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Five Thousand Gulf Oil Spills

Filed under: — david @ 16 June 2010

That’s the rate that people are releasing carbon to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation today. I know, it’s apples and oranges; carbon in the form of oil is more immediately toxic to the environment than it is as CO2 (although CO2 may be more damaging on geologic time scales). But think of it — five thousand spills like in the Gulf of Mexico, all going at once, each releasing 40,000 barrels a day, every day for decades and centuries on end. We are burning a lot of carbon!

177 Responses to “Five Thousand Gulf Oil Spills”

  1. 1

    . . . and still accelerating.

  2. 2

    Please consider addressing the issue of methane hydrates in the context of the BP Gulf oil disaster and more broadly as to the impacts of methane hydrates released due to global drilling activities.

  3. 3
    Gilles says:

    yes it’s a lot, but Nature is continuously burning (but also reabsorbing) almost 50 times as much carbon, so 250 000 Gulf oil spills !!

    [Response: The fact that the labile carbon recycling continuously through the earth system is much larger than that being released to the atmosphere via fossil fuel combustion is not relevant, and thus not the least bit comforting, as I’m sure you are quite well aware.–Jim]

    [Response: The natural carbon flux which is analogous to fossil fuel combustion is the natural degassing flux from the Earth in volcanic gases and deep sea hot spring fluid. This flux is about 100 times lower than fossil fuel CO2 emission. David]

  4. 4
    DeNihilist says:

    Sorry for being off topic, but maybe a bit of decent news about the arctic finally

  5. 5
    Completely Fed Up says:

    The human body absorbs about 1KW of power.

    Therefore shining a 1W laser on it should be no problem, yes?


  6. 6
    The Ville says:

    If you think the Gulf is bad.

    If they do continue with this deep water drilling game then us Brits have the Falkland Islands to worry about.

    Deepwater Horizon water depth: 5000ft
    Oil field North of Falklands: 9000ft
    Other fields around the Falklands could be over 9000ft

    Wonder what impact a spill in the Falklands would have on the Penguin population?

  7. 7
    pete best says:

    yes 30 billion barrels of oil per year (in total liquid form) and each barrel 42 US Gallons (3.8 litres). Add in coal and gas usage and its unpleasant reading. However there is still time to turn back the tide so to speak but each year of inaction makes it harder and harder.

  8. 8
    Brian Taylor says:

    Well, at least the microbes will eventually eat the oil, but perhaps then the jellyfish population will bloom so much that the area around Florida will still be un-swimable for decades after the oil is gone. On the other hand, the rate of CO2 release will not go on for centuries, not even for decades at the present rate, as it has not been in the past century. There is simply not enough easily accessible oil and coal for this to happen. World wide production of conventional oil peaked in 2004 and total liquids production will peak by 2015 or 2030 (depending on whether you are talking to a pessimist or an optimist). Electric vehicles will be a majority of new vehicle production by 2030 and will replace nearly all other land transport by 2050, thus meeting the 50% decline in oil production by that time. This will happen due to economic favorability, assisted by some government policies in the early years. Only aircraft will still be using hydrocarbon fuels by 2100, simply because of the need to be light weight. As for biofuels, photovoltaics is about 40 times as productive of usable energy per acre. The source of electricity for the electric vehicles will not be coal, for new power plants in 2008 it had already been economically displaced in the US by natural gas (with a 50% reduction in CO2 release) and wind power (1). However natural gas is only a transition fuel for a few decades since production of it too will peak before 2050. But with the recent 50% drop in the price of solar photovoltaics, and an expected further 50% decline, the economics of power generation has been disrupted, especially for the distributed generation and building-integrated variety for air-conditioning loads. Several people are now showing graphs with (typically) about 70% of all energy supplies as being solar by 2100, the only viable option once both economics and the environment are included in scenarios.

    (1) Figures 3 & 9, The Role of Natural Gas in a Low-Carbon Energy Economy, Christopher Flavin & Saya Kitasei, Natural Gas and Sustainable Energy Initiative, World Watch Institute, April 2010.

  9. 9
    hydrate says:

    @DeNihilist: Did you actually read the article carefully? It does not say anything about melting not happening, it just says, the way melting happens is different to what was expected from older data collections.

    Half-truths by self-declared “climate sceptics”.

  10. 10
    Will Holmgren says:

    One can’t acknowledge that it’s a comparison of apples and oranges and then go on to do it anyways. Spilled oil affects people and the environment in completely different ways than CO2 emissions – it’s not just a question of immediate toxicity vs long-term toxicity. If we had some sort of metric that represents the health of the environment then maybe you could start to compare them – does such a metric exist? I understand the desire to try to frame the invisible CO2 catastrophe in terms of the very visible oil spill, but I think this particular comparison ends up doing a disservice to both problems.

