Greenhouse hot air

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2008 8:21 pm

About once or twice a month I get an email from some global warming denier who mocks my stance that humans are the cause of most of this effect. In general, they insult me for a bit (always charming), and then pull out their trump card: "Why don’t you ever talk about methane?! It’s a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide!"

The triumphantly close out their missive with another insult or two, and I am chastised, sobbing, beaten.

Or am I? Duh, no. I don’t talk about methane because I understand math. There’s a lot more CO2 in the air than methane!

CO2 makes up roughly about 0.04% of the Earth’s atmosphere by volume. Methane? 0.0002%. Methane is in fact a more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2, but there’s so much less of it that the overall effect is much lower. Methane’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is only about half or less that of carbon dioxide.

Incidentally, water vapor is far and away the biggest contributor to greenhouse warming. The amount in the air is hugely variable, but relatively unaffected by man’s activities. So over time, those variations even out, and the contribution of warming from water vapor is steady. The increase we see in temperature — and there is an increase in temperature — cannot be from water vapor, and the methane contribution is small. We also know it’s not from the Sun, either.

That’s why atmospheric scientists primarily study carbon dioxide.

And they’ve been studying it a long, long time. It’s a very difficult field of research, fraught with hidden variables, difficult measurements, and political landmines. But chances are they know more about this than you and I do. There’s a reason they’re called experts, folks.

So the next time you want to send me some snarky email to embarrass me about some piece of info you just found on the intertoobs, please do yourself a favor: stop, think for just a moment, and ask yourself: "Is this really likely to have been missed by thousands of really smart highly educated people who have been studying this field for a combined length of time equaling many man-millennia?" The embarrassment you save just might be your own.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Cool stuff, Debunking, Science

Comments (150)

  1. Ian

    Thanks for this, I’ve heard far too many people in science and sceptical circles fall prey to the “it’s a natural cycle” belief.

  2. Brian

    You’re just a Global warming denier denier!

  3. AFakeGuy

    I was thinking the same thing about water vapor too. It’s more potent than methane. Has atmospheric water vapor increased at all? I was thinking that the warmer earth gets, the more water vapor in the atmosphere since warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air. I would expect an increase in water vapor over a long period of time as warming increases. I agree that CO2 should be the primary focus of global warming studies. Mankind has to avoid a CO2 induced positive feedback loop from occurring. I think a lot of climate scientists are worried about that.

  4. The only thing that annoys me is the way the media portrays green house gases as toxic poisons… like water and CO2.

  5. Just to play devil’s advocate:
    If methane is only 0.0002% of the atmosphere, how can it possibly contribute anywhere near half as much as carbon dioxide?

    Plant more trees, people. Don’t burn stuff (it makes both CO2 and water vapor.) And, keep replanting trees harvested for making stuff.

    Even if the trees don’t make a difference in the greenhouse effect, at least trees make shade. Even in a greenhouse, it’s cooler in the shade. And trees are almost always more aesthetically pleasing than no trees.

  6. The only methane to be concerned (atmospherically speaking) about are the methane clathrates (or methane hydrates) in the deep oceans & permafrost in the far North. If greenhouse warming unleashes those sources of methane we can kiss our lavish lifestyles good bye!

    Er sumptin’…

    OTOH if we could commercially tap into them, well that’d be OK by me. The Saudis don’t have much.
    Rich

  7. Chris H.

    I recently read a news report that global warming will release more greenhouse gases in the form of methane. The reason is that as Arctic tundra melts it releases methane. A form of nasty feedback. Here is the article, make if it what you will:
    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ibwC_yqdCtXd24mBJe6lMkwnUBaAD9415G5O0

    I will now go get my recyclables out.

  8. Kyle

    @Smee: Methane has such a big effect because it’s something like 20 times more potent than CO2.

    One thing I’d like to add is that human beings contribute somewhat to methane being in the atmosphere too. Cattle are a major source, as are coal/natural gas mining operations and landfills. So even if methane were a bigger factor than CO2, we’re not necessarily innocent there either.

  9. Gary

    You wrote: “Methane’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is only about half or less that of carbon dioxide.”

    If methane’s contribution is anywhere near half that of carbon dioxide, and methane gas production is increasing, wouldn’t this have a very significant effect on global warming?

  10. Cops, guns drawn:
    “Back away from the baked beans! NOW!”
    ;-)
    And I did it without a Uranus joke! Imagine!
    Rich

  11. pjb

    Isn’t it also true that CO2 is, by a large margin, much more persistent in the atmosphere than the next most effective greenhouse gas?

  12. Ryan

    Man, why don’t you ever talk about Sulfur Hexafluoride? I’m pretty sure that’s the most potent of the greenhouse gasses. Trying to sweep that under the rug too?

  13. pjb

    Aha, I knew I read that somewhere.

    The contribution of
    other GHGs has commonly been expressed in terms of ‘CO2
    equivalent’ concentrations and emissions. In the latter case this means emissions are scaled relative to CO2 according to their global warming potential over a given time horizon (commonly
    100 years). However, this equivalence is not meaningful
    at other timescales because as much as a third of all CO2
    emitted remains in the atmosphere for thousands to tens of
    thousands of years; while the next most radiatively important
    greenhouse gasses are removed over much shorter time periods
    (e.g. 12 years for methane, 114 years for nitrous oxide)

  14. José

    If methane’s contribution is anywhere near half that of carbon dioxide, and methane gas production is increasing, wouldn’t this have a very significant effect on global warming?

    Atmospheric methane is 25 times more powerful than CO2, but it breaks down into CO2 and H2O in a matter of years. Although a huge one time release of methane could be disastrous and might negatively affect the planet for hundreds of years, most of that methane would be actually be gone in 20 years.

  15. Andrew Campbell

    I used to be GWD(Global Warming Denier), mostly just to be a contrarian and to piss off the hippies on campus. But it gets to the point where it’s silly to argue against pretty much the entirety of science, especially when I’m such a huge science fanboy

  16. Chris

    Methane is a significant greenhouse gas. I’m not sure about the statement that it makes up half of the effect though. Methane is ~25 more potant as a greenhouse gas than CO2, but as Phil said it has a lower concentration in the atmosphere (a quick calculation says it may have ~one eighth of the effect of CO2). Another point is methane is MUCH more reactive than CO2 so it doesn’t hang around for long in the atmosphere.

    Fun fact: Excess methane from oil rigs is burnt so that it is CO2 not methane that ends up in the atmosphere.

    We should be worried about our methane emissions, but this should not distract us from the primary problem, CO2 emissions.

  17. Randy A.

    Thanks Phil, for a reasoned and reasonable response to the climate change deniers.

    However, I would like to add something to your argument. Fighting global climate change means using less energy, and switching to renewable energy. This has lots of benefits! So deniers should ask themselves:
    * Reducing energy use means you’ll have to buy less energy. Would it be OK if your electric bill, gas bill, etc. was smaller?
    * We get coal by flattening mountains and forests, and filling in streams. Would it be OK to leave forests where you could hunt, and streams where you could fish?
    * We get some of our oil from countries with repulsive cultures and repressive governments. Some of these governments even fund terrorists. Would it be OK to tell these people to go **** themselves, and make our own energy using sunshine and wind?
    * Burning coal, oil and natural gas inevitably causes pollution. Would it be OK to have clear air and clean water? Would it be OK to have big city children with the same lung capacity as children in less polluted areas?

    If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should support efforts to slow global climate change — even if you don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change.

    Or, as the BA said, you could just take the word of people who have spent their lives trying to figure out how Earth’s climate works.

  18. Bryan

    Doesn’t warm air hold more moisture? Why wouldn’t a warmer climate lead to more water vapor in the air?

  19. Phil,

    Interesting post and it brings up a question I’ve had for a while. When people discuss cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, they always mention the harmless water vapor emissions. I have always wondered how harmless water vapor really is and your post makes me think it’s not benign. What are you thoughts?

    Jim

  20. James

    I believe in anthropogenic climate change. It is simple physics that if you contribute more CO2 into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect increases.
    The thing I don’t understand is that (I have read in multiple credible sources) mankind only contributes at most 3% of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide. The rest of it is naturally- occurring left over from Earth’s formation, decaying organic materials, volcanic activity, etc.

    My question is: Why is it impossible that the 97% of naturally-occurring carbon dioxide could vary periodically (upward and downward fluctuations of 2 or 3 parts per million annually)? Could someone point me toward a simple explanation of this? I’m not being snarky, I really want to understand this.

  21. Ah, the old argument from “Oh yeah?”

    This is the same as “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

  22. Well, regardless of the cause, the earth’s surface temperature is going up (CBF putting in a link right now to some numbers). The cause might never be 100% confirmed, the earth’s meteorological processes are REALLY complicated. But really that is irrelevant… regardless of global warming we, as humans, should be finding cleaner, safer energy sources.

    We should be looking for better alternatives ANYWAY, not just because there is a threat of global warming lighting a fire under our butts, but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

  23. Randy A.

    James asks: “Why is it impossible that the 97% of naturally-occurring carbon dioxide could vary periodically (upward and downward fluctuations of 2 or 3 parts per million annually)?”

    The short answer is that Earth’s CO2 levels do vary naturally. The rate of change is very slow, compared to human time scales. We are worried about the present changes in atmospheric composition because they are happening much faster than natural changes.

  24. IVAN3MAN

    Patrick Orlob:

    Ah, the old argument from “Oh yeah?”

