The basic facts about the global increase of CO2 in our atmosphere are clear and established beyond reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, I’ve recently seen some of the old myths peddled by “climate skeptics” pop up again. Are the forests responsible for the CO2 increase? Or volcanoes? Or perhaps the oceans?
Let’s start with a brief overview of the most important data and facts about the increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere:
- Since the beginning of industrialization, the CO2 concentration has risen from 280 ppm (the value of the previous millennia of the Holocene) to now 405 ppm.
- This increase by 45 percent (or 125 ppm) is completely caused by humans.
- The CO2 concentration is thus now already higher than it has been for several million years.
- The additional 125 ppm CO2 have a heating effect of 2 watts per square meter of earth surface, due to the well-known greenhouse effect – enough to raise the global temperature by around 1°C until the present.
Fig. 1 Perhaps the most important scientific measurement series of the 20th century: the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere, measured on Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Other stations of the global CO2 measurement network show almost exactly the same; the most important regional variation is the greatly subdued seasonal cycle at stations in the southern hemisphere. This seasonal variation is mainly due to the “inhaling and exhaling” of the forests over the year on the land masses of the northern hemisphere. Source (updated daily): Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Fig. 2 The CO2 concentration of the atmosphere during the Holocene, measured in the ice cores from Antarctica until 1958, afterwards Mauna Loa. Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
These facts are well known and easy to understand. Nevertheless, I am frequently confronted with attempts to play down the dangerous CO2-increase, e.g. recently in the right-leaning German newspaper Die Welt.
Are the forests to blame?
Die Welt presented a common number-trick by climate deniers (readers can probably point to some english-language examples):
In fact, carbon dioxide, which is blamed for climate warming, has only a volume share of 0.04 percent in the atmosphere. And of these 0.04 percent CO2, 95 percent come from natural sources, such as volcanoes or decomposition processes in nature. The human CO2 content in the air is thus only 0.0016 percent.
The claim “95 percent from natural sources” and the “0.0016 percent” are simply wrong (neither does the arithmetic add up – how would 5% of 0.04 be 0.0016?). These (and similar – sometimes you read 97% from natural sources) numbers have been making the rounds in climate denier circles for many years (and have repeatedly been rebutted by scientists). They present a simple mix-up of turnover and profit, in economic terms. The land ecosystems have, of course, a high turnover of carbon, but (unlike humans) do not add any net CO2 to the atmosphere. Any biomass which decomposes must first have grown – the CO2 released during rotting was first taken from the atmosphere by photosynthesis. This is a cycle. Hey, perhaps that’s why it’s called the carbon cycle!
That is why one way to reduce emissions is the use of bioenergy, such as heating with wood (at least when it’s done in a sustainable manner – many mistakes can be made with bioenergy). Forests only increase the amount of CO2 in the air when they are felled, burnt or die. This is immediately understood by looking at a schematic of the carbon cycle, Fig. 3.
Fig. 3 Scheme of the global carbon cycle. Values for the carbon stocks are given in Gt C (ie, billions of tonnes of carbon) (bold numbers). Values for average carbon fluxes are given in Gt C per year (normal numbers). Source: WBGU 2006 . (A similar graph can also be found at Wikipedia.) Since this graph was prepared, anthropogenic emissions and the atmospheric CO2 content have increased further, see Figs 4 and 5, but I like the simplicity of this graph.
If one takes as the total emissions a “natural” part (60 GtC from soils + 60 GtC from land plants) and the 7 GtC fossil emissions as anthropogenic part, the anthropogenic portion is about 5% (7 of 127 billion tons of carbon) as cited in the Welt article. This percentage is highly misleading, however, since it ignores that the land biosphere does not only release 120 GtC but also absorbs 122 GtC by photosynthesis, which means that net 2 GtC is removed from the atmosphere. Likewise, the ocean removes around 2 GtC. To make any sense, the net emissions by humans have to be compared with the net uptake by oceans and forests and atmosphere, not with the turnover rate of a cycle, which is an irrelevant comparison. And not just irrelevant – it becomes plain wrong when that 5% number is then misunderstood as the human contribution to the atmospheric CO2 concentration.
The natural earth system thus is by no means a source of CO2 for the atmosphere, but it is a sink! Of the 7 GtC, which we blow into the atmosphere every year, only 3 remain there. 2 are absorbed by the ocean and 2 by the forests. This means that in the atmosphere and in the land biosphere and in the ocean the amount of stored carbon is increasing. And the source of all this additional carbon is the fact that we extract loads of fossil carbon from the earth’s crust and add it to the system. That’s already clear from the fact that we add twice as much to the atmosphere as is needed to explain the full increase there – that makes it obvious that the natural Earth system cannot possibly be adding more CO2 but rather is continually removing about half of our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.
The system was almost exactly in equilibrium before humans intervened. That is why the CO2 concentration in the air was almost constant for several thousand years (Figure 2). This means that the land ecosystems took up 120 GtC and returned 120 GtC (the exact numbers don’t matter here, what matters is that they are the same). The increased uptake of CO2 by forests and oceans of about 2 GtC per year each is already a result of the human emissions, which has added enormous amounts of CO2 to the system. The ocean has started to take up net CO2 from the atmosphere through gas exchange at the sea surface: because the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is now higher than in the surface ocean, there is net flux of CO2 into the sea. And because trees take up CO2 by photosynthesis and can do this more easily if you offer them more CO2 in the air, they have started to photosynthesize more and thus take up a bit more CO2 than is released by decomposing old biomass. (To what extent and for how long the land biosphere will remain a carbon sink is open to debate, however: this will depend on the extent to which the global ecosystems come under stress by global warming, e.g. by increasing drought and wildfires.)
The next diagram shows (with more up-to-date and accurate numbers) the net fluxes of CO2 (this time in CO2 units, not carbon units!).