    [Response: I didn’t “compare” them, that would have been to say something like “global warming is 5,000 times worse than the oil spill”. Putting the numbers together is just a way to visualize how much CO2 is being released. David]

  11. 11
    JCH says:

    We will be spending multiple billions of dollars to clean marshlands and beaches. Were they already doomed by unavoidable sea level rise?

    If left soiled, maybe people would stop burning incredible volumes of fossil fuels to go there to sit inside their AC’d hotel rooms.

  12. 12
    Howard says:

    “The emissions were avoided because the green revolution”
    “600 billion tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere – roughly a third of all human greenhouse-gas emissions between 1850 and 2005.”

    Is this is a convenient presumption?

    What does it mean if 1/3 of all human greenhouse-gas emissions between 1850 and 2005 have been prevented from entering the atmosphere?

    Have climate models taken this into consideration?

  13. 13
    Pierre-Andre Morin says:

    You are misinformed about the oil spill in the gulf (or just a day too soon).
    Originally was 1000 barrels per day, then 5000, 12000-19000, 40000 and latest 60000 berrels per day.
    Already 60 times the original estimmates.

    A month ago, there was estimates of 75,000 to 100,000 barrels per day by independent scientist analyzing the flow.
    We are getting there.

    Going back to your comment: based on approx 100000 barrels per day, we are looking at about 2000 oil spills per day.
    Still significant.

  14. 14
    Radge Havers says:

    “We are burning a lot of carbon!”

    Seems like a no-brainer (except maybe to trolls and shills) but what do I know?

    I know this item got churned up on digg:

    “The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change misled the press and public into believing that thousands of scientists backed its claims on manmade global warming, according to Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist and IPCC insider. The actual number of scientists who backed that claim was “only a few dozen experts,” he states in a paper for Progress in Physical Geography, co-authored with student Martin Mahony.”
    The IPCC consensus on climate change was phoney, says IPCC insider

    Like the oil disaster, the b.s. spewage never seems to end…

    [Response: Mike Hulme sets Solomon and Morano straight – gavin]

  15. 15
    dhogaza says:

    Have climate models taken this into consideration?

    All you need to know is how much CO2 is in the atmosphere, and how much it’s rising per year. This stuff’s measured. Details of the carbon cycle can never be a “gotcha!” for climate models. The CO2’s there, doesn’t matter how it got there.

    Now if one is trying to model the carbon cycle, rather than the climate’s response to rising CO2, then stuff like this matters. Though it’s hard to reconcile the claim you cite with observations of ocean acidification due to its being a CO2 sink, etc.

  16. 16
    Jim Eager says:

    Predictably and conveniently, Gilles @3 forgets that the carbon nature continuously “burns” and reabsorbs is already part of the active carbon cycle, while the carbon in the spilled oil (and methane) and the unspilled fossil fuels that we burn has been locked out of the active carbon cycle, and therefore the atmosphere, for millions of years.

  17. 17
    Timothy Chase says:

    Those who argue that carbon dioxide is a trace gas and therefore that our emissions can’t possibly have any appreciable effect upon the earth’s radiation balance and consequent surface temperature should be reminded that the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide that exists within the atmosphere amounts to roughly two kilograms per square meter.

    This may not seem like much given the fact that it is widely dispersed throughout the atmospheric column. However, one should then ask how thick a cloud would have to be in order to amount to two kilograms per square meter and whether having such a cloud uniformly above the earth’s surface would be sufficient to alter surface temperatures.

    The biggest difference is the fact that clouds are opaque to both visible light and thermal radiation whereas carbon dioxide is transparent to visible radiation — which comes from the sun — but opaque to much of the thermal radiation that is emitted by the surface after visible light has been absorbed. And as I pointed out recently in another thread:

    … carbon dioxide reduces the rate at which thermal radiation leaves the system.

    You can see that here:

    CO2 experiment: Iain Stewart demonstrates infrared radiation absorption by CO2
    … and here:

    PIA11186: AIRS Global Distribution of Mid-Tropospheric Carbon Dioxide at 18-13 km Altitudes

    … where thicker carbon dioxide over industrial centers means that infrared radiation in certain electromagnetic bands isn’t able to escape except at higher, colder altitudes.

    Consequently the climate system has to heat up until it is able to compensate for an atmosphere that has become thicker (“more opaque”) to thermal radiation. At that point a new equilibrium is established at a higher heat content and higher surface temperature.

