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Settled Science - Humans are Raising CO2 Levels

Posted on 20 August 2011 by dana1981, MarkR

As a result of Murry Salby's fundamentally flawed arguments that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is a consequence of the increase in temperature, rather than vice-versa, a number of prominent climate "skeptics" have been taking up this argument (i.e. Watts, Curry, Bolt, Jo Nova).  In his post on the subject, Watts wrote

"I’m pretty sure Australian bloggers John Cook at Skeptical Science and Tim Lambert at Deltoid are having conniption fits right about now."

Indeed, we here at Skeptical Science have found the entire hubub over Salby's claims by those who claim to be serious climate skeptics rather frustrating.  This is because Salby's argument is akin to claiming the Sun revolves around the Earth.  We know it's wrong, we know why it's wrong, and we've known this for ages.  If somebody tells you the Sun revolves around the Earth, your reaction should not be "wow, this could revolutionize the entire field of astrophysics!", your reaction should be "no, unless you produce some absolutely extraordinary evidence, that's obviously wrong."  Of course, that will only be your reaction if you're a real skeptic.

Although we've addressed Salby's arguments in a few recent posts already (see here and here and here), we previously had not created a comprehensive rebuttal to the myth that the atmospheric CO2 increase is natural (though RealClimate has a good one, from which we borrowed some of the discussion on carbon isotopic signatures).  Thus we have now taken the opportunity to create this rebuttal.

Simple Accounting

The easiest way to prove that the atmospheric CO2 increase is man-made is through a simple accounting approach.  The equation for the change in atmospheric CO2 (ΔCatm) is

This says that if we ‘emit’ a ton of carbon by, say, triggering a volcano then the atmosphere will gain a ton. If we ‘absorb’ a ton of carbon by growing a tree, then the atmosphere loses a ton.  We can expand the equation by counting human emissions (HE) and absorption (HA) and natural emissions (NE) and absorption (NA) separately.

This works because carbon is additive. If a volcano emits a ton of carbon and a factory emits a ton then the atmosphere has gained two tons. This is a very simple balance sheet for the carbon cycle and fortunately there are ‘accountants’ who have measured some of these values for us.

Recently the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been rising at ~2 parts per million per year, or around 15 billion tons/year. Meanwhile  human emissions excluding land use change (like clearing or planting forests) are 30 billion tons per year. In billions of tons per year we have:

We can rearrange this:

Humans are also clearing rainforests and changing land use, but here we'll assume that human effects on absorption (HA) are not much different from zero, i.e.

So Natural Absorption (NA) must be bigger than Natural Emissions (NE). Nature is absorbing more CO2 than it is emitting. It is not causing atmospheric CO2 to rise at all - in fact it is acting to try and reduce atmospheric CO2, and thus the long term rise is entirely because of humans.

Ocean Acidification

The oceans are the Earth's largest carbon storage medium, so if the atmospheric CO2 increase were "natural", it would likely be coming from the oceans.  But we know the CO2 increase is not coming from the oceans, because the pH of the oceans is dropping (a.k.a. ocean acidification).

When CO2 is absorbed into a solution, it binds with a water molecule to form a molecule of carbonic acid:

CO2 + H2O = H2CO3

H2CO3 has a rather strong acidifying effect in that 95% of it turns into HCO3-.  This loss of an H+ ion causes the ocean pH to decrease (for more details on ocean acidification, see the OA no OK series).

In short, the fact that the pH of the oceans is decreasing tell us that they are absorbing more carbon than they are releasing, not vice-versa.

Oceanic CO2 Rising Fastest at the Surface

If CO2 were being driven into the ocean from the air, the oceanic concentration would rise fastest at the surface.  If CO2 were being expelled from the oceans, we would expect to see the opposite - decreasing concentrations at the surface.

The World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) has observed that as we expect for CO2 being driven into the oceans, concentrations of CO2 in the oceans are rising fastest at the surface.

Atmospheric O2 is Decreasing

Burning carbon requires oxygen (O2), and when we burn an atom of carbon, the required oxygen becomes part of the CO2 molecule.  So if the CO2 increase is caused by burning carbon (fossil fuels), we would expect atmospheric O2 levels to decrease at the same rate.  And that's indeed what we observe (Figure 1).