Fig. 4 CO2 budget for 2007-2016, showing the various net sources and sinks. The figures here are expressed in gigatons of CO2 and not in gigatons of carbon as in Fig. 3. The conversion factor is 44/12 (molecular weight of CO2 divided by atomic weight of carbon). Source: Global Carbon Project.
Fig. 5 shows where the CO2 comes from (in the upper half you see the sources – fossil carbon and deforestation) and where it ends up (in the lower half you sees the sinks), in the course of time. It ends up in comparably large parts in air, oceans and forests. The share absorbed by the land ecosystems varies greatly from year to year, depending on whether there were widespread droughts, for example, or whether it was a good growth year for the forests. That is why the annual CO2 increase in the atmosphere also varies greatly each year, and this short-term variation is not mainly caused by variations in our emissions (so a record CO2 increase in the atmosphere in an El Niño year does not mean that human emissions have surged in that year).
Fig. 5 Annual emissions of carbon from fossil sources and deforestation, and annual emissions from the biosphere, atmosphere and ocean (the latter are negative, meaning net uptake). This is again in carbon (not CO2) units; the 12 gigatons of carbon emitted in 2016 are a lot more than the 7 gigatons in the older Fig. 3. Source: Global Carbon Project.
The “climate skeptics” blaming the forests for most of the increase in atmospheric CO2, because of decaying foliage and deadwood, is not merely wrong, it is pretty bonkers. Have leaves started to decompose only since industrialization? Media with a minimum aspiration to credibility should clearly reject such nonsense, instead of spreading it further. In case of Die Welt, one of my PIK colleagues had explicitly pointed out to the author, in response to a query by him, that the 5% human share of CO2 is misleading and that humans have caused a 45% increase. That the complete CO2 increase is anthropogenic has been known for decades. The first IPCC report, published in 1990, put it thus:
Since the industrial revolution the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation have led to an increase of 26% in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.
In the 27 years since then, the CO2 increase caused by our emissions has gone up from 26% to 45%.
How Exxon misled the public against better knowledge
One fascinating question is where this false idea of humans just contributing a tiny bit to the relentless rise in atmospheric CO2 has come from? Have a look at this advertorial (a paid-for editorial) by ExxonMobil in the New York Times from 1997:
Fig. 6 Excerpt from the New York Times of 6 November 1997
The text to go with it read:
While most of the CO2 emitted by far is the result of natural phenomena – namely respiration and decomposition, most attention has centered on the three to four percent related to human activities – burning of fossil fuels, deforestation.
That is pretty clever and could hardly be an accident. The impression is given that human emissions are not a big deal and only responsible for a small percentage of the CO2 increase in the atmosphere – but without explicitly saying that. In my view the authors of this piece knew that this idea is plain wrong, so they did not say it but preferred to insinuate it. A recent publication by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes in Environmental Research Letters has systematically assessed ExxonMobil’s climate change communications during 1977–2014 and found:
We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science—by way of its scientists’ academic publications—but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public.
They explain their main findings in this short video clip.
Does the CO2 come from volcanoes?
Another age-old climatic skeptic myth, is that the CO2 is coming from volcanoes – first time I had to rebut this was as a young postdoc in the 1990s. The total volcanic emissions are between 0.04 and 0.07 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, compared to the anthropogenic emissions of 12 gigatons in 2016. Anthropogenic emissions are now well over a hundred times greater than volcanic ones. The volcanic emissions are important for the long-term CO2 changes over millions of years, but not over a few centuries.
Does the CO2 come from the ocean?
As already mentioned and shown in Figs. 4 and 5, the oceans absorb net CO2 and do not release any. The resulting increase in CO2 in the upper ocean is documented and mapped in detail by countless ship surveys and known up to a residual uncertainty of + – 20% . This is, in itself, a very serious problem because it leads to the acidification of the oceans, since CO2 forms carbonic acid in water. The observed CO2 increase in the world ocean disproves another popular #fakenews piece of the “climate skeptics”: namely that the CO2 increase in the atmosphere might have been caused by the outgassing of CO2 from the ocean as a result of the warming. No serious scientist believes this.
Remember also from Figs. 4 and 5 that we emit about twice as much CO2 as is needed to explain the complete rise in the atmosphere. In case you have not connected the dots: the denier myth of the oceans as cause of the atmospheric CO2 rise most often comes in the form of “the CO2 rise lagged behind temperature rise in glacial cycles”. It is true that during ice ages the oceans took up more CO2 and that is why there was less in the atmosphere, and during the warming at the end of glacial cycles that CO2 came back out of the ocean, and this was an important amplifying feedback. But it is a fallacy to conclude that the same natural phenomenon is happening again now. As I explained above: measurements clearly prove that the modern CO2 rise has a different cause, namely our fossil fuel use. What is the same now and over past glacial cycles is not the CO2 source, but the greenhouse effect of the atmospheric CO2 changes: without that we could not understand (or correctly simulate in our climate models) the full extent of glacial cycles.
The cyanide cocktail
A man offers you a cocktail with a little bit of cyanide at a party. You reject that indignantly, but the man assures you it is completely safe: after all, the amount of cyanide in your body after this drink would be only 0.001 percent! This could hardly be harmful! Those scientists who claim that 3 mg cyanide per kg of body weight (ie 0.0003 percent) are fatal are obviously not to be trusted. Are you falling for that argument?
We hope not, and we hope you will neither fall for the claim that 0.0125 percent of CO2 (that’s the 125 ppm increase caused by humans) can’t be bad because that number is small. Of course, the amount of CO2 in the air could also be expressed in kilograms: it is 3200 billion tons or 3,200,000,000,000,000 kilograms. Of this humans are responsible for almost 1000 billion tons. (Does that sound more harmful than 0.0125 percent?) Since the year 1870, we have even emitted a total of about 2,000 billion tons. As already explained, forests and oceans have removed about half of that from the atmosphere.
