Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Deluded deniers at WUWT about why CO2 emissions growth is stabilising and what it means

Sou | 6:15 PM Go to the first of 18 comments. Add a comment
The 2016 Global Carbon Budget paper was published this week. The report is by sixty-seven people from all around the world. It is described as the "11th annual update of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and their partitioning among the atmosphere, land, and ocean. This data synthesis brings together measurements, statistical information, and analyses of model results in order to provide an assessment of the global carbon budget and their uncertainties for years 1959 to 2015, with a projection for year 2016".

What the authors found was that carbon emissions dropped slightly in 2015, and are likely to increase only slightly this year. Over the last three years there has been almost no growth in emissions, which might be a sign that the world will soon see a decline in emissions - or not (if Donald Trump has his way).

The perfidy and illogic of extremist right wing science deniers

When clean air regs came in, the smog advocates said - look, clean air. We don't need any regulations.

When, because of a huge effort, there were only a few hiccups with the Y2k bug, the idiots said - look, we survived. All that effort spent on fixing computers wasn't necessary.

When there was a mammoth investment in family planning programs, education, poverty reduction, and technological advances in contraception, the small government proponents said - see, people are having fewer babies. All that effort spent on education, poverty reduction and family planning support wasn't necessary.

When there was a recent announcement that the enormous efforts around the world to reduce emissions might finally be starting to work, the illogical Anthony Watts said:
Who needs the Paris climate agreement? CO2 emissions are declining on their own

Well, no. They aren't "declining on their own". They aren't even declining. They are hopefully stabilising because of world-wide efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. They are not increasing as much because the evidence shows that if we don't do something, there will be a lot of damage. Emissions aren't increasing as much because all the nations in the world have been committing themselves to reductions - beginning way back when the UNFCCC was created more than 30 years ago. This is despite the best efforts of Anthony Watts to prevent the world from mitigating climate change.

Climate science deniers are among the most deluded people on the planet.  They are as bad as the voters in the USA who think that Donald Trump has their interests at heart. They deluded themselves into ignoring the fact that Donald Trump is only working for one thing: himself - to expand his personal fame, fortune and power, probably in that order. (Donald Trump has been said to have the traits of a narcissistic sociopath.)

Flattening emissions is not the first step. They need to be reduced, a lot.

In the comments, it's clear that most of Anthony Watts' fans are as bad at arithmetic (and understanding of climate change) as he is. That's not surprising. Anthony's target audience is the right wing authoritarian conspiracy theorist of little brain.

What many of Anthony's fans don't understand is that as long as we are adding more CO2 to the atmosphere than can be removed each year, atmospheric CO2 will continue to increase.

Many of the people commenting didn't understand the difference between the amount of annual emissions and the amount of atmospheric CO2. Some of them seemed to mistakenly think that slow or no growth in emissions meant slow or no growth in atmospheric CO2.

That is a huge mistake.

Atmospheric CO2 has been rising a lot. Every time we pour CO2 into the air, it adds to how much will stay in the air for a very long time. Around half of what we throw away is absorbed on the land and in the oceans, the rest accumulates in the air and causes the planet to get hotter and hotter.

Below is a chart showing how atmospheric CO2 is increasing. Move the cursor over the chart to see the data:
Figure 1 | Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa. Data source: NOAA

The weird thing is that while climate disinformers are bemused and befuddled by this new paper (or press release), I don't think any of them have made the logical leap. The leap being that the world can survive and thrive while shifting to renewables.

Here are some examples of dimwittedness:

John another is wrong. The oceans are not cooling, and if they were it wouldn't have any bearing on emissions from burning fossil fuel. What would happen is that more CO2 would be absorbed by the oceans. However in our warming world the oceans are warming, not cooling and the earth is not about to ice up.
November 14, 2016 at 5:10 pm
Recently here on WUWT I think there was an article about the planet recently greening an area the equivalent of two United States. And if the oceans, over all, are cooling, that may account for any reduction.
Look for Snowball Earth coming to an election cycle near you soon.

NZ Willy is a conspiracy theorist who doesn't "trust" scientists, and who didn't bother searching for the paper itself. If he had, he'd have known that it was produced by 67 scientists from around the world.
November 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm
I’ll believe the atmospheric measurement of CO2 over the UEA compilations anytime. The CO2 increase will be dampened by increasing biomass consumption and oceanic deep-sinking. Does UEA have credibility anymore? As long as Phil Jones and crew are there, they’re probably issuing politically-motivated statistics.

