Here’s what real science says about the role of CO2 as Earth’s preeminent climatic thermostat

Whenever I post something here at ImaGeo involving climate change, it’s a good bet that I’ll get a spectrum of critical responses in the comments section. These range from skepticism about the urgency of the problem to outright dismissal of humankind’s influence on climate through our emissions of greenhouse gases.

A recent post here about thawing permafrost releasing climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was no exception. For the story, I reviewed dozens scientific research papers, and used information and quotations from two interviews. Based on that reporting, here’s what I wrote at the top of the story:

The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost. But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That’s concerning because melting permafrost releases climate-warming greenhouse gases.

As always, I expected skeptical pushback — but nothing as extreme as this:

As CO2 has had no noticeable effect on climate in 600 million years, until 15- 20 years ago, when carbon tax was invented, any alleged climatic effects can be ignored.

I took this to mean that a liberal scientific establishment invented the idea that carbon dioxide plays a role in Earth’s climate system to support raising taxes.

Never mind that relatively simple physics worked out in the 1800s, and since corroborated by experiments and observations, show that adding CO2 to the atmosphere should raise Earth’s average temperature.

I ordinarily ignore comments like the one I quote above. Discover is a science magazine, not a platform for political grandstanding. And it is especially not a platform for ideas that run counter to basic physics and more than a century of hard scientific work by generations of researchers.

This is not to say that I and the other writers and editors here at Discover view science as being infallible. Far from it. We recognize that as a human endeavor, science is prone to error born of vanity, preconceived notions, confirmation bias, a herd mentality, etc.  Scientists know this better than anyone, so skepticism is one of their cardinal values. So is the recognition that even today’s most widely accepted theories may have to be modified or even replaced tomorrow if new evidence requires it.

Journalists are also supposed to be skeptical and self-critical. We should frequently ask ourselves things like, “How do I know this? Am I sure? Maybe I should check because I could be deceived by my preconceived notions.”

And so in this case, I thought it would be useful to delve deeper into what scientists know of the link between carbon dioxide and climate over the geologic timescale, and CO2’s overall role as a kind of thermostat for the planet.

See full details..