Scientists specify the concentration of individual gases in the atmosphere as volume fractions (rather than, e.g., grams per cubic meter of air) because then the numbers do not depend on temperature and pressure, which vary greatly in the atmosphere. As far as climatic impact is concerned, however, the fraction of the total mass of the atmosphere is irrelevant since the atmosphere consists of 99.9% nitrogen, oxygen and argon, i.e. gases which cannot absorb infrared radiation. Only molecules made of at least three atoms absorb heat radiation and thus only such trace gases makes the greenhouse effect, and among these CO2 is the second most important after water vapor. All this has been known since John Tyndall’s measurements of the greenhouse effect of various gases in 1859. Tyndall back then wrote:
[T]he atmosphere admits of the entrance of the solar heat, but checks its exit; and the result is a tendency to accumulate heat at the surface of the planet.
That is still a great concise description of the greenhouse effect! Without CO2 in the air our planet would be completely frozen, no life would be possible. With CO2, we are turning one of the major control knobs of global climate.
The climate effect
So let’s finally come to the climatic effect of the CO2 increase. As for cyanide, the effect is what counts, and not whether compared to some large mass the fraction is 10 percent or 0.01 percent. The dose effect of toxins on humans can be determined from experience with victims. The climatic impact of greenhouse gases can either be calculated on the basis of an understanding of the physical processes, or it can be determined from the experience of climate history (see my previous post). Both come to the same conclusion. The climate sensitivity (global warming in equilibrium after CO2 doubling) is around 3°C, and the expected warming to date, due to the current CO2 increase, is around 1°C. This corresponds quite exactly to the observed global warming (Fig. 7). For which, by the way, there is no natural explanation, and the best estimate for the anthropogenic share of global warming since 1950 is 110 percent – more on this in my previous post.
Fig. 7 Time evolution of global temperature, CO2 concentration and solar activity. Temperature and CO2 are scaled relative to each other as the physically expected CO2 effect on the climate predicts (i.e. best estimate of the climate sensitivity). The amplitude of the solar curve is scaled as derived from the observed correlation of solar and temperature data. (Details are explained here ). This graph can be created here and you can copy a code that can be used as a widget in any website (as in my home page), where it is automatically updated every year with the latest data. Thanks to Bernd Herd who programmed this.
Finally, here is a slick new video clip illustrating the history of CO2 emissions on the map:
Physics Today: The carbon cycle in a changing climate
240 Responses to "The global CO2 rise: the facts, Exxon and the favorite denial tricks"
Peter Carson says
This article’s title refers to Exxon being deceitful. That’s probably true, but both sides are playing this card. It’s best to stick to scientific reasoning to make one’s case.
For example, one must ask the question:
“Which benefit from other countries reducing their CO2 output?”
The IPCC, which was until recently headed by a shady Indian but who was forced out by his own AGW, ie Another Girl Worry, has been a main driving force in herding opinion into reducing CO2 output. India and China have not signed onto any such reduction protocol, at least not for some years into the future – perhaps – and are busy buying up fossil fuel resources at now dirt-cheap prices. Their cheap fossil fuel power allows them a competitive edge. China is also doing good business in selling their renewables.
One therefore needs to be sure that there is a real solid connection between increasing CO2 and Global Warming. Despite saying it does, the only evidence this article provides is a correlation between measured GW and increasing CO2 levels, dressed up though it may be.
Correlations are fine to show the way for further investigation, but is well known to be very bad science as a sole means of establishing a hypothesis without a physical basis. The author shows this lack with his statement
“For which, by the way, there is no natural explanation, and the best estimate for the anthropogenic share of global warming since 1950 is 110 percent – more on this in my previous post.” [My note: 110 percent is from correlation.]
In other words, he confirms that the CO2 supposition is a default option… because they can’t think of anything else!
[The Author does say
“The climatic impact of greenhouse gases can either be calculated on the basis of an understanding of the physical processes, ”
but then does not point to such evidence. His reference does not.]
From my site’s Commentary:
“However, what has actually happened is that people point to changes in the climate – that global temperatures have risen since about 1950, during which time carbon dioxide levels have been rising sharply – as confirmation that increasing carbon dioxide levels are the cause of the temperature rise. Yet, in the absence of other information, there is a 50% chance of a change being a rise or a fall. That’s scarcely a confirmation of any theory!”
Chapter 2 gives the real causes of changing climate, with quantitative confirmation to real data, as does Chapter 2A. Chapter 4A shows – in size, location and time – how this cause strengthened the 2017 (and 2010) hurricanes. (Chapter 4 does similar but for near Australia … so you’d better wheel out your atlases!)
Yes, indeed. And the same holds of course for all the other “renewable energy” zealots and their funny drivel.
If anybody asked for more hilarious renewable energy zealot comedy, here you are.
Upthread you already funnily mistook me for a “climate skeptic” and now you reoffend blithely and mistake me for a “nuclear power fanatic”.
Nigelj, you must really be a very “smart” person. Because what in my posts up to now do you infer this from is a total mystery.
There is absolutely nothing in this sense, again just your fantasy at work.
I even clearly wrote that there is apparently no obvious palatable way to power 7+ billion people without fossil fuel . Whether one likes it or not.
I’m just a physicist who points out that the ridiculous rhetoric about “renewables saving the climate” is at odds with what physics tells us. Nothing more, nothing less.
Why do you keep making a fool of yourself ?
First, this topic belongs on Forced Responses, so if you want to reply please do so there… I responded to alphagruis here because the lack of quantitative/scientific/design/engineering he and others exhibit is consistent with what the Denialists do.