    At that new, higher equilibrium the total amount radiation (measured as energy) leaving the climate system will once again be equal to the total amount of radiation enter that system.

  18. 18
    Timothy Chase says:

    Brian Taylor wrote (8):

    On the other hand, the rate of CO2 release will not go on for centuries, not even for decades at the present rate, as it has not been in the past century. There is simply not enough easily accessible oil and coal for this to happen. World wide production of conventional oil peaked in 2004 and total liquids production will peak by 2015 or 2030 (depending on whether you are talking to a pessimist or an optimist).


    However, the longer we remain addicted to fossil fuel the dirtier the fossil fuel will be that we make use of. Poorer quality coal and coal at greater depths that we have left alone so far as there was always higher quality, more accessible fossil fuel will be mined and burned even at a higher price.

    We will go after the shale oil that has been too expensive to compete with other sources of oil. We will produce synthetic oil from tar sands with nearly three times the carbon emissions per unit of energy.

    And as before it appears that we will continue to give subsidies to fossil fuel industries. Perhaps even increasing those subsides as we become more desperate.

    Given the investments in new methods of extracting more expensive, more carbon intensive energy from fossil fuel we are likely to lock ourselves in to its use. Once the investments have been made such non-traditional fossil fuels will continue to appear to have a lower per unit cost than much of the alternatives.

    Those industries that are already largely locked into fossil fuel use due to their own investments will for a while continue to thrive. They will do so a price that they will do their best to hide for a while, but will eventually be paid by all of us.

  19. 19
    Peter Shepherd says:

    Out of curiosity I’ve just done a similar calculation of the equivalence of anthropogenic radiative forcing to the Hiroshima & Nagasaki explosions, which at 3.79 watts/m^2 works out to 13 twin explosions’ worth of energy gained every second.

    TNT 3.8 calories/gram
    1 calorie = 4.8 joules
    1 watt = 1 joule/second
    (1 btu/second = ~ energy of a candle burning )

    1 watt is approximately 3.41214 BTU/h
    1000 BTU/h is approximately 293.071 W

    anthropogenic radiative forcing at 1.6 watts/m 2 = 818 trillion watts = 818 x 10 to the 12th (p 90 of Weaver’s “Keeping Our Cool”)

    Hiroshima had ~ 50 TJ (terajoules) of energy; Nagasaki ~ 92 TJ, so together they were ~ 142 TJ’s of energy

    818 TJ/Sec = 5.6, so constant radiative forcing is ~ 6 times greater than Hiroshima & Nagasaki happening once/second.
    142 TJ

    or if you include all anthropogenic forcings estimated at 3.79 w/m^2, then it would translate to: 3.79/1.6 = 2.36875 times more energy,
    so 2.36875 x 5.6 = 13 Hiroshima & Nagasaki explosions happening every second, in terms of simple energy gain (excluding indirect effects of explosions, just the instantaneous explosive energy accounted for.)

    While I believe that conservation & renewables are the best route out of a high-carbon energy system (see historical chart of estimates for nuclear construction from economist Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School,, it’s interesting to see the scale of forcing in other terms.

  20. 20
    JCH says:

    The range is now estimated to be 35,000 bpd to 60,000 bpd.

    60,000 bpd would be a butt kickin’ fine oil well.

  21. 21
    arch stanton says:

    Pierre-Andre Morin (13)

    Over at TOD they have a relevant post about why the actual rate of oil leakage has increased over the last few weeks. I’m not saying that BP has not lied to us; only that it is quite likely that the leakage has actually increased over time.

  22. 22

    12 (Howard),

    It does not say “1/3 of all human greenhouse-gas emissions between 1850 and 2005 have been prevented from entering the atmosphere”.

    It does say that if we had cleared the necessary forests to produce the same amount of crops without the 20th century advances in agriculture, then we would have added more CO2, on top of would we have already, equivalent to about 1/3 of what we have added.

    What did you want the models to do about this?

    I think the main point is that if we cut fossil fuel usage, we still must find viable alternatives to maintaining agricultural output, rather than allowing land usage to cause other problems (I’ve already seen claims, in just the past day or two, that organic techniques are up to the challenge).

    So we have to think before we act (for a change), just like we need to think before we don’t act.

  23. 23
    ghost says:

    RE: #13 Pierre-Andre’s point. My first reaction to the 4-figure barrels per day estimate was ‘hogwash; do they expect us to believe that BP would spend the enormous effort and money to drill a well that would expel only a few thousand barrels a day flowing full-open?’ Maybe hitting the sweet spot on a particular drill is a matter of odds, but they were pretty certain that it was a huge reservoir before they began the operation. A four-figure bpd rate estimate was as ludicrous as the deniosaurs’ low-ball claims for the effect of fossil fuel CO2 on climate.

