive to the fact that the cycle is really 22 years (this is because the cosmic rays, which are positively charged, notice the polarity of the solar magnetic field). Take a look at figure 3 at this summary.
– The latitudinal dependence of the relative change in the cloud cover over the solar cycle is proportional to latitudinal dependence of the change in atmospheric ion density variations (which arise from cosmic ray flux variations), see Usoskin et al. , GRL 31, L16109, (2004).
– On the multi-million year time scale, passages through the spiral arms of the milky way correlate with climate on earth (e.g., this discussion), and on longer time scale, glacial activity correlates with star formation in the milky way.
– The aforementioned empirical determinations of climate sensitivity are much more consistent with each other if the contribution of the cosmic ray flux / cloud cover effect is included in the radiation budget.
– As for the physical mechanism, there is growing understanding that the link is through the role played by charge in growing the condensation nuclei. In particular, there are interesting results by the group of Frank Arnold in Heidelberg, who showed that charged clusters play an important role, or results by Harrison and Aplin who showed that ions formed by cosmic rays can make small particles, condensation nuclei. The only thing left is to show that the small condensation nuclei indeed grow to become larger cloud condensation nuclei (as opposed for example, to being scavanged by large particles).
[Response: See my comments a few paragraphs further up. -rasmus]
– Theoretical calculations by Yu, have demonstrated why this link would be primarily with low altitude clouds.
The bottom line is that the is a growing body of evidence which links cosmic rays with cloud cover and climate, I wouldn’t dismiss it that easily.
[Response: It’s funny that I seeing the growing body of evidence going the other way. There is a link to the paper by Usoskin et al. here. Personally, I did not find the paper very convincing. Take a few examples: Look at the correlations in their Fig. 3 – how do you think that such low correlations can produce as high zonal mean values as in Fig. 2? And, what signifcance level is ‘significance level >68%’? Not very high, I think! These are only a couple of examples (more about this paper in Solar Activity and Earth’s Climate in a science library near you…). -rasmus]
Mark Zimmerman says
Cellulosic ethanol will allow ethanol production from lands not suitable for crops. We could start with Bush’s ranch, devoted it to switch grass.