At the last press conference, the head of our state said that "no one knows the causes of global climate change" and - at the same time - that "we must make every effort to ensure that the climate does not change dramatically." Let's figure out what is wrong with the above statements and what science actually thinks about this.
About the difficult consequences of pseudo-scientific myths
Scientists are often seen as the last people to influence politics. They seem like something amusingly awkward and not taken seriously by cynical politicians. However, in reality, it is they - through the media - that form the perceptions that force the heads of state to take certain steps.
For example, it was reading popular science pamphlets that made Adolf Hitler understand the link between cancer risk and smoking, and by 1941 pass laws on drastically restricting smoking in public places and introducing large excise taxes on cigarettes. Our reader is well aware of these laws, because not so long ago in Russia they copied the American version of the Nazi anti-smoking policy, and now they are in effect here.
Unfortunately, sometimes (but rarely) ideas from the scientific community that have no real scientific justification penetrate into society through the media. In the scientific world itself, they are sharply criticized, but in society they often do not know anything about these discussions. Therefore, a false idea that once fell into it forces politicians to take extremely dubious steps.
For example, eugenics, fashionable at the beginning of the 20th century (the doctrine of the need to select individuals "worthy" to reproduce among people), made Winston Churchill declare (then he was the British Minister of the Interior):
"To stop the decline of the British race, I propose to forcibly sterilize one hundred thousand degenerate Britons and throw the rest into labor camps."
England was not agile enough in introducing these fresh scientific ideas, so there was no such thing. But Hitler in Germany acted much faster and managed to both sterilize and throw a lot of people into the camps - with well-known results.
Once again, we note that eugenics was actively introduced in society because it was “in trend,” and not because it caused unanimous enthusiasm in the scientific community. There, even under Churchill, this dubious idea was strongly criticized.
The reader may wonder: why this excursion into the history known from school? Oddly enough, 100 years later we see a similar picture. The debate about global warming is as "trending" as the doctrine of race inequality or the usefulness of eugenics a century ago. And just as seriously affects world politics. Therefore, it is extremely important to understand where scientists are leading politicians this time.
What is the Russian leadership planning in connection with climate change? Will a carbon tax be introduced as demanded in the West? Will it come to a ban on meat and air travel, as required by the vanguard of Western youth? To what extent is the leadership of our country generally aware of the topic - fortunately, politicians always have something to do and never have time to delve into all the details?
Odd first thesis: Are the causes of climate change really unknown?
At the last press conference, Vladimir Putin said: “As you know, the Paris Agreement sets the task of preventing the temperature rise by 1.5 degrees.Will we all succeed in doing this together or not - I do not know, because no one really knows the reasons for the change in global, in any case, climate change."
However, from the point of view of modern science, this part of the press conference looks extremely archaic. In fact, the first person who scientifically was able to find out the true causes of global climate change did so back in the 1950s. Contrary to popular misconception, they discovered global warming as a scientific fact not in the West, but in the USSR.
Moreover, the discoverer himself, Mikhail Budyko, did this before instrumental observations confidently showed warming. In the final form, he formulated his point of view in 1971. The main factor in his modeling was the increase in carbon dioxide concentration due to fuel combustion, which by that time was already reliably recorded around the world.
Models created by Budyko showed that CO2 is the main greenhouse gas, capable of keeping even high-latitude zones warm. The scientist predicted that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide could raise the planet's temperature by up to three degrees and that this would lead to a sharp reduction in the area of Arctic ice.
Recall: in 1971, the view was in vogue that the planet was moving towards a cooling due to the by-products of burning coal and other air pollutants. Therefore, when Budyko announced at the end of the conference that global warming was inevitable, his words were greeted with an “explosion of indignation”. As he himself recalled: "Several very famous scientists [right there, at the end of the conference] spoke, saying that human activities cannot have any effect on the climate, that climate change is unpredictable and that it is completely unacceptable to implant such ideas in the minds."
The scientist did not back down, he published a brochure with this report. Just 18 years later, his point of view was not only confirmed (temperatures across the planet went up), but also reached the stands of the UN.
