I wrote a post a while ago about William Happer’s calculation of how long it would take to get a 6oC rise in surface temperatures. The calculation was simplistic and the assumptions didn’t seem to be based on current scientific evidence. I assumed that this was someone who maybe had some scientific training but wasn’t sufficiently experienced to understand the fundamentals of the scientific method.
How wrong could I have been. William Happer is the Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics. He is a high-profile scientist who is also noted for pioneering Adaptive Optics. Adaptive Optics has really revolutionised parts of astronomy and allowed astronomers to have telescopes on the ground that can produce images that are as good as images from telescopes in space. This gave me a moments pause. Could I have been wrong? Could his calculation have been cleverer than I thought? I didn’t think so, but I was amazed that someone with these credentials could do such an absurd calculation.
Together with Harrison H Schmitt, William Happer has written – a few days ago – a Wall Street Journal article defending carbon dioxide. The suggestion in the article is that current CO2 levels are low by geological standards and that plants will thrive at higher CO2 concentrations. This just seems absurd. We now have CO2 levels that are higher than they’ve been for all of human history. Yes, it might have been higher in the past, but humans weren’t present and sea-levels were something like 45m higher at those times. There is also a recent report suggesting that we are seeing evidence for ocean acidification and that the Arctic is at particular risk. Some of the excess CO2 is dissolved in the oceans and turns into carbonic acid. I believe these results are quite robust and I would hope that most would agree that acidifying our oceans is a bad idea.
Basically, I really can’t believe that a high-profile scientist can argue that because plants “like” CO2 that much higher levels will be good for us. It’s just so absurdly simplistic and, by itself, a ridiculous suggestion. There are numerous things that are good for us at one level and bad at another. When I was trying to think of examples of such things I noticed that Harrison H Schmitt was an astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon. Of all people, I thought that he at least would understand the concept that something that is crucial for life could become extremely dangerous at high concentrations.