Beck to the future

Widory, D. and Javoy, M. 2003. The carbon isotope composition of atmospheric CO2 in Paris. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 215: 289-298.

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58 comments on this post.
  1. Zane Lewis:

    It is shocking that such a paper could attain the “peer reviewed” status unless one accepts that manufacture uncertainty is occurring.

  2. Eli Rabett:

    My favorite set of urban CO2 measurements was the Tour de Essen but the Place de la Nation is just off scale.

    A point that has not been commented on yet is how hard it is to make good calibration samples of low concentrations of one gas in another. I rather suspect that this could have been a contributing problem in some of the earlier measurements.

  3. Reasic:

    Great stuff! I recently had a skeptic tell me about how CO2 levels were higher in the 40’s and I had no idea what he was talking about. I knew it was bunk, just not where he got that idea. Now I know. :P Thanks. I’ll be linking it.

  4. Ike Solem:

    It’s interesting to see that Beck is based in Freiburg, Germany, one of the world’s leading areas in solar PV production, and which has the goal of being a solar city.

    His paper is an oddity – he claims there is also a relationship between lunar phases and atmospheric CO2 concentrations! “How to interpret the monthly variation of CO2…which indicates a coincidence with the lunar phases, is another question to be dealt with in a paper in preparation”. ICECAP also puts this paper at the top of their ‘climate library’.

    �Curiouser and curiouser!� cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).

  5. jre:

    Seeing Beck run a cubic spline through every blessed data point is breathtaking.
    Seeing a nominally peer-reviewed journal publish this as scholarship is dumbfounding.

  6. Bob Sell:

    I have been reading your papers for months and hope I have learned enough to make good arguments about climate change.

    Tonight I received my regular newsletter from my Congressman, Henry Waxman and was pleased to see that his efforts align with yours.

    Please keep up the good work.

  7. Timothy Chase:


    Incidently, this reminds me of the sort of “academic work” young earth creationists are doing, offering one-another mail-order degrees from their own non-accredited institutions, and publishing in their own young earth creationist peer-reviewed journals.

    Who again was the editor?

    Oh yes,

    Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen.

  8. SCM:

    Energy and Environment is not in the ISI journals list. I searched the Humanities and Social science ISI indices as well as the Science one. This pretty much makes it a non-journal for serious academic purposes*.

    If you are going to publish ground-breaking climate research you wouldn’t choose to do it in an obscure journal for energy policy wonks when there’s all those climate journals to choose from. You might publish in E&E if you don’t want your pseudo-science paper scrutinised by anyone with a relevant science background.

    * In the science world a scientist’s worth (sad to say) is largely measured by a crude algebra of ISI citation-counts and journal-impact-factors. Publishing in a low-impact journal is bad enough, let alone publishing in a journal that isn’t even in ISI. However my other half has a theory that the best way to get your citations WAY up is to publish something so wrong that people will be queueing up to refute it (getting it past peer review can be tricky but persistance pays off :-) )

  9. Nigel Williams:

    As I may have mentioned before, to us ordinary folk, in terms of the potential impact on society, it doesnt really matter what the CO2 levels were in the past. The things that matter are the present temperature, and the equilibrium temperature at the present and likely future GHG concentrations.

    Discrediting past maths has no effect on these realities.

  10. Steve Bloom:

    Re #8: Somehow I suspect that any refutations of Beck’s work in legit journals will be rather thin on the ground. Sheer crackpottery does tend to get ignored in such venues.

  11. James Killen:

    Typical, in debates the AGW “proponents” keep telling us to cite peer-reviewed papers. Then when we go and invent a journal that will allow us to cite whatever we want that still isn’t good enough for them! ;)

  12. TH:

    The methodology reminds me of Barry Setterfield’s theory of C-decay. Setterfield, a young Earth creationist, plotted 41 measurements of the speed of light taken between 1675 and 1960 in order to show that the speed of light was slowing exponentially during that period. Needless to say, the slowdown stopped dead in 1960, just as more accurate and precise instruments became available.

