Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It's time to pull the plug on our long-running CO2 experiment

Sou | 3:06 PM Go to the first of 39 comments. Add a comment
In the last 140 years or so, humans have added almost 1,000,000,000,000 tonnes of CO2 to the air (equivalent), or 1,000 billion tonnes. It would have been more except for oceans and land absorbing around half of it.

We are adding a lot of CO2 to the air

This leads me to talk about one of the many misconceptions thrown around by climate disinformers. Some deniers wrongly claim our CO2 emissions add little to atmospheric CO2. How they could ever think that is a mystery. It's not a secret that CO2 is a product of burning hydrocarbons. (Some are very confused, mixing up various numbers they've heard and tossing them back together in strange and wrong patchwork.)

If deniers don't understand organic chemistry (which is not expected of anyone but a student of the subject), they can look at what's happening to our air. Atmospheric CO2 was stable at around 280 ppm for around 10,000 years, which supported the development of civilisations. (See xkcd's infographic.) Then we started digging up and burning long-buried hydrocarbons, which had been tucked away beneath the ground and no longer part of the carbon cycle. This caused atmospheric CO2 to increase (now approaching 410 ppm), which is why the temperature is rising.

Our long-running greenhouse gas experiment

Another common denier trick is to ask for experimental evidence that increasing CO2 causes a rise in temperature. (Some weird people even question the fact temperatures are rising!)

We're in the experiment. Earth is our laboratory. We're adding CO2 to the air and temperature is increasing, just as expected with the science of the greenhouse effect.

The chart below shows how temperatures have risen as CO2 emissions have gone up.

Figure 1 | CO2 (red curve) and global surface temperature change (blue curve). Data sources: NASA GISS (temperature) and Scripps Oceanography (CO2).

CO2 stays in the air for a very long time

Then there are deniers who wrongly, if hopefully, think that CO2 only stays in the air for a few years. I can't imagine how they reconcile that with the growth in atmospheric CO2. It's not possible. As Professor David Archer says in his book, The Long Thaw: "The lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is a few centuries, plus 25% that lasts essentially forever."

It may be too late to stop seas from rising, but it's not too late to stop them rising as quickly as they might, or to stop other calamities. At present we're not doing nearly enough.

It's time to stop this experiment. If we don't do that soon we'll be in deep trouble. Many scientists are very concerned that the consequences will be a lot worse than most people imagine if we don't.

References and further reading

Le Quéré, Corinne, Robbie M. Andrew, Pierre Friedlingstein, Stephen Sitch, Judith Hauck, Julia Pongratz, Penelope A. Pickers et al. "Global carbon budget 2018." Earth System Science Data (Online) 10, no. 4 (2018). (available here)

Global Carbon Projecthttps://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonneutral/index.htm

Inman, M., 2008. "Carbon is forever". Nat. Rep. Clim. Change. https://www.nature.com/articles/climate.2008.122

Matthews, H. Damon, and Susan Solomon. "Irreversible does not mean unavoidable." Science 340, no. 6131 (2013): 438-439. (pdf here)

Archer, David. The long thaw: How humans are changing the next 100,000 years of earth’s climate. Vol. 44. Princeton University Press, 2016.

IPCC flags risks and response options for polar and ocean environments in latest report - article by Simon Torok in CSIRO's ECOS. September 26th, 2019


  1. Cue some nut job saying "oh, we add only x% per year". Why deniers use "per year" remains a mystery: the number is far smaller if you use "per second".

    1. Lol.

      Last year we tossed 37,100,000,000 tonnes into the air like it was nothing. I'd like to see a denier haul that lot around.

      Good thing there are still some CO2 sinks on the surface or we'd be a hothouse already.

  2. Sou.

    Do you know what cherry-picking is?

    Why did you start your graph at 1959 ???

    WE have temperature data and CO2 data for before 1959. Why didn't you show it?

    It is common knowledge that the temperature is inversely related to the number of pirates in the world. As the number of pirates has gone down, the temperature has gone up. We need to create more pirates to solve the climate emergency.