That said: Perhaps the explanation for your excessive posting and verbosity (along with Killian and Nigel) is that you are operating on an accelerated time-line? Too many of those “energy drinks” or something?
My comments dealing with population go back to about December 2017, which is a couple of months, not years. And it’s easy to use the search function to find them, since I don’t spam like you do…
(#69, December 2017 UV, reply to Kevin M)
And I stated the necessary and sufficient condition for sustainability, which is:
The minimum global population that will
1. Maintain genetic diversity
2. Maintain specialization, meaning that science, technology, art, music, and so on, will continue to exist and progress.
I also showed that there is a non-linear benefit in reducing Liquidation of Natural Capital (consumption, pollution) relative to the rate of population reduction.
But perhaps, this is too concise for you to process? Not jittery enough?
Right, except that fossil fuels are of course restricted for all those poor people even it’s not yet at all because of climate !
Anyway, can’t you see why acknowledging this state of world affairs. precisely supports my reasoning and not your rhetoric ?
All those people not enjoying the rich countrie’s standard of living struggle to make a living and their life is usually a very hard one. Please, as I did, do travel to Africa, live there for a while and get aware of what life means without running water, an electric grid etc etc. Grow your food as people do there and as people did 5 centuries ago in Europe. it’s a “nice” full time job.
If only that much people (one out of ten) could manage to have a really decent life, yet, with (and historically only once was) “easy” fossil fuel energy source available, is it reasonable to expect that 10 times more people will manage to do so in future without that exceptional source of energy and much less “easy” renewable energy sources ?
And the fact that fossil fuels exist in finite amount and we will certainly run out of them sooner or later does by no means ruin my reasoning and imply that “it must be possible to power 7 billion people with renewables.”
Claiming the opposite is blatant error of reasoning and logic.
Well I’m sure I have seen you promoting nuclear energy on other websites. However I will accept you don’t propose nuclear power.
I don’t know why you resort to insulting everyone, because you just make yourself look silly and alienate everyone. It’s not very smart.
“I’m just a physicist who points out that the ridiculous rhetoric about “renewables saving the climate” is at odds with what physics tells us.”
You have still not provided any of this “physics” because there is none. No other physicist has claimed this.
Implementation or otherwise of renewable energy is mostly an economic and political issue. However the economics are feasible. My country of NZ already has 80% renewable energy, and is aiming for more. Some of this is good fortune with geothermal power, but this is one country where its provably feasible, where you have only supplied empty rhetoric.
Firstly I agree as I always have that smaller population is very desirable, and has to be part of the answer to both the climate change and resource problems. Some of your ideas and mechanisms make sense.
However you have just repeated the same vague, general, rhetoric on population again. Goals of mitigation and adaptation are obvious stuff, and are not quantitiative – and you keep talking about the need to be quantititative. You provide no specific population numbers to aim for, and no time frames.
You provide no idea of how you would achieve all this smaller population, and convince politicians and the public , and what policies you would have that are different from currently. You can’t just expect everyone else to fill in these blanks, and do the work.
I have considered it, and its hard to see how we do things differently, apart from campaigns of awareness of the value of having smaller families. This would take time to have an effect.
I think your non linear response correct, but is much weaker than you think. You made a huge claim that a 50% reduction in population would lead to a 75% reduction in consumption per capita. This is the only quantitative statement you have actually made, and its not come with much proof and is hard to accept as follows:
You quoted just four mechanisms of achieving this huge non linear drop. Firstly something about smaller population leading to different political power structures. Secondly smaller population leads to people concentrating in cities, and so using fewer resources for transport, and thirdly smaller population leads to less need for use of fertilisers because there’s plenty of land availability. Fourthly there was something about people living on the coast more, and using renewable energy because of this, such as coastal wind power.
The power structure thing is incomprehensible and unconvincing. The transport and fertiliser ideas make sense in principle, but people are tending to live in big cities even with a growing population. The effects are just weak, and in no way could they explain a drop from 50% to 75% of overall general consumption.
The thing about people living on the coast would only work in some countries, and is not directly related to consumption.
There are also forces acting in the opposite direction, such as robotics that will cancel out some of the non linear effect, and keep per capita consumption high. I can think of numerous other things as well.
Reducing per capita consumption is all going to require big attitude changes towards materialism, and this is more of a cultural thing. Killian is more on the right track in this regard.
If I’m wrong you need to explain why, and provide far more examples to show consumption would drop that much per capita as a non linear response.
I noticed that KM and Alan made some very similar criticisms.
In summary, I think there’s some non linear response, but a weaker one that you think. But clearly smaller population makes plenty of sense in many other ways, for example less use of resources overall, less conflict between peoples globally, and pressure on endangered species. I’m not attacking you in broad principle, its just the details of some of what you post.
Peter Carson @101
All you have written is just racist crap, and wild, unsupported assertions, and conspiracy theory ranting. Please try to do better than that.
Anthropogenic global warming does not rely on simple correlations. We have multiple lines of evidence that climate change in recent decades is principally linked to CO2 as follows:
Chapter 2 of what? Fred Flinstones guide to climate change?
Kevin McKinney says
Well, perhaps the ‘less easy fossil fuel’ ought to be a bit of a hint here.
You do realize, don’t you, alphagruis, that despite multiple comments to date you have yet to supply one single statement clearly outlining just why you think RE isn’t ‘easy’–let alone provide anything resembling objective support?
It’s a pretty rare bird who thinks that transforming our energy economy to put it on a (relatively) sustainable basis will be in any way “easy”. However, survival often isn’t. IMO, it will be a whole lot harder if we rule out the one sort of energy which has been shown to be: 1) potentially available in sufficient quantity sufficiently soon; 2) affordable; and 3) scalable.
As far as the developing world goes, it is voting with its investment dollars:
Also notable: in 2016, total renewable energy (excluding hydro) increased from 785 GW cumulative capacity, to 921, a 17% increase.