  24. 24
    Frank Giger says:

    I’d rather live in 2010 with oil spills and CO2 emissions than in 1020 and without them.

    I think a lot of folks forget that it wasn’t all harmony with nature and great quality of life.

    [Response: False dichotomy. I think I’d much rather have 2010 without the oil spills and CO2 emissions thanks. – gavin]

  25. 25
    flxible says:

    Some interesting info regarding the escalating estimates, or rather the progressive erosion – maybe the specific quantity is less relevent than the fact that as soon as it’s stopped, they’ll be back to drilling – with no better preventive measures in place.

  26. 26
    Edward Greisch says:

    If only CO2 was visible….

    8 Brian Taylor: NO to natural gas. We don’t have time for transition fuels. We are in trouble too deep already.

    12 Howard: The Green Revolution allowed India to double its population. NO emissions were avoided because India doesn’t have that much more land to clear. India has mountains to the North and ocean to the South. Neither can be cultivated. India misappropriated the gain to population growth rather than to getting out of poverty. The Green Revolution caused more GW in the end.

  27. 27
    WebHubTel says:

    Several weeks ago I did an analysis of tying FF useage to CO2 levels using a standard convolution-based approach:

    I don’t know if anyone has done this before but it clearly shows how peak oil (peak FF really) analysis and AGW analysis are closely linked.

  28. 28
    Gilles says:

    “Predictably and conveniently, Gilles @3 forgets that the carbon nature continuously “burns” and reabsorbs is already part of the active carbon cycle, while the carbon in the spilled oil (and methane) and the unspilled fossil fuels that we burn has been locked out of the active carbon cycle, and therefore the atmosphere, for millions of years.”

    Of course I didn’t forget that, and I even mentioned it ! and of course I know that the consequences are not comparable- it was exactly meant to remind than merely speaking of a “huge” amount isn’t a proof of anything. “large” or “small” doesn’t mean anything for Nature. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that a single well can not produce a large part of the total world production, and so that conversely the world production must be much larger than a single spill , no? telling “we are releasing 5000 times the spill of one single well” means only ” one single well cannot yield more than 0.02 % of the total – fortunately !
    “I think I’d much rather have 2010 without the oil spills and CO2 emissions thanks. – gavin”
    Sure, as anybody, but the interesting question is : if it happens that you can’t have both, and you have to choose, which one are you ready to give up ? the answer seems pretty obvious for the world on average …

  29. 29
    Gilles says:

    “I don’t know if anyone has done this before but it clearly shows how peak oil (peak FF really) analysis and AGW analysis are closely linked.

    I did that some years ago, and it is still posted on a forum (in French, sorry).

    with a simple exponential response function, corrected here

    to account for a multi- decay time (Bern Model).

    I used the multi- decay time Bern response fonction SOMME (Ai exp (-t/ti) ) (where you can put a constant A0 term describing the fact that a part of emitted CO2 will actually never be absorbed, contrary to the simple exponential function). Rather than performing the convolution, you can simply split each year emission X in N parts N.Ai, each one increasing the quantity of a “reservoir” Qi , and absorb each year a fraction -Qi/Ti. This is equivalent to simulate the eigenvectors of the multilinear differential system at the basis of the Bern model, and very simple to program even on an Excel spreadsheet.

  30. 30
    Howard says:

    I sure read this as undercutting much of what you all believe.

    William M. Gray * and Barry Schwartz
    Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

    [Response: Well, you could try reading a little more. The NCEP reanalysis used by Gray has very severe non-climatic trends in water vapour (because of the change of the observing network), and these are not repeated in any of the more modern reanalyses (ERA-40 even, or the Japanese version etc.) Thus the whole analysis appears to be based on correlations of non-climate influences and thus hardly likely to have much importance for anything. If you want to understand why water vapour feedback is indeed positive, please read the recent papers by Dessler or Sherwood. – gavin]

  31. 31

    I would like to add something for people who are into protecting our earth and environment. Now, with all the global issues that we have to embrace into our lives and our childrens lives, we should all do our part to help a least a little bit. Why not Eliminate your Electrical Bill and Save Thousands a year with Solar Panels for your Home, they are extremely easy to build and this will be an easy way for you to do your part in helping our planet and save a tonne of money at the same time. Think about it.

