Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

The Magazine Of Queen's University

2017 Issue 2: The Technology Issue

Search form

The time for obfuscation is over

The time for obfuscation is over

Thorpe Watson, Sc'61, MSc'63, of Trail, BC, argues that Dr. John Smol and other climate change alarmists are relying on faulty science.

Letter to the Editor
Re: "The folly of denial", Issue #3-2010, p. 10

I agree with Prof. John Smol that "the time for obfuscation is over". Specifically, the tactic of attacking the messenger rather than the message must be denounced. Moreover, the use of such a political tactic in a scientific debate is a tacit admission of defeat.

As a first step, we could denounce the name calling. Professor Smol refers to climate skeptics as "deniers", a derogatory term implying that climate skeptics are the moral equivalent of Holocaust Deniers. Contrary to Smol's claim, climate skeptics far outnumber the advocates of human-induced, global warming. However, legitimate science is not a political game where numbers matter.

Smol complains about the "various comments from readers" but does nothing to refute the charges. Specifically, he does not address the science of climate change. It is readily apparent that Professor Smol is attempting to stifle any questioning of the anthropogenic, global-warming ("AGW") hypothesis, which postulates that CO2 is a major driver of climate. (Please see below.)

Furthermore, Smol neglects to tell us that AGW exists only in the mythical computer world of flawed climate models. He claims that the anecdotal evidence supporting AGW is overwhelming but fails to tell us that such alleged evidence is well within natural variability. This is probably the primary reason why a growing number of scientists question the validity of the AGW hypothesis. Another reason for this growing skepticism is Mother Nature's refusal to cooperate with the AGW advocates.

Climate skeptics have no need to use political tactics to defend their rejection of the AGW hypothesis. For example, the following analysis of the evidence uses history, science, and common sense. It is obvious that the debate regarding the validity of climate-model projections is irrelevant because of the lack of sufficient fossil-fuel carbon to make a material contribution to the CO2 content of the atmosphere.

In other words, fossil-fuel carbon did not cause runaway warming when it formed a very small part of the CO2 content of ancient atmospheres. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that this same fossil-fuel carbon, as man-made CO2, will never cause runaway warming when returned to its severely-depleted origins.

Hopefully, this insight will be useful in guiding John Smol's research. I have no reason to believe that he is not a very capable biologist.

Thorpe Watson, Sc'61, MSc'63
Trail, BC



Carbon dioxide ("CO2") is as important as oxygen and water in sustaining life on the planet. Without CO2, the planet becomes a desert. Most of the planet's biologically available CO2 was used to form carbonate rocks. Less than 0.01% of such CO2 was used to create the fossil-fuel deposits.


Fossil-fuel carbon did not cause runaway warming when it existed as a very small part of the CO2 content of ancient atmospheres. Therefore, why should the return of fossil-fuel carbon to its origins be a danger now? Moreover, it didn't cause a climate catastrophe even in the presence of the much larger quantity of what is now carbonate carbon (e.g. limestone, coral)? A summary of the pertinent facts is as follows:

1. Carbon dioxide is essential for plant growth. Without CO2, a green planet is impossible.

2. Biologically-available carbon (as CO2) is stored in two interconnected compartments; that is, the oceans and the atmosphere.

3. Carbonate rocks (e.g. limestone & coral) and fossil fuels (e.g. coal) were formed by extracting ("sequestering") carbon from the air/ocean store.

4. The carbon used to form the fossil-fuel deposits is a very small fraction of that used to form carbonate rocks.

5. When we burn fossil fuels, we are returning this small fraction of the sequestered carbon to its now severely-depleted origins.

In conclusion, It is illogical to assume that fossil-fuel carbon, as man-made CO2, is capable of causing runaway warming when returned to its severely-depleted origins. Climate alarmists have to make (unwittingly?) the absurd assumption that this carbon has acquired magical, super-warming powers during its long 'incarceration' as a fossil fuel.


The temperature predictions generated by the 20+ climate models lack any practical significance. Why? The brief answer is the lack of sufficient fossil-fuel carbon. The following review of carbon's role in the Earth's natural processes clearly provides support for this conclusion.

In ancient times, the inventory of CO2 was more than a 100 times the current level. As a result of natural processes, the carbon store has been severely depleted. Our atmosphere can now be described as CO2-impoverished. Furthermore, it becomes dangerously impoverished during the re-occurring glacial periods. According to ice core data, increased absorption by cooler oceans reduces the CO2 level to about 180 ppm. Plant growth ceases at about 150 ppm.

Will the return of fossil-fuel carbon to its origins materially enhance the CO2 content of the atmosphere?

The simple answer is no!

The oceans are an effective carbon sink, having a carbon content 50 times that of the atmosphere. Notwithstanding an accumulation of man-made CO2 in the atmosphere, an emission of 100 tons of carbon will increase the carbon content of the atmosphere by only 2 tons. The contribution to the total content is controlled by a redistribution of carbon between the 2 phases (air/oceans), all in accordance with phase equilibrium principles; specifically, Henry's Law. The current average increase of atmospheric CO2 of 2 ppm per year is primarily the result of natural ocean outgassing.

The consumption of all known fossil-fuel deposits will not restore the atmosphere's carbon content to that of ancient times. Moreover, it is unlikely that we will be able to enhance the content by more than about 10% unless we were to release the carbon locked in carbonate rocks using massive quantities of energy to operate vast arrays of lime kilns.

Climate models predict a temperature increase of 1.7oC to 3oC for a doubling of the atmospheric carbon content. By wrongly accepting the positive feedback mechanism used by all climate models, and by ignoring the fact that CO2's absorption bands are saturated, the flawed models should predict an insignificant temperature increase of 0.17oC to 0.3oC for a 10% increase in atmospheric carbon. This climate-model prediction would take place over 400 years, the time to consume all known fossil-fuel deposits at current consumption rates.

Clearly, the debate regarding the role of man-made carbon dioxide as a climate driver lacks any relevance. This position is even supported by the exaggerated temperature predictions of the flawed climate models.