    This is the same as “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

    Because of evolutionary fail-safe: if we homo sapiens blow ourselves up, the monkeys can and will take over.

  25. TheWalruss

    If we homo sapiens blow ourselves up, I think the monkeys would be long gone. They don’t have air conditioning.

    I read somewhere (I hate saying that) that global warming -> more H2O in atmosphere -> more global warming -> more … more…

    Positive feedback “tipping point” sort of idea. Seems plausible. On the other hand, more H2O in atmosphere -> more clouds -> higher albedo -> less global warming -> less H2O… so maybe it’s a stable self-regulating system. Also plausible. The article I read stated that climatologists were supremely worried about water vapor but they were not confident in their models, so it warranted more research (i.e. begging for grant money which they should get, darnit!).

  26. Jay

    James said: “The thing I don’t understand is that (I have read in multiple credible sources) mankind only contributes at most 3% of Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide. The rest of it is naturally- occurring left over from Earth’s formation, decaying organic materials, volcanic activity, etc.”

    The 3% stat that gets thrown around is misleading. It’s 3AM, but I’ll do my best to give a good rundown as to why. :)

    As others have said, CO2 that’s introduced into the atmosphere stays there for a very long time. Except, it really doesn’t. What happens is that CO2 that is created from burning fossil fuels is introduced to the carbon cycle. The CO2 that’s released gets absorbed by the oceans, absorbed by plants and animals in various ways, etc. But then that CO2 is released again when water evaporates, when the plants and animals die, etc. So some of the CO2 that is released from “decaying organic material” was originally put into the atmosphere in the first place by burning fossil fuels.

    Imagine a CO2 molecule released into the air from the burning of fossil fuels. This carbon atom has been sitting inside a pool of oil for tens of millions of years and is not part of the carbon cycle. Humans pumped this atom out, joined it with a few oxygen atoms, and released this carbon atom into the atmosphere in the form of C02. This atom of carbon can get absorbed back to the earth and rereleased to the atmosphere many, many times before finally being taken to the bottom of the ocean, or buried in the earth to one day, many millions of years from, become oil once again.

    The point is, this carbon atom that was released in, say, 1921, is still going through the cycle, and will for many hundreds of years to come. This carbon atom is in the atmosphere right now, or will be again some day, due to the industrial processes that happened in 1921. If that carbon atom was released back into the atmosphere in the form of CO2 right now, people would say it’s there due to “natural processes”. Except that wouldn’t really be totally accurate since it wouldn’t be there to begin with if it weren’t for it being put into the atmosphere in 1921.

    I really hope I’m making sense here. Like I said, it’s 3 AM. :) Anyway, the point is, a lot of the carbon atoms that make up a considerable amount of the CO2 that is being released into the atmosphere from water evaporation, plant death, animals dying, etc., were originally put into the carbon cycle from to the burning of fossil fuels. We’ve put millions and millions of tons carbon atoms into the carbon cycle, and a carbon atom will stay in the carbon cycle for a very, very long time.

  27. Vorn

    Jim Cruff: Executive summary is that in order to increase average water vapor concentration in the atmosphere by 0.01% via water production, you’d need to run the world’s entire electricity production at 2005 levels using only hydrogen-to-water conversion for 53 years.

    Wikipedia says that water vapor makes up about 0.40% of air by volume. Doing the calculations, that’s 0.25% by mass (use the ppms of the various components and their molecular weights to determine the proportions by mass). There’s 5.1480E18 kg of air, so there’s about 1.287E16 kg of water vapor already there. To increase the existing water vapor amount by 0.1%, you have to burn 1.287E13/9 = 1.43E12 or 1.43 billion tons of hydrogen. That’s 2.574E16 moles of hydrogen, which is 7.36E21 J worth of energy release via . Current tank-to-wheel generation efficiency for hydrogen fuel cells is about 45%, so using that it’s about 3.31E21 J. For comparison, this is approximately equivalent to 53 years of 2005-level electricity production using only hydrogen-to-water.

  28. Vorn

    Er, 0.1% in the executive summary. Sorry, I can’t type.

  29. Starviking

    Excellent piece Phil!

  30. TheWalruss

    We should remember not to be too hard on global warming deniers. At least they ostensibly try to apply critical thinking by not taking the experts’ words on faith. We all know that such behavior can have bad consequences (Expert: “Hey, howzabout a variable-rate mortgage!”, Gullible Minimum-Wage chump “Oh ya sure sign me up! You know what’s best!”).

    The problem occurs when the deniers keep denying in the face of scientific consensus, mountains of evidence, and prudence.

  31. TheWalruss

    Gah – just noticed I lost a close-italics tag :-/

  32. Phil, does the ‘methane is half or less’ refer to the total, or to the human contribution (our beef cattle make a lot)?

    Vorn and Jim, the point about water vapour from hydrogen (and other sources) is that it condenses and comes out as rain. There is an equilibrium that defines the level of water in the atmosphere. It is temperature-dependent, though, so people are right to point out there’s a positive feedback loop into water from our CO2 activities.

    James, what is the 3% of? Is it proportion of what’s released (in which case Jay’s answer that the 97% is going round and round while the 3% is being ejected from outside – well, underground – applies) or 3% per annum (or other timescale) of the total already in the atmosphere (in which case you have to remember we’re putting another 3% in every year, and increasing)?

    In general, I think that while it’s true CO2 is the bigger and more important effect, scientists are concerned about methane, too. One relatively easy way to decrease your footprint is to reduce the amount of meat, especially beef, that you eat (though that’s also about the carbon, too).

  33. Yikes. Let’s see if we can stop this.

  34. @ TheWalruss

    Now that you’ve mentioned “positive feedback”, there is a subsection on Feedback in an article on Global Warming in Wikipedia that may be of interest to you. Click on my name for the quick link, if you haven’t already seen the article.

  35. If we had a preview facility here, this problem of duffing up the HTML tags could be avoided!

  36. Jimbo

    Hm. Little more useful knowledge here.
    I’m curious, I was under the impression that the Earth is still leaving a cooling period.Was I under the wrong idea?

  37. Steve A

    The issue of water vapor:

    So the reason why climatologists are more concerned about CO2 than water vapor, even though it is a worse greenhouse gas, is due to the IR radiation that the Earth radiates. If you look at the frequencies that water absorbs, you see that all of the radiation from the Earth at those frequencies has been absorbed. Even if you ratchet up the water vapor, there is nothing more it can do. However, with CO2, it has absorption frequencies that haven’t been filled. So you add CO2, you are absorbing radiation that use to escape.

  38. Actually, a lot of scientists ARE worried about methane.

    Especially in countries like New Zealand, where the methane, uh, “emissions” from cattle are significantly greater than cars, they’re looking at kangaroos. They think there’s something in their gastrointestinal flora that makes it so they don’t produce methane. The thinking is, if they can isolate which strains of bacteria are responsible, they can introduce them to the cattle and this would prevent further warming due to methane.

    We have a LOT of cattle in this country, and although their emissions are overwhelmed by those of cars and coal plants, their contribution is not insignificant. If these flora were applied to cattle worldwide, it would make quite a significant difference.

    (And I know some people who could use it, too…)

  39. amphiox

    I thought at methane broke down in the atmosphere by reacting with oxygen. Wasn’t one of the theories of the end Permian mass extinction that a vulcanism triggered global warming created a positive feedback loop that released ocean-floor sequestered methane, causing a precipitious drop in atmospheric O2?

    Monkeys might well be the evolutionary back-up plan (my money is on the baboons), but depending on how rapidly we humans off ourselves, we might be taking the monkeys with us (we’ll likely eat the last of them as we slowly starve into extinction after the environment that feeds us goes kaput).

    The longterm backup plan might just be the cephalopods.

    In the really longterm, especially if the end Permian O2 depletion scenario is true, the purple sulfur bacteria will probably be the ones that inherit the earth. They’re certainly meek enough to qualify.

  40. Northern Soul

    Phil for the next Dr Who!

  41. ubikdood

    Doctor Phil, please consider the following news.

    Arctic blast brings London earliest snow for 70 years:
    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23579420-details/Arctic+blast+brings+London+earliest+snow+for+70+years/article.do
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1081135/One-dead-thousands-power-October-snow-London-74-YEARS-Arctic-blast-sweeps-UK.html

    Snowy October:
    http://www.wlos.com/shared/newsroom/top_stories/wlos_vid_1571.shtml

    Record cold weather (Cape Coral) :
    http://www.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com/news/articles.asp?articleID=22316

    Early snow in eastern Pyrenees :
    http://tf1.lci.fr/infos/jt/0,,4142225,00-la-neige-s-installe-sur-les-pyrenees-orientales-.html

    Record low temps in 10 states :
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/26/chill-in-the-air-record-low-temps-in-10-states/

    Early snow in Ottawa:
    http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=a165a82e-7fa4-47fa-a143-e500189f0ae0

    Now, if temperature is increasing, we must admit it’s increasing in a really weird way…

    Some final thoughts :
    – One thing is super-computer simulation of human-created algorithms, another is observation of reality.
    – CO2 divides into natural CO2 and anthropogenic CO2. The latter is a fraction of the former.
    – CO2 is not a pollutant. It’s a natural element, precious for the agriculture.
    – El Nino, La Nina are all part of natural cycles. See: Pacifical Decadal Oscillation.
    – Trying to cool the earth is a very expensive and futile effort.

    Some call this “global warming” theory a science. I say it’s Politicization of science.

