Carbon Dioxide Emissions Up Sharply, Yet Temperatures Are Flat?

James Taylor, Forbes

The U.S. Department of Energy has just published its estimates of global carbon dioxide emissions for the year 2010, concluding emissions rose by 6% from 2009 to 2010. This constitutes the largest rise yet recorded and means global emissions are rising faster than any of the scenarios advanced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2007 report. Global warming activists are claiming the 2010 rise proves global warming is even worse than previously feared, but exactly the opposite is the case.

The new emissions data support the arguments of skeptics asserting carbon dioxide emissions do not impact global temperatures as much as IPCC computer models predict. In light of the 2010 data, global carbon dioxide emissions have risen by fully a third since the year 2001, yet global temperatures have not risen during the past decade. Global warming activists argue that carbon dioxide emissions are the sole or primary factor in global temperature changes, yet global temperatures show no change despite a 33% increase in global carbon dioxide emissions. The fact that global temperatures are not rising despite such a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions provides validation of skeptical arguments, not a cause for heightened alarm.

Rising carbon dioxide emissions would indeed be a cause for strong concern if they were the sole or primary cause of global temperature changes, and if the earth were on the brink of a global warming crisis. The real-world disconnect between carbon dioxide emissions and global temperatures is one of the factors that argues strongly against such a scenario, however.

We can see just how far-fetched the claims of global warming activists are by comparing real-world emissions data and real-world temperature data versus global warming predictions. Scientist-activists at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, for example, in 2009 produced a pie chart showing the predicted likelihood of various temperature scenarios through the end of the century. According to the pie chart, there was a better than 50% chance that under a business-as-usual scenario global temperatures would rise more than 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Moreover, the chart predicted a 9% chance of temperatures rising more than 7 degrees Celsius, but less than a 1% chance of temperatures rising less than 3 degrees Celsius this century.

Let’s compare those predictions to real-world data. As the Department of Energy report on 2010 emissions shows, global carbon dioxide emissions are rising more rapidly than anticipated under a business-as-usual scenario. This means that global temperatures should be rising even faster than predicted by the scientist-activists at the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Yet temperatures have risen merely 0.2 to 0.3 degrees Celsius during the past third of a century, and have not risen at all during the past decade. Giving global warming activists the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the recent pause in global warming is a mere temporary condition, the earth is still on a pace for less than 1 degree of warming during the 21st century, despite the scientist-activists assigning a greater-than-99% chance of at least 3 degrees warming by century’s end.

The fact that this relatively minor warming is occurring while emissions are rising faster than expected adds more weight to the skeptical argument. Global temperatures will have to start rising very rapidly, and very soon, for alarming temperature predictions to come true. And yet with each passing year, the predicted rapid rise in temperatures never occurs.

The Department of Energy 2010 emissions data also show why it would be futile and foolhardy for our nation to enact severe carbon dioxide restrictions. While global emissions have risen by 33% during the past decade, U.S. emissions have not risen at all. Saying the United States is a major factor in the recent rise in carbon dioxide emissions is like saying the Indianapolis Colts are a major factor in each week’s rising National Football League win totals; the Colts have amassed no wins this year, and U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have not risen at all during the past decade.

Even if the United States had completely eradicated all carbon dioxide emissions going back to the year 2001, this still would not have prevented a rise in global emissions during the past decade. And with U.S. emissions already eliminated, we would be unilaterally suffering immensely negative economic and quality-of-life consequences of zero carbon dioxide emissions while other nations continued creating a record rise.

Fortunately, no such self-imposed misery is necessary because real-world observations show that rising carbon dioxide levels are having only a minor impact on global temperatures.

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


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