    1. I wasn't aware you were a greenhouse effect denier (aka a physics and chemistry denier), Sheldon.

      The chart starts in 1959 because that's when that CO2 data started being collected and I just used the one source. (I'm not opposed to charts showing data from different sources. I often do it. But it's not a cherry pick to show all the data from a single source, especially when it covers a period of 60 years. That's just you being silly. In fact, I've often seen science deniers have a purple fit over someone splicing temperature data from different sources.)

      The 1950s is also around the time CO2 began increasing at a much faster rate.

      The ice core data I have ends 173 years before 1950. There's probably other data around. You can post a link if you've got it.

      If you're interested in the topic you can always do your own chart, or read the literature.

      [Updated by Sou]

    2. When I first read Sheldon Walker's post I thought it was a spoof and it was an attempt at humour.

      Mind you, it is much funnier now I know it was supposed to be serious!

    3. "It is common knowledge that the temperature is inversely related to the number of pirates in the world."

      This is as dumb as it gets. It's just another version of "Correlation is not causation." We know that, Sheldon. But it's completely inapplicable because we also know the physical basis of the correlation, which is NOT the case with the fake "pirates" analogy.

      The correlation is not the basis of the theory, which was proposed before we had data to observe it. The correlation is confirming evidence that supports the theory, not its foundation.

    4. To be fair, "climate change is caused by climate pirates" is an improvement on the "climate change is caused by climate elves" meme that deniers usually use.

    5. I usually imagine climate leprechauns rather than climate elves, but yes.

    6. Sou.

      I am not a greenhouse effect denier.

      You are deceiving people, by lining up the graphs of CO2 level and global temperature so perfectly. You are creating (deliberately or accidentally) the impression that CO2 is the only thing that affects the global temperature.

      You didn't show people outside of a very restricted date range. Only about 60 years. You may not realise it, but the Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. The continents have been near their current positions for about 60 million years. You are only showing people the latest 0.0001 percent, of the relevant timeframe.

      Calling me a denier, is just slander. The truth is, that YOU are the denier. You deny that anything else affects the global temperature, apart from CO2.

    7. Sheldon, calm down, and make up your mind on what facts you deny. The chart aligns well with what's happened because CO2 is the main greenhouse gas that's causing the temperature rise now. Why haven't you taken up the challenge and drawn your own chart? You pride yourself on your charting skills. Make sure you do it properly and don't use the denialists misalignment. Here are some tips.

      As for me going back 4.5 billion years, no I don't have a chart for that. Instead I can offer you a video (deniers prefer videos to the written word) and an article from Science.

    8. It is possible to line up any 2 trend lines with the same signed slope (both positive, or both negative). Even if the the 2 trend lines are totally unrelated. Hence my comment about global temperature being inversely related to the number of pirates in the world.

      All that you need to do, is adjust the X-axis and Y-axis until the 2 trend lines match up. It doesn't prove anything. I am sure that you have heard the phrase, "correlation does not imply causation".

      It is well known that warming the oceans makes them release CO2. Why do you think that temperature and CO2 level moved together over the past 400,000 years? Before humans started using fossil fuels. Where do you think the CO2 came from?

      If you look closely at the CO2 data, then you will see that it increases by a bit more than normal, after a hot year. And increases by a bit less than normal, after a cold year.

      Try plotting that !!!

    9. Sheldon doesn't follow links or take any notice of the answers to his false claims, which is typical of deniers. If he had he'd know the chart was aligned according to the science.

      If he knew anything about climate science, he'd know the oceans are CO2 sinks. They are absorbing more CO2 than they are emitting despite the fact they are getting hotter (because partial pressure of CO2 is increasing more than the temperature increase). If not for the oceans and land absorbing ~1/2 our emissions, the CO2 increase would be about double what it is now.

      Not only that, Sheldon still hasn't made any effort to look at the data or plot it for himself. He demands I do it for him. Lazy sod!

      I was correct the first time around. Sheldon is just another wilfully ignorant climate science denier. He's had his say. No more nonsense from you on this issue, Sheldon.