Cape Grim O2

Figure 1: Atmospheric Oxygen Concentration observed from Cape Grim, Tasmania

There's no reason to expect that a natural release of CO2 would have any effect on atmospheric O2 levels.  On the other hand, the O2 concentration is changing exactly as we would expect from a fossil-fuel driven CO2 increase.

CO2 Rise is Smoother than Temperature

Some, most recently Murry Salby, have argued that the CO2 rise is in reponse to the temperature rise.  However, the temperature rise has been quite erratic (because there are many factors which impact the average global temperature, especially in the short-term).  If atmospheric CO2 changes were in response to temperature changes, then we would expect to see an erratic rise in CO2 as well.  Instead, the atmospheric CO2 increase is very smooth, similar to the increase in human CO2 emissions.

CO2 emission vs concentration

Figure 2: Human CO2 emissions (blue, left y-axis, Source: IEA) vs. atmospheric CO2 concentration (red, right y-axis, Source: Mauna Loa record)

Isotopic Signature

Carbon is composed of three different isotopes: carbon-12, 13, and 14.  Carbon-12 is by far the most common, while carbon-13 is about 1% of the total, and carbon-14 accounts for only about 1 in 1 trillion carbon atoms in the atmosphere.

CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels or burning forests has a different isotopic composition from CO2 in the atmosphere, because plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes (carbon-12 and 13); thus they have lower carbon-13  and 14 to 12 ratios. Since fossil fuels are ultimately derived from ancient plants, plants and fossil fuels all have roughly the same carbon-13 to 12 ratio – about 2% lower than that of the atmosphere. As CO2 from these materials is released into, and mixes with, the atmosphere, the average carbon-13 to 12 ratio of the atmosphere decreases.

Reconstructions of atmospheric carbon isotope ratios from various proxy sources have determined that at no time in the last 10,000 years are the carbon-13 to 12 ratios in the atmosphere as low as they are today. Furthermore, the carbon-13 to 12 ratios begin to decline dramatically just as the CO2 starts to increase — around 1850 AD. This is exactly what we expect if the increased CO2 is in fact due to fossil fuel burning beginning in the Industrial Revolution.

carbon 13 ratio

Figure 3: Atmospheric carbon-13 ratio observations from Cape Grim, Tasmania

These isotopic observations confirm that the increase in atmospheric CO2 comes from biogenic carbon, not from the oceans or volcanoes.  Some "skeptics" like Murry Salby argue that the carbon-13 ratio isn't unique to fossil fuels.  However, because the carbon-14 ratio has also decreased significantly (Figure 4), we know it's from old (fossil fuel) sources, not modern sources.  This is not new science either, it's something we've known for over half a century (Revelle and Suess 1957), and there  have been many studies confirming these results.  For example, Levin & Hesshaimer (2000):

"It has been erroneously argued that the observed atmospheric CO2 increase since the middle of the 19th century may be due to an ongoing natural perturbation of gross fluxes between the atmosphere, biosphere, and oceans. That the increase is in fact a predominantly anthropogenic disturbance, caused by accelerated release of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels, has been elegantly demonstrated through 14C analyses of tree rings from the last two centuries (Stuiver and Quay 1981; Suess 1955; Tans et al. 1979)."

14C ratio

Figure 4: Temporal change of carbon-14 ratio in tree rings grown at the Pacific coast (Levin & Hesshaimer 2000)

Settled Science

As you can see, there are many lines of evidence showing that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to human fossil fuel combustion.  Each one of these lines of evidence is very conclusive on its own, and when all put together, it's abundantly clear that the science is settled on this issue.

As you can see from the snazzy new button created by John Cook at the top of this post, we've created a new series entitled 'Settled Science'.  All too frequently we hear comments from "skeptics", like this one from Salby:

He said he had an “involuntary gag reflex” whenever someone said the “science was settled”.

“Anyone who thinks the science of this complex thing is settled is in Fantasia.”

There are some scientific issues for which the supporting evidence is so overwhelming and clear, that it's accurate to say the science is settled.  The anthropogenic nature of the atmospheric CO2 increase is one of those settled issues, whether it makes Salby gag or not.  In future posts in this series, we will investigate other issues for which the science is clearly settled.