The second strange thesis: maybe people have nothing to do with it, but processes in the Universe are to blame?
Another statement of the president at the press conference was: “In the history of our Earth there was both a warming and a cooling, and this may depend on global processes in the Universe. A slight tilt of the axis of rotation of the Earth and its orbit around the Sun can and has led already in the history of our planet to very such serious climate changes on Earth, colossal … "And further:" It is very difficult to calculate how modern mankind affects global climate changes if generally possible."
Indeed, it is known from paleoclimatology that warming and cooling on the Earth occur constantly. But in the same way, you can always trace whether this is a natural process or artificial.
It is an established scientific fact that the current climate change is caused precisely by carbon dioxide, and not by changes in the Earth's axis of rotation and other factors. The modern level of astronomy makes it possible to accurately determine the parameters of the orbit of our planet and their changes over time. And they do not show anything that would lead to the current warming.
But it is possible to calculate exactly how a person affects the climate. People emit 37 billion tons of CO2 into the air, while the amount of this gas in the Earth's atmosphere is growing by about 15 billion tons per year (just over half is "eaten" by the ocean and plants). All calculations since the time of Budyko show that an increase in the content of carbon dioxide by a similar amount should lead to a relatively rapid warming.
Frequent objections - they say that natural CO2 emissions are much higher than anthropogenic ones - are based on ignorance of important facts. Indeed, the biosphere emits 439 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. But at the same time it absorbs 450 billion in the same year - that is, because of it, an increase in CO2 concentration and warming cannot occur.
All volcanoes on Earth emit no more than 0.23 billion tons of the same gas per year, that is, they are more than 100 times inferior to humans in terms of their influence on the climate.The ocean, which once supplied CO2 to the atmosphere, has been absorbing more of it in the last decades than it is emitting - too much of this compound is thrown into the atmosphere by humans.
As a result, 37 billion tons of anthropogenic emissions of the main greenhouse gas per year is an arithmetic fact. And today there is no climate scientist in the world who is ready to deny that this very fact is the cause of global warming.
To summarize: the president's thesis “It is very difficult, if not impossible, to calculate how modern mankind affects the global climate change,” and thus is incorrect.
The third thesis: cities on permafrost and serious problems
At the same press conference, the following words of the head of state sounded: “… For us, this process is very serious. As you know, we have a northern country, 70 percent of our territory is located in the northern latitudes, we have entire cities in the Arctic Circle, which are built on permafrost. If it starts to melt, you can imagine what the consequences might arise for us here. Very serious."
So could cities in the Arctic Circle disappear due to warming?
In the 20th century, 11 out of 17 million square kilometers of our territory were indeed permafrost. However, even now we can confidently say that its melting alone does not lead to a catastrophe.
The fact is that it is only in our imagination that the permafrost looks like a monumental and eternal platform on which the polar cities stand calmly. In fact, foundations in permafrost are already subject to stable fluctuations. In summer it thaws slightly, in winter it freezes again. In addition, the flow of heat from buildings can melt part of the permafrost and disturb the stability of the building.
Moreover, such seasonal fluctuations, even in the tundra, often lead to bumpy heaving - even in areas where there is no permanent permafrost thawing yet. Finally, as can be clearly seen on the map, most cities in the permafrost zone in Russia are located where there are taliks in it - permafrost zones.
The same Baikal-Amur Mainline generally runs in the insular permafrost zone - here it is under the railway, but after a hundred meters it is not. Nevertheless, BAM is working, clearly showing that no catastrophe occurs during the defrosting of the permafrost - which periodically occurs under a working railway - does not occur.
Foundations in such areas are already adapted to periodic fluctuations and thawing of permafrost, therefore, they are built according to different principles, not like to the south. These are either deep piles, or even supports with artificial cooling of the soil around them (in order to avoid seasonal defrosting and heaving).
All this means that today's melting of permafrost can only in rare cases lead to the need to repair buildings in the permafrost zone. In most cases, the processes run so smoothly that the service life of the building itself will expire earlier - and it will be time to build a new one. By the way, after the permafrost thaws, the construction of buildings becomes much easier in most cases.
