Our complicated climate

A new United Nations report suggests an imminent danger from global warming. It states that without drastic action, we may have “to develop the ability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground.”

Minnesota already has millions of devices that do that. They are called trees and plants. They take in carbon dioxide, store the carbon and return the oxygen for us to breathe.

It’s actually not clear that our CO2 emissions are a serious global warming threat. There are many poorly understood ocean temperature variables that have a bigger impact on earth temperatures. These include the El Nino cycle and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Confusion over how those work helps to cause the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to regularly overestimate temperature warming trends.

Undeterred, federal and state legislatures are spending billions in response to guesses about our climate future. In addition to ocean cycles, there are several other poorly understood natural climate feedbacks. These act as natural thermostats, keeping the Earth’s average temperature during inter-glacial periods within a fairly narrow range. One of the most important is the action of clouds. Clouds contain water, a greenhouse gas that warms us. Clouds reflect the sun’s light, cooling us. Clouds produce rain that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, etc.

At this point, no one knows how to accurately plug the impact of clouds or other climate variables into climate forecasting models.