  42. jedipunk

    How does our CO2 contribution to Global Warming compare to volcanic eruptions overtime. I was always under the impression that while humans do contribute it is minor in comparison to natural processes.

  43. TheWalruss

    I’m hoping we’ll soon build some machines to take over the torch of intelligence.

    We are too stupid (in groups) to get much further on our own – the current cycle of exploitation and consumption is in essence the equivalent of crapping on our food and pissing our beds, then moving to another corner of the cage. Luckily we’re so good at building stuff to consume that it’s most likely the source of our salvation; zookeeping robots, if you will.

    This pretty much sums up my philosophical beliefs. Usually I don’t express it with this level of cynicism but it’s been a long week.

  44. Bramblyspam

    At this point I’m still quite skeptical about the global warming claims. I’ve seen counterarguments by skeptics that appear to pose a serious and credible challenge to the GW claims. I’ve yet to see the arguments of the skeptics properly refuted, I usually see them either ignored or dismissed with an unhealthy dose of ad hominem – much in the way Phil is dismissing them right here on this site.

    Not all skeptical arguments are based on the web pages of ignorant hicks. Check out this 2008 NIPCC report. The claims all appear to be well rooted in science and backed by prominent climate scientists.

    My understanding is that it’s simply not true that there’s a consensus among climate scientists in favor of the anthropogenic GW arguments. However, there is a strong political bias for those arguments in the IPCC and elsewhere.

    I am somewhat wary of these arguments, since I’ve seen how creationists can create very scientific-looking “research” to fool the uneducated. However, refutations of the creationist “science” isn’t hard to find. I have yet to see such refutations for the main GW skeptic arguments.

    Check that link, folks. If you can point me to direct refutations of its scientific claims, please do.

  45. Part of methane is still produced by humans, crop fields, open coal mines, food processing plants, cattle farms, Alaska oil mines (mining oil saturated sandstone) etc.

  46. JackC

    How is it that I can read this following the two posts below within 24 hours unless there is some strange, unifying force present in the universe? ;-)

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/10/greenspan-einstein-and-reich/

    http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com/2008/10/galileo-strikes-again.html

    I recently had a conversation on AGW with a good friend, the “Man could not POSSIBLY be causing this..” argument was given, whereon I asked him what quantity of GH gas was emitted by all volcanoes per year. His response was “I haven’t studied that, it is not my field, and I could not give you any reasonable answer.”

    To which I replied: “And yet, you are NOT a Climate Scientist, you have not studied any of the relevant Scientific material and you cannot render any reasonable answer on AGW – and yet you just did.”

    I wish I had had the term “Galileo Gambit” in my hands at that time.

    JC

  47. SLC

    This comment is OT but it pertains to a topic that I believe that Dr. Plait should address. It has been reported in the press and commented upon by several bloggers (Steven Novella, Orac, and the denialists) that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may be appointed EPA director. Given the fact that Mr. Kennedy has demonstrated total scientific incompetence by his positions on vaccination, the notion that this crackpot might be appointed to any government agency with a scientific responsibility is mind boggling.

  48. if we homo sapiens blow ourselves up, the monkeys can and will take over.

    The monkeys would just like to point out that their plan doesn’t depend on Homo sapiens blowing themselves up, mwahahaha.

  49. Daffy

    Andrew Campbell: “I used to be GWD(Global Warming Denier), mostly just to be a contrarian and to piss off the hippies on campus.”

    Good for you…the world needs more conformists who do what they’re told and think what they are told to think.

  50. Greg

    I’m not a GWD, but I’ve always been a Kyoto Denier and a Carbon Credits Denier.

    Kyoto denial because Kyoto ignored the emerging markets and placed all the economic burden on the “first world” (do people still use that designation?) countries capable of building cleaner technologies. That, and it was essentially a feel-good “first step” measure. When the first step is that hard, nobody is going to complete the trip.

    I think there is little we can do to stop global warming, at this point, so that we might as well focus on how we might adapt to any changes. Instead of limiting carbon production now, we might as well work harder on developing technologies that in 20-30 years will be much cleaner and more efficient, including nuke, solar, space-solar, wind, etc. Will another 30 years make that much of a difference?

    Also, I’ve never bought into carbon credits and such. I rarely see a TerraPass on a Prius, more likely a Highlander or that Lexus SUV. First, the numbers are a bit wonky…I mean, do you really know how much carbon you’re offsetting. Second, carbon neutral shouldn’t be a virtue. Carbon negative should be. You should bike to work AND donate money to offset your carbon footprint. That was always my criticism of the ongoing Al Gore megamansion/office/fortress/compound silliness. Yes, he buys offsets and installs CFL bulbs, but he’s still indulging in carbon-spewing luxury because he can afford it.

  51. Greg

    I tried to close the tag, did that work? :)

  52. Eric H.

    It is funny, just yesterday some crackpots from Larouche Publications dropped by touting his “Executive Intelligence Review” magazine. They brought it in trying to convince me of two points, one that we need another Bretton Woods and two, that global warming is fake and the evidence is that are forgetting methane. I gave the guys the same answer that you just wrote and they only responded with “well you haven’t even read the article yet”.

  53. Doc

    Would it help things if we collected the ashes of burned stuff and stuffed it away in those salt domes that no one wants to use for nuclear waste?

  54. Krist

    I don’t understand this sentence at all:

    “Incidentally, water vapor is far and away the biggest contributor to greenhouse warming. The amount in the air is hugely VARIABLE, but relatively unaffected by man’s activities. SO OVER TIME, THOSE VARIATIONS EVEN OUT, and the contribution of warming from water vapor is STEADY.”

    how can it be hugely variable but the contribution steady? what do you mean that these huge variations “even out”?

  55. David D.

    I, too, would like to know BA’s opinion about RFK as possible chair of EPA.

  56. JackC

    I reference the RealClimate site a lot for Global Warming science. Some links may help answer some questions from the posters I have seen above.

    CO2 Fertilization: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/11/co_2-fertilization/

    Water Vapour feedback: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/04/water-vapour-feedback-or-forcing/

    Volcanic relationship: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/current-volcanic-activity-and-climate/

    General wiki page – great reference source: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/#Responses

    (There is a more generic wiki here: http://realclimate.org/wiki/index.php?title=RC_Wiki

    An interestsing graph of the CO2 cycle – and the human(oid) caused increase over time: http://www.exploratorium.edu/climate/atmosphere/data3.html

    JC

  57. how can it be hugely variable but the contribution steady? what do you mean that these huge variations “even out”?

    Presumably he meant that it’s variable regionally, and over fairly short time scales. As such, if you look at the long-term, broad trends of water vapour content in the atmosphere (and thus it’s contribution to GW), traditionally, the number has remained fairly steady.

  58. No, it didn’t work… OK I’ll try again:
    italic text
    How about now?
    Rich

  59. Uh, oh, we’re stuck on italics here. The end tag [/em] would have had to be in the same reply as the start tag [em] for it to work, I’ll bet.
    Oh well…
    Rich

  60. John

    David D,

    I take it you mean RFK jr. He’s a vaccine causes austism guy. Hardly the man or woman we need running a scientific agency.

  61. guestwork

    I never quite understood what’s not to “get” about all this, why which gas is more “potent” in which relative quantities and whatnot. Maybe it’s because I spent far too much time in my younger years playing SimEarth and getting a more hands-on idea of which greenhouse gas does what in my planetary model, I don’t know.

  62. Nigel Depledge

    We can haz preview funkshun pleaz?

  63. Todd W.

    Iz in ur blog, tiltin’ your letterz.

  64. TheWalruss

    Aha!
    I used an HTML tag! :(
    I’ve used them before in my posts – didn’t know this comment thingy supported BBS-style square-bracket emphasis tags…

    Lemme try one last time:

    Tadaaaa!

  65. TheWalruss
  66. Steve A

    @Greg

    I fully agree that carbon negative is needed, else we will reach a tipping point sometime, it’s just a question of when. However, there are some carbon credit people that are working towards this. Assuming they are legitimate, and I would check before spending any money, there are agencies that plant trees for your carbon emissions. If they live long enough, old growth is a lot better carbon sink than new growth, so over time it could be better at drawing down.

    Kyoto didn’t ignore developers intentionally. This was the framework that a lot of countries, including the US, agreed to. The US did get something in the deal before Bush reneged on signing it. The US fought hard, and won, to gain credit for all the farmland that is becoming forest again. The models were pointing towards North America as a carbon sink, and they wanted to use that to offset needed emission reductions.

    But look at it from a developer’s point of view. Here you have a rich country, saying you cannot have your 100 years of unrestricted energy uses, just the the US and Europe did. A country has to spend energy to develop, so this can seem like the bigger countries just putting in measures so they can stay on top. I think the US has to be the leader or else the truly scary potential emitters like India and China are going to really overload the system with their large populations. We can do it smartly, but at some point we have to bite the bullet and start.

  67. Dr. Plait,

    I’m a big fan but I really feel that

    “Is this really likely to have been missed by thousands of really smart highly educated people who have been studying this field for a combined length of time equaling many man-millennia?”

    smacks of argument from authority.

  68. XI

    Not to switch the topic from CO2, but Phil did give a brief mention and link to a past post about the Sun’s possible role in GW, which I had not read before. My question is, Does sunspot activity necessarily affect solar output? I did the obligatory Wikipedia scan, but the answer didn’t jump out at me.

  69. Thomas, it may smack of it, but it’s not. It reflects the reality of what scientific research has found and can document.