The answer to the question from Jeff from Colorado is "yes". He is wrong.
November 14, 2016 at 12:26 pm
I reviewed the CO2 page on WUWT. If human released CO2 had an affect on global CO2 levels and human CO2 emission have dropped to near zero, then you could see the drop on the Mauna Loa CO2 graph. I do not see a change in the graph. Either there is no affect, or the effect is so small it cannot be measured because it is smaller than the error in measurement. Either way, our reduction has no affect on global CO2 levels and the amount we were generating had no affect either. Therefore, Human released CO2 has no affect on global CO2 level, and any climate effect caused by CO2 is not affected by our release of CO2. Where am I wrong?

Where he is wrong is that CO2 emissions have not "dropped to near zero". They are about as high as they've ever been in human history. Last year we emitted around 9.9 ± 0.5 GtC (36.3 Gt of CO2) just from from fossil fuels and industry. That's not including the increase from other sources, such as changing land use, wildfires and deforestation. Therefore Jeff's follow-on arguments are also wrong. There won't be a drop in Mauna Loa CO2 because about half those emissions add to the CO2 in the air.

Greg responded to Ferdinand Englebeen, who pointed out that half the emissions stay in the air, and showed he doesn't understand what happens:
November 14, 2016 at 5:53 pm
Ferdi: “CO2 levels in the atmosphere will increase until CO2 emissions and net sink rate are equal.”
So you are agreed with me. Le Quere is talking crap. Emissions do not need to drop to zero in order for atm CO2 to stop rising. They need to drop to about half the current annual rate at which point they will equal the current sink rate.

He is correct that emissions don't need to drop to zero for atmospheric CO2 to stop rising. However they will need to drop substantially. He is wrong if he thinks that the oceans and land will continue to absorb the same amount of CO2 when emissions drop. They will be more likely to absorb the same proportion of CO2 - that is, about half.  The oceans won't absorb the same amount, because what is driving ocean absorption is the partial pressure of CO2. At realclimate.org a few years ago, it was suggested that we need a 60-70% cut to stabilise concentrations initially - and that was based on 2000 emissions. A 60% cut on 2000 emissions would mean a drop to around 2.7 Gt a year, or less than 1/3 of what was emitted last year. Stabilising concentrations wouldn't mean that climate change or global warming stops dead in its tracks. There will continue to be global warming before it eventually levels off. (If we stopped emissions altogether, then temperatures would probably start to fall almost right away as atmospheric CO2 fell.)

Kasuha was one of the few people on the ball.
November 14, 2016 at 12:30 pm
I’m pretty sure green groups will consider that achievement of global climate change related policies having some effect and will ask for their continuation. I guess it needs careful analysis why it occurred first.
From my point of view, though, constant emissions still mean constant rate of increase of “human produced” CO2 in atmosphere so if the task is to stabilize or lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it’s not achieving anything.

There was quite a bit of crazy conspiracy theorising. hollybirtwistle is an example of that:
November 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm
I would not trust anything the University of East Anglia said. They are in the business of advocacy, not accurate science. They’ll be some new scheme or strategy behind this announcement. 

Greg is trying to convince himself that CO2 doesn't stay in the air, or the carbon cycle doesn't exist, or something:
November 14, 2016 at 5:45 pm
How would fudging emissions downwards in a way which does NOT match MLO be desirable. I’m not saying they are beyond rigging the data, that’s the “new normal” but try to be a bit logical in your claims.
If emissions have come to a standstill and atm CO2 is still rising at 2ppmv /year , it makes it look even less likely that emissions are the main cause of rising CO2 and thus temp increase or any other aspect of the 10.000 things that CO2 is supposed to be doing. 

Val doesn't bother him or herself with facts, and wrongly claims that the planet's temperature hasn't been rising. This is during the hottest year after two previous hottest years on record. Nuts!
November 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm
“Something happened”
It’s called Temperature.
It became more or less constant. 
Figure 2 | Global mean surface temperature anomaly for the 12 months to September each year. The base period is 1951-1980. Data source: GISS NASA

References and further reading

Corinne Le Quéré et al. Global Carbon Budget 2016. Earth System Science Data, 2016; 8 (2): 605 DOI: 10.5194/essd-8-605-2016 (open access)

Low growth in global carbon emissions continues for third successive year - press release at ScienceDaily.com

Climate change commitments - article by Gavin Schmidt at realclimate.org, March 2010


  1. That photo would seem to prove the old adage: people who live in crass houses shouldn't stow thrones.

    1. :) Would this lot of deplorables be the most vulgar, gauche family to live in the White House? (If they do.)