  13. PeteB:

    Skeptics get there own journal

  14. meiza:

    Politicians need to get much better scientific reading abilities, or need personal science assistants who actually speak the truth and not just what the politicians want to hear. I seriously hope some political denialists will get seriously questioned on this, in the public, so that such idiotisms can not continue.

    Science plays a big role in modern decision making and shapes society as well as the environment a lot.
    It’s impossible to do good policy decisions if your science input is just wrong.
    The garbage in, garbage out principle.

    It’s mind boggling that a huge percent of politicians in a western developed nation don’t understand such basic scientific issues at all.
    It is perhaps that the majority of people that voted them there don’t have much of a grip themselves either, they just trust what the media says, without power to verify even a little by themselves.

    And the media seems to have a very lousy scientific reading ability as well. Even basic physics are an alien concept to many of them, for example when handling Zero G Corp’s parabolic flights, and the misunderstandings of gravity and acceleration.

    So, there’s three tiers to educate. I’m very happy that this website exists as a credible source of information, it helps a lot.
    When encountering denialists and their myths, I’ve also found Coby Beck’s archive “How to Talk to a Global Warming Sceptic” useful:

    So far the denialists or people that have been misled by denialists, have never responded, even when I’ve asked for sources for their allegations (volcanoes release much more CO2 than human activity, same scientists promised an ice age in the seventies).

    People, when they find themselves being misled, should get angry, go to the original source and reprimand or correct that, or if it doesn’t work, choose to ignore further info from that source and convince other people of the source’s untrustworthiness.

  15. chris:

    The link to Sonia B-C opened up an email form. here’s a good link to her
    and a few of her colleagues.

  16. Steve Horstmeyer:

    For those interested, I just finished reading “The Callendar Effect: The Life and Work of Guy Stewart Callendar (1898 – 1964)” by James Rodger Fleming for a book review that will appear in “Weatherwise” magazine.
    It is not an extensive biography but more of an extended biographical sketch that is very well written on this nearly forgotten climate researcher.
    Only one of six chapters deals directly with Callendar’s work on anthropogenic carbon dioxide and rising global temperature but throughout the work you get snippets about his research of atmospheric absorption bands, fog dispersal, carbon dioxide, steam and more.
    For researchers there is a companion DVD with over 6000 publication-quality images from his journals, personal papers and reproductions of all his publications, including the 1938 paper where he first made the case for the role of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in atmospheric warming.
    Both are available from the American Meteorological Society:

  17. Hank Roberts:

    This one. Oh, my.

    Policy News — August 31, 2005
    Skeptics get a journal — Climate skeptics and conservative politicians find all the science they need in the journal Energy & Environment.

    If the manuscripts of climate-change skeptics are rejected by peer-reviewed science journals, they can always send their studies to Energy & Environment. “It’s only we climate skeptics who have to look for little journals and little publishers like mine to even get published,” explains Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, the journal’s editor…..

  18. bjc:

    This is probably a dumb question, but with the high concentration of CO2 in urban areas wouldn’t we expect to see a bigger UHI effect?

  19. Ken Winters:

    Re: 13 The article says about Sonia BC: She says that the more mainstream climatologists agree, the more suspicious she becomes about claims that human activity is causing global warming.

    So I guess she must really be suspicious about general relativity, evolution, and gravity, because there’s an even stronger consensus in those fields. Where’s the logic in this type of thinking?

  20. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Something will probably come out about the editor.

    I remember a similar thing happening in some medical journal, like JAMA or NEJM or some other journal, about 10 or 15 years ago (I could look it up later). And I think the article or editorial had to do with some chemical not being harmful. Then it was discovered that the editor was funded by that chemical company, or had gotten grants from it.

    And as the earlier RC article stated, peer-review is a necessary but not sufficient condition of coming to scientific fact ( ).