    If you and a thousand others actually see something happen and can document what you saw for someone who didn’t see it, does that make it any less valid? It’s only an argument from authority if facts don’t back up the argument.

    Invoking straw man doesn’t help.

  70. Cheyenne

    Another reason to go huge into nuke power.

    Now if we can just get Yucca authorized.

  71. Incidentally, water vapor is far and away the biggest contributor to greenhouse warming. The amount in the air is hugely variable, but relatively unaffected by man’s activities.

    Also, as I recall from graduate RT (gah, nearly a decade ago), water vapor’s absorption lines are relatively saturated in Earth’s atmosphere. This means adding more water vapor causes less new absorption than adding more CO2, for example.

  72. Todd W.

    @John Weiss

    So, cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells would not cause any significant increases in atmospheric warming?

  73. David D.

    @Steve A–

    Bush reneged on signing Kyoto?

    I thought that was a Clinton failure.

  74. gopher65

    Yes go with fission power. And geothermal, and fusion. To me those look like the best global solutions (though solar or wind may work in some places… but they aren’t baseload energy like nuclear and geothermal, so that limits their usefulness).

  75. Steve A

    @David D.

    You’re right. It was under Clinton that it was never sent for ratification. Bush didn’t do it either, but I got my timing incorrect. I had remembered it as something that was dropped in the transition from one government to the next. My bad.

  76. Dr. Plait, I can see a book in your future: “The Sun isn’t Causing Global Climate Change”.

    My position has always been: We really don’t know exactly what’s going on, exactly how it’s caused, or if we even are having a real effect. All that doesn’t matter though. SOMETHING is happening. Our actions don’t help, so what’s the harm in reducing our impact? Besides, isn’t it more responsible not to pollute our environment for a myriad of other reasons as well?

  77. Charles Boyer

    The only thing that annoys me is the way the media portrays green house gases as toxic poisons… like water and CO2.

    A quick review of the toxicity of CO2 – it can and has killed people.

    * At 1% concentration of carbon dioxide CO2 (10,000 parts per million or ppm) and under continuous exposure at that level, such as in an auditorium filled with occupants and poor fresh air ventilation, some occupants are likely to feel drowsy.
    * The concentration of carbon dioxide must be over about 2% (20,000 ppm) before most people are aware of its presence unless the odor of an associated material (auto exhaust or fermenting yeast, for instance) is present at lower concentrations.
    * Above 2%, carbon dioxide may cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest and/or more frequent and deeper respirations.
    * If exposure continues at that level for several hours, minimal “acidosis” (an acid condition of the blood) may occur but more frequently is absent.
    * Breathing rate doubles at 3% CO2 and is four times the normal rate at 5% CO2.
    * Toxic levels of carbon dioxide: at levels above 5%, concentration CO2 is directly toxic. [At lower levels we may be seeing effects of a reduction in the relative amount of oxygen rather than direct toxicity of CO2.]

    (source: http://www.inspect-ny.com/hazmat/CO2gashaz.htm)

    I realize that you meant atmospheric levels, but the way it is worded is somewhat confusing. Co2 is indeed a toxic material.

  78. Chris A.

    @Phil:
    I, too, think it would be appropriate to address RFK, jr.’s potential appointment as EPA chief. While he has been right on other issues, IMO, his stand on vaccines and autism smacks of religious fervor. Hard to see him backing down from that precipice.

  79. Jesse

    @ubikdood

    The warming that we are concerned with, is a global AVERAGE. There will be plenty of variation, but the trend is upward. Small scale variations in local regions do NOT explain away global warming. Also, the earth is not warming the same in all geographic regions. Specifically, the northern polar regions are warming dramatically, while other regions are staying the same.

    @Bramblyspam

    That link you provided is meaningless. Why? Because the IPCC report is a summary of all the climate research conducted worldwide, done by climatologists themselves. These are the people who are at the top of the field, and they are summarizing all work on climate change. Whoever published that work you linked clearly has an agenda. Futhermore, anthropogenic climate change is supported by every major scientific organization in the world. Yep, every one.

    From Wikipedia–
    A 2004 article by geologist and historian of science Naomi Oreskes summarized a study of the scientific literature on climate change.[57] The essay concluded that there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. The author analyzed 928 abstracts of papers from refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, listed with the keywords “global climate change”. Oreskes divided the abstracts into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. 75% of the abstracts were placed in the first three categories, thus either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, thus taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change; none of the abstracts disagreed with the consensus position, which the author found to be “remarkable”

  80. Our actions don’t help, so what’s the harm in reducing our impact?

    True. Ask the polar bears. And the ocean creatures currently swirling around in the North Pacific Gyre with tons of trash. And the shoreline creatures and high-altitude animals that are disappearing due to the effects of climate change. To quote from the song “Call of the Wild”,

    But those who believe we are head of the chain
    May wake up to find we are all that remain..

  81. Thomas Siefert

    @David D.

    Bush reneged on signing Kyoto?
    I thought that was a Clinton failure.

    Didn’t Bush just sit eight years without correcting that failure?
    .
    Frankie says italics off

  82. Thomas Siefert
  83. Thomas Siefert

    Ah well, at least I tried.

  84. José

    .noitalics { font-style: normal}

    What we really need to do is get rid of all these wasteful deciduous trees that carelessly discard all their leaves after just a single growing season. All our fancy rakes and leaf blowers do is hide the problem. They don’t address the root cause.

  85. Well said, Phil. It’s always surprising and disappointing how quickly people with a chip on their shoulder are willing to assume they know enough to contradict the experts. And it’s always things like global warming or evolution… hot button political issues where the only thing the cranks are sure of is their own absolute, unassailable opinion that everyone in the world is wrong but them.

    It’s like Steven Novella has said before on SGU… there are people who like to pretend to be scientists, who really really badly want to be listened to, so they play like an expert but they aren’t willing to put in the years of hard work first. They cherry pick something – which they usually understand about 1% of – and shout at the top of their lungs that they have the truth and the experts are all lying. It’s all about them, their ego, and not the subject at hand.

    It’s very telling how such people always find a way to call professional scientists “arrogant”. I’m no psychologist, but that sounds an awful lot like projection to me… ;)

  86. Grand Lunar

    “So the next time you want to send me some snarky email to embarrass me about some piece of info you just found on the intertoobs, please do yourself a favor: stop, think for just a moment, and ask yourself: “Is this really likely to have been missed by thousands of really smart highly educated people who have been studying this field for a combined length of time equaling many man-millennia?” ”

    If more people practised thinking along these lines Phil, we probably wouldn’t have as many conspiracy theorists.

  87. IVAN3MAN

    Regarding the buggered up italics, I’ve checked the source code here and the system default did close the italic “i” tag automatically after TheWalruss made the mistake (tut-tut) of placing the “/” after the “i” instead of before the “i” in the closing HTML tags. So, it’s up to the web-master to fix the problem.

  88. JackC

    Phil had the italics problem on an earlier thread – it took some doing to repair it, I recall. I am sure he will get to it in time.

  89. Thomas Siefert

    Just tilt the monitor by putting a few coins under the stand on the right side, that’ll make the italics look like normal text.

  90. Todd W:

    So, cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells would not cause any significant increases in atmospheric warming?

    Correct, for a few reasons. First, it’d take a lot of water to rival what’s naturally there. Second, you need to put way more in, relatively, to have a similar change to the greenhouse effect. And, third, water rains out pretty fast. Adding more water vapor would, in general, probably just result in more rain rather than a much more water in the atmosphere. (Unless you’re driving around the Sahara a lot, for example.)

  91. Todd W.

    @John Weiss

    Okay, so we get a really big fleet of hydrogen-powered cars and drive ‘em around a lot in the desert. That will cause more rain, which will in turn terraform the region to support more plant life which will then suck more CO2 out of the air! Brilliant! :)

  92. Brian Hodges

    I’m genuinely curious here, so don’t hear this as thinly veiled global warming denialism. What science and studies exactly is (was) Michael Crichton looking at when he wrote “State of Fear” and other essays on his website. He seemed to think the science not only didn’t support human contribution to global warming, but that the science seemed to indicate the planet wasn’t warming at all. Crichton never struck me as politically motivated. Even though is books tend to sensationalize the aspects of science right out there beyond the edge of possibility, he strikes me as a genuinely smart and researched guy. What was he reading that you aren’t? Or what is he reading that is so obviously flawed?

  93. Egaeus

    @John Weiss

    You forgot one thing. Hydrocarbon-powered cars already produce water as a by-product. If we were going to see any change due to water vapor from hydrogen vehicles, we would already have seen it from fossil fuels considering how powerful of a greenhouse gas it is.

    @ubikdood

    You need to learn the difference between weather and climate. Here’s an analogy.

    You’re on top of the mountain. You roll several identical boulders down the mountain in the same direction. Depending on very small differences in how they were sent on their way, there will be vast differences in their paths that they take, and any given path is essentially impossible to predict very far in advance. That’s weather.

    However, you know that overall, the boulders are going to go downward. That’s climate.

    Individual cold days do not disprove global warming, just like a rock bouncing upward doesn’t mean it’s not headed down the mountain. They are only data points in an overall trend that takes decades and centuries to see.