  32. 32
    DeNihilist says:

    Hydrate @ 9, of course I read the full article. It’s a good news/bad news scenario. Good for today, but not good for tomorrow. Every now and then though, it is nice to get a bit of good news.

  33. 33
    Ike Solem says:

    How much CO2 is produced from combustion of 50,000 barrels of oil? How many tons of carbon in 50,000 barrels of oil?

    (50,000 barrels) (100 kg liquid fuel/barrel) (3.15 kg CO2/kg of fuel oil) ~ 15,750,000 kg CO2 ~ 4,295,000 kg C

    Answer: 50,000 barrels of oil contains 4,295 tons of carbon, which, when combusted or respired, results in 15,750 tons of CO2. Over a year, that amounts to 1.57 megatons of carbon emitted to the atmosphere.

    Total human contributions to the atmosphere have risen from about 4 billion tons per year in 1970 to almost 8 billion tons per year today (IPCC FAR CH2), reflecting an increase in energy demand as well as a shift to dirtier fuel sources with greater carbon:energy ratios.

    Dividing that out, we do indeed get ~5095 oil spills per year at current estimated rates! That’s a nice exam question, too.

    [Response: So I got the answer right? Whew! David]

    The toxicology of the oil mixed with the dispersant is another issue. The main impacts are probably going to be on regional biodiversity – and ecologists are now organizing a group to generate biodiversity reports for governments, along the lines of the IPCC – hopefully they’ll avoid the problems the IPCC has had, by learning from their mistakes:

    A search for IPBES in the U.S. media turns up zero hits, for some reason. However, Mexico is upset about the biodiversity impacts – here’s something from reuters:

    If scientists can prove the BP oil spill causes measurable harm to Mexico’s ecosystems, the country may sue BP. “We are looking for the most appropriate legal instruments to sue BP for impacting biodiversity,” [environment minister] Elvira said.

    There is a similarity to climate science here, in that the fossil fuel lobby would prefer that scientific data not be collected – no news is good news, and if there is no baseline data on species abundance and diversity in the oil patch, then there is no way to measure species loss in a ‘statistically robust’ manner – meaning that in the event of a lawsuit, BP might be able to avoid damages.

    That’s why programs like the National Biological Survey were attacked by fossil fuel interests – just as critical climate satellites like Triana were kept mothballed for a decade. The initial lowball estimates of the leak rate in the Gulf by BP fall into the same category.

    Clearly, here is an industry that thrives on secrecy and disinformation – not exactly a the scientific tradition. Given that fact, why are so many academic institutions in partnerships with the likes of BP – for example, the UC Berkeley – University of Illinois – BP partnership? Hey – look, it’s BP’s Chief Scientist – now in a top position at the Department of Energy.

    This is just symptomatic of a much larger problem – too many revolving doors between the fossil fuel industry and the federal energy agencies.

  34. 34
    Dan Miller says:

    I would argue that climate change is worse than the BP oil spill by a factor of 1000 or more by the metrics of (1) people killed, (2) animals killed, (3) species made extinct, and (4) land and ocean environments degraded. And I’m comparing climate change this year, not the future affects.

    In my climate talk, I discuss the six threat characteristics that humans respond to: (1) Immediate, (2) Visible, (3) Historical Precedence, (4) Caused by an Enemy, (5) Simple Causality, and (6) Direct Personal Consequences. The BP spill has 5-1/2 (not direct personal consequences for most people) and climate change scores zero. I think this why everyone is focused on BP when the bigger catastrophe is ignored.

  35. 35
    Leonard Evens says:

    Those who argue that CO_2 is onlya trace gas and hence of no importance, might keep in mind that plants, and thus indirectly all carbon based life on the planet, depend on that trace gas for existence.

  36. 36
    Sascha says:

    “from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation”

    Does “deforestation” mean the carbon immediately released in the process of burning the trees down, or does this also include the amount of CO2 which would been *removed* from the atmosphere by those trees if they would still be there?

    [Response: A climax forest doesn’t remove carbon from the air in an ongoing way. It just sits there as a store of carbon. When a forest is growing toward climax it will take up carbon, filling up that reservoir. So the answer to your question is, it’s just the carbon from the trees and soils moving into the atmosphere. Rain forests are not really the lungs of the planet. David]

  37. 37
    dhogaza says:

    60,000 bpd would be a butt kickin’ fine oil well.

    According to The Oil Drum, one of the best ever.

    That’s a bit frightening.

  38. 38
    Gilles says:

    I did that some years ago, and it is still posted on a forum (in French, sorry).