This is the rebuttal to the myth CO2 increase is natural, not human-caused

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 72:

  1. Physics is full of settled science. We need the idea of a consensus based position to determine how to launch a rocket, build a car or any number of more trivial applications. Yet there are many areas on the frontiers of physics that are not yet settled. I struggle to understand why people cannot understand this. Also there appears to be no penalty in among contrarians for getting things constantly wrong.
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  2. Perhaps a working definition of 'settled' is in order. It is not enough to say 'its not settled' just because some disagree with the conclusion. Such disagreement is largely based on interpretation and opinion, which as we all know, can be biased (not to mention bought). Example: Salby's interpretation of temperature and CO2 data is not evidence; it is opinion. This is not about the weight of the opinions, it is about the weight of the evidence. It must be enough to say 'it is settled' when no one can demonstrate a sufficient body of contrary evidence. Speculation ('it could be a natural cycle' or 'its changed before') is not evidence. So the next time (and it will probably be very soon and on this thread) someone says 'its not settled,' why don't we respond with a Jerry Maguire-style 'Show us the evidence.'
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  3. "Show us the evidence" - I like it, muoncounter. I tried to define "settled science" in the conclusion of the post.
    "There are some scientific issues for which the supporting evidence is so overwhelming and clear, that it's accurate to say the science is settled."
    I agree, that somebody disputes a fact does not mean it's unsettled. It's the evidence that rules the day when it comes to science.
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  4. muoncounter It isn't just that Salby's interpretation of the temperature and CO2 data is opinion, it is a demonstrably wrong opinion! A scientific issue should be regarded as "settled" regardless of how many scientists disagree if their analyses are demonstrably incorrect! What the skeptics need is a plausible physical explanation that can be used to make a falsifiable projection. Generally they have one or the other, but not both. The mainstream scientific position has both, embodied by AOGCMs.
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  5. DM#4: "a demonstrably wrong opinion!" The denier crowd ignores trifles like 'right and wrong'; the mere fact that there are "scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change" gives them more fodder to chew. I'd love to hear someone respond 'show me the evidence' to Gov. Perry (who I quoted above).
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  6. The idea that some piece of scientific learning can be settled or not settled is a bit simplistic. The calibre of new evidence that is required to 'unsettle' some finding becomes greater as the evidence builds. When the evidence has become overwhelming, it would still be possible for someone to present appropriate evidence of fitting calibre to re-open the finding to re-examination. The new appropriate evidence would be presented alongside the exisitng evidence (that it appears to contradict) & the reason for the contradictions examined. The problem for climate science is that there are plenty of village idiots claiming to have the necessary evidence and insistng that any contradictions (which they normally fail to specify - a very unscientific thing to omit) are the work of cheats and liars.
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  7. MA Roger In the case of the anthropogenic cause of the observed rise in atmospheric CO2, the new evidence that would be required to unsettle the science would be evidence that the carbon cycle violated the principle of conservation of mass. Good luck with that to anyone looking for evidence of that nature - UFOs using CO2 for fuel is one of the more plausible avenues open to you! ;o) If this isn't settled science, one wonders what is!? [pedantry]Technically it does violate conservation of carbon, but only very slightly in that tiny amounts of C14 are constantly being created in the upper atmosphere and tiny amounts of C14 constantly decays back to N, but the amounts involved are not nearly enough to matter[/pedantry]
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  8. In this case it is simple not a matter of interpretation in any respect. From the accounting approach alone we know (not "are very sure," "know") that the CO2 rise must be due to humans. The fact that more is emitted by us than accumulates precludes the notion that the CO2 increase has been a natural product; this is now a matter of mathematical proof, not which evidence is stronger, or of a higher "calibre" (to use MA Rodger's term). If "skeptics" want to show that the CO2 rise is natural, they MUST address this - it's not even worth going into arguments about the number of submarine volcanoes, or the possibility that the 13C ratio change could be due to other natural forms of organic carbon, because it doesn't matter. Either the math is wrong or the observations of accumulation v. emissions are wrong. The first is simply not a point of contention, the math of course works and can only work that way given our observations; and the observations, barring some sort of revelation of horrible instrumental error, are not a point of contention either. This is a prime example of "settled science."
