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Benny Peiser: The Greening Of Planet Earth

Benny Peiser, Die Weltwoche

The earth is warming slower than predicted. The prophecised climate catastrophes haven’t happened. But one thing is certain: the Earth is getting greener. Thanks to the greenhouse gas CO2.

Ever since the IPCC last October warned of an imminent climate catastrophe, the cyclical bouts of eco-hysteria in parts of Western Europe have boiled over again.

The world is warming up faster than previously predicted, climate scientists claim, and with more devastating impacts than expected. The IPCC demands that humanity limits the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius (compared to the level before the beginning of industrialization).

More and more droughts?

If global temperature rises by half a degree in coming years, nature and the human race will face dramatic consequences, climate scientists claim. It is predicted that an additional half a degree will multiply droughts and floods, hurricanes and forest fires. Rising poverty for hundreds of millions of people will be one of the worst consequences.

One decade is all that remains to stop catastrophic damage caused by climate change, the president of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, warned at a high-level United Nations meeting earlier this year: “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” she said.

This apocalyptic worldview, however, stands in sharp contrast to observational data and hard facts. There is a significant contradiction between the new climate alarm and empirical reality.

Temperatures are falling again

For a start, there is the fact that average global temperature has dropped by almost half a degree Celsius since the Super El-Niño three years ago. And although global temperatures have been rising slowly for thirty years, the warming trend has noticeably been slowing rather than accelerating since the start of this century — in complete contrast to the predictions of almost all climate models.

Thus, the first IPCC report in 1990 predicted an increase of global temperatures by 0.3°C per decade. Since then, however,  global temperatures have risen by only between 0.13°C and 0.2°C per decade, depending on which data set is being used. In other words, only one-third to two-thirds of the predicted global warming has taken place in the last thirty years, even though more than half of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution have been released during that time.

Scientists are afraid

A target of limiting the rise of global temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels was set by the EU as a political objective in 1996. It was later also adopted by the UN. Most climate economists were convinced that on balance net losses globally would only occur with an increase of more than 2°C. At a sluggish temperature rise of just 0.1°C or 0.2°C per decade, however, this goal would only be reached in half a century or even later.

The unexpectedly slow rise in temperatures and the failure of predicted climate disasters to materialise has sparked growing concern among climate scientists. Their fear of a loss of scientific credibility is probably also behind the decision by the IPCC to reduce the global warming target from 2° C. to 1.5°C.

After all, in order to reach this new 1.5-degree limit, the world is only allowed to emit around 420 gigatons of CO2, according to the IPCC. At the current rate of emissions, this global carbon budget would be used up in six to ten years. This short-termism brings climate doomsday within reach. By 2030, CO2 emissions would have to fall 45 percent compared to 2010 to prevent disaster.

Sea level rises a little bit

While global CO2 emissions are rising unabated, there are no signs of accelerating global warming or climate impacts. Nevertheless, it has become routine for scientists, the media and activists to associate extreme weather events with climate change. The basic claim is that the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in recent decades has led to ever more extreme weather conditions of all kinds – more droughts, more floods, more and stronger hurricanes and more forest fires.

Yet contrary to all predictions, neither the number nor the intensity of drought, floods, forest fires or hurricanes has increased in the last thirty years. This is the conclusion from the “IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C”.

Even sea level rise is much more gradual and constant than predicted. According to NASA, the average sea level rise since 1993 is 3.2 millimetres per year. There are no signs that this rate is accelerating ever since satellites began to measure sea level 25 years ago. At this rate sea levels would rise just 32 centimetres in a hundred years.

Falling mortality

Although heat waves are becoming somewhat more common, cold weather accounts for 20 times more deaths than hotter periods. A large-scale study in Lancet (2015) analysed the data of 74 million deaths between 1985 and 2012, in thirteen different countries. 7 percent of deaths were associated with low temperatures, just 0.4 percent with elevated temperatures.

Most people are not aware that weather-related mortality and mortality rates have fallen by more than 95 percent globally over the last hundred years. The biggest improvements have come as a result of the dramatic drop in mortality due to droughts and floods, events that caused more than 90 percent of all extreme weather-related fatalities in the 20th century .

Less hunger and poverty

The endless prophecies that climate change is increasing poverty and hunger is equally unfounded. According to the World Bank, global poverty has halved since 1990 while the share of malnourished people has fallen by almost half during the same time. This global reduction in poverty and hunger by 50 percent has occurred in a period of global warming and is undoubtedly one of the most notable human achievements in history.

What is more, it is unknown to many that the emission of anthropogenic, i.e. man-made greenhouse gases is playing a prominent role in this extraordinary development. Hundreds of scientific publications have documented that rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have contributed to a marked increase in global crop yields and a dramatic decline in global poverty.

Huge advantages

The prophets of doom are wrong. Slowly rising temperatures and rising carbon dioxide emissions have had, by and large, more positive than negative effects on humanity and the biosphere. The tremendous benefits for mankind and nature are manifest and provable, while the cost of future warming remains speculative and uncertain.

The biggest advantage is not the moderate climate change itself, but rising carbon dioxide levels. According to NASA, a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years mainly due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Numerous satellite observations have shown that the increase in the atmospheric CO2 content has contributed significantly to the greening of our planet over the last three decades because the rising CO2 content of the air acts like a fertiliser on the vegetation. Satellite images show that plant cover has become lush all over the world. This increase in green biomass worldwide is equivalent to a new green continent twice the size of the US.

According to the scientists, 70 percent of global greening is due to the fertilisation effect of rising CO2 levels. The associated increase in crop yields has reduced chronic hunger in developing countries from 24 percent of the population in 1990 to less than 10 percent, even though the global population has increased by 40 percent.

In sharp contrast to gloomy forecasts, global warming has even positive effects on the Sahara and the Sahel. According to Nature magazine, scientists believe that the increase in CO2 emissions is “beneficial for maintaining and potentially enhancing the recovery of rainfall in the Sahel region”. The southern border of the Sahara has also retreated for more than thirty years. Families who had fled to wetter coastal areas have begun to return.

A study published last year, using satellite imagery, has shown that the vegetation coverage of sub-Saharan forests has increased 8 percent in the last three decades. Global forest cover has also increased noticeably over the past four decades. An analysis of satellite data shows that the area on which trees that are at least five meters high has grown by 2.24 million square kilometers in the last 35 years.

Short-term weather fluctuations and extreme weather events often cause terrible human costs, and such events are rightly making headlines. But they do not grasp the reality of the comparatively mild climate of our planet, which in the last three decades has made the Earth a little warmer, a little wetter and much greener.

The predictions of catastrophic climate change during the last thirty years proved to be wrong or extremely exaggerated. The failure of global warming to accelerate, however, does not mean that it will remain so in the future. Nobody knows how the climate will develop in the next few decades in face of persistent CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, the next ten years will show whether the guild of scientific doomsday prophets are wrong yet again.

Full story (in German)