Scroll To Top

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

400ppm CO2 and Oh Dear! Another humungous blunderous blunder by Anthony Watts

Sou | 1:30 AM Go to the first of 23 comments. Add a comment

Update: see below for how Anthony shifts the blame!

A short while ago Wondering Willis Eschenbach wrote about Anthony Watts at WUWT:
So it is not Anthony’s job to determine whether or not the work of the guest authors will stand the harsh light of public exposure. That’s the job of the peer reviewers, who are you and I and everyone making defensible supported scientific comments. Even if Anthony had a year to analyze and dissect each piece, he couldn’t do that job.

Anthony Watts seems to agree that it's not his job to see if articles have any merit or not. And Willis is on the ball when he says that Anthony couldn't tell anyway.

Anthony Watts - big, huge, spectacular fail in climate 101

There's another example of that today (archived here). Anthony copied and pasted an article from another blog, which was itself taken from yet a third blog. (Deniers are into recycling in a big way.)  His claim this time is encapsulated in his headline:

EPA document supports ~3% of atmospheric carbon dioxide is attributable to human sources

Three per cent? 3%? WRONG - it's 30%!

Remember, Anthony Watts has been blogging about climate science or weather for more than seven years now. To not know that human activity has added more than 40% to atmospheric CO2 is amazing, even for someone as blockheaded as Anthony Watts. It makes you realise that Willis Eschenbach has hit the nail on the head. Anthony Watts doesn't know the first thing about climate. [Corrected phrasing/arithmetic, thanks Robert.]

The first two paragraphs of Anthony's article are:
From a Wry Heat reprinted with permission of Jonathan DuHamel
A new post on The Hockey Schtick reviews a new paper “that finds only about 3.75% [15 ppm] of the CO2 in the lower atmosphere is man-made from the burning of fossil fuels, and thus, the vast remainder of the 400 ppm atmospheric CO2 is from land-use changes and natural sources such as ocean outgassing and plant respiration.”

Anthony doesn't see any of the colossal glaring signposts

Notice several things.
  1. Anthony copied and pasted an article from a denier blog about an article on another denier blog onto Anthony's denier blog. Not an uncommon thing to do so that people find it harder to check the source. It adds to confusion by expanding the distance between anti-science and science.
  2. The article he copied was posted almost a week ago, on 23 July.
  3. The link to The Hockey Schtick goes nowhere
  4. There are comments below the article, also written a week ago, by the lead author of the paper, Denica Bozhinova, explaining how The Hockey Schtick got hold of the wrong end of the schtick and subsequently took down their article and all the comments:
July 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm
A reply from the authors of the scientific article on the “review” on The Hockey Schtick blog has pointed out that the results cited are grossly misinterpreted and the blog has taken down the entire review and following comments.
  1. There are more comments from the author, including a long comment explaining why Wry Heat and The Hockey Schtick got it wrong.
  2. About that "vast remainder" in the quote above - oceans and plants are absorbing probably still a bit more than half of the CO2 we're pouring into the air each year. They aren't net emitters, they are carbon sinks.

At the time, there were a number of tweets about how The Hockey Schtick got it woefully wrong.

Anthony should have known at first glance that the article was really, really dumb. Since he can't ever tell if an article he posts "will stand the harsh light of public exposure", before he posted his article, he should have:

About the paper

What about the paper itself? Well, needless to say it wasn't proposing that humans have only contributed 3% of atmospheric CO2. It was a rather long, technical paper about a modeling framework for interpreting CO2 signatures in air and plant samples in Western Europe. As stated in the conclusion:
In this work, we demonstrated the ability of our modeling framework to simulate the atmospheric transport of CO2 and consequently the atmospheric Δ14CO2 signature in integrated air and plant samples in Western Europe.

Update - Anthony shifts the blame!

I checked WUWT again just after finishing this article. Anthony Watts has finally woken up and acknowledged his mistake (archived here). But guess what - he shifts most of the blame onto someone else! If that doesn't show that Wondering Willis was correct then I don't know what will. Even if Anthony had a year to "dissect and analyse" the article, he still wouldn't have been able to figure out that humans have added 40% to atmospheric CO2, not a mere 3%!

Sou 1:40 am AEST 30 July 2014.

From the WUWT comments

From early on, some of the commenters point out that Anthony made a fool of himself and his blog.