So, as you assure us that ‘it can’t be done’, it appears that it clearly *is* being done–though, as the REN report tells us, still not yet fast enough.
Peter Carson says
1. Racist?? It’s all about certain countries vying for commercial advantage. If one’s talking about different countries, one’s likely to also be talking about different races.
2. Correlations. OK you tell me supporting science as YOU understand it – rather than pointing to a biased site.
3. Chapter 2. You do know how to click on my name to bring up my web-site? And you’re trying to lecture me on science!
#Kevin Mc Kinney
Of course, it “is being done-though”. As were “carried out” communism, fascism or so many other ideology driven agendas.
And as with them it will for sure cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and kill millions of people prematurely.
And ironically it will most likely not even have any positive effect on climate.
Just for fun, I’m curious, where do you “have seen me promoting nuclear energy” ?
By the way I don’t post much “on other websites”.
Nor do I or will I do on this one.
Ray Ladbury says
Dude, just curious. How does one manage to get a doctorate in a scientific field and yet remain so utterly clueless about one of the most important scientific issues of our time?
I would at least presume that if you really had a PhD in P. Chem. you would at least have heard of Svante Arrhenius–who first posited anthropogenic warming via CO2 emission back in 1896. The subsequent observation of warming of both atmosphere and oceans–even as total solar irradiance was decreasing–served as confirmation of the importance of CO2, rather than CO2 being an ad hoc explanation of warming.
At this point, I really have to doubt your claims of having an advanced degree in anything, or if you do, then your institution should hang its head in shame.
Please, fricking educate yourself!
Note To All:
If the discussion is going to be about mitigation, it belongs over on FR.
Note to AlphaG:
You missed my point completely. I still don’t know what the goal is. Is it…
A. The other 6.3 billion consuming energy at the same level as the 700,000?
B. Maintaining the same distribution of energy consumption, but with greatly reduced CO2 emissions? (approximately; as I said, you can make a very big gain in quality of life for those poor people with a small input, while reduction at the high end would be less painful.)
That’s why I said you are acting like the Denialists– you are the one engaging in rhetoric, not me. How can anyone answer if you aren’t specific?
Peter Carson @101
The physical basis for the greenhouse effect is very well established despite your assertions to the contrary. The correlation shown for CO2 is just one of many lines of evidence confirming that our understanding of the physics is correct.
He most certainly does not make the assertion that the effect of CO2 is only a default option. The point is that there is zero evidence of an alternative cause of the current warming. This is simply a logical conclusion based on the evidence that supports that our understanding of the physics is correct.
He does not need to. The underlying physics behind the greenhouse effect is readily available to those that have an interest in understanding it. As is the mathematical basis for calculating the effect of CO2 on the radiation profile and resulting warming.
Pure baloney. There is significant physical evidence that the temperature rise is due to increasing levels of CO2. I suggest you make an effort to understand what it is.
You lost all credibility when you made up your own definition of a greenhouse gas rather than understand that greenhouse gases are defined as molecules that are excited by long wave radiation in the spectrum of the emissions of the surface and atmosphere based on their temperature. Diatomic molecules like O2 and N2 are transparent to that radiation and will never fit the definition of a greenhouse gas, no matter that they absorb heat via other means.
Briefly, reading your website and seeing that your understanding of physics is so remedial it is impossible to believe that you have any post graduate work in the physical sciences let alone a Phd in chemistry. No desire to waste my time on your *Chapter 2*. Amazing that you are so delusional to think that a quick rejection of your writings by an underling at any scientific journal is less than it deserved based on the obviousness of your quackery.
If you are going to make claims about the role of CO2 in the warming of the earth climate system, I suggest you first make an effort to understand what the science actually tells us. Stop wasting everyone’s time with your drivel.
Barton Paul Levenson says
ag 103: I even clearly wrote that there is apparently no obvious palatable way to power 7+ billion people without fossil fuel . Whether one likes it or not. . .
I’m just a physicist who points out that the ridiculous rhetoric about “renewables saving the climate” is at odds with what physics tells us.
BPL: What, specifically, in physics, tells us that? You have yet to specify.
Ric Merritt says
nigelj #106: “My country of NZ already has 80% renewable energy”
I think you meant 80% renewable electrical generation. The difference is very large and very important.
Also worth a mention is that NZ is very fortunate in hydropower resources. Good, but not always replicable.
Ray Ladbury says
I recommend to you the following quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
“If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
The thing is that technical problems have varying degrees of solubility. Today’s smartphones have more capability than the communicators on Star Trek. But we still do not have a flying car. Electronics from about 1970 to 2005 had scaling of CMOS technology to drive Moore’s law.
A flying car is inherently difficult and expensive. Space travel is another.
It turns out that energy also has a scaling law–Rosenfeld’s law, which if it could be accelerated would result in an economic revolution at least as profound as the electronics revolution. I think Clark’s rule probably applies here, so you are on shaky ground with any hard and fast declarations about impossibility.
Ric Merritt @116, yes I meant electricity generation, and we do have plenty of hydropower. I was being brief and didn’t want to be too wordy because some people get offended by that, apparently. Some people are hard to satisfy.
I’m just curious as to why Alphagrius is so cynical about renewable electrcity. Most of his verbiage is just authoritarian, empty arrogant blather like Donald Trump assails us with regularly. If there’s some principle in physics that makes renewable energy impossible, I’m all for learning what it is.
I’m open minded. I’m still waiting. We are all waiting. Even Steven Hawking is expected to explain himself.
Phil Scadden says
Peter Carson (is this the same Peter Carson who supposed El Nino was caused by undersea volcanoes?) is correctly demostrating that the Peter Carson theory of Greenhouse Gases is wrong. This however is unimportant because it has minimal connection to the greenhouse gas theory that is developed in text books. I am not sure whether he has an aversion to reading a textbook or a problem comprehending material that contradicts his preconceptions.