    Sorry for the misprint, my first computation using simple exponential absorption and REALLY proved reserves (something that is never done in any SRES scenarios – wonder what “proved” means for these people) is here

    same with the Bern absorption model in the original link. Done in 2007, at this date, the fit predicted a maximum of CO2 emission per capita in…2008.

  39. 39
    DeNihilist says:

    {Response: A climax forest doesn’t remove carbon from the air in an ongoing way. It just sits there as a store of carbon. When a forest is growing toward climax it will take up carbon, filling up that reservoir. So the answer to your question is, it’s just the carbon from the trees and soils moving into the atmosphere. Rain forests are not really the lungs of the planet. David]}

    So David, what is your take on the vast agreement between the major Canandian forest Co.s and the enviromental groups to halt logging in the Canadian Boreal Forests? This agreement, FWIU, is for 3 years so that a plan can be devised that would end up protecting a huge majority of this forest.

    In my limited reading, I have seen discussions, that forestry could in actuallity be a net gain in the sequestrian of CO2 by the fact that the wood harvested is used in building, not burned, thus creating a semi-permanent “bank of carbon” and the new growth is now taking up CO2 at a higher rate, thus capturing new CO2.

    Does this sound reasonable?

    [Response: I guess I don’t really buy lumber as a carbon sequestration option, better overall to avoid cutting would be my guess, but I don’t know the details of how much of the wood ends up in lumber, and how long before that is expected to burn or decompose. There is actually a comparable amount of carbon per acre in cities as there is in forests, though, when you add up all the lumber and books etc, I have heard. David]

  40. 40
    mike roddy says:

    Fascinating number, that 5,000, thanks.

    Dan Miller, #34, very interesting.

    David, #36, recent studies are questioning the carbon equilibrium model of old forests, because they undervalue soil and smaller woody species carbon accumulation (sorry, I don’t have the link handy, but call a good forest carbon guy). It’s also the case that climax forests are becoming rare, and they should be the baseline, not 50 year old “managed” forests (google green carbon eucalyptus).

    To RC: The deniers that are starting to show up here are irritating. I suggest you either refrain from publishing their posts or politely direct them to wattsupwiththat, climateaudit, or climatedepot. RC readers are just not interested in poorly documented nonsense.

  41. 41
    Completely Fed Up says:

    It’s reasonable if you think that it’s not possible or just too tarn inconvenient to grow trees elsewhere…

    An old-growth forest is far more ecologically stable and diverse than perma-teen-tree forests.

  42. 42
    James says:

    I try to keep an unbiased position on climate change and just learn the facts. Some scientist friends of mine are naturally defensive of the IPCC and the peer review process. “It is flawed, but it is the best system we have.” I read content and comments on this site and others, ‘alarmists’ and ‘deniers’,(I dislike those terms but readers immediately understand what I mean), in an attempt to become and stay informed. In doing so I place great emphasis on peer reviewed research and well referenced papers out of respect of my more learned friends’ belief in the system. I tend to discount significantly anything else. It does seem to me that the ‘alarmists’ like to think they are on the side of Science. I guess that is why I get more annoyed when I read on this and other pro AGW blogsites, comments which have no basis in science, are not referenced and worse, are simply juvenile personal attacks on those who do not agree with the authors line of thinking. It does their cause no good. I also do not like to see misinformation (deliberate or otherwise). At comment 14 in response to the posting about Hulme discussing the ‘IPCC Consensus’ and the story taken up by prominent bloggers, one of your experts wrote: [Response: Mike Hulme sets Solomon and Morano straight – gavin] This implies that the article refutes what Solomon and Morano said. I went to the hyperlinked reference and it certainly read like Hulme was trying to imply he had been taken out of context. But then I re-read Hulme’s paper and on pages 10 and 11 it quite clearly states: “Without a careful explanation about what it means, this drive for consensus can leave the IPCC vulnerable to outside criticism. Claims such as ‘2,500 of the world’s leading scientists have reached a consensus that human activities are having a significant influence on the climate’ are disingenuous. That particular consensus judgement, as are many others in the IPCC reports, is reached by only a few dozen experts in the specific field of detection and attribution studies; other IPCC authors are experts in other fields.” While Hulme may now be trying to say he didn’t mean the IPCC had claimed the consensus of thousands of scientists – that’s what he clearly implied in his paper. But more than that, I have heard on more than one occasion the IPCC Chairman claim the consensus of thousands of scientists, and that cry was taken up readily by the likes of Gore, Obama, and in Australia our own Prime Minister and his ministers and many other supporters. I did not ever hear a single ‘alarmist’ correcting their statements, nor did I read it on this site. So it is disingenuous of Gavin to post that reference implying that Soloman and Morano had got it wrong. This site should be better than that.

