Kauri’s position on climate change is straightforward. Climate change is real and constant but the proportion of warming caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 is insignificant in the scale of earth processes. This paper summarises the evidence that led to this position and is intended for a non-technical audience; details, including references, can be found in the Kauri submission to the Climate Commission on the Kauri website.
The earth is not a static, stable, benign system and climate is continually changing, driven by large scale processes such as solar cycles, lunar cycles, orbital variations, volcanism, plate tectonics, ocean circulation, gravity variations etc. Our understanding of each of these processes individually is still far from complete, and we have a very poor knowledge of the complexities created by the interaction of these processes over different timeframes. The actual Climate Deniers are those who do not recognise the system is dynamic, and believe the climate should remain static, or that changes can be reversed. There is no climate crisis, just climate change - all measures of climate are varying within ranges that have been experienced even in the brief period of recorded human history. Kauri’s position is based on measured data and repeat observations; not modelling and assumptions.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has been demonised as the control knob for earth’s temperature because it can absorb and emit longwave electromagnetic radiation. This was observed in the 1850s, before radioactivity, plate tectonics or the ozone were recognised and before technology had been developed to actually quantify the effect.
The earth’s surface receives on average 493 W.m -2 of electromagnetic radiation, 161 as shortwave (solar) radiation and 332 as longwave radiation from the atmosphere (IPCC figures). CO2 is a very minor component of the atmosphere, constituting only 0.004%, and absorbs and emits only longwave radiation. The change in radiative forcing in the absorption frequencies of CO2 has been measured and results published in two key papers.
Feldman et al (2015) presented data from sensitive Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometers at two surface locations; one on the North Slope of Alaska, and one on Southern Plains of the U.S which showed an increase of 0.2 W.m-2 over a decade (2000-2010). Atmospheric CO2 increased by 22ppm over this period.
Rentsch (2020) presented data collected over 17 years (2002-2019) by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) at top of atmosphere. Radiative forcing in the CO2 range increased by 0.36 W.m-2 over 17 years or 0.2 W.m-2 over 10 years. During this period atmospheric CO2 increased from 373 to 410 ppm (37ppm, or 22 ppm over 10 years).
The fact that two independent systems, at different times and different places, both recorded the same change in CO2 radiative forcing in the atmosphere (0.2 W.m-2 over a ten year period), gives these data credibility. Even if we assume human activity is responsible for all the CO2 added since the industrial revolution (130 ppm), the net effect has been to add 1.1 W.m-2 (0.002%) to the total energy budget. This is inconsequential.
In contrast, damaging shortwave (solar) radiation increased by 2.4 W.m-2 over a decade. Longwave radiation, generated through a number of mechanisms from the shortwave solar energy, increased by 1.8 W.m-2. That is an additional 4.2 W.m-2 over 10 years, or 20 times the energy released by CO2. This also has been measured. Additional shortwave radiation increases evaporation, leading to increased concentrations of water vapour in the atmosphere, resulting in more energy absorption and larger rain events.
The amount of shortwave radiation reaching earth’s surface has increased as a result of ozone depletion. Ozone depletion has been happening since measurements were first taken in 1959. On 5 October 2022 the ozone hole was 26 million sq km; it has only been larger once in the last 45 years (26.6 million sq km in 2006) and is significantly larger now than it was in the 1980’s when the Montreal Protocol was signed, banning the release of CFCs to the atmosphere. Ozone is broken down by chlorine and bromine. In the same way that CO2 has been convicted without evidence for warming, CFCs were identified as the source of ozone-damaging chlorine, despite being five times heavier than air. The concentration of CFCs in the stratosphere is around 1 part per trillion.
An alternative (as yet untested) explanation is that chloride (derived from chlorine) is transported to the stratosphere as a result of submarine volcanic eruptions. During the submarine explosive eruption offshore Tonga in January 2022, satellite measurements indicate over 150 billion litres of seawater (equivalent to 10% of the total water vapour in the atmosphere) was vapourised and carried into the stratosphere. Seawater contains around 30,000 ppm chloride and 65 ppm bromine. Alarmists claim it is the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere that is unnatural and the atmosphere cannot re-equilibrate fast enough. During the Tongan eruption the atmosphere absorbed an increase in water vapour of around 250ppm in one day, compared to CO2 increasing at around 2.5ppm/year.
Climate scientists have enjoyed 40 years of backslapping self-congratulation, claiming they averted disaster by getting CFCs banned, when in fact it is now apparent the link was never there. Forecasts of the size of the ozone hole, like climate forecasts, have been consistently wrong for 40 years. These are models, not measurements, and reflect assumptions made by climate scientists.
Society’s response to the CO2 dogma has been to commit some $130 trillion to decarbonising the atmosphere to try and stop, or reverse, current temperature trends. This is a futile exercise that will damage western economies and only divert money away from real needs – including research by credible scientists.
Until someone explains how 0.2 W.m-2 (the change in radiative energy over a decade due to increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2) is more significant than 4.2 W.m-2 (the change in radiative energy over a decade due to ozone depletion), I will disagree with those who attribute climate change to the use of fossil fuels. Whenever I try to discuss this with AGW proponents, they inevitably resort to their last line of defence “but thousands of climate scientists agree”. Thousands more disagree, but their views don’t fit the narrative and so aren’t reported.
Fossil fuels were responsible for lifting a large portion of the world’s population out of poverty. Natural gas, in particular, is concentrated energy, abundant and clean. Eliminating these sources of energy will not only deprive developing nations of accessible energy, it will be economically crippling to trading nations such as New Zealand. Apart from the costs associated with changing our infrastructure – changing the vehicle fleet to EVs and hydrogen vehicles, increasing generation capacity to provide the necessary electricity, the loss of productive land to carbon farming etc, we have committed to emissions targets that cannot be met. The gap between emissions and target reductions is around 20 million tonnes/year and will be offset by purchasing carbon credits overseas. These have quickly become a commodity and are expected to cost >$170/tonne, costing us around $4 billion/year. Add in over $4 billion for the Lake Onslow project, and the proposed financial penalties to be imposed on NZ businesses for importing or exporting goods, and the economic and social impact is going to be severe. This is money that could be directed at health, education, housing etc. At the same time, we are slashing our high-value export industries such as oil & gas and agriculture but the opportunities lost are not factored into economic modelling.
New Zealand is fortunate in having a hydrocarbon resource, the scale of which many believe has been grossly underestimated. An LNG (exporting liquified gas by ship) project could earn NZ $300 billion over 30 years, add 30,000 jobs and inject $40 billion into regional economies. Norway’s sovereign fund, accumulated from oil and gas earnings, now exceeds $1 trillion. That is why they have a far higher standard of living than NZ and are able to buy EVs for their population. New Zealand is crippling its own economy in a futile bid to remove CO2, which will have no effect on global climate.
But, apart from the technical and economic issues, the main reason I persist with this debate is the manipulation of children by alarmists, exploiting their feelings of guilt by delivering an incessant torrent of dramatic and unsubstantiated forecasts of impending doom, which has led to a culture of fear and anxiety. It is unjustified, unwarranted, and cynical. Alarmists love to claim we are destroying our children’s futures by burning fossil fuels. In fact, they are consigning future generations to poverty for no reason other than virtuous posturing. For the first time in history, our society has consciously taken backward steps to lower energy density, higher costs and poorer environmental outcomes.
Mark Webster is a petroleum geologist with 40 years of industry experience – in New Zealand and internationally - and a Director of Kauri Oil & Gas (NZ) Ltd.