  21. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Re #18, I think I agree. So while it’s getting hot around the world, it’s getting damn hot in the cities. But the difference is perhaps not from the CO2 (since I think it does its major warming work up at a much higher altitude), but maybe because of the hot exhaust from so many motors and machines, and all that black top & conrete (which absorb heat during the day, slowly releasing it at night) and lack of shady trees, and the buildings blocking the wind.

  22. Timothy Chase:

    Hank Roberts (#17) had a great quote, but here is the link:

    If the manuscripts of climate-change skeptics are rejected by peer-reviewed science journals, they can always send their studies to Energy & Environment. â??Itâ??s only we climate skeptics who have to look for little journals and little publishers like mine to even get published,â?? explains Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, the journalâ??s editor.

    Policy News â??August 31, 2005
    Skeptics get a journal
    Climate skeptics and conservative politicians find all the science they need in the journal Energy & Environment.

  23. Steve Latham:

    Gord Prather at a well-read website wrote a column questioning aspects of the carbon cycle. In my letter, I tried to point out his errors (and tried to tell him that we know the increase in CO2 is anthropogenic from several lines of evidence [not just isotopic lines of evidence]). You can see it here ( He replied with some more errors that don’t need to be addressed here (including misrepresenting the target of “very likely” to be the 100% certain conclusion that CO2 buildup is human-caused, see below). But he included a point I don’t know — are carbon isotopes in burned oil or gasoline the same as expected, given the biogenic theory of petroleum formation. Note: part of his argument seemed to be based on the abiogenic theories.

    “The IPCC argument that it is “very likely” (90% certain) that the observed buildup is “anthropogenic” (man caused) goes like this;

    1. there is a “correlation” between increase in the measured CO2 levels in the atmosphere and measured increase in the C-13 deficit in atmospheric CO2
    2. there is a measurable C-13 deficit in “organic” hydrocarbons
    3. “fossil fuels” are presumed to be “organic” hydrocarbons
    4. mankind burns “fossil fuels”
    5. hence, mankind is responsible for the increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

    Faulty logic notwithstanding, at a minimum, what needs to be done before Congress requires a 20% reduction in gasoline use in the U.S. is to measure the C-13 deficit â�� spot check it at the refinery â�� in the gasoline we are burning.”

  24. Hank Roberts:

    Even assuming there is some petroleum that’s being formed from non-biological sources (from methane deep in the planet), that would not have been exposed to cosmic rays. It’s neutrons from cosmic rays that produce C-14 (from nitrogen, when it absorbs a neutron).

    “Carbon 14 (8 neutrons) decays with a half-life of 5,700 years.
    I.e., after that time, half the carbon 14 in any given sample will
    decay. So where does the carbon 14 come from? It is produced by
    cosmic rays (highly energetic particles streaming through the galaxy)
    hitting the atmosphere, and producing (among other things) neutrons.
    Occasionally, the neutron will combine with Nitrogen 14, giving off a
    proton, and leaving behind Carbon 14 (this balances the total charge,
    and total number of protons+neutrons). The carbon 14 decays via a
    process called beta decay, releasing an electron, and leaving behind
    Nitrogen 14 again.”
    Found at:

    That’s been known for a long while:

    You might check for possible reasonable-sounding sources of the arguments, including places like this one:

  25. Steve Latham:

    Hi Hank; sorry your comment misses the point, I think. The relevant isotope stuff is Carbon 12/13 (quotation from eric’s previous effort at explaining it: “CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels or burning forests has quite a different isotopic composition from CO2 in the atmosphere. This is because plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes (12C vs. 13C); thus they have lower 13C/12C ratios. Since fossil fuels are ultimately derived from ancient plants, plants and fossil fuels all have roughly the same 13C/12C ratio â�� about 2% lower than that of the atmosphere. As CO2 from these materials is released into, and mixes with, the atmosphere, the average 13C/12C ratio of the atmosphere decreases.”)

    So I guess the question of what the isotope ratios when various fossil fuels are burned still stands. I know this seems like a side issue. I include it here because it’s related to the carbon cycle (in deep time).