    [Response: Sorry, but Solomon and Morano are wrong, and the claim that thousands of scientists agree with the IPCC consensus (as defined here) is correct. Please review this list. Hulme’s comment was a clumsy way of stating that the detailed text in each of the IPCC chapters is only closely reviewed by the relevant experts in the field (how could it be otherwise?), but the main conclusions have been agreed with by many thousands of other relevant experts. Solomon would have you believe that no-one but a few dozen experts agrees with the IPCC conclusions. That is simply untrue. – gavin]

  43. 43
    mike roddy says:

    denihilist, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Carbon science shows that when a site is logged, 80- 85% of the carbon is released into the atmosphere. Of the 15-20% that is captured in wood products such as lumber, decay begins immediately.

    The original Kyoto protocols forbade the accounting for even this 15-20%, since the wood is just replacing other wood products that have decayed into the atmosphere.

    By contrast, even a hot forest fire only releases about 20% of the site carbon into the atmosphere. The rest is retained as charcoal, woody debris, and surviving boles. This is the opposite of both intuition and prevailing wisdom. Bottom line: using wood products in great quantity is similar in its effects to driving gas fired cars or using fossil fuel fired electricity.

    I don’t expect to persuade you, denihilist, but many carbon scientists who specialize in atmospheric and fossil fuel issues are not aware of this key data.

  44. 44
    Jim Eager says:

    DeNihilist, wood from the Canadian boreal forest is overwhelmingly used to make pulp and paper, not construction lumber. Most of that paper ultimately ends up in a landfill, even if it is first recycled.

  45. 45
    James says:

    Re 14 & 42
    Gavin I wasn’t arguing about whether thousands of scientists support the IPCC conclusions – I know they do, but when AR4 was published the IPCC clearly implied that all contributors to the report were in consensus and the specific figures of 2500 and 4000 scientists were bandied around, and continue to be reported. You can define consensus however you like, but that doesn’t change what the IPCC Chairman and many world leaders implied, and in fact what most members of the public understood by what they were being told. Hulme I think was quite rightly stating that it was wrong to claim that all the contributing scientists agreed with the IPCC conclusions. In fact that claim probably muddied the waters for the pro AGW camp as various contributors came out of the woodwork and publicly stated they did not support the IPCC conclusions. Hulme was indeed clumsy, but it was in his following damage control quote, not his original quote: “I did not say the ‘IPCC misleads’ anyone – it is claims that are made by other commentators, such as the caricatured claim I offer in the paper, that have the potential to mislead.” So here he is trying to say firstly that the claim of 2500 scientists in consensus was a ‘caricature’ claim made by others and has a potential to mislead. What you are arguing Gavin is that there is indeed a consensus – I accept that (by your definition). My point was that Solomon and Marano correctly quoted Hulme, and you tried to imply otherwise. You are welcome to argue that Solomon tried to imply that there are only a few dozen supporters of the IPCC’c conclusions (something I don’t think even Solomon would believe), but that is another matter altogether. I’m probably nitpicking but I believe this site to be factual and impersonal as science should be.

  46. 46
    Nube says:

    #3 response
    David: Where can I learn more about volcan degassing and other natural fluxes of co2?

  47. 47
    DeNihilist says:

    Thanx Jim, didn’t know that. CFU, very good point about diversty. Sometimes I find that I look only at the small CO2 issue, must remind myself to look deeper.

  48. 48
    Doug Bostrom says:

    The Hulme affair is simply another sign of the bankruptcy of folks like Morano. It’s a meta-argument essentially about tone and style, nothing to do with science itself.

    Forget “consensus,” this is way beyond that level. We don’t discuss “consensus” around Newtonian-scale mechanics because the day for that form of assessment is long past, just as it is in this case.

    Instead, think about substantial dissent. Actual scientific, substantial dissent can be accurately gauged by publications. How much substantiated dissent in the form of publications do we find against the broad and useful conclusions of the IPCC reports? Virtually none.

    Arguing with the likes of Morano on their own synthetically concocted terms is folly. Throw it back, keep the the focus on demands for dissent.

  49. 49

    42 (James),

    Go back and read the whole paper, not just selected sections, and think about what you are reading. What Hulme said is very clear when taken in context, and very easily either misrepresented or, as in your case, simply misunderstood when taken out of context.

    This is exactly like “hide the decline”, “no statistically-significant global warming” since 1995, and “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming”. If you don’t bother to actually read enough to establish and understand the context, and think about what is being said, and what the words actually mean instead of what they can be twisted to mean, then you will get into trouble.

