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Satellite records show that our world is experiencing a remarkable “greening” in the 21st century, to the seeming chagrin of the environmental left. There is now more vegetation than two decades ago, and greener vegetation, across as much as 50% of the Earth’s vegetated surface area. That area is expanding as well, and the creeping greenery has improved soil moisture levels in some drylands. This bodes well for agricultural productivity, putting another nail in Malthus’ coffin. The satellite studies have concluded that most of the enhanced vegetation is attributable to greater concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, as opposed to warming or other possible causes. An interesting feedback is that the enhanced vegetation increases natural absorption of CO2, providing an enhanced carbon sink. This, in turn, has caused a pause in the growth of atmospheric carbon cencentration.

The environmental left knows these developments tend to undermine their preferred narrative that human emissions of CO2 must be reduced — at any cost. In fact, already there are warnings that global greening will “outgrow its benefit” as the greater volume of plants begins to decay, releasing carbon. You just can’t make some people happy! But not all of the carbon release from plant decay adds to atmospheric carbon — some is soil-bound — so the greening should provide a fairly durable carbon sink.

Global greening was one of the major motifs in Matt Ridley’s 2016 Global Warming Policy Foundation Lecture. Ridley covered various evidence of greening, but he also discussed the failure of a large contingent of climate researchers to follow a legitimate scientific approach to the study of climate change. Instead, they have politicized their field of study, committing a few noteworthy frauds along the way:

It is irresponsible not to challenge the evidence properly, especially if the policies pursued in its name are causing suffering. Increasingly, many people would like to outlaw, suppress, prosecute and censor all discussion of what they call ‘the science’ rather than engage in debate. …

No wonder that I talk frequently to scientists who are skeptical, but dare not say so openly. That is a ridiculous state of affairs. We’re told that it’s impertinent to question “the science” and that we must think as we are told. But arguments from authority are the refuge of priests. Thomas Henry Huxley put it this way: ‘The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin’. 

What keeps science honest, what stops it from succumbing entirely to confirmation bias, is that it is decentralized, allowing one lab to challenge another.

It is all too true that policies advanced in the interests of curbing a slight warming trend cause real suffering, and the pain is heavily concentrated on the most impoverished. The presumed benefits of activist climate-change policies are speculative, at best. They have little chance of reversing atmospheric carbon concentration on their own.

Ridley makes note of the substantial evidence that sensitivity of the climate to airborne carbon concentration is low. This has become increasingly evident with the unfolding of a consistent record of over-forecasts of global temperatures by climate forcing models. Roy Spencer provides insights about these models in a recent discussion of global warming and “dodgy science” on his blog.

There is a widespread myth that 97 percent of climate scientists believe human activity is the main cause of global warming. In fact, that claim was based on a paper counting citations, not scientists; the methods used in the study and the citations themselves were also questionable. I have reviewed that evidence here on Sacred Cow Chips. David Henderson reviewed it hereA large number of studies find fault with so-called “consensus” pronouncements. They should always be viewed with suspicion.

There is also a lively debate underway over whether CO2 should be considered a pollutant! I exhale, therefore I pollute? To the extent that fecal matter is considered a pollutant, is it fair that to say that CO2 is, too? After all, both are anthropogenic. No, they are not even close in terms of an immediate threat to human health. As a philosophical matter, the idea that anything done by man is “unnatural” denies the fact that we are a very part of nature. Obviously, CO2 is not in the same class as pollutants like sulfur dioxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide or toxic metals. Today, these pollutants are very common in many parts of the world, and they are very threatening to human life. Effective mitigation technologies are available, but instead, in the developed West, we fixate on an increase in CO2 concentration of 100 parts per million over many decades, the climate implications of which are de minimis.

Rand Paul’s Facebook page has an ungated link to a WSJ.com commentary by Rodney W. Nichols and Harrison H. Schmitt on “The Phony War Against CO2”. Their commentary provokes questions as to the motives of the environmental left, and certain members of the research community, in shilling for the cause. That we would fight the greening of the globe, and the potential agricultural benefit it could bring, is bizarre. To devote enormous resources to an endeavor that is largely futile is a waste and a tragedy.