    2. With the demos descending into a state of insanity and our politics bearing resemblance to "Whoops Apocalypse" the next family in there might be the Kardashians.

    3. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/ff/3d/f7/ff3df7ef696eed5a6ea51939a49c14f6.jpg

  2. "The truth about energy subsidies – solar gets 436 times more than coal"
    -- Anthony Watts, 12 October 2016

    "Who needs the Paris climate agreement? CO2 emissions are declining on their own"
    -- Anthony Watts, 14 November 2016

    That was quick.

    1. Hmmm, the total for coal subsidies in 2014 was $2 billion. That would put solar subsidies at $872 billion - just for 2014...

      I think that Anthony Watt's was lying just a little bit.

  3. Just wait until Keynesian economics rebuilds America's infrastructure with white workers and spawns 4% growth in USA GDP... along with drill baby drill.

  4. "Where am I wrong?" - Jeff from Colorado

    "Most of the time, you'll want affect as a verb meaning to influence something and effect for the something that was influenced. The difference between affect and effect is so slippery that people have started using "impact" as a verb instead. Don't be one of them! Another trick is to remember that affect comes first alphabetically, and an action (to affect) has to occur before you can have a result (an effect)."

    Pedantic I know. But it is so irritating to read. Especially when someone is exhibiting Dunning-Kruger tenedencies.

  5. "If we stopped emissions altogether, then temperatures would probably start to fall almost right away as atmospheric CO2 fell"

    Wishful thinking, likely wrong on at least two counts.

    First, why would you expect CO2 to fall right away? There's an IPCC FAQ "If Emissions of Greenhouse Gases are Reduced, How Quickly do Their Concentrations in the Atmosphere Decrease?" Their answer is that even if we zeroed emissions, the drop would be slow because CO2 has a long residence time. We might see a 10% reduction in CO2 in 200 years.

    There's also a response lag caused by the slow heat uptake by the oceans, which sets the time constant for the existing net imbalance to come to equilibrium.

    Combined, that likely means that if we zeroed GHG emissions today we'd expect to see a further 0.5C rise over the next 40 years, followed by a very slow decline.

    1. Yes Dan, it is worrying that atmospheric CO2 levels continues to rise inexorably in spite of the plateauing of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

    2. @Dan - I beg to differ, and I said nothing about how quickly CO2 would drop.

      If zero CO2 is added by us, then natural processes would cause a reduction in atmospheric CO2 almost immediately as the oceans would still take it up and so would plants.

      Read the realclimate.org article I linked to.

      See the figure in the IPCC FAQ - here's the link.


      Complete elimination of CO2 emissions is estimated to lead to a slow decrease in atmospheric CO2 of about 40 ppm over the 21st century.

      That's around 10% in less than a century - not 200 years. The FAQ supports what I wrote.

      You are correct (and so was I) that continuing to emit CO2 means that atmospheric CO2 will rise. That is, as long as we are adding more than can be absorbed.

    3. @marke - there is a year to year difference in the amount of atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the oceans and plants. In very hot years like the last three years, then the oceans would not be expected to absorb as much. If you read the paper I linked to or the press release, you'd see mention of the El Nino.

      Thing is, I won't be surprised if the proportion of extra CO2 from emissions that is absorbed by plants and the ocean reduces over time, as the planet heats up. That means a greater percentage of what we emit will stay in the air - heating the world up even more.

    4. "it is worrying that atmospheric CO2 levels continues to rise inexorably in spite of the plateauing of anthropogenic CO2 emissions."

      We are continuing to add CO2 to the atmosphere at the same rate - unprecedented in all human history - as we have done for the past few years, and you cannot figure out why the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is continuing to rise. Oh my.

    5. Tap's running stable at max speed after having been turned up over the past decennia.

    6. And Sou is right. The sinks might be clogging.

    7. @Sou,

      I hope you realize that the IPCC FAQ you cited is the same one I cited, so you could reasonably infer that I had already looked at the figures there?

      You wrote that "temperatures would probably start to fall almost right away as atmospheric CO2 fell". That says that temperatures would fall right away, and seemingly links it to a decline in CO2 levels. I don't see how you can characterize that as saying "nothing about how quickly CO2 would drop", unless you think "right away" says nothing.