Of course, these smooth and gradual changes should be considered. And also the fact that in any case they cannot affect more than two percent of the population of Russia. Yes, two thirds of our country is permafrost, but only two hundredths of our population live there. And this exhaustively demonstrates what, in fact, should be considered the melting of permafrost in local conditions. Obviously, warming will make the northeastern 11 million square kilometers more habitable than it is today.
Fourth thesis: is it warmer in Moscow, is desertification in the south?
Another statement by Putin at the same press conference: “In addition, it’s getting warmer somewhere, this is how we are setting new records for temperatures in Moscow, but this can lead to the desertification of some territories, and this concerns directly."
Is it so? Yes, the climate of Moscow has sharply warmed over the past decades - like Volgograd, and in general any large city in Russia. In 1969-1978, the average temperature in the capital was + 4, 8 ° C, and in 2009-2018 - plus 6, 6 ° C. Plus 1.8 degrees in 50 years is a lot.
Such temperatures in the 70s were in the south of the Tula region, that is, in half a century Moscow climatically “moved” a third of a thousand kilometers to the south. It got to the point that there were even hamsters in it, normally atypical for these places. Basically, winter is warming: if in 1970-1987 there were six winters with frosts stronger than minus 30 ° C, then in 1988-2018 - one.
Good or bad depends on who you are. If the Swedish girl is definitely bad. If you are a resident of Moscow - rather good: the likelihood of living longer with warming increases.
But the president's fears of desertification in Russia are mostly in vain. It is enough to look at satellite maps to notice that the south of the country is much more actively overgrown than desertified. For example, our driest region - Kalmykia - experienced an increase in the number of livestock by almost 2.5 times in 2001-2015. Usually, an excess of livestock destroys vegetation. But in fact, Kalmykia has become noticeably greener on satellite images of 2000-2017.
Certainly, near the border with western Kazakhstan and Mongolia, there are some spots where leaf area has decreased. But it is obvious that in general, 200-300 kilometers from the Russian southern border, there is much more greenery.
Causes? On the one hand, precipitation in the same Kalmykia (and not only there) in recent years is more than normal. On the other hand, the more CO2 in the air, the higher the soil moisture is. Plants that are not deficient in carbon dioxide open their stomata less - and therefore lose less water.
Fifth thesis: more fires and floods
And again the words of the head of state from the press conference: “Climate change is manifested, among other things, in the increase in the number of various natural disasters: fires, floods, and so on. This, too, all concerns us directly."
This seems logical: TV is always talking about "unprecedented forest fires" that are destroying our forests. Alas, on TV, fewer figures are given on how often forest fires have become in the real world. This is understandable: there is simply no scientifically supported data on this score. A shortage of them forced a group of scientists to take satellite images from 1998-2015 and compare the burnt spots from there with those observed in the previous 18 years.
As you might have guessed from the map above - where the expansion of vegetation across the Earth is noticeable - the area burned out by fires on the planet fell by 24.3% in 1998-2015. Moreover, it fell for forests, and for steppes, and for savannas. And in Russia - too, which is easy to see on the map below. A publication about this appeared in Science, a leading scientific journal, and, in theory, was supposed to produce the effect of an exploding bomb.
Of course, this did not happen. As we have already noted, the news with the headline “Forests are burning down in Russia. At the sawmills, Russians fight the Chinese,”good news for the media, with a box office headline. And it's easy with an illustration: the spectacle of a fire is dramatic and eye-catching.
The news “There are a quarter fewer wildfires in the world” is bad, not a cash one. People are instinctively interested in “dangerous news” more than in comforting ones. The media have to live on something. This means that they will give people the news to which they respond more often. And then, the editor will tell you, why are you going to illustrate the news so unnecessary due to non-cash flow? Boring satellite imagery maps? It is clearer that they will be looked at much less than colorful pictures of fires.
We are practically sure that, just like the vast majority of the population of our country, Putin has not heard of a publication in Science that speaks of a sharp decline in wildfires in the 21st century.