  94. Elmar_M

    Personally I am not denying that humans are one factor in global warming. Actually multiple factors.
    1. CO2 produced by us burning stuff that contains carbon.
    2. Methane produced by rice fields in China and across the globe as well as cattle and well…8 billion humans.
    3. CO2 produced by 8 billion humans. Of course rather little compared to the CO2 produced by 1 but still quite a bit. Get to think. CO2 levels and global temperature have increased since the industrial revolution, the human population too, pretty much at the same rate…hmmm

    So the problem is: We need food, we need transportation, we need heat and there is no way arround it. Even if we all switched to everything electric,the electricity comes largely from coal plants, which burn… carbon…

    Then you have of course volcanism and some other “natural” greenhouse gas producers (tons of CO2 but luckily also some sulphoric gasses that reduce the greenhouse effect a little bit again in return).Nevertheless it is worth noting that at the time of the dinosaurs CO2 levels in the atmosphere were much,much higher than today and so were the temperatures. This of course makes me wonder whether this is actually such a bad thing…
    Anyway put all this together and there is only one quick and easy solution to the greenhouse gas problem:
    Get rid of a large part of the human population. Its simple. Really. I am for the Chinese, they make the most mess anyway. Or wait, maybe the indians, they do crappy phone support…
    If anyone has a better (practical)solution, I am all ears.
    Otherwise please nuke the Chinese, not me, hehehe ;)

  95. XI

    @Egaeus
    That analogy is full of win.

  96. Gary Ansorge

    Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum:
    Actually, the Saudis have a LOT of natural gas. Methane is what forces the oil out of the ground. In 1978, I worked at the first Natural GAs Liquids plant(Jubail Berri) built in Saudi Arabia. It took what used to be burned off in 400 foot tall flares, condensed it into its multiple fractions(methane, pentane, propane, etc) and they’ve been selling that ever since.

    As far as variations in local temps. are concerned, remember, earth is a big place. Energy moves air, h2o, methane, clouds, etc, etc, from one place to another. As the energy density increases, there will be some areas that get hotter/drier and some that get colder/wetter. Global warming is about average, net increases in GLOBAL temps. and as far as we can see, that HAS been going up coincidentally with our techno cultures increasing output of CO2.

    I expect we will just have to get used to rising sea levels, etc, because people are generally unable to see far enough ahead to apply disaster scenarios to their own behavior. Guess we’ll just have to go for the high tech solutions, because most people are not going to ride bikes 20 miles to work,,,

    GAry 7

  97. Todd W.

    @Gary Ansorge

    most people are not going to ride bikes 20 miles to work

    You forgot “barefoot, uphill both ways, through six feet of snow.” :)

  98. @Bramblyspam “Check that link, folks. If you can point me to direct refutations of its scientific claims, please do.”

    @Jesse “That link you provided is meaningless. Why? Because the IPCC report is a summary of all the climate research conducted worldwide, done by climatologists themselves. These are the people who are at the top of the field, and they are summarizing all work on climate change. Whoever published that work you linked clearly has an agenda. Futhermore, anthropogenic climate change is supported by every major scientific organization in the world. Yep, every one.”

    Jesse, you call that a refutation? Because the report disagrees with what you want to believe then its authors must have an agenda. One could make the same claim about IPCC itself – to wit, because they have an agenda you can’t trust their results.

    The most troubling thing I found was on page 27 of the report:

    “The only truly global observations come from weather satellites, and these have not shown any warming trend since 1998, for the past 10 years.”

    Now, I have no idea whether this statement is true or false, but I’d really like to know one way or the other. I’d like someone to provide credible data which falsifies this claim. If it is true then it casts serious doubt in my mind about global warming claims. And if it does turn out to be true then I’d like to know why IPCC ignored it.

  99. Jesse

    @Tom,

    Yes, I do. Which do you prefer? A few bums with an agenda, OR over 600 professional climatologists, policy makers, and thousands of researched peer reviewed published articles. In other words, some random people vs every major scientific organization in the world, and all professional researchers in the field.

    Hmmmmm, tough choice.

  100. @Jesse “A few bums with an agenda…”

    So, the late Frederick Seitz who was a President Emeritus at Rockefeller University, a Past President of the National Academy of Sciences, a Past President of the American Physical Society, and a Chairman of the Science and Environmental Policy Project was a bum? Yeah, sure.

    And you still haven’t refuted one single point. Your handwaving is NOT evidence and will NOT be accepted as such.

  101. Gary Ansorge

    Todd W:
    You forgot “barefoot, uphill both ways, through six feet of snow.

    Thanks, I knew I forget SOMETHING, Dag nab it,,,LOL

    GAry 7

  102. Todd W.

    @Gary Ansorge

    Just blame those meddling kids with their ipods and their technology. :)

  103. Gary Ansorge

    Todd: I loves me techno toys, almost as much as people.

    Gary 7

  104. Grant

    @Thomas

    The “Arguement from Authority” logical falicy only applies if the “authority” referenced is not accpeted by all parties as an expert on the topic at hand. For example, looking to Einstein to validate a political position, or taking medical advice from Jenny McCarthy. ;) What you are suggesting is that the opinions of authentic authorities cannot be used in an arguement.

    @ubikdood

    That’s a classic misconception about global warming: that every temperature will uniformly increase. Rather, the average global temperature (averaged out over all regions and all seasons) is on the rise. Locally, you expect climate shifts towards extremes: hot and dry areas becoming hotter and drier, cold and wet regions becoming colder and wetter. Early snow in Canada is consistent with this; snow in the Sahara would not be. As to your other thoughts:
    -dude, Chriton just passed like 2 days ago, let him rest.
    -CO2 is a natural gas and a crucial part of the carbon cycle, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t negative affects from it. It’s been known to wipe out forests in minutes.
    -to my knowledge, the El Nino Southern Oscillation is not considered a consequence of GW. Though I would imagine that changes in the ENSO are of high interests to climatologists.
    -cooling the earth is easy; alls you need is a big ice cube. ;)

    Lastly, I would remind Bramblyspam (and others) that “consensus” does not now, nor has it ever, nor will it ever, mean “unanimous agreement.”

  105. Ruprecht

    “There’s a reason they’re called experts, folks.” Like the ones who claimed that acid rain was about to destroy millions of acres of European forest, e.g. Ulrich with his Waldsterben-theory? Remember the Canadians, worried about their pine trees, blaming America’s smoggy industries? In 1995 Ulrich revoked his bold claims, acid rain is not a political issue any more.

    And now scientists and politicians are crying “wolf!” again. The Dutch government aired a propaganda spot, showing a man with a plastic bag over his head, tied around his neck, suffocating in his own CO2. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is the greenhouse effect!” Al Gore falsely claimed that ice core drillings proved that a rising CO2 level triggers global warming – while it is exactly the other way round. I have the feeling I’m being lied to: someone is trying to scare me & to make me feel guilty – again.

  106. Steve A

    @Tom Marking

    Check out this then, if you want something that is not handwaiving:

    http://tinyurl.com/563zt6

    By the way, that statement about weather satellites is very misleading. Global ground stations take measurements all the time. In fact, there is an issue with them I see often used as “proof” warming doesn’t exist. Deniers claim that the findings are biased because average temps were adjusted downwards. They were, because many of the stations the averages are based on were located in cities, which are typically hotter than the natural environment and had biased the data.

    The claim also discounts historical temperatures gotten through ice cores and sea sediment. This is how we know there were ice ages. Is that info untrue?

    And the satellites do see warming:
    http://tinyurl.com/2rnq6y

    This is something that really is frustrating. Many of the claims sound true or feasible, but are often distortions and misinterpretations, especially often from policy people who have not done a single experiment. There are scientists that disagree, but there are also those who think plate tectonics is a myth and the Earth is growing in size. Einstein also thought quantum mechanics was idiotic. A big name disagreeing doesn’t change the mounting evidence.

  107. JackC

    @Brian Hodges: http://realclimate.org/wiki/index.php?title=Michael_Crichton

    It looks like Crichton was all over the map with his research, but chose selectively to match his opinions. Gavin Schmidt (from RealClimate) posts this on the first article from that link set:

    “In summary, I am a little disappointed, not least because while researching this book, Crichton actually visited our lab and discussed some of these issues with me and a few of my colleagues. I guess we didn’t do a very good job. Judging from his reading list, the rather dry prose of the IPCC reports did not match up to the some of the racier contrarian texts. Had RealClimate been up and running a few years back, maybe it would’ve all worked out differently…”

    It appears he read parts of the available IPCC reports, but missed (or chose to miss) whole chunks. You may also want to see James Hanson’s remarks from that link regarding Crichton.

    JC

  108. Jesse

    @Tom

    Frederick Seitz was NOT a climatologist, nor even a geologist. Regardless, the opinion of one person ( or even thousands) does not invalidate thousands of research articles, and all evidence provided by every major scientific organization in the world.

    There are very smart people who think the earth is 6,000 years old………………………and they are wrong.

  109. Zclone

    There’s an interesting presentation on Ted.com in which Mark Bittman argues that humans are also to blame for methane emissions. Whether he’s right or wrong, it’s an interesting opinion.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat.html

  110. Egaeus: Good point. Plus, none of this addresses where the hydrogen comes from. There isn’t a lot of molecule H2 on the planet, so one has to sort of figure it’s being generated by some more conventional process, like burning fossil fuels. (In that case, the burning of the H2 probably puts more water vapor into the atmosphere, unless the water that was turned into H2 came out of the air originally. This seems like an unlikely approach, though, what with the big puddles of it covering 2/3 of the planet’s surface.)

  111. llewelly

    Incidentally, water vapor is far and away the biggest contributor to greenhouse warming. The amount in the air is hugely variable, but relatively unaffected by man’s activities.