David in Cal says:
July 29, 2014 at 12:12 am
Note that this result does NOT contradict the likelihood that the increase in CO2 from 300 ppm to 400 ppm was caused (or mostly caused) by man’s emissions.

Nick Stokes says:
July 29, 2014 at 12:19 am
“A new post on The Hockey Schtick reviews a new paper “that finds only about 3.75% [15 ppm] of the CO2 in the lower atmosphere is man-made from the burning of fossil fuels, “
The new paper said nothing of the sort. HS disappeared the entire thread.

glenncz says:
July 29, 2014 at 12:27 am
the Hockey Schtick link doesn’t work.
Possibly because the blog post was retracted. The chart does not say that 3.75% of the 400ppm is man-made. Those numbers in the charts refer to annual emissions. The theory is that earth was in a perfect balance before mans fossil emissions and now 50% of that 3.75% is what is causing the 2-3 annual ppm rise in CO2.
The above blog post should be rewritten or deleted.

Siberian_husky says:
July 29, 2014 at 1:18 am
Oh. My. God. You are stupid. 

Nigel Harris says:
July 29, 2014 at 1:26 am
I’d take this whole post down quickly before anyone else notices it. Confirmation bias much?

Leo Morgan says it's embarrassing, and puts Anthony in a real bind by suggesting if he removed the post it would indicate a lack of integrity!:
July 29, 2014 at 1:34 am
This post is an embarrassing moment for us sceptics.
As others have mentioned above, this refers to the annual increase in CO2, not the total amount there.
But this has always been a basic tenet of the alarmist’s case.
This does not show any conspiracy by the climate faithful, nor any fact concealed by them. It merely shows that the poster(s) have not understood what both sides have been talking about all along. I must clarify that- in fact its likely that the majority of the faithful do believe humanity is the sole cause of atmospheric CO2- but none of the educated among them do believe that.
The only thing that could make this more embarrassing would be if Anthony were to delete the post. Fortunately he has more integrity than that.
Kudos to all the sceptics who jumped on the mistake and pointed out that the post’s evidence does not support its headline claims. 

Nylo agrees with Leo about not deleting the article and says:
July 29, 2014 at 2:50 am
I don’t think this should disappear from WUWT. Mistakes should be accounted for, not erased as if they never happened. It is only by keeping what was originally said that we can learn some humility, and help in not making similar mistakes so easily in the future. The correct procedure would be to edit the story warning at the beginning that there is some important error in it, and detailing it. 

CodeTech wants the article to stay up there, too, and says other dumb stuff as well:
July 29, 2014 at 3:13 am
WUWT doesn’t “disappear” posts, and shouldn’t.
There is a nearly infinite capacity for the biosphere to absorb ANY conceivable amount of CO2 that human activity could possibly release. It’s automatic. The naive and, frankly, obtuse belief that there is some sort of “limit” on this is just ridiculous and bizarre, not to mention completely unscientific.
If CO2 levels get high enough, an entirely new level of plant life will remove all that is possible.
CO2 levels DO NOT control temperature. That is backward. But hey, go ahead and continue believing the fiction. 

Leo and Nylo and CodeTech should know that Anthony has disappeared articles in the past, such as the one about Greenland ice sheets being only 650 years old (deleted here with no comment) and the one where he dogwhistled a lynch mob for the second time, recycling something he wrote 12 months earlier. That time he did leave an explanation.

Johan says it's too late to retract the article (extract):
July 29, 2014 at 3:40 am
Retraction is no use – the harm is done. But your remark should be added to the original blog post.

Then there are the ignoramuses, who don't understand the first thing about atmospheric CO2 or the greenhouse effect, like GeeJam who wrongly says (excerpts):
July 29, 2014 at 2:28 am
Sorry David in Cal, but 400 ppm is such a trivial amount of atmospheric gas when compared to all other gasses. 1 x million divided by 400 is 1 x 2,500th of all the air in the sky. It’s really not a lot....Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is only around 12 ppm (that’s about 1 x 83,000th of the atmosphere)– and yet it still seems to be widely believed that this microscopic amount of gas has dominated the warming of our Earth during the last century. Even UK vehicle excise duty (road tax) is calculated on how much we contribute to this 1 x 83,000th of the sky.

johnmarshall keeps saying this and no-one tells him about isotopic analysis of 12C and 13C, or if they do he doesn't listen:
July 29, 2014 at 2:44 am
This claim is totally a guess. Volcanogenic CO2 is more plentiful than anthropogenic CO2 and both are isotopically identical. How can you differentiate?????