  26. Alvia Gaskill:

    Different Beck, but old Glenn on CNN Headline News now entertaining all your favorite skeptics. 7pm and repeated (for masochists) at 9pm.

  27. Hank Roberts:

    Searching a bit, there are enough cites suggesting the “abiogenic origin” has been looked into and found wanting that I’d let whoever’s promoting the idea do the work of defending it.

    Example from a quick search:

    “… Geochemical evidence strongly argues that crude oil is of sedimentary (biogenic) origin, but the origins of natural gas are more complex and the proportion that may be derived from mantle (that is, abiogenic) sources is unknown. Using a geometric mean of 3×10[sup 6] for the molar CH[sub 4]/[sup 3]He ratio in uncontaminated, mantle-derived fluids from spreading ridges, mantle plumes and summit fumaroles of arc volcanoes, the median abiogenic methane content of commercial gases is estimated to be less than 200 ppm by volume (range=0 to 12,000 ppm) ….”

    Plenty more there, but I found nothing suggesting there’s evidence otherwise; whoever’s promoting the idea could do the homework if there’s evidence for their suggestion that this might be an issue.

  28. Bruce Tabor:

    In Australia Lyndon LaRouche is the darling of the nutty Citizens Electoral Council.
    I was given a copy of their newsletter “[the new] Citizen” at the university where I work (University of New South Wales, Sydney), which they were eagarly handing out to any takers.
    The front page of the paper prominantly displays part of the “CO2 reconstruction” in your commentary along with the headline, “Global Warming is a Fraud!”. The story cites Beck’s work.

    An additional point – exhaled air contains about 4.5% (45,000 ppm) CO2 and so you can produce a significant error in CO2 measurements just by sample contamination.

  29. Eli Rabett:

    Boehmer-Christiansen is no newcomer to denial, having heavily invested in the early 1990s.

  30. Marion Delgado:

    I couldn’t find references to this in a site search. THIS HARKENS BACK TO THE “SIMPLE MODEL” POST. I think this is a real find:

    Hands-on, Minds-on Meteorology by the U Ill at Urbana-Champaign Atmospheric Sciences Department.

    My favorite is the Radiation model for creating global mean temperature. It lets you adjust GHGs, cloud cover, cloud albedo and ground albedo. You can create a snowball earth or a runaway greenhouse/Venus II. snowball earth can be achieved with few clouds and a white Earth, but to really get good freezing or heating you need 100% cloud cover. If it’s white clouds, you sink down to ice-cube earth down below, counter-intuitively, at 171K/-102C. If it’s black clouds, you get up to around 90C easily. Makes you want to figure out how to get that last 10 degrees.

  31. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[The methodology reminds me of Barry Setterfield’s theory of C-decay. Setterfield, a young Earth creationist, plotted 41 measurements of the speed of light taken between 1675 and 1960 in order to show that the speed of light was slowing exponentially during that period. Needless to say, the slowdown stopped dead in 1960, just as more accurate and precise instruments became available. ]]

    Wasn’t Olaus Roemer’s estimate of c about 2/3 of the present value? Which would mean c is speeding up.

  32. Ray Ladbury:

    #19: Ken Winters posted:
    “Re: 13 The article says about Sonia BC: She says that the more mainstream climatologists agree, the more suspicious she becomes about claims that human activity is causing global warming.

    So I guess she must really be suspicious about general relativity, evolution, and gravity, because there’s an even stronger consensus in those fields. Where’s the logic in this type of thinking?”

    Unfortunately, this is logic that is becoming increasingly common. I think that part of it has to do with information asymmetry–a general distrust of experts based on the simple fact that because they know more than the lay person, they can use that knowledge against the lay person. There also seems to be this wierd psychological element where the person says: “If I can show all these smart people are wrong, then I must be really, really smart.” Then again, the ability to look reality in the face and deny it is not a characteristic we normally associate with mental health.

  33. B Buckner:

    I find it odd that Mona Loa was chosen as the location for documenting atmospheric co2 concentrations, being an active volcano that spews co2.