    10. Picking up on Sheldon's comment about correlation, it shows he doesn't bother read replies - another sign he's just trolling. If he had he would have noticed the pithy and accurate reply from chrisd to his first remark. In this case correlation is evidence supporting the well-established theory of the greenhouse effect (well-established scientific theory is AKA scientific fact).

      There's a stark warning about CO2 emissions in a paper in Nature Comms in 2017. Gavin L. Foster, Dana L. Royer & Daniel J. Lunt did a careful analysis of CO2 records going back 420 million years and found:

      "Unabated fossil fuel use therefore has the potential to push the climate system into a state that has not been seen on Earth in at least the last 420 Myrs."

    11. So now we discover that although Sheldon has had the time to develop his amazing scientific theories that confound the findings of every prestigious scientific organisation on this planet, he has not had time to find out what the definition of a climate change denier is (or this definition is too complex for him to understand).

    12. Hence my comment ...

      Sheldon, a joke isn't funny any more if you have to explain it.

    13. OMG! Sheldon Walker was being serious!
      If you click on the link behind Sheldon Walker, you get a web site run by somebody who wants to politely "debate" climate change.
      And Sheldon is irritated by being called a denier and having posts removed.
      Is this what is called "sea lion" behavior? It is hard to believe that somebody who claims to have a history of persistently engaging in the subject in good faith could remain so determinedly ignorant.

      (There seems to be no way to enter my former Hot Whopper login credentials. mboli is the username.)

    14. I don't think of sheldon as a denier so much as an obfuscator. He has never met a singular fact he cannot provide another explanation for. And true...there are always alternative explanations for singular facts.

      I could point out that it is "only a correlation" between what models say stars emitting photons as a result of fusion should look like and the actual observed spectrum of said star which allows astronomers to posit that those twinkly things in the sky at night are (mainly) giant balls of fusing hydrogen.

      It's true that many other functions are capable of generating the same lines. It could be "only a correlation". So how do astronomers get away with such an astounding conclusion? Well they look for converging evidence in other areas of the spectrum, in parallax studies, in gravity/motion studies, etc., etc., etc.

      This is simply what we do when we are working in an area where experiments are not possible. It is what climate scientists do, but sheldon "accidentally" ignores this professional fact.

    15. So what happens if we just extend the graph to show, say, 200 years of temp vs CO2. Then we see that CO2 remains flat(ish) for the first 140 years, then starts to go up. We also see that temp goes up and down in a way that does not appear to correlate with CO2. ie If CO2 was the ONLY driver , the temps would be flat for the first 140 years. But we know CO2 is not the only driver of temp, and may not be the main driver, just one of many. I am sure that is all Sheldon is saying, and that does not make him a denier.

    16. If that was what Sheldon was claiming (it's not), that would make both him and you deniers.

      (There are too many errors in what you said to bother with.)

    17. I didn't know climate scientists say CO2 is the ONLY driver of temperature. Oh wait a sec, they don't.

    18. I said: "We all know CO2 is not the ONLY driver of temp, ... it is one of many", and yes Andy climate scientists agree with that. Yet according to Sou, apparently that makes you (and me and Sheldon) a denier.

    19. Why attribute to me what I didn't say? It's not clever, it's silly.

      And why did you leave out part of your quote, anonymous? Shame, embarrassment or deception?

      "But we know CO2 is not the only driver of temp, and may not be the main driver..."

    20. Sou says: "If he knew anything about climate science, he'd know the oceans are CO2 sinks. They are absorbing more CO2 than they are emitting despite the fact they are getting hotter (because partial pressure of CO2 is increasing more than the temperature increase)"

      That is only one factor, another is that oceanic algae (and other oceanic life) is photosynthesising, and this also absorbs CO2. This has an implication on the time that CO2 remains in the atmosphere. Rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will stimulate algal blooms at a global level.