Johan gets a bit impatient with all the ignorance on display and says:
July 29, 2014 at 3:59 am
Oh brother, yet another thread wasted on trying to explain the obvious.
Here is a 5-year old paraphrase from David J. C. MacKay, professor of natural philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge,
The burning of fossil fuels sends seven gigatons (3.27 %) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, while the biosphere and oceans account for 440 (55.28 %) and 330 (41.46 %) gigatons, respectively. Total human emissions have jumped sharply since the Industrial Revolution; and it is this added atmospheric carbon that worries many. Yes, carbon is emitted naturally into the atmosphere but the atmosphere also sends carbon back to the land and oceans and these carbon flows have canceled each other out for millennia. Burning fossil fuels, in contrast, creates a new flow of carbon that, though small, is not cancelled. 

D. Bozhinova, M. K. van der Molen, I. R. van der Velde, M. C. Krol1, S. van der Laan, H. A. J. Meijer, and W. Peters, "Simulating the integrated summertime Δ14CO2 signature from anthropogenic emissions over Western Europe", Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 7273–7290, 2014, doi:10.5194/acp-14-7273-2014


  1. "Three per cent? 3%? WRONG - it's 40% plus!

    Remember, Anthony Watts has been blogging about climate science or weather for more than seven years now. To not know that more than 40% of atmospheric CO2 is from human activity is amazing"

    Actually, the correct number is 30%. We have contributed about 120 ppm to the 400 ppm. That's 30% of the total. We have caused CO2 to increase by over 40% (about 42 or 43). You later correctly say "he still wouldn't have been able to figure out that humans have added 40% to atmospheric CO2, not a mere 3%!". I know you knew this, and that it was just a slip, but you don't want some "skeptic" doing a "Gotcha!".

    Robert Murphy

    1. Thanks, Robert. Fixed now.

    2. If the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 ppm, and 120 ppm was added, the increase compared with the original concentration is 120/280, or 42.3%.

      Sou was correct the first time.

      Yes, the increase is 30% of the present concentration, but that's not the value one uses to describe an increase from equilibrium. To frame it for simplicity a doubling of the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of CO2 will occur at ~560 ppm - a 100% increase.

      If one wants to be particularly pedantic I seem to recall in the corners of my mental archive that the pre-agricultural atmospheric CO2 maximum for this interglacial was shaping to be around 260 ppm, until humans started land clearing. This would put the proportion that "humans have added" to the atmosphere to date at 53.8%, which should cause any sane and educated person no small amount of consternation...

    3. BTW Thanks, Bernard J (not just for this).

    4. Bernard wrote:
      "If the pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 ppm, and 120 ppm was added, the increase compared with the original concentration is 120/280, or 42.3%.

      Sou was correct the first time."

      But that's not what she originally said. She said that "more than 40% of atmospheric CO2 is from human activity". That's not true. I know she knew the correct answer and that it was just a slip - she stated it correctly later in the post. But at first (and more than once) she characterized it as a percent of the total, not as a percent increase. 30% is still an order of magnitude bigger than Watts' idiotic headline at any rate.

      Robert Murphy

    5. I missed the original post but I see the semantic issue.

      It raises the related issue though of which reference to use in which context, and I would suggest that in most cases it is most instructive to refer to the increase over the pre-Industrial baseline.

      Well, "instructive" in an academic sense - given the evidence of the last decade I am convinced now that the denialist propaganda war has successfully locked in a stalemate that favours its position and will continue to do so for at least several years more, and quite likely for a decade or more in any effective sense.

      At this point it looks that necessity and consequence will be better teachers of humans than reason and forethought.


  2. This is an excellent post and an example of why I pimp your blog in the WUWT comments from time to time.

    Not because I want to see a bunch of back and forth in the comments and not because I think you're right about everything. But mostly because it's a great way for skeptics to smooth their rough edges and get a lot sharper.

    Your causal knowledge and research skills are ... well ... admirable. (However your writing is atrocious, humorless and singularly unappealing.) Whether they like it or not, skeptics will learn something here.

    Just kidding about the writing. It and the humor are two reasons I come back.

