Thursday, 17 April 2008

Reality check for Chicken Little warmist

James Hansen has been at the forefront of warmism since that day in 1988 that he told US Senators in the midst of a 1988 summer heatwave that the earth was burning up, and it was all our fault. More recently, he's been telling anyone who'll listen that we need to hold atmospheric CO2 levels at a level of 350 parts per million or else the sky will fall in. 

Currently however we're measuring 385 parts per million CO2, so achieving Hansen's target  presumably means going "carbon negative."  In fact, the atmosphere hasn't measured 350 parts per million CO2 since 1988, the year Hansen spoke to those sweating Senators.

So Indur Goklany asks the reasonable question, "Is the world better off today compared to 1988?"  Let’s check:

  • Life expectancy in developing countries was 4-5 years lower in 1988 than it is today (62 years rather than the current 67 years). Even in the US, it increased from 74.9 years in 1988 to 77.8 years in 2004!
  • Compared to today, at least 15 more infants out of every 1,000 in developing countries died in 1988 before reaching their first birthdays. In industrialized countries, the infant mortality rate dropped from 9 to 5.
  • India’s per capita income (in constant dollars adjusted for purchasing power) has more than doubled since 1988. China’s has more than quadrupled. As a result, hundreds of millions are no longer living in absolute poverty today. Even the US’s per capita income has increased by 40 percent.
  • Food production per capita in developing countries has increased 36 percent since 1988, despite a population increase of 40% (that is, 1.5 billion more people). [What fraction of this was due to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and petroleum-based and greenhouse gas-emitting fertilizers, all of which stimulates crop growth?].

The answer looks like a very firm "Yes!"  And crucially, as Goklany notes, these improvements are primarily due to the economic growth and agricultural activity that fuelled the rise of CO2 concentrations beyond 350 ppm "... had CO2 concentrations been capped at 350 ppm, we would have to forgo many of the above improvements in the quality of life, and not only in the developing world."  And what sane person would want that?

Looked at in this context, one might say that if the sky is going to fall in then it's more likely to be by following Hansen's prescription and stifling economic growth and agricultural activity than it is by increasing CO2.

UPDATE: For those of you who like graphs, here's the temperature record from 1979 until the day before yesterday (well, to March 2008, which in climatic terms is the same thing). Click the pic to enlarge. You can see how Hansen's heatwave has been in effect since his 1988 warning -- in fact aside from 1998's El Nino, temps have struggled to reach those experienced in that sweltering summer.


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