“Of course, it “is being done-though (renewable energy etc) ”. As were “carried out” communism, fascism or so many other ideology driven agendas.”
I see. So your real objection to renewable electricity is political / ideological. All the stuff about can’t be done because of the physics is nonsense, and it comes down to politics and ideology.
I have lost count of the number of climate sceptics, or in your case a renewable energy sceptic, and eventually it turns out they have some sort of ideological or political motive, usually conservative leaning. But I don’t know in your case.
What on earth makes you think renewable energy is ideologically driven? I can’t see how it would be, because whether electricity comes from oil, coal or solar is not of inherent significance to any side of politics and neither does it relate to any particular ideology. It’s purely a question of appropriate technology.
I dont support communism or fascisim by the way, and I share your dislike, but those unwise experiments should not scare us off trying new things. We just have to be careful and ensure new things are science and evidence based and not driven by gut reactions or simplistic beliefs.
“And as with them it will for sure cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and kill millions of people prematurely.”
I disagree. Renewable electricity is cleaner and healthier than burning coal, something easily googled.
No country is planning to simply switch off fossil fules without an alternative grid in place.
Even poorer countries can afford renewable electricity. Converting an existing fossil fuel grid completely to renewable electricity is calculated to cost between 1 – 2% of a countries gdp, if spread over 20 years. The maths is not complex. This is an affordable sum of money, and much less than most countries spend on old age pensions.
This article covers the dramatic price falls in renewable energy:
“Just for fun, I’m curious, where do you “have seen me promoting nuclear energy” ?
I can’t remember, but does it matter? I would not have said you support nuclear energy without reason, and all you have to do is say what you do or don’t support. Why make it more complicated than that?
Instead of all this rhetoric I’m interested in any real specific reasons why you think renewable energy doesn’t make sense or is incompatible with physics. I read this website to get an understanding of climate science from the experts, and see what the latest issues are. I’m also interested in alternative points of view, but if sceptics cant back their big, sweeping claims up with substance, how do you expect people to react?
Kevin McKinney says
Yet another totally unsupported assertion, without even context.
Congratulations on keeping your string going.
Let’s see–we’ll call that #1. While it’s certainly not, life is too short for counting backwards. I’m sure it won’t be the last, though.
Peter Carson @110
“1. Racist?? It’s all about certain countries vying for commercial advantage. If one’s talking about different countries, one’s likely to also be talking about different races.”
You said “The IPCC, which was until recently headed by a shady Indian but who was forced out by his own AGW, ie Another Girl Worry,”. This sounds racist to me, who would say shady indian unless you are making a racist comment? However I will accept you have retracted it.
I don’t think you have presented any case or evidence that The Paris Accord is fundamentally somehow about gaining commercial advantage. Everyone has agreed all countries have to make sacrifices, and have bought into that. Of course they want a deal they can live with, and not get taken advantage of, but that doesn’t invalidate the basic nature of the agreement. Only Trump is turning it into a war of advantage between countries. The Paris accord is pretty fair to all countries if you look into it.
“2. Correlations. OK you tell me supporting science as YOU understand it – rather than pointing to a biased site.”
No I’m not going to repeat content easily googled on the website I gave you, and fill ten pages here. Until you are able to refute what they say, with detail and reference to peer reviewed science, I’m going to totally dismiss everything you say.
“3. Chapter 2. You do know how to click on my name to bring up my web-site? And you’re trying to lecture me on science!”
Chapter two implied you were talking about a text book, not your website. Try learning how to write clearly what you mean.
Peter Carson @110
No one on Real Climate has an obligation to provide you with the science or the supporting evidence. It is your responsibility to understand the science prior to criticizing it. False assertions made by the ignorant carry no weight.
BTW, if the Skeptical Science site has a bias that bias is for evidence based science. It is very well referenced to the peer reviewed literature. Someone with a Phd in chemistry should be able to discern the difference.
Regarding your theory of causes of climate change on your own website.
You appear to say the beer lambert law means essentially that all gases absorb light, so CO2 is nothing special in this regard. You are mistaken. A quick read on this law shows this law is basically about light transmittance versus concentrations. It does not mean all gases absorb IR energy equally, as you seem to think. You have fundamentally missinterpreted the law.
The law is also consistent with how CO2 behaves if you do a simple google search as follows:
You have this theory that global warming is caused by heat from the earths interior. You say “The process repeats. Earth gains heat, expands, release, contracts, etc, rather as though the Earth is breathing! It even exhales!” and “Earthquakes result.”
You use the timing of the ice age cycle temperature fluctuations as proof of these events. From the vostok data.
With respect, this is all just completely wrong. The changes in ice age temperatures don’t prove some geological process. You have engaged in flawed circular reasoning. The temperature changes are related to the milankovitch cycles causing solar changes which cause increases in CO2 and further temperature increases (when ice ages end).
You provide no evidence that warming from the earths interior is a significant factor in heating the atmosphere. You reference no scientific literature.
Furthermore techtonic plates, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occurs all the time releasing a little energy, roughly regularly over long term time frames. You provide no evidence of some substantial increase in volcanic and / or earthquake activity in the global warming period since 1900, or the more recent global warming period of since 1970. Such a thing is unlikely anyway given what we know.
Your geological warming theory therefore fails on every count. I have only spend a short time pondering the issue, so my comments are rough, but its clear to me you are promoting totally flawed science. At least think about what I have said.
Eli Rabett says
The essentials are that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations raise the effective altitude at which the atmosphere can radiate to space in the regions of the IR where they absorb.
Since the effective radiative altitude is in the troposphere where temperature decreases with altitude, the rate at which the greenhouse gases emit to space slows with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.