    1. @Matt

      Have you ever tried to sharpen a desperately blunt knife? All you can do is take it right back to the beginning and start again.

    2. And sometimes after repeated attempts to sharpen a cheap knife you actually end up with a spoon...

    3. Firstly, this is not an 'excellent' post, it's just an observation that Anthony Watts is a career idiot. It's yet another correction of an individual who is resolutely committed, without support from reality, to a certain world-view. It is part of a documentation of an insane person's 'progress'.

      Secondly, WUWTians are not skeptics... thus they will learn nothing here. The replies to that nonsense from Watts show, with a few notable exceptions, the usual pseudo-skeptic qualities: sheer ignorance, misplaced confidence, contempt for knowledge, misunderstanding, argument from incredulity, motivated reasoning and pissing contests.

      WUWTians are not learners, they are rejecters.

    4. Nick - sheath the fangs for a minute. You saw Sou post examples of WUWTians blasting back at the article with science-y facts. (The "notable exceptions" you mentioned.) It's a bit of common ground, no?

      Even if you answer no, at least it proves not all readers of WUWT are ignorant morons who believe weather = climate and the world was created in seven days.

      I'm with you on the pissing contests. They serve no real purposes except to fill everyone's boots and send them squishing off all red faced.

      Your hopeless characterization of them aside, I hope a lot of WUWTians read this blog.

  3. I liked Dr. Gavin Schmidt's response to Watts on Twitter. "Doc not from EPA, didn't discuss human contribs to CO2 conc & orig post was already deleted. But solid apart from that."

    A restrained but still solid rebuke.

    He followed up with, "Last tweet illustrates of the difference between actual scepticism and what passes for 'sceptic' discussion on climate. #motivatedreasoning"

  4. I'm struggling to spot the difference between very silly posts by Watts that are 'acceptable' and ones like these that even the faux sceptics condemn. The posts that imply large and long term temperature variation due to powerful forces unknown to science (aka. climate elves) seem to me to be far sillier.

  5. Sou, I'm not going to bother with such a search, but I suspect it wouldn't be hard to find past instances of Our Tony screwing up the distinction between direct and indirect anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 fractions. It's a denialist meme of long standing, as I'm sure you know.

    The desire of such people to confuse themselves is strong. They acquire a piece of knowledge based on its ability to serve as a basis for a desired misunderstanding, and then just stop reading. Here's a follow-on example from DuHavel (in the comments to his blog post):

    "There are many confounding factors, however. In a warming world I would expect the oceans to be a net source rather than a sink because of the temperature dependency of carbon dioxide solubility."

    A little knowledge...

    1. ... confounds a little mind.

  6. Jonathan DuHamel and Hockey Schtick have turned up at WUWT to tell their side of the story.

  7. At wryheat, I especially like the admonition from commenter ulidech that the author, Denica Bozhinova, "Please use accurate, generally accepted terms."

    ulidech had the gall to write this after DB had already written, "...we are using terminology and methods from previously published research (with provided references) that he/she might have not looked into. It is common and good practice in our field to use previously defined terminology.”

  8. "it is not Anthony’s job to determine whether or not the work of the guest authors will stand the harsh light of public exposure"

    As Watts himself made explicitly when making excuses for the embarrassing blunder of confusing John Bruno with John Cook, it is his job, he "is responsible for my own blog content". Despite Willis's caims it is clear that Tony is happy to own the ignorance, stupidity and humiliating gaffes he publishes.

  9. Basic but important lens to look at 'ants' and his ilk in the denialosphere through.

    To what extent are they true climate change deniers?
    To what extent are the insecure attention seeking egotists?

    Hey, if I can get a lot of wing nuts to like me, I one good didn't I? There ain't no such thing as bad publicity?

    Look at the behavior of Ants and his ilk through their need to groom their narrow little fan base. Otherwise they might lose their tiny little spot in the Sun.

    1. I'm from the denialosphere Glenn Tamblyn., but don't bother being at Ant's place, because he's of the tadwarmosphere, just as you are from the cookuposphere.

  10. I'm sure we all wonder why you bother.

    1. ....says our good staunch trade union guy, bill, the taxi-driver from Whyalla.

    2. Yes, once upon a time, and not so. So, the usual confabulation, and all utterly irrelevant...


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL or OpenID. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.