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  9. It just depends on your definition of "settled", and I provided my definition in the post (and comment #3). "Settled" doesn't mean "can never change", but it does mean that given what we know, it's exceptionally unlikely to change. As other commenters have noted, there would have to be something seriously wrong for our understanding of this issue to change. I call that "settled".
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  10. Heh, the decreasing atmospheric oxygen level provides an amusing counter to a popular 'skeptic' argument: If increasing CO2 means more and healthier plants then clearly decreasing oxygen means fewer and sicklier humans. :]
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  11. I seem to be accused @#7 of suggesting that the laws of physics can be rewritten or suggesting some inter planetary flux of CO2 is a possibility. I'm sure more mundane speculations can be dreamt up to fit the role - mundane but of course still fantasy. The carbon cycle is very strongly "settled" as described @#9. It is highly improbable that this siutation will be scientifically challenged. Any scientific challenge really must address that "settled" status quo as emphasised @#8.
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  12. The response to skepticism of human generated increases in C02 in the atmosphere seems simple to me. We know we transformed a lot of carbon from oil/coal into atmospheric CO2. If some of it has not accumulated in the atmosphere, where did it all go? It did not turn back into oil. Please point to it and demonstrate that it is there now. Likewise, if temperature rise caused natural increases in CO2, it had to come FROM somewhere. Please point to where it was and demonstrate that it is gone. (OK, this is just conservation of mass, but I think it makes the point better than saying "what about conservation of mass" to people who don't understand science)
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  13. Dana and Mark, excellent post! You mention that d13C has been declining since about 1850. This is well illustrated by measurements taken from corraline sponges: The secondary source of the image is from Ferdinand Engelbeen. Although he is a skeptic of AGW, he retains his ability to think critically, and his page on CO2 is an excellent resource, as is his take down of Beck's nonsense. Interestingly, Engelbeen has posted his arguments on Wattsupwiththat, so Anthony Watts knows the evidence against Salby's view. Indeed, reading Watt's post on Salby, he never endorses Salby's views. Rather he couchs all comments of the impact of Salby's views in conditionals. It appears he is just feeding his sharks some climate denial chum.
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  14. Minor quibble: The sentence reading: "because plants have a preference for the lighter isotopes (carbon-12 and 13); thus they have lower carbon-13 and 14 to 12 ratios. " ... would be better read as: "because plants have a preference for the lighter isotope (carbon-12); thus they have lower carbon-13 and 14 to 12 ratios."
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  15. John, The fact that Watts rates you as his number one enemy is a great compliment to you and the contributing authors. Hats off to Dana and Mark for an excellent piece!
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  16. From my experience in the Japanese-speaking part of the Internet, I have a piece of caution. Tracking a piece of material (e.g. a carbon atom) and evaluating mass balance are different things. Some AGW skeptics insist that, because the mean residence time of a CO2 molecule in the atmosphere is around 3 years, anthropogenic emissions cannot affect climate more than at this time scale. They claim that such introductory remarks as“nearly half of fossil-fuel CO2 remains in the atmosphere”are wrong assuming that the expression must reflect tracking of CO2 molecules. Surely the introductory remarks should be composed a little carefully indicating that this is a issue of mass balance. I tried to discuss as follows (though I am not sure whether the audience understood.) Even if an “anthropogenic” CO2 molecule go to the ocean, a “natural” CO2 molecule can fill the place, then the anthropogenic effect to the mass of CO2 in the atmosphere does not change.
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  17. Y'all hold on to your hats - I agree with this post. Though, I think references to land use/change could be added to the end of the following sentence to be more accurate. "As you can see, there are many lines of evidence showing that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to human fossil fuel combustion."
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  18. apirate @17, well if we are going to be pedantic you should also include mention of CO2 from cement. The latest figures from CDIAC are: Land Use Changes - 11.6% Cement - 4% Fossil Fuels - 84.4%
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  19. Kooiti - unfortunately we can't anticipate every bad argument the "skeptics" will be able to come up with. And considering that i) 'natural' CO2 emissions have the same residence time and ii) humans are constantly emitting more and more CO2 and iii) although it may not remain in the atmosphere for more than a few years, it still remains in the carbon cycle for centuries, this is a really bad argument.
