New SPPI Paper on NRDC’s Ocean Acidification Scare Film

by Robert Ferguson

The new SPPI paper can be found here: http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/originals/acid_test.html

Reproduced here is the Foreword to the paper.

“OCEAN ACIDIFICATION” – THE EXTREMISTS’ FALLBACK SCARE

First, they called it “global warming”. Then they noticed there had been no warming for 15 years, and cooling for 9, so they hastily renamed it “climate change”. Then they noticed the climate was changing no more than it ever had, so they tried “energy security”, and even named a Congressional Bill after it. Then they noticed that most Western nations already had bountiful energy security, in the form of vast, untapped domestic supplies of oil, gas, coal, or all three, so they switched to “ocean acidification”.

This is the new phantasmagoric for the tired, old scare whipped up by the NRDC and the environmental extremist movement for their own profit at our expense. The world’s corals, they tell us, will be eaten away by the acidified ocean within not more than ten years hence. Shellfish will be no more, their calcified carapaces and exoskeletons dissolved by the carbonic acid caused by our burning of fossil fuels. The oceans will die. Sound familiar?

Yet, as the indefatigable Craig Idso here demonstrates, the scientific consensus – if science were done by consensus at all, which it is not – is that the rising “ocean acidification” scare is just more piffle.

Our harmless emissions of trifling quantities of carbon dioxide cannot possibly acidify the oceans. Paper after paper after learned paper in the peer-reviewed literature makes that quite plain. Idso cites some 150 scientific sources, nearly all of them providing hard evidence, by measurement and experiment, that there is no basis for imagining that we can acidify the oceans to any extent large enough to be measured even by the most sensitive instruments. And, as Richard Feynman used to say, no matter how elegant your theory, no matter how smart you are, if experiment proves you wrong then you need another theory.

Why can’t rising atmospheric CO2 acidify the oceans?

First, because it has not done so before. During the Cambrian era, 550 million years ago, there was 20 times as much CO2 in the atmosphere as there is today: yet that is when the calcite corals first achieved algal symbiosis. During the Jurassic era, 175 million years ago, there was again 20 times as much CO2 as there is today: yet that is when the delicate aragonite corals first came into being.

Secondly, ocean acidification, as a notion, suffers from the same problem of scale as “global warming”. Just as the doubling of CO2 concentration expected this century will scarcely change global mean surface temperature because there is so little CO2 in the atmosphere in the first place, so it will scarcely change the acid-base balance of the ocean, because there is already 70 times as much CO2 in solution in the oceans as there is in the atmosphere. Even if all of the additional CO2 we emit were to end up not in the atmosphere (where it might in theory cause a very little warming) but in the ocean (where it would cause none), the quantity of CO2 in the oceans would rise by little more than 1%, a trivial and entirely harmless change.

Thirdly, to imagine that CO2 causes “ocean acidification” is to ignore the elementary chemistry of bicarbonate ions. Quantitatively, CO2 is only the seventh-largest of the substances in the oceans that could in theory alter the acid-base balance, so that in any event its effect on that balance would be minuscule. Qualitatively, however, CO2 is different from all the other substances in that it acts as the buffering mechanism for all of them, so that it does not itself alter the acid-base balance of the oceans at all.

Fourthly, as Professor Ian Plimer points out in his excellent book Heaven and Earth (Quartet, London, 2009), the oceans slosh around over vast acreages of rock, and rocks are pronouncedly alkaline. Seen in a geological perspective, therefore, acidification of the oceans is impossible.

For these and many other powerful scientific reasons, compellingly explained in great detail in Craig Idso’s masterly review of the scientific literature in this field, the acid-base balance of the oceans will remain in the future much as it has been in the past and, even if it were to change by the maximum quantity imagined by the most lurid of the scientists who have tried to foster this particular scare, the sea creatures that it is supposed to damage would either be unaffected by it or thrive on it.

Craig Idso’s monograph is not necessarily an easy read. The sheer quantity of evidence that he presents stands in powerful contrast to the empty catchiness of the message of the environmentalist extremists whose sun is now setting.

This is not an entertaining paper. Instead, it is true. In the words of the father of the scientific method, Ibn Al-Haytham, writing 1000 years ago in the Iraq of the early Middle Ages, “The road to the truth is perforce long and hard, but that is the road that we must follow.”

Monckton of Brenchley
Perthshire, Scotland
January 5, 2010

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