California Triggered by Weak, Minor Greenhouse Gas

Just days after signing legislation committing the state to 100 percent renewable sources for electricity, Gov. Jerry Brown hosted a grandiose climate summit in San Francisco. Noticeably absent from the conference was even the smallest dose of healthy skepticism.

Of course, the self-important nags were there, emitting their usual industrial-grade hot gases. Al Gore. Alec Baldwin. Tom Steyer. John Kerry. Bill de Blasio. Nancy Pelosi. Rather than pedaling bicycles to the Moscone Center as those who hector everyone else about their carbon footprints should travel, many of the wealthy scolds instead flew private jets, a privilege they were unwilling to sacrifice for their cause.

The Global Climate Action Summit was cooked up to “Take Ambition to the Next Level” and be “a launchpad for deeper worldwide commitments and accelerated action from countries” that will “put the globe on track to prevent dangerous climate change and realize the historic Paris Agreement.”

It turned out to be a hootenanny of hype.

Carbon dioxide was the primary villain. It is such a desperate outlaw the crusaders literally put a price on its head. Gore, whose pronouncements are never as profound as he supposes them to be, said “we have to make the decarbonization of the global economy the central organizing principle of human civilization.”

But the thrill of decarbonization obscures important truths. Even at its highest level in 800,000 years at roughly 409 parts per million, CO2 is still only a miniscule part of the atmosphere. To put it in perspective, consider a 100,000-seat football stadium. Each seat is one part of the atmosphere, made up primarily of nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (21 percent). At 405 PPM, CO2 would take up only about 41 of those 100,000 seats.

Now that’s total CO2. In that same stadium, man’s CO2 emissions would be represented by only a handful of seats. Even if 100 percent of the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide since the middle of the 18th century can be attributed to man, which is a questionable assumption, only about a dozen out of the 100,000 seats would be manmade CO2. That’s 0.00012 percent. Of the entire atmosphere. At most.

While it is only a trace gas and nearly nonexistent compared to the other elements making up the atmosphere, we’ve been told over and again carbon dioxide is an existential threat. Before minds are made up about CO2’s guilt, though, let’s consider a few other material facts:

  • CO2 is a weak greenhouse gas. Methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrous oxide, and water vapor (clouds and fog), which accounts for about 60 percent of any warming effect, are more potent at trapping heat.
  • Solar energy, Earth’s orbital and rotational variations, natural climate cycles, ocean currents, and volcanic activity are natural factors that affect the global climate.

These are facts, not denial, and should stimulate healthy skepticism of the climate narrative. Skepticism is key to science. It promotes critical thinking and illuminates blind spots. Yet we’ve been told that the “science is settled.”

Despite the shaky evidence, and the inconvenient fact that only 1 percent of all global greenhouse gases is emitted within its borders, California has embarked on a punishing decarbonization plan. Lawmakers have declared a goal that by 2045, all electricity must be generated by renewable sources, and they are also considering barring by 2040 the sale of new fossil-fuel-burning vehicles. Brown has even promised the state will launch its “own damn satellite” to monitor the skies. Policymakers are convinced the rest of the world will follow California’s path.

But who wants to risk committing economic suicide by banning cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable fossil fuels? Certainly not Europe, from where we hear more screeching about global warming than anywhere outside of California. Though constantly kvetching, it’s actually failed to meet the standards of the Paris climate deal.

The governor’s critically acclaimed summit will have no more impact on the climate than a government-protected El Segundo blue butterfly flapping its wings at the Ballona Wetlands near LAX. But it will sustain the narrative, which in 2018 carries more weight than the facts.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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