Guest column by Noel Funderburk
Undoubtedly Al Gore made a lot of money from writing his book on “man-made” climate change.
Many people and country leaders have jumped on that band wagon and are making great effort to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Our government is spending large amounts of money to trap carbon dioxide and pump it far underground where it can never be recovered. But what if they are wrong? What are the consequences?
I am writing this scientific opinion piece from my viewpoint as a Ph.D. microbiologist and biochemist.
The basic principles are actually pretty simple. To understand the climate of the earth, one must understand the source of energy, which is the sun, the properties of water, and the unique place of the element carbon to living things on earth.
The sun controls the climate on earth. The sun produces an enormous amount of radiant energy which is released in all directions. The relatively tiny earth receives only a very small amount of that solar energy, yet it heats the earth in just the right amount for life to survive on earth. There can be no doubt that the temperature of the earth is determined by the energy which comes from the sun. The amount of heat striking the earth from the sun varies. When solar flares and storms are occurring, more energy is released from the sun, striking the earth. When solar activity is low, less energy is emitted. There is an approximate 11-year cycle in variation in the solar energy.
The temperature change on the surface of the earth is affected by factors in our atmosphere. We know that without a gas atmosphere to absorb the sun energy on the side of the earth turned toward the sun, temperatures would soar, and on the side away from the sun temperatures would be extremely cold. To understand how this system of temperature control works, we must know some facts about water.
Earth orbiting spacecraft are exposed to temperatures of approximately +250 F while on the sunny side of the earth, and to -250 F while in the earth’s shadow. That enormous variation in temperature doesn’t happen on the surface of the earth because of the temperature-buffering effect of atmospheric water vapor. Water is unique among substances. It is able to absorb more calories of heat energy with less change in temperature than anything else we know. It is water vapor in the atmosphere which moderates the daytime temperature rise by absorbing heat from the sun, and temperature drop during the night by holding that heat while not facing the sun. You can confirm this yourself by observing weather reports. When the humidity is high and the sky cloudy, there is less change in the daily high and low temperatures. When the humidity is low and the sky is clear, the high and low temperature change from day to night is much greater. In the desert southwest of the United States relative humidity readings of less than 10% are common. And with that, 40 or more Fahrenheit degree changes from morning low to afternoon high temperatures are also common. When the amount of water vapor in the air (humidity) is high, daily temperature change may be only 10 to 15 degrees F. In the overall picture of the earth’s climate, carbon dioxide plays only a very small part of buffering the sun’s heat energy. It provides insignificant impact compared to water vapor.
The third and very important fact to know is that all life on earth depends on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon is a very unique element. With only small exceptions, all carbon on earth is confined to either living things, things which were once living (fossil fuels and decaying matter), or in transit from previously living to living things by way of the carbon cycle. Burning and the decaying of matter releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is taken up by photosynthetic plants, algae, and phytoplankton. Oxygen is released into the atmosphere on which all animal life depends. The carbon is incorporated into proteins, starches, and lipids by the photosynthetic life. Animal life depends not only on oxygen released from photosynthetic plants on land and phytoplankton in the seas, but also on the proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids of plants as foods. When carbon dioxide is increased in the atmosphere, plant growth increases. When carbon dioxide is limited in the atmosphere, plant growth is limited also. When plant growth is limited, food for humans, domestic animals, wildlife, and all life in the oceans is limited. In addition to food, plants also provide forests as shelter for animal life, timber for construction lumber, and fiber for cloth. Plants take water from the soil and evaporate it to provide temperature-regulating water vapor to the atmosphere. Plants absorb the sun’s energy and use the energy for photosynthesis instead of allowing the energy to heat the soil. We must not reduce the carbon dioxide plant food.
As stewards of the earth, humans must allow and provide for the continuing cycle of carbon dioxide to allow life-giving plant growth. The consequences of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be a world-wide disaster. When carbon dioxide is reduced, food for humans and animals will be reduced. Famines will increase. Reduced crop yields will affect the less-developed countries of the world more than those with well-developed agricultural practices. The result on societies of people in the world will be an increase in the gap between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” and increased tension and wars. Wildlife which depend on plant food will experience failure of the earth to provide food. Fish, crustaceans, and sea mammal populations will experience food shortages and reduced populations. When carbon dioxide deficiency reduces the ability of plants to evaporate water into the atmosphere, the dry air increases the risk of raging forest fires. When atmospheric water vapor is reduced, water in the polar ice caps will sublime into atmospheric water vapor, reducing the amount of ice. All of the world will be affected.
It is crucial that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere be maintained and even increased. As the world human population increases, more, not less food, shelter, and fiber will be necessary. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be necessary. As we have been trapping and pumping carbon dioxide from power plants and pumping it deep underground in wells, we must find ways to recover that life-giving gas and use it to increase food for all human, land, and sea life.
“Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have victims,” says John Stonestreet.
Reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a bad idea.
Noel Funderburk, Ph.D. and M.S. (Biochemistry and Microbiology), B.S. (Medical Technology), was supervisor of the medical laboratory at the NASA Johnson Space Center during the Apollo 16 and 17 missions and investigator of experiments on Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.