    This is a serious problem, a recurring theme, and a trap that anyone who tries to keep an unbiased opinion should not fall into so easily.

    It’s happened often enough. You’d think that people that consider themselves to be intelligent would learn.

  50. 50
    Greg Robie says:

    This comment relates to the BP well failure and how to compare it to our global combustion of fossil carbon to the degree that the out of control well has become a point source for CH4 and CO2 released into the environment. This release is a point source associated with fossil carbon exploration, development, and production. My inquiry relates to how such releases, particularly the methane, are included in climate models, and specifically how the fossil carbon industry’s exploration, development, and production byproducts released in the high northern latitudes are factored in (or not) and impact “apples and oranges” comparisons in unexpected ways. It seems to me that point sources, depending on where they occur, can have quantitatively determinable greater or lesser impacts that can be used in modeling and be better than what can be determined using averages and totals.

    As background, the problem I am trying to solve is why the climate models got the rate of ice loss in the Arctic as wrong as they have. And the same with AGW triggered releases of Arctic methane from land and sub-sea floor methane hydrates that appear to be unfolding a couple of centuries ‘early’ as “Large-scale Controls of Methanogenesis Inferred From Methane and Gravity Spaceborne Data,” by Bloom et al, appears to have identified. Mishaps, such as the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf, would provide variability, as do market forces’ impact on exploration, development, and production activities of the industry. Given the strength of methane as a GHG, and its seasonal variability in the high northern latitudes (~50 ppb?), in conjunction with its increase (50 ppb) over the last decade, has me wondering if the fossil carbon industry is playing a yet poorly understood role in masking science’s capability to see the lit fuse of the methane time bomb; to see what is screwing up the climate models; challenging experts who have been long in their fields of study to see dynamics differently.

    Dlugokencky et al in “Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden,” determined the variability in Arctic methane identified in the related analysis (as compared to a strong increase in 2007) merits this conclusion “near-zero CH4 growth in the Arctic during 2008 suggests we have not yet activated strong climate feedbacks from permafrost and CH4 hydrates.” This assertion is influenced by a belief that the shift to chronic emissions of methane in the Arctic will happen slowly. What if the noted variability is partially due to the activities—and/or lack thereof—of the fossil carbon industry (i.e. mishaps—or lack there of; spurts and contractions of exploration, development, and production activities)? Giving additional credence to this questoin is Ed’s noting, in an email, that “detection of this [feedback] signal will take time with the existing monitoring network.” What if what we are missing/leaving out/averaging is an important factor? What if a point sourse in the high latitudes, even if small, systemically has a strong multiplier effect either regionally or otherwise? What if—as Joe Romm did in January on CP concerning Ed’s paper—we don’t what to see what is otherwise hidden in plain sight (i.e. professionally go out on a limb with an unwanted reality)?

    The fossil carbon industry, even when they operate safely, release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the course of their doing business. I believe mitigation of this has improved over time, but out of control wells like BP’s current one in the Gulf, and expanded exploration, in general, create point sourse/regional variabilities. I am wondering how and if these have been included in the models. Help!?!

    From what I can observe from the data I have accessed as a lay person, methane levels seems to concentrate in the Arctic as the solar nadir is reached in the northern hemisphere which is when CH4 can do the most to lessen the seasonal cooling. The flaring done up in Prudhoe Bay in the ’70s, Siberia’s natural gas development, the black gold boom and bust in Alberta relative to natural gas, including coal field wells, teh signature of all of these would appear to be hard to see from surface air sampling sights used in the NOAA study (). And it looks like they would not part of what was factored into the analysis involved in the School of Geo-Sciences study. What Katey Walter Anthony’s work, among others who spend more time in the field, than in labs and on computers, demonstrates to me is that regardless of what the models generate with their data crunching, we are not in Kansas anymore. As I enter my third year of watching “ice out” unfold in the Arctic, maybe it is the definition of what the signature of the trigger is that needs to change.

    Does this question about what the fossil carbon industry’s point sourse emission in the Arctic contirbutes to model dynamics merit further consideration? Are the models such that they can adequately factored in variable point source forcing? Have point sources been dealt with, at best, through averages and with ranges? If the answers are yes, yes or no, yes, could those who have been professionally caught—so-to-speak—flat-footed relative to observed changes unfolding in the Arctic think about shifting perceptions, definitions, and gases and, to be of renewed help to humanity and policy making, pull out all the stops regarding the possibility that it now is all about methane in the Arctic?