The issue of whether the human production of atmospheric CO2 by burning fossil fuels continues to be flung back and forth by mindless demagogues who are, on both sides, so out of touch with reality that they are (to paraphrase Einstein) not even wrong.
Now it is a fact that human activities are injecting substantial quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. It’s not a trivial amount, and we are looking at (for now) a doubling of atmospheric CO2 caused by human activity. This, I believe, is well established. It is also true that, under laboratory conditions, this increase in the concentration of CO2 should cause a significant increase in heat capture from the sun’s light. That also is not in question.
What is not known is what this will mean in the real world. Climate is nothing if not complex, and there could well be feedback loops that will counteract the simplistic warming effects of CO2. Or not. Or other effects like changes in the sun’s luminosity could prove to be more important. This is what the public debate is mostly about. And it’s rubbish.
It is not necessary to prove that human-produced CO2 is going to be a disaster. It is enough that we don’t KNOW if it will or will not be a disaster, but we only have this one Earth, for the foreseeable future we are stuck here, and if we mess up the planet we are screwed. Simple caution suggests we limit CO2 production. There is no need to prove conclusively that CO2 is bad.
Here’s a simple example. You are flying in a jet plane at 30,000 feet going 550 mph. This plane has a lot of complicated buttons and controls etc. that you do not understand. If the plane has a serious malfunction you will die. Should you randomly press buttons and operate controls? After all, you cannot PROVE that that would cause a disaster. It might do nothing. It might make things better! And the plane might crash anyway because of some other factor. The path of wisdom is clear: if you are absolutely dependent on the operation of a complex system that you do not fully understand, do not mess with it.
So far you might think that I am on the side of the climate change alarmists. Wrong. If anything, the fanatical exponents of climate change are even worse. For two main reasons:
1. The primary cause of the increase in atmospheric CO2 is not increasing living standards, but a population explosion that has largely been created by the rich in order to keep wages low.
The standard of living in China and India are well below that of the United States, but China (with the same land area as the US) already produces more CO2 than the United States, and India (which has about a third the land area as the US) is also projected to surpass the US in CO2 production. It doesn’t matter how low the standard of living is: if a population is doubled and quadrupled and octupled etc.etc.etc. the world will still be stripped bare. And it should be mentioned that per-capita energy consumption in the United States is down significantly from the peak in the 1970’s – as usual, the increases in net CO2 production are being driven by population growth, which as usual is due to specific government policy.
Failing to acknowledge the primacy of population growth in the increase in CO2 production is intellectually dishonest. We can do nothing if we do not address this matter, and yet virtually any discussion of the effects of population growth – and even more so, any discussion of the degree to which this population growth is the result of deliberate policy – has been almost completely banned from public discussion.
2. The population explosion renders the consequences of possible climate change irrelevant.
Consider Syria. Not that long ago, the government engaged in a vigorous pro-natalist policy: birth control was criminalized, and the government propagandized that it was every woman’s patriotic duty to have six kids each etc. The population started doubling every 18 years. By 2010 it had hit 22 million, the water ran out, and things collapsed.
Some blame the Syrian disaster on ‘climate change’ but this is dishonest. The aquifers had been draining for years before, even when the weather was good. But suppose that the annual rainfall on Syria had increased to 20% greater than the historical mean, and remained perfect forever? This is, of course, impossible, but even so it would not have mattered. Let the population double again to 44 million, then 88 million, then 176 million... The effects, if any, of CO2-produced ‘climate change’ are hardly more than a detail. Even extreme changes in weather would have simply advanced or retarded the collapse by a few years.
If we continue to let the rich jam ever more people onto this Earth, we will eventually all of us be reduced to the misery of bare subsistence. Whether that point will occur at a population of 5 billion or 10 or 20 will not matter to our heirs who are living miserable, chronically malnourished lives in extended slums.
I say that the population explosion has been deliberately created by the rich, and it has, but it has (mostly) not been a single unified conspiracy. It’s just that the rich like money. The easiest way for the rich to make more money is for wages to be really low. The easiest way for wages to be really low is to increase the supply of labor too rapidly (the total number of people has little short-term economic effect: it’s the rate of change). So the rich will encourage population growth: either via active pro-natalist government policies, mass immigration (which does not just move people around it increases net global population. A world without borders to migration will soon have the population density of Bangladesh). And perhaps most damaging of all, the rich have discouraged almost any mention of the effect of demographics on wages and the ecology.
These actions by the rich have not been unified, they have mostly been the local result of the rich in specific countries at specific times wanting cheap labor and rationalizing that it’s really all for the best. It’s ‘eliminating a labor shortage’ – although it is in fact a ‘shortage’ of workers who have no alternative but to work for sub-poverty wages that is the only way that workers can get more than a poverty wage. But when the rich create a population explosion, there are both momentum and ratchet effects. Momentum: once the age distribution of a society has been reduced the population will continue to increase long after the fertility rates have moderated. Ratchet: it’s easy to grow a population. Reducing it is harder.
As one example, Mao in the 1950’s created a population explosion: the communists soon realized what a disaster that was, and initiated draconian population control policies, but the net population of the world is still over half a billion more than it would have been otherwise. A few generations ago the Mexican government deliberately also created a population explosion: that also hasn’t been their policy for some time, but the effects continue. Another hundred million and counting... Across the generations and across the world, a little more here, a lot more there, all adding and compounding...
Actually it is likely that global population growth will start to slow before too long, but don’t get too excited just yet. It matters HOW population growth is slowing. If it’s because women are empowered and people are careful not to have more children than they can reasonably provide for, that’s great. If it’s because they are so miserable and malnourished that it is physically impossible for them to have large numbers of children, that’s not so great (outright famine is generally rare). And that’s starting to happen in a lot of places, and it looks likely to spread...
Some of the climate change ‘deniers’ suggest that the climate change proponents really want to kill the fossil fuel industry so they can make more money selling new non-CO2 producing technology. Or that they want the chance to levy a lot of regressive taxes on the working class of nations that are not yet reduced to subsistence. Perhaps. I would suggest that another motive is to shift blame away from excessive population growth and onto the climate: the people were encouraged to have more children than they could support? No! You can’t say that! It’s climate change, you vile racist!
The bottom line: given the refusal of our elites to address the issue of demographics, or even to allow an honest public discussion of such issues, my advice is to not worry. There is nothing we can do about it. No amount of recycling or driving hybrid cars or even giving up a car and taking the bus etc. will have any non-trivial effect. If the Titanic is sinking, and there is not a blasted thing you can do about it, let the band play, and have another drink.