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  20. You would think that Newton's third law of motion was settled science. After all, it was first proposed over 300 years ago and has been verified by countless experiments since. Yet the official line on 9/11 is that 12 stories of WTC1 managed to destroy the 93 stories below it simply due to gravity, in direct contradiction to said third law. You can't get simpler than that. It is worrying that the public have been convinced that Newton was wrong and I rather fear that they have also been convinced in large number about Climate Change, which is infinitly more complicated. The really sad thing is that this site appears to think that defeating the skeptic's/denier's arguments is enough. At least if my efforts to try and widen its scope and thus reach a much wider readership are anything to go by. Until this side of the fence is at least as effective at influencing public opinion as the likes of Monckton (and they say vauderville is dead) and those like him, then it matters not a flying act of copulation how ****ing settled the science is while the policies remain almost unchanged. As things are, future generations are bound to suffer and the descendants of Monckton, Watts etc. will simply say that the lack of action to combat climate change is not of their doing. The science of this site is very impressive, as is its general structure. Furthermore, the standard of the comments is generally constructive, except when the odd looney gets in. (Yeah, I can guess that I might be in a glasshouse on that one.) But is it enough that the science is settled if nothing political comes of it? No one on this side of the fence needs reminding that time is running out, not for us maybe, but for those that will follow, certainly.
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  21. @20 Okay, funglestrumpet, you lost me on how the official explanation of the destruction of WTC1 violates Newton's third law of motion. It was a non-elastic collision (in aggregate) with the combined kinetic energy of the top 12 stories transferred to the 13th, which then collapsed, transferring even more energy to the next story, and so on, all the way to the ground. Introductory mechanics was a long time ago, but I don't see a problem with this.
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  22. Let's not let the thread get derailed again, there was already a decent sized strain that was removed from before. Newton's third law of motion, whether demonstrated wrong by the collapse of World Trade Center 1 or not (or, whether the "official line" contradicts the third law; I sympathize with dcruzuri's stance on the issue in any case), is only meant as an analogy. As to the third law being applicable here, unless you go from a mathematical perspective it is not appropriate to compare a mathematical law to derived theory. As to whether settled science is simply enough, no it's not. When much of the fight "skeptics" put up though revolves around propagating imaginary "uncertainty" in the science, pulling in the rope and hanging these issues up by their balls is a good start. I also don't think anyone here has implied that this is the only necessary step for swaying public opinion, so your anger (if you will) funglestrumpet toward AGW proponents is I think unfounded.
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  23. funglestrumpet: Without proffering any opinion on the WTC1 collapse, I have to ask: are you a structural engineer? Or have you had any training in materials science, including failure modes of structural steel and concrete, both static and dynamic? If not, what makes you think you know more than those who do? In this one respect your analogy is apt - it's quite a similar situation to the global warming 'debate', in that the experts in the field are saying "We're pretty sure it's X", and others with little or no knowledge or qualifications are saying "But it must be Y, because X is unacceptable to us". Is it Dunning-Kruger at work? In some cases, I think it is (and I rather suspect some of the more 'qualified' sceptics are suffering badly from D-K). Many cases are just sheer ignorance of what the science actually says (due to, in no small part, deliberate disinformation by vested interests). Others are from misunderstanding the science, due to lack of knowledge of the field (and I'll raise my hand as being guilty of that on occasion). In others, though, the only appropriate term is the D-word: denier. John's written a whole book about it. I recommend reading it. It's quite educational, I've learned a lot about the psychology of denial that I didn't know.
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  24. Dear Mr. Cook, Salby seems to be giving the Andrei Kapitsa line on CO2. Kapitsa, a geographer, was one of the Russians that Senator Inhofe cited on global warming. Andrei was insulted that British scientists didn't listen to him. He died on August 2 at 80 years old and did his good work about 50 years ago. Below is a link to a post I wrote about Kapitsa's claims some time ago. Kapitsa's ideas were also spread in the Indian and British media. This was my very first post about Climategate, so maybe some observations are not correct. I never paid attention to climate change until Climategate. Then I was surprised to see that the Republicans were citing these official Russian sources and that the Russian media was trashing our scientists. I think it is possible that there was Russian involvement in Climategate. Scroll down a bit to see the information about Andrei Kapitsa. According to The Hindu (7-10-08), Kapitsa claims: “The Kyoto theorists have put the cart before the horse,” says renowned Russian geographer Andrei Kapitsa. “It is global warming that triggers higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not the other way round.” I hope you will take the time to read my very first post about Climategate because it discusses Kapitsa's perspective, which I don't accept. If you search Kapitsa on my site, I have more about him, but this is the main post about him. He is from a famous family, and you have to be careful not to confuse them. His father was the very famous Pyotr Kapitsa and his brother is Sergei Kapitsa. I think they were more famous than Andrei. His Wikipedia is dinky compared to Pyotr and Sergei's. You can learn a lot about Russian scientists by reading about this family.
