Originally published: July 02, 2012.

The politics of carbon is having an enormous economic impact on the developed nations. It is based on a UN-sponsored hysteria that can be summarized as: through CO2 emissions, mankind is cooking the planet. We show why there is no basis for concluding this. In fact, the data suggest that our efforts may have no major effect on temperature at all.

Our determination to fight this idiocy went up a notch a year ago when our (then) 7-year old grandson came home talking about our carbon footprint. The school system may not have taught him how to read and write but it had taught him how to recycle garbage and reduce his CO2 production. And no, the title is not a misspelling.

Modern climate science is possible only because we have the results from the Vostok ice core project. Here’s a graph of the data from the Southwest Climate Change Network with a CO2 measurement extension to 2007:

Figure 1. The Vostok ice core data.. Source: Originally from Southwest Climate Change Network

We discuss the graph and its implications below, before arriving at some conclusions.

The Importance of the Vostok Ice Core Data

To speak of climate change one requires a historical record to compare current measurements against. In particular, it is desirable to be able to estimate temperature and atmospheric composition over very long periods. The Vostok data spans roughly the last 450,000 years.

For the interested reader, Wikipedia explains what ice coring is about and describes a number of current projects. A brief history of the Vostock project is given here. We will not go into the project or the science behind it. Suffice it to say that the Vostok data is generally accepted as valid by climate scientists. Throw it out and one cannot speak intelligently about changes in climate.

What Is the Graph Saying?

There are a number of key points to be observed without getting into mathematical analysis of the data.

  1. Over the last 350,000 years there have been four inter-glacial warm periods or temperature spikes.
  2. We have just come off of such a peak.
  3. The current peak is the lowest of the four.
  4. They appear at a regular interval of about 100,000 years. This tells us that the most important drivers of climate change are long term. It is not clear that they are fully understood or even known.
  5. There is a high correlation between CO2 concentration and temperature (the two curves line up very well) except for the present period.
  6. Because of the scale of the graph, we can’t see detail of the last hundred years or so.

There are many other graphs of the data available. We chose this one because the author has added modern day CO2 measurements which will be used in our later discussion.

Whose Driving the Bus?

The important question we want to answer is what phenomenon drives another? People who play with data speak of two data series being either coincident or one leading and one lagging the other. Usually,  a phenomenon that leads another is a good candidate for having a causal effect on the other. If CO2 is driving (leads) temperature change, then CO2 increases will precede temperature increases. If CO2 lags temperature then temperature change may drive changes in CO2 concentration. So let’s look at a higher resolution study of the data from C3 Headlines (click to enlarge):

Figure 2. Temperature and CO2 concentrations in the last two inter-glacial maxima and the period in between.

This graph shows us that the Earth is currently cooler than it was in the Medieval and Minoan warm periods of the last 4000 years and considerably less than the maximum of the previous interglacial period. Present day is on the left of the time scale. The graph is still too dense to readily see the time relationship between temperature and CO2 concentration, but a number of studies have done this for us. From the site JoNova the author has helpfully listed some:

  1. Petit et all 1999 — analysed 420,000 years of Vostok, and found that as the world cools into an ice age, the delay before carbon falls is several thousand years.
  2. Fischer et al 1999 — described a lag of 600 plus or minus 400 years as the world warms up from an ice age.
  3. Monnin et al 2001 – looked at Dome Concordia (also in  Antarctica) – and found a delay on the recent rise out of the last major ice age to be 800 ± 600
  4. Mudelsee (2001) – Over the full 420,000 year Vostok history Co2 variations lag temperature by 1,300 years ± 1000.
  5. Caillon et al 2003 analysed the Vostok data and found a lag (where CO2 rises after temperature) of 800 ± 200 years.
  6. See Palisad for the most informative detailed graphics on what the Vostok and Dome Ice cores mean and why they strongly mathematically suggest CO2 follows temperatures and has little effect on them.This is what you need to see to understand “feedback” or the postulated “amplification”.
  7. Excellent summary of the papers on the lag… at CO2 science.

From these studies we can infer temperature change drives changes in CO2 concentration, likely through biological mechanisms,  with a time lead of about 1000 years. Reference number 6 does an in-depth analysis of the CO2 climate change hypothesis and arrives at these conclusions:

  • Natural CO2 and CH4 are indicators of biology
    • No forward feedback to temperature is in the record
  • To Solve Global Warming
    • All we need to do is wait
    • In geologic terms, another ice age is eminent [we assume the author meant ‘imminent’]
      • It’s too bad that anthropogenic CO2 can’t stop it
  • Spending money on CO2 mitigation
    • Absolute worst thing to do
    • No climate change reversal will result
    • Better spent on adapting to the inevitable

So in answer to the question posed in the section heading, temperature drives CO2 with a delaying or lagging effect on CO2 concentration of about 1000 years.

And one other reference: Historical Carbon Dioxide Record from the Vostok Ice Core. From this paper’s we note this comment:

According to Barnola et al. (1991) and Petit et al. (1999) these measurements indicate that, at the beginning of the deglaciations, the CO2 increase either was in phase or lagged by less than ~1000 years with respect to the Antarctic temperature, whereas it clearly lagged behind the temperature at the onset of the glaciations.

What About CO2 Concentration?

In the past, temperature has had a leading generative feedback impact on CO2. When the climate has cooled going into a glaciation period, CO2 has fallen as a consequence. As we move into the next period of glaciation (and like it or not boys and girls, as noted above, that is exactly where we are headed and we can’t do anything about it) natural CO2 production will drop and anthropogenic CO2 may drop or simply slow its rise. But whatever it does, it doesn’t matter.

We chose the opening graph because it shows the anthropogenic spike in CO2 concentration. The climate alarmists are quick to attribute the increase in recent temperature (at least while it was increasing) to the rapid rise in CO2 concentration. If this is true, the time lag implied is a matter of a few years rather than a few hundred years. With CO2 spiking, with such a short lag, and if Co2 were driving temperature, temperature should be showing a pronounced spike at this point. It doesn’t so the imputed causative effect of CO2 driving temperature does not exist.

Time to Reexamine Your Carbon Foolprint

This will not silence the debate because the fundamental issue is not climate change but political realignment and wealth redistribution. Nor is climate a particularly well understood science. But at least the science is opening up and those who wish to continue the alarm will have to do so on the basis of a religious (green) doctrinal belief rather than science and rational debate.