  34. Timothy Chase:


    With regard to the psychology of denial, I think there are many factors. However, a large part of it has to do with a kind of “us vs. them” mentality. If they are US conservative, they will associate evolution and global warming with the political Left. And they don’t necessarily have to be Bible-Belt fundamentalist, either. With regard to evolution, its not that they think there is nothing to the science. As far as they are concerned, that isn’t what is important, and it “can’t be proven,” particularly to them since they only have to consider small pieces of evidence at any given time. What is important is that it threatens their worldview. To accept it or to accept the fact that the case for evolution is as strong as any empirical result can be is too much for them – at least as far as they can see. And of course, for the older among them, the fact that the evidence (as far as they could tell at the time) was much weaker in the past means that they found it much easier to become invested in their views. Then as evidence became stronger it was easy for them to dismiss it as either bad science, politically-motivated science, or a conspiracy. This became habitual and ingrained. One doesn’t need a full-blown weltanshauung for this to happen, either. Simply a tendency to view certain scientific issues in terms of a cultural war – then trust only the sources who tend to confirm this.

    Or at least this is how their psychology has appeared to me.

  35. Nathan Rive:

    Unfortunately, this is logic that is becoming increasingly common. I think that part of it has to do with information asymmetry

    Plus it is a common propaganda tactic to exploit this fear instict among the masses. In recent years, for example, this has manifested in claims that “liberal academics” want to secularize/socialize the US. Fascist states in the past have demonized academics for similar (but more sinister) reasons.

    When people rail against the ivory tower consensus, claim that IPCC is a “faceless” organisation, or that nobody knows who is writing the IPCC reports (in spite of the author lists!), they are pandering to this fear as well. I continually recommend sceptics to email or call up the “faceless” IPCC lead authors, to break down this illusion. Most people are happy to chat, and I have done it numerous times.

  36. P. Lewis:

    Keeling curve history

    Trends are the same, wherever you look in the monitoring network! (hit the ‘Graphics’ button on each page selected)

  37. P. Lewis:

    Oops! My #35 was in response to #33 (B Buckner).

  38. Timothy Chase:

    Re: P. Lewis (#36)

    For some reason, your links didn’t work for me. Here they are…

    Keeling Curve History
    Trends: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

    Incidently, when people see that deep time temperatures rose before deep time CO2 levels and conclude that temperatures cause CO2 levels rather than recognizing the positive feedback, I believe part of the problem for them is that they don’t understand how CO2 raises temperatures – by absorbing infrared light:

    When anything absorbs light, it absorbs energy and becomes hotter. Thus if you shine a bright light through ‘clear’ glass it won’t get that hot. But if you shine a light through dark glass, it will get hotter. And of course the same thing is true when you are speaking of dark surfaces…

    The rest is a matter of explaining the feedbacks. The evaporation of water resulting in water vapor – which is a much more efficient green house gas than carbon dioxide, the melting of ice exposing dark ocean, etc.. But just leaving it at “CO2 is a greenhouse gas and we’ve known this for a very long time” probably won’t cut it with a lot of people.

  39. Timothy Chase:


    On explaining why CO2 is a greenhouse gas…

    I would begin with why solid colored surfaces heat up, then move on to filters, then colored gases. Keep it short in each case, but be prepared to go into more depth as needed.

  40. Hank Roberts:

    M Buckner, Mauna (not Mona) Loa:
    Can you see anything in this that looks like an eruption event?

    Do you know when they were? You can look them up; see if you can find any sign of irregularity in the curve shown above.

    They do track this:
    “Temperatures and gas concentrations on the summit crater floor remain at background levels.”

    Thanks, I’ve filled my Skeptic Bingo card with your help; I won’t respond further to stuff long since answered. If I notice you ask questions not already covered repeatedly, I’ll try to be helpful. Please try to develop a skeptical attitude toward what you’re told, you can look this stuff up.