The floods represent a somewhat similar story. We constantly hear about floods in England, then in Australia, then elsewhere in the world.But we never hear that the strength of spring floods in Russia, which until recently cut off many settlements from communication with the world every spring, is waning, because there is little snow left after winter.
But this is a fact: a strong spring flood with the typical current thickness of March snow simply does not happen. It should be remembered that most of the floods in our country are the result of melting snow or ice jams. It is quite obvious that as the climate softens, their number will decrease.
Even less often, scientific works that have tried to calculate the frequency of floods and whether it is increasing come into our field of vision. It is not so difficult to do this, since more than 9000 points in the world measure the height of the maximum flood marks in the zones prone to such events.
It turned out that observations do not confirm the onset of flooding in the world: "In fact, the observation records are more indicative of a decrease in annual maximum flooding levels, despite the well-documented increase in precipitation," summarizes the situation in 2015 in Scientific Reports. Another study notes that despite the growing population of the planet, the death toll from floods is declining.
Why? We can confidently say that this is not a matter of reducing the frequency of spring floods in Russia. Too few people live here to seriously influence world statistics. The key reason why global warming with an increase in precipitation does not lead to more frequent floods is in banal physics. It turns out that as the temperature rises, evaporation increases, so heavy precipitation is accompanied by intense evaporation, which carries excess water back into the atmosphere.
Why does the president adhere to such strange warming theses? Why didn't the scientists convince him?
First, we recommend that you watch the December video in which Ivan Zasursky from Moscow State University is trying to rivet the attention of the head of state to the problem of warming (after 1.25):
Imagine that Ivan Zasursky approaches a passer-by on the street and begins to explain to him, as he did with the president: "The Russians are the last Indians." The passer-by is free in his reaction: he is not a public person, he is not filmed by a camera. Therefore, he may well advise a man from Moscow State University to inject haloperidol - and calmly move on.
A public politician does not have such freedom. As the head of state, he must calmly communicate with scientists - and much more often than read scientific papers. And now there are big problems with its scientific school in the field of global warming in Russia. Among those who call themselves scientists in our country, you can often see those who generally deny the fact of anthropogenic influence on the climate. One says that the warming is from humans, the other - from the tilt of the Earth's axis of rotation. How can a politician figure out who is right?
When a teacher at Moscow State University, with whom you communicate, says: "Maybe Peter has ten years to live, or maybe 50" - and pushes about the fact that Russians are Indians, then, in principle, there is nothing surprising in the fact that you are afraid of desertification although, in fact, Russia is overgrown with forests and grass. That you are afraid of fires, although, in fact, their frequency is decreasing. And floods - although they are also decreasing in our country.
So, the roots of the president's strange statements seem to be clearing up. What consultants, such opinions.
Another thing is less clear. How negative will be the consequences of the fact that, in Putin's words, "we must make every effort to ensure that the climate does not change dramatically"?
So far, the state is in no hurry to take any specific costly steps in this regard. It is difficult to seriously introduce a carbon tax (which Chubais is so fond of talking about) and similar emergency measures when you are not sure that you even understand what is happening.When one scientist talks about the Russians, who are Indians and therefore must fight warming, and the other - that warming may not be related to humans at all.
However, in the medium term, we would bet that the carbon tax and other measures to combat warming in Russia will still be adopted. The reason is that the media continues to spin stories about the catastrophic consequences of global warming and, sooner or later, will format the minds of ruling politicians. If not the current ones, then at least their successors.
What is left for us to do in this situation? Nothing about the fight against global warming. Yes, this is a costly nonsense, since warming is more good than evil - both for our country and for the world as a whole. But there is no way to stop this nonsense: the media are inertial and will spin outdated myths about the danger of warming, as well as more and more frequent fires and floods for a very, very long time.
And no articles in Science will stop them. Remember: the scientific community has long and mercilessly criticized eugenics, but this did not stop Sweden and Germany in the 1930s from sterilizing the "inferior". The anti-warming fashion will pass, as will the eugenics fashion, but this will not happen soon.
All that we can in such a situation is to protect our own heads from getting into it the outdated information noise about the "catastrophe from warming". Relax and not strain again, seeing another incendiary headline about burnt forests and deserted Russia.