To compensate the temperature of the Earth system has to increase, increasing the rate of emission in regions of the thermal IR where greenhouse gases do not absorb.
The rest is detail, interesting but it fundamentally makes no difference to the base argument
As to “totally unsupported assertions, without even context” we’re only interested here in the one that claims that a 7+ billion people civilization can be essentially powered by renewable energy sources within a few decades…
It’s an extraordinary claim (nothing like this ever happened before) that calls for extraordinary evidence.
Funnily, even any ordinary evidence remains to be seen yet..
What one sees up to now in this respect is just wishful thinking.
You’re still on the wrong track.
I’m not a “renewable energy sceptic”.
I even take largely advantage of solar energy in my house in Europe and installed solar panels on the roof of the “house” of my wife’s family in their village in Africa.
And, of course, by no means does this even remotely imply that a 7+ billion people civilization can be essentially powered by renewable energy sources within a few decades in order to save the climate…
Kevin McKinney says
It’s my understanding that J-J Fourier did a rather thorough job of elucidating the real role of Earth’s interior heat in determining Earth’s surface temperature back in the 1820s. Peter Carson really doesn’t like to do literature searches, it would appear.
Barton Paul Levenson says
ag 111: [Renewable energy] will for sure cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and kill millions of people prematurely.
BPL: How will it do that?
Points 1,2 and 3 are likely 100% correct. However, there does not appear to be any empirical evidence to quantify the magnitudes of claims made in #4. An accurate ECS value for CO2 has still not been established. Selecting an average ECS for CO2, by whatever means, from among a range of estimates supplied from various research efforts is fool’s gold from this engineer’s perspective because of the obvious – only one of them is close to being correct, (and then with the assumption that ANY are)! To expect that an average value represents something close to the correct value is to expect that by pure chance the range of research estimations adds up to as many wrong values below the correct value as wrong ones above it.
So what is the chance of that?
Phil Scadden says
Nigelj – my day job includes building models of the thermal evolution of geological basins (rather important constraints on oil/gas generation). It is hard to convey how ridiculous Carson’s “geothermal basis for global warming” is in the context of these models. The simple laws of thermal conduction and heat capacity and all the emperical measurements of temperature and heatflow make such an idea impossible. The lack of any observable conduits of heat from seafloor to sea surface didnt bother his volcanic El Nino theory however. Get some popcorn and go to here for the start.
Eli Rabett says
Dear Mike, from an engineering perspective if the best you have is a range estimates, you design for the most damaging.
There is also another point, which Eli calls the luckwarmers lament. Time does not stop at 2050, 2100 or whatever, but soon enough even a low value of ECS gets the world into a mess of trouble, just a bit later.
Well dont crack a rib laughing.
“And, of course, by no means does this even remotely imply that a 7+ billion people civilization can be essentially powered by renewable energy sources within a few decades in order to save the climate…”
So you have shifted back from your unsupported claims that renewable energy is not possible because of the physics. or because its allegedly someones “ideology” to the apparent position that its too hard because of the time frames and alleged problems scaling up. No doubt you will side step from that position as well.
Nobody said changing the world to renewable energy in 30 odd years would be easy. It will probably end up taking longer, but that is better than doing nothing. However its economically and technically feasible in 30 years, as I have already shown above, and this includes for poor countries. I do not like the poverty in places like Africa, but they have minimal electricity grids right now, so changing those to renewable electricity is economically feasible, and adding new capacity over time is best done with wind and solar power because 1) its now cost competitive and 2) it suits Africa’s situation because decentralised, local power makes sense for their huge rural communities
The western powers achieved technological miracles in the 5 years during World War two. This shows what is possible with the motivation.
The things standing in the way of renewable energy are politics, personal motivation, and a giant lying campaign of doubt about both climate science and renewable energy. Your negativity reinforces all these things whether you intend this or not, and regardless of your claim you accept the science. You seem like part of the problem.
Point 4 states: The additional 125 ppm CO2 have a heating effect of 2 watts per square meter of earth surface, due to the well-known greenhouse effect – enough to raise the global temperature by around 1°C until the present.”
Stefan is making a point on the change in radiative forcing caused by CO2 which is not the same as ECS. The change in forcing is not very uncertain as it can be calculated based on the physics. It can also be measured over time by satellites. So yes there is empirical evidence to back up his claims.
ECS on the other hand includes climate feedbacks which are more uncertain. However since we can fairly accurately calculate the direct sensitivity of CO2 to be about 1 degree celsius with an additional water vapor feedback of another 1 to 1.5 degrees celsius, we can be fairly certain that the minimum possible ECS is around 2 degrees. With most of the rest, if not all, feedbacks appearing to be positive, then the likelihood of an even greater ECS is quite high. The most likely range statistically is 2 – 4.5 degrees with the most likely number to be 3 degrees. The paleo record would tend to confirm this to be about right. It is also much more likely that ECS is greater than the likely range than it is to be less. Just because different analysis give us different results does not mean the different results have equal likelihood. Your so called average being fools gold is, well, foolish because we are highly certain that it is high enough to be a serious problem. If you make engineering decisions based on the assumption that since there is uncertainty in your numbers therefore no problem, then you are a fool. Uncertainty does not mean ignorance.
Peter Carson says
#125 Eli. Your
“The essentials are that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations raise the effective altitude at which the atmosphere can radiate to space in the regions of the IR where they absorb.”
(I’m assuming you mean your definition of greenhouse gas to refer to the IR gases rather than mine, that all gases are GHG. If you do use my correct definition, amusingly, your statement becomes accurate!)
All molecules emit IR, including those that do not absorb it. Therefore, it’s only the total density at any particular height that determines how much heat in the form of IR is released, eventually to space.