  41. B Buckner:

    Thanks all for the data and the spelling tip. The southeast flank of the volcano (miles away from the summit crater floor) has been actively erupting for decades, I believe. I was there in February and it is spectacular. I am sure any local co2 source is accounted for it in some way, but it seems like an odd choice for a co2 monitoring location. Thats all. No skepticism intended.

  42. Hans Erren:

    re 40:
    Mauna Loa CO2 data is edited for volcanic activity, the threshold is 1 ppm.

  43. P. Lewis:

    Aargh! Sorry about that. Haven’t got a clue how those links got mangled. The Keeling Curve link was the same as Timothy Chase kindly provided.

    The link for the CO2 data from Mauna Loa, Barrow, Cape Matatula, South Pole, Alert, Cape Kumukahi, Christmas Island, Baring Head, Kermadec Island, La Jolla Pier was from CDIAC (I hope! And then “hit the ‘Graphics’ button on each page selected” should make sense.)

  44. Rich R.:

    re. 41 You make it sound like being skeptical is akin to believing the earth is flat. No skepticism intended.

  45. ray ladbury:

    Rich R. No problem with skepticism. Denial of climate change in the face of the overwhelming evidence is not skepticism, but rather delusion.

  46. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    I’ve come up with these definitions (in re to climate change):

    SKEPTICS: have some legitimate doubts, but once (and if) these are cleared up, they are willing to change their position. This category is diminishing very rapidly.

    DENIALISTS: usually have some economic motivation for refusing to accept anthropogenic climate change, and seek 99.9% certainty. Certain oil companies and their hired help would be examples. They ape the real scientists, and sound a bit more reasonable; can easily dissuade the public from accepting anthropogenic climate change. Beck and Energy&Environment would probably fit here. They probably know they’re lying through their teeth. They will not change their position (unless their benefactor tells them to do so).

    CONTRARIANS: refuse to accept anthropogenic climate change on ideological grounds or due to personality quirks (or both), no matter what evidence comes in. They tend to put forth looney arguments (many based on denialist arguments, only more contorted), and they even make contradictory arguments (such as CC is NOT happening, after which they claim CC IS happening, but not caused by humans, or it will bring net benefits). I’m thinking Rush Limbaugh types. They probably really believe anthropogenic climate change is NOT happening (AND IS happening, but not caused by humans, or bring benefits).

  47. Timothy Chase:

    Re: P. Lewis (#43)

    No worries, mate!

    My formatting has been a disaster at some points. (If only I could go back and edit.) I wanted to see what you were pointed to – and was glad that I did – then wanted to share with the rest.

  48. Spencer Weart:

    A couple of historical points.

    1. Mauna Loa was selected because it is in the middle of the Pacific and above the inversion layer so the air is exceptionally pure so long as there isn’t wind coming uphill from a vent, AND there was already a road, built by the military for a station to monitor satellites and made available for weather observations. At that time nobody expected it would be possible to get very precise CO2 measurements anyway, that is, nobody except Keeling himself. He fought hard to get an expensive instrument more accurate than anyone else thought he needed, which recorded the CO2 level continuously on a strip chart. He quickly saw that there were occasional excursions and identified these as the times when wind was coming uphill from the volcano vents.

    2. Callendar’s remarkably good judgment in massaging data was confirmed by a close reexamination of the early data back in the 1980s, viz.

    From, Eric, and Charles D. Keeling (1986). “Reassessment of Late 19th-Century Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Variations.” Tellus 38B: 87-105.

  49. Daniel C. Goodwin:

    According to the editor (in an email to me), this paper was reviewed by “a retired research director (of environmental sciences) from a country deeply involved in climate research; and a professor of radiation chemistry, as well as a number of experts mentioned in the paper” (my emphasis). I’m just an amateur, but it’s surprising to me that there seem to be no standards whatsoever governing how a “peer-reviewed journal” is expected to conduct itself, in order to be qualify as such.

  50. Hans Erren:

    I had the honour of being asked to review the original german text of Ernst Beck back in August 2006. I strongly urged him to remove the connected line in the graph, to no avail. I then waited for the disaster to happen.