      "The research revealed that carbon dioxide absorption by surface waters off the West Antarctic Peninsula is linked to the stability of the upper ocean, along with the amount and type of algae present. A stable upper ocean provides algae with ideal growing conditions. During photosynthesis, algae remove carbon dioxide from the surface ocean, which in turn draws carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

      From 1993 to 2017, changes in sea ice dynamics off the West Antarctic Peninsula stabilized the upper ocean, resulting in greater algal concentrations and a shift in the mix of algal species. That's led to a nearly five-fold increase in carbon dioxide absorption during the summertime."

    21. "But we know CO2 is not the only driver of temp, and may not be the main driver..."

      Implicit in this statement is that CO2 is a driver (one of many), how does that make me a denier?

    22. The main cause of global warming today is our burning of fossil fuel because it's adding CO2 to the atmosphere. It's hard to believe you don't already know that.


    23. "The main cause of global warming TODAY" is different to "The main driver of temp" (over the last 200 years). As you know CO2 was not a significant driver prior to mid 20th century. It's hard to believe that you do not know that.

    24. Greenhouse gases are the main driver of climate change over the long term (much longer than 200 years), particularly long-lived well-mixed CO2. If you want to shift goal posts and start talking about internal variability and the lesser role of albedo, volcanoes, aerosols, solar radiation etc, that's your prerogative, preferably elsewhere.

      In any case, none of that is what Sheldon was arguing, which was your initial claim. He was just saying correlation is not causation, neglecting the fact that causation was established well beforehand and the correlation is consistent with the known causation.

    25. "Greenhouse gases are the main driver of climate change over the long term (much longer than 200 years), particularly long-lived well-mixed CO2."

      Simply not true, as evidenced by temperature preceding CO2 in the ice core data. If GHGs dominate, there would be evidence of tipping points in the paleoclimate data, yet we do not see that. Milankovich cycles (orbital inclination, ocean currents, albedo etc) dominate climate change and GHGs provide a non-dominant feedback. I am surprised you did not know that.

    26. And you wonder if you're a denier. Yes, you are as that comment shows. It's too wrong to go into every detail.

      The reason I "did not know that" is because it's wrong. In the case you're referring to the CO2 feedback is not "non-dominant". The reason ice ages form (rather than just a small dip in global temperature) is because of a reduction in CO2. An ice age can be precipitated by the Milankovitch cycle but the small change in temperature from those cycles is what causes CO2 to be taken up by the ocean, which causes the temperature to drop, which means less water vapour in the air, which causes temperature to drop even more, so much so that there is an ice age.


    27. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/

      (I really wish that Blomberg would update the data - does anyone have that sort of influence?)

  3. pure logic, we keep account of our emissions, 37gts last year and we know how much the atmosphere increases in co2 each year, 16gts last year, so while the increase is less than we emit then it has to be us. pure logic

  4. Actually, one can run a simple experiment showing the relationship between CO2 and infra-red absorption in a high school lab. Thanks to a Guardian commenter, I was able to discuss it here: https://volewica.blogspot.com/2017/05/global-warming-simple-experiment.html

  5. "Then there are deniers who wrongly, if hopefully, think that CO2 only stays in the air for a few years. I can't imagine how they reconcile that with the growth in atmospheric CO2. It's not possible."

    Ah, but you see, the AVERAGE MOLECULE OF FF CO2 only stays in the air for a few years. They get sucked into a tree or peat bog. Of course the molecules are replaced by decaying wood or peat, but those molecules don't count because they are natural organic products.

    It's sort of like money laundering, only for FF.

    1. Conflating the annual overturn--the annual "breathing"--in the CO2 cycle with the amount of ff CO2 released annually is a favorite denier dodge.

      Rather than money laundering, where the launders take a discount, I'd say it was more like regular annual savings. A small amount added per year to a growing fund really builds up over time even though each annual amount may be only a fraction of total annual spending.

  6. The New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has advocated for a Green New Deal to fight global heating, called the projections from that time “startlingly accurate”.
    “In 1982, seven years before I was even born, Exxon accurately predicted that by this year, 2019, the Earth would hit a carbon dioxide concentration of 415 parts per million and a temperature increase of 1C. Dr Hoffert, is that correct?”
    “We were excellent scientists,” Hoffert said to laughter from the audience.


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