[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]
The scare: Ted Turner, founder and chairman of the “United Nations Foundation,” said in a television interview April 1 (though he was trying to be serious), “We’ll be eight degrees hotter in ten, not ten but 30 or 40 years, and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals. Civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state — like Somalia or Sudan — and living conditions will be intolerable. The droughts will be so bad there’ll be no more corn grown. Not doing it is suicide. Just like dropping bombs on each other, nuclear weapons is suicide. We’ve got to stop doing the suicidal two things, which are hanging on to our nuclear weapons and after that we’ve got to stabilize the population. … We’re too many people. That’s why we have global warming. We have global warming because too many people are using too much stuff. If there were less people, they’d be using less stuff.”
The truth: “Global warming” stopped in 1998. From late 2001 onwards, global mean surface temperatures actually fell at a mean rate equivalent to 0.4 degrees Kelvin (almost 1 degree F) per decade. None of the UN’s vaunted computer models had predicted this:
The trend that caught Ted Turner unawares: Since late 2001, the trend of global surface temperatures has been downward. “Global warming” stopped in 1998; and, though it may resume in future years, the rate of warming is self-evidently less than official forecasts had shown, and is very likely to be harmless. Source: Hadley Centre for Forecasting.
Ted Turner, having corrected his own initial suggestion that global temperatures might rise 8 degrees F in just ten years, said they might rise that fast in 30 or 40 years. That is a mean rate of increase of 11 degrees C (20 degrees F) per century, compared with the 1 degree F increase in the 20th century.
The only previous forecast this extreme was made by the UK Labor Government’s favorite economist Sir Nicholas Stern in his 2007 report on the economics of climate change. Even the excitable IPCC offers an upper estimate no higher than 6.4 degrees C in the century to 2100, and a best estimate of 3.2 degrees C (5.8 F).
It is now increasingly likely that even the UN’s central estimate of temperature change in the current century will prove to have been an exaggeration. Even if the “global warming” that began in 1700 as a natural recovery from the Little Ice Age (Akasofu, 2008) resumes in 2009, it may take as much as a decade merely to bring global mean surface temperatures up to the level they attained in 2001.
Since Ted Turner has chosen to make predictions of the magnitude of climate change, and of the human response to it, that are extremely silly even by the standards of Al Gore, it is worth examining each of them briefly.
“Basically none of the crops will grow.” Let us suppose, per impossibile, that surface temperatures actually rise by 8 degrees F (4.5 degrees C). For most of the past half billion years, temperatures were some 16 degrees F (7 degrees C) warmer than the present, and carbon dioxide concentrations were up to 20 times today’s. Yet the plants that were the precursors of our modern crops must have flourished, and the creatures that were our ancestors must have thriven on them, or we should not be here.
If temperatures were to rise by as much as 8 F, then vast tracts of icy tundra in Alaska, in northern Canada, in Greenland, and in Siberia would become cultivable. The net land area available for cultivation would be likely to increase substantially, since the tropics are already as hot as they are going to be, and the subtropics are largely desert already.
Nor is there any reason to suppose that crops would fail merely because the weather became warmer and, therefore, wetter. In 1801 the astronomer William Herschel noticed an inverse correlation between the number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun and the price of grain in the United Kingdom, as given in a table published in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. More sunspots meant warmer weather. Warmer weather meant better crop yields. Better yields meant lower prices. What has happened in the past is no less likely to happen in the future.
“The droughts will be so bad that there will be no more corn grown.” Ted Turner is no physicist. It was the physicist Clausius, discoverer of the second law of thermodynamics, who calculated that any volume of space – such as the space occupied by the atmosphere – will be able to carry near-exponentially greater concentrations of water vapor as the prevailing mean temperature in that volume of space increases. Greater concentrations of water vapor mean more clouds (which reflect the Sun’s rays back into space) and more rainfall (which brings cooler temperatures) and more evaporation after the rain (which brings still more cooling).
Wentz et al. (2007) report that the IPCC, in calculating the imagined warming effect of the water vapor feedback, omitted two-thirds of the cooling effect of evaporation in their calculations. Therefore there is no reason to suppose that warmer weather will mean more droughts. Indeed, we can test this proposition by observing that in the Great Plains of the US in the first half of the 20th century there were prolonged and intense droughts, well described in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. Yet in the second half of the 20th century, which was warmer and, therefore, wetter, there have been far fewer droughts.
Though droughts will still occur, the Clausius-Clapeyron relation mandates that with more water vapor carried in the atmosphere it is more likely than not that there will be more rainfall.
“Most of the people will have died.” Since crop yields will not fall, and since warmer temperatures (if they occur) are not likely to cause more droughts than before, and since vast new acreages of cultivable land will become available, there is no reason to suppose that most of the Earth’s population will have died of the starvation fancifully imagined by Ted Turner. If anything, life expectancy will continue to increase, particularly in the newly-emerging countries such as China and India.
“We’re too many people.” The planet is easily capable of feeding a population substantially greater than the most extreme projections relied upon by the IPCC. It is not for Ted Turner or anyone else to dictate how many people there should be. As general prosperity increases, populations will tend to stabilize. Even the UN now recognizes this. However, if the economies of the West are destroyed from within on the specious pretext of “saving the planet” by cutting carbon emissions, then poverty both in the free world and in the developing world will increase, and growing poverty paradoxically means growing population and a growing carbon footprint. There could be no clearer or more painful demonstration of Monckton’s Law: that any intervention by the State in economic matters, however piously intended, is liable to engender consequences not merely unintended by directly opposite to what was intended.
“The rest of us will be cannibals.” No, we won’t. End of scare.