    Water vapor levels are affected by man’s activities – warmer air holds more water vapor. The most important reason water vapor is not blamed (so to speak) for global warming, is that water vapor does not stay in the air of its own accord. Water vapor content is (globally speaking) largely a function of temperature.

    Atmospheric water vapor levels are hugely variable only over short timescales. Averaged over any period longer than about 30 days, global atmospheric water vapor levels are nearly constant – unless the earth is warming or cooling. Warmer air can hold more water vapor. As the earth’s climate has warmed due to global warming – water vapor content as increased, thus adding more warming. Water vapor acts like an amplifier. Without the water vapor amplifier effect, a doubling of CO2 would cause a warming of about 1.5 C (ignoring ice-sheet and carbon-cycle related effects). When the water vapor amplifier effect is taken into account, a doubling of CO2 causes about 3.0 C of warming (again ignoring ice-sheet and carbon-cycle related effects).

  112. Don Healy

    If one views the issue of CO2 levels from the perspective of plant physiology, one may find the focus on today’s levels much less compelling. The plant kingdom first evolved when CO2 levels were about 4000 ppm. Gymnosperms and angiosperms evolved when CO2 levels were between 3000 and 2200 ppm. When CO2 levels reach their lows of about 180 ppm during the recent glacial advances, there is evidence that many plant species were suffering from CO2 starvation. Photosynthesis effectively ceases at 90 ppm and many plant activites are curtailed at 200 ppm or below. Considering that most animal life is entirely dependent upon the health of the plant kingdom, it is difficult to imagine that the CO2 levels we are currently experiencing are that detrimental in the whole scheme of things.

    It may be far wiser to focus on reducing pollution (CO2 is not a pollutant) and increasing our energy independence. There are many serious scientists, including Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer (to name just a few) that question the overall impact of CO2 concentrations to the exclusion of many of mankinds’ other influences upon this planet.

  113. noyfb

    Have you read anything by Dr. Roy Spencer of The University of Alabama?

    http://www.weatherquestions.com/Roy-Spencer-on-global-warming.htm

    The debate is NOT over.

    Stick to astronomy!

  114. amphiox

    Don Healy: The point you overlook is that all of human civilization and a significant chunk of the entire existence of H. sapiens has occurred during the low CO2 recent past. All the fauna and flora we depend on for survival, and we ourselves, are adapted to a low CO2, cool/temperate climate world. Raise CO2 levels, shift the climate to a warmer setpoint, and sure, life will likely go one, even flourish (there are many eras in the paleontological past warmer than the worst GW scenarios and most of them were teemingly abundant with life). But the question is, what kind of life?

    If you care only about the earth, or the environment, or earth’s biosphere as an abstract whole, you need not worry one whit about climate change. You need worry only if you care about human beings and the other inhabitants of the specific biosphere in which we are a part.

  115. amphiox

    I would also point out that, in the long run, there are no environmentally neutral/friendly energy sources.

    Consider solar and wind (which is just modified solar, actually), for example. This energy isn’t free. It falls on earth at a relatively constant rate which cannot be changed, and it is responsible for driving the weather and climate patterns. It is used, either directly, or indirectly, by nearly all living things.

    Even if we switch entirely to solar, if growth continues into the future, there must come a point in time when the human civilization extracts so much of the total solar energy falling on earth as to directly impact climate and weather patterns, and to compete detrimentally with plants.

    All renewable energy sources based on existing terrestrial processes have the same problem, in that the energy involved in currently being used in natural processes, and if humans extract this energy, it will no longer be available for the natural process in question.

    The only exception to this is fusion, but fusion has its own problem, as I see it. All other energy sources are pre-existing energy sources on the earth. The energy humans might extract from solar or wind would still have fallen on the earth if humans weren’t here. The energy extracted from geothermal would still otherwise have been released eventually into the environment via volcanic events. Fusion, on the other hand, is an energy producing process that does not currently exist on the earth. Every fusion power plant will in essence be an extra, small sun. The waste heat from fusion powered energy usage will be dumped directly into earth’s environment, as extra energy earth would not have received otherwise. And if growth continues, there will, inevitably come a point when this excess waste heat becomes significant enough to substantially warm the planet.

    In the long term we can escape these inevitable limits in only two ways. We either stop growth completely, or we expand off the earth.

  116. Don Healy

    Re: amphiox Says:

    Your assumption that flora and fauna have adapted to the lower CO2 and temperature conditions presently may not be valid as indicated by the following. Additionally, most commercial green houses artificially increase CO2 levels to 1000 to 1500 ppm to achieve optimum growth rates and increased quality.

    If CO2 levels have increased from 180 ppm to current levels of 384 ppm recently, then theoretically we should have experienced an increase in vegetative production as a result thereof, and we should be able to measure this in some fashion. Recently, a number of scientists have done just that using the Keeling Curve. The Keeling Curve is the plot that has been created tracing the measurements of atmospheric CO2 taken at the Mauna Loa, Hawaii since 1959, named after Dr. Charles David Keeling, professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This plot contains not only the average annual CO2 concentration, but also the fluctuations that occur from season to season. On planet earth, most of the land mass and consequently, most of the terrestrial vegetation is in the northern hemisphere. Each spring as the Northern Hemisphere’s vegetation comes out of winter dormancy, the photosynthetic process reduces the level of CO2 in the atmosphere by a measurable amount. In the late fall, the process is reversed. This oscillation in CO2 concentration during the course of the year, “the breath of the biosphere”, creates a sine wave that plotted over a number of years, slopes upward towards the present. Of particular interest is the fact that the amplitude of the wave, the difference between the high and low seasonal points of each year, serves as a relative measure of the vegetative productivity for a given year, and the amplitude has been increasing. Between 1958 and 1999, this “breath of the biosphere” has increased by 19.5%, and “is primarily a direct result of atmospheric fertilization” (18).

    (I have a graph of this but could not reproduce it here in the comments section)

    References:

    18. http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/subject/other/co2amp.jsp

    Amplitude of the atmosphere’s seasonal CO2 cycle; Review of work of:
    Bacastow, R.B., Keeling, C.D. and Whorf, T.P. 1985. Seasonal amplitude increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, 1959-1982. Journal of Geophysical Research 90: 10,529-10,540.
    Cleveland, W.S., Frenny, A.E. and Graedel, T.E. 1983. The seasonal component of atmospheric CO2: Information from new approaches to the decomposition of seasonal time-series. Journal of Geophysical Research 88: 10,934-10,940.
    Enting, I.G. 1987. The interannual variation of carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa. Journal of Geophysical Research 92: 5497-5504.
    Galloway, J.N., Schlesinger, W.H., Levy II, H., Michaels, A. and Schnoor, J.L. 1995. Nitrogen fixation: Anthropogenic enhancement — environmental response. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9: 235-252.
    Hudson, R.J.M., Gherini, S.A. and Goldstein, R.A. 1994. Modeling the global carbon cycle: Nitrogen fertilization of the terrestrial biosphere and the “missing” CO2 sink. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 8: 307-333.
    Idso, S.B. 1986. Industrial age leading to the greening of the Earth? Nature 320: 22.
    Idso, S.B. 1995. CO2 and the Biosphere: The Incredible Legacy of the Industrial Revolution. Special Publication. Department of Soil, Water and Climate, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.
    Keeling, C.D., Chin, J.F.S. and Whorf, T.P. 1996. Increased activity of northern hemispheric vegetation inferred from atmospheric CO2 measurements. Nature 382: 146-149.
    Kohlmaier, G.H., Sire, E.O., Janecek, A., Keeling, C.D., Piper, S.C. and Revelle, R. 1989. Modeling the seasonal contribution of a CO2-fertilization effect of the terrestrial vegetation to the amplitude increase in atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory. Tellus Series B 41: 487-510.
    Myneni, R.B., Keeling, C.D., Tucker, C.J., Asrar, G. and Nemani, R.R. 1997. Increased plant growth in the northern high latitudes from 1981 to 1991. Nature 386: 698-702.

  117. harpe éolienne

    i am no expert on atmospheric science but great explanations about water vapour being as a function of temperature by John Weiss and llewelly. :)
    that makes perfect sense to me.
    we should look to the cause of such reactive rather than its enhanced presence in the atmosphere. CO2 and other GHGs stay longer up there causing the temperature increase in the first place. and after all they don’t produce rain or snow unlike water vapour or do they?

    @Don Healy

    whilst CO2 enrichment and temperature increase seem to generally increase crop yields and water-use efficiency (i.e. longer photosynthesis period) in some plants (e.g. rice), there are other cases (corn, for instance) this can’t be applied to.
    fact of the matter is, we still don’t know the fine details as to how increased CO2 will affect water use – let alone our future global food supply.
    i tend to agree that focusing on air/water/soil pollution than GHGs per se might be wiser in the long run, though.

    @amphiox

    i think you underestimate the generosity (or the extravagance if you like ;) ) of the sun far too much.