      Yes, if we stopped CO2 emissions entirely there would be an initial decline because CO2 levels are out of equilibrium, so there'd be a brief decline while an equilibrium level was reached, and then we'd be stuck at around 90% of current CO2 levels for a long time because of the long CO2 residence time at equilibrium. That's what the pale blue line in IPCC FAQ 10.3 figure 1(a) shows--an initial decline as the carbon cycle gets back to equilibrium, and then leveling off.

      But we're also out of radiative balance due to the long time constant for ocean warming, so during that same period we'd also see continued warming while the heat flows came to equilibrium, see


      and references there for more about the climate lags.

      My point, hopefully stated more clearly this time, is that we're out of equilibrium in both GHGs and radiative balance because of GHG forcings. If we zeroed the forcings, the two would push in opposite directions while reaching equilibrium, with radiative balance "winning". The net effect would be smaller temperature increases for the next 30-40 years, and then essentially leveling off with a very slow downward trend.

      Please understand that I appreciate the work you do criticizing the denialosphere. I'm being critical here because I think it's important for us to be as accurate as possible about what the evidence and science say, and everything I've read on the subject says that zeroing GHG forcings is not likely to yield a prompt temperature decline. We shouldn't delude ourselves into believing that there's any hope of quickly undoing the mess we've made. Unless we find a way to remove GHGs, we are likely stuck with the warming we've already made plus a bit more from the lag, so AIUI the best we can hope for is stabilizing things where we are.

      @marke, if the anthropogenic CO2 emission rate has leveled off (which I hope it has, but is far from proven), we'd expect to see continued rise in CO2 levels because we're currently out of equilibrium. At the current emission rate we are very, very far from equilibrium due to the long CO2 residence time, so even if we stabilized at the current emission rates we'd expect to see levels continue to increase for a long time. See the black line in the IPCC FAQ 10.3 figure 1(a) cited above. And yes, that is worrying, it is telling us that we must lower our emission rates substantially if we're going to avoid really expensive adaptation costs.

    8. I hope you realize that the IPCC FAQ you cited is the same one I cited, so you could reasonably infer that I had already looked at the figures there?

      That's okay Dan, I didn't know that for sure because you weren't explicit about the version, and didn't provide a link. (The reason I provided the link was as much for the benefit of other readers as to make sure I was talking about the same thing as you.)

      You're right. Not every model shows temperatures dropping immediately, but some do. This from Gavin Schmidt on Mathews and Weaver (2010) from the realclimate.org link in the refs above, about what happens with zero emissions:

      CO2 concentrations would start to fall immediately since the ocean and terrestrial biosphere would continue to absorb more carbon than they release as long as the CO2 level in the atmosphere is higher than pre-industrial levels (approximately). And subsequent temperatures (depending slightly on the model you are using) would either be flat or slightly decreasing.

      With this definition then, there is no climate change commitment because of climate inertia. Instead, the reason for the likely continuation of the warming is that we can’t get to zero emissions any time soon because of societal, economic or technological inertia.

      And from Matthews and Weaver:

      In response to abrupt elimination of carbon dioxide emissions, global temperatures either remain approximately constant, or cool slightly....From this we conclude that the eliminationn of carbon dioxide emissions leads to little or no further climate warming; that is, future warming is defined by the extent of future emissions, rather than by past emissions.

      That is, if emissions dropped to zero then CO2 would drop immediately and temperatures would start to fall (or at least not increase).

      That's all hypothetical in any case. We're not going to get to zero emissions. Heck, we're not getting to 30% emissions any time soon.

      BTW, I'm unclear why you say "drop to 90%" combatively. A drop of 10% means much the same thing :) Perhaps you are concerned that other readers aren't aware that CO2 stays in the air for a very long time. If that's the case, let me say "I'm sorry" to any readers for not being explicit enough about that. CO2 stays in the air a very, very long time. Here's an article about the work of David Archer on the subject. "...after 1,000 years the air would still hold around a third to a half of the CO2 emissions. "For practical purposes, 500 to 1000 years is 'forever,'" as Hansen and colleagues put it. In this time, civilizations can rise and fall, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets could melt substantially, raising sea levels enough to transform the face of the planet."

      PS If you're a climate scientist or still dispute the bit about the "lag", take it up with Gavin Schmidt, or Damon Matthews and Andrew Weaver. I'm only reporting on what I've learnt from them.

    9. BTW - the PS is to everyone, not Dan specifically. And ideally of course, you'd write your reasons here, too :)


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