Are Bacteria the Cause of Global Warming?*

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*hoaxed see below.

A new report in the Journal of Geoclimatic Studies by researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Goteborg in Sweden argues that benthic bacteria are responsible for increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the abstract:

It is now well-established that rising global temperatures are largely the result of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The "consensus" position attributes the increase in atmospheric CO2 to the combustion of fossil fuels by industrial processes. This is the mechanism which underpins the theory of manmade global warming.

Our data demonstrate that those who subscribe to the consensus theory have overlooked the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions. While a small part of the rise in emissions is attributable to industrial activity, it is greatly outweighed (by >300 times) by rising volumes of CO2 produced by saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Moreover, the bacterial emissions, unlike industrial CO2, precisely match the fluctuations in global temperature over the past 140 years.

This paper also posits a mechanism for the increase in bacterial CO2 emissions. A series of natural algal blooms, beginning in the late 19th Century, have caused mass mortality among the bacteria's major predators: brachiopod molluscs of the genus Tetrarhynchia. These periods of algal bloom, as the palaeontological record shows, have been occurring for over three million years, and are always accompanied by a major increase in carbon dioxide emissions, as a result of the multiplication of bacteria when predator pressure is reduced. They generally last for 150-200 years. If the current episode is consistent with this record, we should expect carbon dioxide emissions to peak between now and mid-century, then return to background levels. Our data suggest that current concerns about manmade global warming are unfounded.

This is a rather sweeping conclusion from research published in a minor journal and will likely produce howls of outrage from defenders of the consensus. Only further research and time will tell if these guys are on to something significant or if they have somehow misinterpreted what they believe they have discovered.

Disturbingly, the article suggests that efforts were made to suppress their findings. Of course, what they are interpreting as suppression might be well-intended advice by colleagues telling them not to make fools of themselves. Or it might be something worse? Here is what they have to say:

It was not our intention in researching this issue to disprove manmade global warming theory. We have received no funds, directly or indirectly, from fossil fuel companies and have no personal interest in the outcome of the debate. We simply noticed an anomaly in the figures used by those who accept the "consensus" position on climate change and sought to investigate it. But the findings presented in this paper could not be more damaging to manmade global warming theory or to the thousands of climate scientists who have overlooked – sometimes, we fear, deliberately – the anomaly. We have found a near-perfect match between the levels of carbon dioxide produced by benthic eubacteria and recent global temperature records. By contrast we note what must be obvious to all those who have studied the figures with an open mind: a very poor match between carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and recent global temperature records.

Moreover we note that there is no possible mechanism by which industrial emissions could have caused the recent temperature increase, as they are two orders of magnitude too small to have exerted an effect of this size. We have no choice but to conclude that the recent increase in global temperatures, which has caused so much disquiet among policy makers, bears no relation to industrial emissions, but is in fact a natural phenomenom.

These findings place us in a difficult position. We feel an obligation to publish, both in the cause of scientific objectivity and to prevent a terrible mistake – with extremely costly implications – from being made by the world's governments. But we recognise that in doing so, we lay our careers on the line. As we have found in seeking to broach this issue gently with colleagues, and in attempting to publish these findings in other peer-reviewed journals, the "consensus" on climate change is enforced not by fact but by fear. We have been warned, collectively and individually, that in bringing our findings to public attention we are not only likely to be deprived of all future sources of funding, but that we also jeopardise the funding of the departments for which we work.

We believe that academic intimidation of this kind contradicts the spirit of open enquiry in which scientific investigations should be conducted. We deplore the aggressive responses we encountered before our findings were published, and fear the reaction this paper might provoke. But dangerous as these findings are, we feel we have no choice but to publish.

Unfortunately, a good case can be made that moden academia is all about enforcing intellectual conformity rather than nurturing originality, but I will not attempt to make that case in this blogpost.

Whole article here.

*Yesterday I was hoaxed for about ten minutes by the above "study" on bacteria and global warming. I am on a listserv run by a prominent global warming skeptic who is generally a reliable source for the latest news and studies on the subject. This skeptic sent around the "study" as an extra yesterday. Another blogosphere friend also sent it along as well.

So I decided to write a quick post with the caveats you see above. About two minutes after I posted it, I received more information that it was hoax. Since it had been up a very short while I decided to take the post down immediately rather than mislead readers. Also, because it's embarassing to be hoaxed.

Well, the hoaxers were alert to identifying people whom they had successfully hoaxed (that would be me with the bright red face) and are now spreading the word that I fell for it (albeit for about ten minutes). Alas blogging can be a treacherous activity. Thus, I replace the original blogpost for all to enjoy at my all too well-deserved expense. The incident is entirely my fault.

Finally, regular reason readers know that I have not been in the skeptics camp for some time. For some examples, see my recent articles, "Carbon Taxes versus Carbon Markets," and "Confessions of an Alleged ExxonMobil Whore."