  118. Elmar_M

    Well that was my point earlier. There is no way of getting arround the problem, just making it smaller and postponing its reappearance until the human population has grown enough again.
    Now please forgive my sarkasm earler, but we need to be realistic. No matter what we do, we will affect earths climate and… natural causes will do so as well (as they did in cycles multiple times in the past). So its not only going to be us making earth warmer, but earth itself too. So twice as bad.
    But what do you want to do? What can we do to really solve the problem and then the questions remains, should we? Maybe this is earth actually self regulating the “problem man”. We destroy the environment we live in by overpopulation and earths climate changes to something that is less favorable for us. We die out, or our numbers at least get reduced a lot. Maybe it will cause some new evolutionary pressure on us that causes us to evolve into a different direction. In any case, there will be less humans. Less humans means, less impact on the environment. Of course, the question is: Do we want to let that happen? If not, what can we do about it?
    Make the chinese and indians have less babies? How? Threaten them? Kill them? I dont think that this would be humane? The key issue is overpopulation though and even if we all produced only one 3rd of the CO2 we do now, in a 100 years we will have 24 billion people and be again where we are now…
    Who will judge who is allowed how many children? And if the indians dont comply? Do you want to kill them? Or should we prefer to die out (one child per family in the average western family comes close to that already anyway) so they can have more kids?
    These are problems that noone talks about, but they are the root of the evil. Global warming is just the symptom.

  119. Don Healy

    Re: harpe éolienne

    Regarding corn, you are correct. Corn, sugar cane and many of the grass and reed plants that evolved more recently use a C4 photosynthetic pathway and do not respond significantly to enhanced CO2 levels. They evolved as a result of falling CO2 levels in the atmosphere. However, about 90% of todays plant community uses the C3 pathway which evolved under higher CO2 concentrations than exist today. Generally, these plants do thrive under higher CO2 concentration than currently exist and also constitute a vast majority of our food supply.

    What I also find interesting is that all four major global temperature tracking orgainizations show that recent global temperatures reached their peak in 1998, and have been on a decidedly downward track for the past six years, despite a continuing rise in CO2 levels and other GHGs. While obviously too early to establish a significant trend, with the PDO now entering a cool phase that could last for 20 to 30 years, the future may be surprising different from that being forecast by the climate models.

  120. Don Healy

    Phil:

    You refer in your initail comments to the numerous experts who support the idea of AGW, but have you run the numbers yourself to see if it makes sense. Doing a “back of the envelope” calculation raises questions in my mind. Given the following parameters:

    1. Water Vapor makes up approximately 3% of the atmosphere.
    2. CO2 is now about 384 ppm.
    3. Before the industrial era it was about 280ppm
    4. The total component of greenhouse gases raise the temperature of the earth by 33 degrees centigrade on average.
    5. Water vapor and CO2 are roughly equal in their absorption of long-wave radiation.

    Comparing only the increase in CO2 levels should roughly equal:

    .030384 / .030280 = 10034 or an increase of .0034 x 33 degrees C = .11 degrees Centigrade.

    Yes, this approach is very simplistic, but it should be in the ball park. Adjusting the calculation to a doubling of CO2 levels provides a temperature increase of only .3 degrees Centigrade. To arrive at the temperature increases shown by the IPCC, very dramatic feedback effects must be added to the mix. It is these very factors of cloud effect and aerosol effect that the IPCC acknowledges are the least understood parts of the climate system. Some recent studies have even indicated that some of the feedback effects assumed in the GCMs to be positive, may in fact be negative.

    A thought that raises caution in my mind is that if the climate system were so unstable as to create temperature increases such as those estimated by the models, the earth’s climate system would have experience a runaway greenhouse effect millions of years ago.

    Just some random thoughts.

  121. @amphiox “All the fauna and flora we depend on for survival, and we ourselves, are adapted to a low CO2, cool/temperate climate world. Raise CO2 levels, shift the climate to a warmer setpoint, and sure, life will likely go one, even flourish (there are many eras in the paleontological past warmer than the worst GW scenarios and most of them were teemingly abundant with life). But the question is, what kind of life?”

    The Eemian interglacial (called the Sangamonian in North America) preceded the last Ice Age (Wisconsin Ice Age in North America, Wurm Ice Age in Europe). It lasted from roughly 130,000 years ago until 110,000 years ago.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eemian

    Global temperatures are thought to have been 1-2 degrees Celsius warmer during the Eemian than today with the sea level being approximately 5 meters higher than today. The Greenland ice cap partially melted accounting for 2 meters of the sea level rise. Baffin Island in Canada was forested during the Eemian whereas it is a barren landscape today.

    Both our ancestors Homo sapiens and our close relative Homo neandertalensis went through the Eemian without any problems at all, and Neadnderthal Man was a supposedly cold adapted hominid. There is no evidence of any extinction of any hominid species during this time period. So if the question is can Homo sapiens survive Global Warming, the answer is yes. Our species has been through worse. The proper question is not whether our species can survive it, but whether our civilization and agricultural system can survive it. Of that, I’m not so sure.

  122. The question of why methane is a more “potent” greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide has more to do with its concentration in the atmsophere rather than some intrinsic property of the gas. Methane is, intrinsically speaking, in fact a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2. The idea that it is “X times more potent than CO2″ only applies on a molecule-by-molecule basis when the concentration in the atmsophere is far less than that of carbon dioxide because the greenhouse effect from either gas is logarithmic due to saturation in the strong areas of the spectrum. If CO2 were measured in parts per billion and methane were at 380 ppmv, then CO2 would be “more potent” of a greenhouse gas. On a planet with sufficient oxygen like Earth, methane oxidizes rather rapidly into CO2 so it is hard to get very high concentrations of it.

    Concerning water vapor, the effect of man-made interference with climate is an increase in water vapor but not directly. A warmer atmosphere increases the saturation vapor pressure of H2O following the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, so with a constant relative humidity you get a 7% increase in water vapor per degree global mean warming. From this perspective, water vapor is a feedback to climate change (it’s alway a positive feedback) and itself cannot “force” changes in climate.

    The comments above by Dan Healy concerning the effect of doubling CO2 is wrong. For one thing, you cannot linearize across the whole range of the greenhouse effect. Doubling CO2 in the atmosphere with no feedbacks gives a 1.2 C warming. Taking it all away gives a 7 C cooling before feedbacks. So clearly, the application in his comment is incorrect. What’s more, relating a strength of a greenhouse gas to its total concentration in the atmosphere is erroneous. The implications that net postive feedbacks lead to runaway scenarios is also wrong since the system is a converging series, not a diverging one.

  123. Another factor that must be taken into account is the change in the earth’s albedo as the result of human activity.

    If we let

    Pabs = pi * Re^2 * S * (1 – A)

    Pabs is the power absorbed by the earth’s surface in watts
    pi is 3.14…
    Re is the radius of the earth in meters
    S is the solar constant (1366 watts per square meter)
    A is the average albedo of the earth

    Pemt = 4 * pi * Re^2 * sigma * T^4

    Pemt is the average power emitted by the earth’s surface in watts
    sigma is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant (5.67E-8 watts per square meter per deg Kelvin^4)
    T is the average surface temperature in degrees Kelvin

    Long term, let Pemt equal Pabs so:

    S(1 – A) = 4 * sigma * T^4

    Now, the average albedo of the earth is 0.367 which means 1 – A is 0.633. How much does A have to change to account for a 1 degree Kelvin decrease in temperature?

    Isolating A we have:

    A = 1 – (4*sigma / S) * T^4

    Take the derivative of both sides:

    dA = (-16*sigma / S) * T^3 * dT

    or dA = -6.64E-10 * T^3 * dT

    Plug in the temperature of 288 deg Kelvin (15 deg Celsius) for the standard atmosphere for T. Then:

    dA = -0.016 * dT

    So if dT is -1 deg Kelvin (a drop of 1 degree Kelvin) then albedo (i.e., reflectivity) must increase by 0.016 or from 0.367 to 0.383 (an increase by a factor of 1.044 or 4.4 percent).

    Now consider deforestation. Approximately half of the world’s tropical rainforests have been cut down during the last 50 years or approximately 7.5 million square kilometers. Forests typically have an albedo of ~0.10 whereas grass has an albedo of ~0.25. One hemisphere of the earth has an area of 255 million square kilometers so let’s assume half of the chopped down rainforests are in that hemisphere or 3.75 million square kilometers or 1.5 percent.

    The approximate increase in albedo is the following:

    dA = 0.015*(0.25 – 0.10) = 0.002

    or about one eighth of the albedo change needed to reduce the temperature by one degree Celsius.

    Now, let’s consider remediation. Approximately 471 million hectares of the world’s surface is composed of built-up urban areas (4.71 million square kilometers). Again, taking half of this for one hemisphere this represents 0.9 percent of the surface area of one hemisphere. What would happen if we changed the albedo of the streets, rooftops, building tops, from a very low albedo of asphalt (~0.05) to something very reflective (albedo ~0.95).

    dA = 0.009*(0.95 – 0.05) = 0.008

    This will yield us a reduction in temperature of 0.5 deg Kelvin just by changing the albedo of the stuff we already have in our cities. If we deliberately build new structures with high reflectivity we could reduce the temperature by at least 1 degree Celsius or more.

    Just something to think about.

  124. Well, here’s something I found. This maybe good news about global warming: a way to handle it.

    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A rock found mostly in Oman can be harnessed to soak up the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide at a rate that could help slow global warming, scientists say.

    When carbon dioxide comes in contact with the rock, peridotite, the gas is converted into solid minerals such as calcite.

    Geologist Peter Kelemen and geochemist Juerg Matter said the naturally occurring process can be supercharged 1 million times to grow underground minerals that can permanently store 2 billion or more of the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted by human activity every year.

    Their study will appear in the November 11 edition of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

  125. @Don “Regarding corn, you are correct. Corn, sugar cane and many of the grass and reed plants that evolved more recently use a C4 photosynthetic pathway and do not respond significantly to enhanced CO2 levels. They evolved as a result of falling CO2 levels in the atmosphere. However, about 90% of todays plant community uses the C3 pathway which evolved under higher CO2 concentrations than exist today. Generally, these plants do thrive under higher CO2 concentration than currently exist and also constitute a vast majority of our food supply.”