Barton Paul Levenson says
PC 134: All molecules emit IR, including those that do not absorb it.
BPL: That would come as news to quantum physicists.
Peter Carson @134
Your statement actually confirms what Eli stated.
Since the atmosphere is well mixed in the troposphere the decreasing density with elevation determines where the CO2 is thin enough to allow ALL the IR no matter the source to escape unimpeded to space. Adding more raises this elevation. This must warm the atmosphere in order for radiative balance to be maintained.
It is well known that all atmospheric gases radiate IR dependent on their temperature. This is basic physics. You are clueless in believing that there are any gaps in our understanding of the radiative physics of the atmosphere. There are multiple textbooks written on the subject of atmospheric radiation and I suggest you study one of them before continuing with your clueless, nonsensical statements. You’ve been told this many times. Apparently you are too arrogant in your ignorance to do so. Doesn’t say much for your ability to actually do science.
Kevin McKinney says
Unsupported, content-free smear #2.
Ray Ladbury says
OK, I know I am going to regret this, but by what mechanism does a molecule emit in the IR if it cannot absorb in the IR?
Did you suffer some sort of head trauma after you got your PhD in P. Chem?
Kevin McKinney says
Peter Carson, #134–
“All molecules emit IR, including those that do not absorb it. Therefore, it’s only the total density at any particular height that determines how much heat in the form of IR is released, eventually to space.”
…And that would be what the cognoscenti call a “non sequitur.”
Why? Because at any given height temperature is not only dependent upon emission. Still happy to consider only one side of the ledger, I see, though this time (amusingly) the side previously ignored.
Phil Scadden says
Peter, what would it take to get you to open a textbook and read what really happens with GHG? There is no way to make any progress when you continue to assert things that are demonstrably untrue. Firstly, please look at the derivation of the Radiative Transfer Equations (eg here) and make sure you understand it. Secondly, the equations allow you to prediction that change in both radiation received at earth’s surface or emitted to space as atmospheric GHG composition changes with exquisite accuracy. (eg see Harries 2001, as an example. If you want put forward some alternative, then your theory needs to reproduce these observations. Dont expect to be taken as anything but a crackpot unless you can.
Phil Scadden @130, thank’s for the link to discussion on undersea volcanoes. That is some weird s**t.
I see P Carson still hasn’t moved on, despite the massive rock solid evidence presented to him. Stubborness I suppose.
Kirchhoff’s law of thermal radiation:
For an arbitrary body emitting and absorbing thermal radiation in thermodynamic equilibrium, the emissivity is equal to the absorptivity.
This relates to the question of communication, as well as the issue of radiation:
Very well organized presentation, with clear, concise and precise, language.
Mal Adapted says
Thanks to Phil Scadden for supporting his rebuttal of Peter Carson’s shallow arguments authoritatively and succinctly, without falling for Carson’s provocation and embarking on a lengthy and redundant mathematical derivation himself.
Thanks also to Mr. Scadden for his explicitly scornful tone, which IMHO is entirely appropriate for the task. Having neatly forestalled accusations of argumentum ad hominem, Mr. Scadden reverses Mr. Carson’s transparently rhetorical offensive, focusing on Carson’s irrational adherence to a failed case. The DK-afflicted Carson’s purported PhD notwithstanding, there’s very little hope he’ll become competent enough in the full breadth of climate science to recognize his own incompetence, or the genuine competence available to him on RC. One at least hopes any lurking pseudo-skeptics of AGW are motivated to educate themselves; and failing that, to remain silent, in the wish to avoid Carson’s reception here 8^D!
Barton Paul Levenson says
I should point out that Kirchhoff’s Law only applies at a given wavelength, and for a body in local thermal equilibrium. Of course, that just means the equilibrium is different at each wavelength; and 99% of the atmosphere is in LTE. Just thought I’d mention it.
Any questions? Yes I have one question. When are you going to start using clear precise language?
Peter Carson says
#138 … plus the rest of the herd, including the pseudonymous Trolls, eg nigelj, Mal Adapted (well chosen).
It pays to be civil, if only to look less stupid when – not if – shown to be wrong! My detailed & usually quantitative answers are at my site – but you folk seem to have an aversion to even looking at non-AGW.
Quick answer to your question. “OK, I know I am going to regret this, but by what mechanism does a molecule emit in the IR if it cannot absorb in the IR?”
Also, as #136 knows, ALL substances above absolute zero temperature radiate energy. You can substitute “IR” with “energy” if you wish; gets the same answer. That is, the IR gases contribution to adjusting Earth’s warmth is tiny.
As for undersea volcanic activity.
Anyone here know of an explanation for the formation of hurricanes such as I give in Chapter 4A for eg 2017 & 2010 North Atlantic Hurricanes? (Relative sizes, place and time.)
Can AGW explain the GE on Venus, Earth and Mars? (Quantitative please.)
#130. I don’t suppose you look at diverging boundaries. My work quantitatively shows the heat released matches global warming in the past century – for which data exists (Chapter 2).
Have you found any gas? I wonder about your ethics in that you believe AGW but earn money searching for gas.
P Carson accuses me of trolling. Hilarious. I would say P Carson is the troll, with his silly theories as follows.
“Urban Dictionary: troll
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
P Carson says “Can AGW explain the GE on Venus,”
It might have something to do with the atmosphere being approximately 95% CO2. I dont know, just a rough guess.
I can sense a stupid adiabatic theory coming from P Carson.
Peter Carson @147
Yes, but oxygen and nitrogen have no electric dipole moment and hence do not interact with photons in the thermal emission spectrum.
No matter how many times you assert this, it will remain false. Greenhouse gases absorb thermal radiation from the surface and slow radiative loss to space. Without this absorption, the surface would be about 60 degrees F colder. That is hardly a “tiny” contribution to adjusting the Earth’s warmth.