    Hi Don. Maybe you could answer this question for me. Is any work being done on genetically modifying various food crops so that they take more CO2 out of the atmosphere per unit time than their unmodified versions? Is such a thing even possible? If so what are the parameters (i.e., could they take twice the CO2 out of the atmosphere, 3 times, 10 times, etc., etc.)? Any information you might have on this subject would be quite interesting to hear about.

  126. Blizno

    Elmar_M Says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    “…Make the chinese and indians have less babies? How? Threaten them? Kill them?”
    China is already doing a superb job of controlling its population. It’s doing so through very strict government control of breeding, something few of us outside China advocate. India is still growing fast but even India’s growth is expected to plateau in the next few decades.

    “…in a 100 years we will have 24 billion people and be again where we are now…”
    Human population is predicted to reach a peak of about nine billion (it’s 6+ billion now) and then start declining.
    Why? Humans breed fastest when we are poorest and most desperate.
    When humans have power over our own lives such as having enough food and shelter, when we can obtain education, when we no longer fear roving bands of murders, we breed much less.
    It is predicted that humans in the poorest parts of the world who presently have scant access to education and opportunity will find greater and greater access to information in the decades to come. They will educate themselves because human beings are voracious consumers of information. They will learn better and better how to manage their farms, their breeding and their lives. The poorest of women will learn that their value is not only how many children they can bear. Many of those women will start businesses and pull themselves out of poverty. They will pull countless others out of poverty as well.
    The people with the most wealth, power and health care breed the slowest. Once all people on Earth obtain the minimum reasonable education opportunity, security and health care, total population will start to fall. In a hundred years our descendants may be worried that there are too few humans. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
    http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/P/Populations.html

  127. Don Healy

    Re Tom Marking:

    Your comments regarding the effects that man’s activities are having on the earth’s albedo and other changes to the environment is exactly the concern of many scientists, such as Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr. Their concern is that many of mankinds alterations of the earth’s surface via agriculture, deforestation, etc. have a far greater influence upon climate change than does the rather minor increase in CO2 levels. If you’re not familar with Dr. Pielke’s blog, it is http://climatesci.org/ . (Not to be confused with the blog his son Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr. authors.)

    Regarding your question on genetically modifying food crops to take more CO2 out of the atmosphere, I am not aware of any such efforts. I would surmise that from the perspective of the C3 crops, that CO2 is a limiting factor at current levels, so plant growth of many species will be enhanced by increases in CO2 levels unless other factors such as essential nutrients are limiting. Generally, the research I have seen indicates that in most C3 crops, plants are better able to withstand drought conditions as CO2 levels increase above current levels.

    In a post earlier on this page, I mentioned some studies involving the Keeling Curve that indicate that on a global scale there has been a positive response within the plant kingdom to the increase in CO2 levels that has occurred over the last few decades. However, I would question if the plant community can keep up with mankinds ability to pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. Thanks.

  128. Ruprecht

    @Tom Marking
    Maybe a stupid question, but should not the first equation be “Pabs = 4 * pi * Re^2 * S * (1 – A)”? After all Re is the radius, not the diameter of our sphere. Changing earth’s albedo is a nice solution (if we really do have a problem), better than sunshading our planet by pumping SO2 in the atmosphere or whatever it is “they” are planning to do.

  129. Steve A

    @Tom Marking

    That’s a really good point. I haven’t heard anything, although you may want to keep an eye on New Scientist website as they’d publish a report on something like that when it gets published. However, I don’t think you want to do something like this in crops because of the short timescale. Unless you take the plants and bury them, their carbon is still in the system. You just are shifting it around temporarily otherwise. What you need to do is sequester it somewhere. What you suggest is good, but much better in long lived plants like trees, which aren’t growing and being cut down seasonally like crops.

    This idea of sequestering CO2 is starting to be a big thing. There are companies looking into pumping the CO2 into the oceans, which can keep it there for very long periods. The sea is already doing this, taking up a good part of what we emit. Problem is, this is making the ocean one big carbonated soda and doing really bad things to those ecosystems, especially corals.

    There’s another problem with these kinds of measures: unintended consequences. For all we know, climate is so complex that we don’t fully understand all the feedbacks and influences one system has on another. So any bio/geoengineering done might have a very harmful effect. I think we probably have to do something at some point, but messing around with nature can have serious consequences.

  130. harpe éolienne

    @Don

    indeed. C4 photosynthetic pathway can be considered to be the Calvin pathway with carbon dioxide concentrating mechanism, so to speak.
    one of the advantages of being a C4 plant is it doesn’t need photorespiration. another one is of course its water-use efficiency.
    i reckon it is important to realise that we don’t see any organisms which reign supreme on the earth. this great variety of life forms in itself is direct evidence for lack of versatile methods actually.
    but i seem to be straying off-topic…

    oh and the cooling trend you are implying – i dunno… but, as you mentioned yourself, i’d reckon it’s up to points of reference you’d take. at this stage that might as well give us just variables.
    to be honest, i’ve been having difficulty seeing the point in calculating the earth’s global mean temperature at all but my approach to this issue is the same with health care — prevention. meaning reasonable action and management based on the assessment of evidence available *now*.

    @Tom Marking

    as far as i am aware, we have yet to successfully create a genetically-modified crop by enhancing any photosynthetic components. so far high-yielding varieties seem to mainly consist of those with shorter and/or multiple stems.

  131. harpe éolienne

    Steve A says:
    ‘This idea of sequestering CO2 is starting to be a big thing. There are companies looking into pumping the CO2 into the oceans, which can keep it there for very long periods. The sea is already doing this, taking up a good part of what we emit. Problem is, this is making the ocean one big carbonated soda and doing really bad things to those ecosystems, especially corals.’

    couldn’t agree more.

    and here’s one of such bad ideas of sequestering CO2 being practically discarded, at last:
    http://www.climate-l.org/2008/11/imo-london-conv.html#more
    http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=694

  132. @Ruprecht “Maybe a stupid question, but should not the first equation be “Pabs = 4 * pi * Re^2 * S * (1 – A)”? After all Re is the radius, not the diameter of our sphere. Changing earth’s albedo is a nice solution”

    The pi * Re^2 factor in the equation for absorbed power represents a cross-sectional area of the earth which is perpendicular to the sun’s rays. I could have used the hemispherical surface area of 2 * pi * Re^2 but then S is no longer a constant, it will depend on the sun’s elevation angle above the horizon, theta and will have to be replaced by S * sin(theta). A little reflection should show you that the results of the two integrations should be the same number in watts.

    The factor 4 * pi * Re^2 in the Pemt equation is the total surface area of the earth. This is used to signify that energy absorbed on the daylight side of the earth is re-emitted over the entire surface area including the night side of the planet. A more legitimate criticism would be that I didn’t take into account the fact that albedo A depends on the elevation angle theta. I accept it, but this is a back-of-the-envelope calculation, not a computer model, so we can accept a little inaccuracy.

    I think albedo remediation represents some low hanging fruit. Does anyone seriously doubt that we couldn’t paint the rooftops of every house and building in America with shiny, reflective silver paint and accomplish this feat in less than one year, if we really wanted to? Of course we could do such a thing. It may not get us all the way to a solution but even if it got us only 10 percent of the way to the solution, it would be worth doing because it is so much cheaper than the alternatives being proposed.

    I sometimes wonder whether our politicians are truly interested in solving a problem, or in accumulating power to themselves. A complex cap and trade system is coming our way, and I have yet to hear the term ALBEDO REMEDIATION coming out of the mouths of any politician or the IPCC for that matter. Maybe I should write President-elect Obama with the results of my little calculation.

  133. @harpe “as far as i am aware, we have yet to successfully create a genetically-modified crop by enhancing any photosynthetic components. so far high-yielding varieties seem to mainly consist of those with shorter and/or multiple stems.”

    But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, does it? We won’t know until we try.

  134. @Steve “What you suggest is good, but much better in long lived plants like trees, which aren’t growing and being cut down seasonally like crops.”

    Think about this one. What about a genetically modified Redwood tree that grows to maturity in just 10 years? Plant those suckers all over the world and they grow to 200 feet in just ten years converting carbon dioxide to cellulose. Each one would hold up to 1,000 metric tons of carbon. You don’t cut them down. You just let them grow.

    My only caveat is this. I just went through Hurricane Ike. I don’t want any of those trees close to my house! :)

  135. In case pingback doesn’t work…

    “On Climate Change, Hands off Phil Plait!”
    http://omniclimate.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/on-climate-change-hands-off-phil-plait/

  136. IVAN3MAN

    i {font-style: normal}

  137. IVAN3MAN

    WooHoo! I fixed the italics! :-)

  138. IVAN3MAN

    Every day, in every way, my HTML skills are getting better and better! :-)

  139. my comment is stuck in the moderation queue…I remove the direct link

    “On Climate Change, Hands off Phil Plait!”
    http:##omniclimate.wordpress.com#2008#11#10#on-climate-change-hands-off-phil-plait#

  140. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Care sharing with the rest of us?

  141. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.

    Sure. I engaged the “style” command. :cool:

  142. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Awww….when’s the big day? Congrats to you and the style command. :P

  143. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.

    Heh! Man, I watch Star Trek: TNG too often.

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