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  25. Here is Andrei Kapitsa's obituary. His death did not get much notice in the English-language Russian media. The Kremlin's English-language satellite channel Russia Today (RT) mentions his old discoveries and his important family but does not mention his theory that higher temperatures cause more CO2.
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  26. Here is a 2006 article in Pravda (English version) that quotes Andrei Kapitsa on global warming. This article was first published in another Russian paper. Pravda is now a nationalist publication with a lot of girlie pictures. They publish a lot of scientific conspiracy theories. For example, they published an American 9-11 Truther's Climategate conspiracy theories and also his theories about a coming ice age. The Truther was cited as a "Russian scientist" by American right-wing publications, but the author was really an American conspiracist who is not a scientist. I read he is a male nurse. Pravda observes: "Professor Andrei Kapitsa, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that the issues of global warming and rapidly increasing ozone holes are myths disguised as scientific revelations." In Russia there is a very powerful gas company called Gazprom. It used to be the Soviet Gas Ministry until it morphed into Gazprom. It is majority owned by the Russian government and pays the bills for the Russian government. I imagine they know perfectly well that the permafrost is melting, but they want to sell gas. The CATO Institute's "expert" on climate change, Andrei Illarionov used to work for Chernomyrdin who ran Gazprom. President Medvedev used to be the head of Gazprom. I think Putin put him there. Medvedev said global warming was a "trick," but after the fires last summer he said it was really happening. Pravda tells Kapitsa's conspiracy theory about money: Prof. Kapitsa believes it would be wrong to maintain that the ozone layer has been largely depleted over the last ten years. The question is: Why do people keep talking about the dangers relating to the decrease of the ozone layer? “I’m afraid the money is a key word in this case,” Prof. Kapitsa said. “Chemical companies producing the so-called healthy Freon refrigerants make lots of money once the refrigerants are replaced at a nationwide scale. The replacement of refrigerators and air-conditioning systems in the U.S. alone cost the consumer a total of $220 billion last year. Former president of the U.S. Academy of Sciences Frederick Zeitz said a long time ago that all the theories relating to global warming were far-fetched and couldn’t be proven correct,” Prof. Kapitsa concluded.
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  27. The name of the 9-11 Truther whom Pravda published on Climategate and the coming ice age is named Gregory Fegel. I write about him on my blog. He thinks President Bush and the US government are behind 9-11. He also writes conspiracies about Climategate and he thinks earth is on the verge of a new ice age. Here is Fegel's Pravda article about Climategate. Here is Fegel's Pravda article about a coming ice age. He doesn't understand that the tipping of the earth is weak compared to CO2. I read on DeSmogblog comments that Fegel is a nurse, and someone claiming to be Fegel posted a rebuttal.
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  28. Hopefully. the fact that both the Kremlin's Russia Today English-language TV and the Russian Geographical Society did not mention Kapitsa's claim that warming causes a rise in CO2 shows that the Russian political and scientific officials don't want to be associated with this ignorant theory any longer. During Climategate, Russian scientists were mostly silent. Only one--Professor Sergei Kirpotin of Tomsk State University--said that the Climategate hacking was a provocation against the Copenhagen meeting. Kirpotin's words were only reported on the Russian Greenpeace site, not in a major Russian paper or in English. Still, only a few famous scientists in Russia denied global warming; but these were given access to the media in English. I think Kirpotin was brave. He spoke truth to power, and hopefully, Russian politicians will respect his sense of responsibility to his country and the world. President Medvedev is no longer calling global warming a trick. He says it is happening. Perhaps he now realizes that climate change is not a "trick." Still, all the Russians have right now is gas and Gazprom pays the bills. I write about Sergei Kirpotin on my blog pretty often. He said the theft of the CRU emails was a "provocation" that was clearly "ordered" by someone in order to create doubts about the science behind the theory of global warming.
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  29. Hello all ! I have one question regarding CO2 emisions: Well when I calculate CO2 emisions from mass (31 GT according to source here should be mass 31E+12 kg) and mass of atmosphere according to wikipedia (5.14E+18 kg, source ), I get about 6 ppm instead of 4 mentioned here. What I am missing or doing wrong here ?
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  30. Hi MP3CE, I did not check your figures, but you should be going for ppmv (parts per million by volume), instead of mass.
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  31. @29: I am glad you asked. Indeed a huge part of the CO2 is 'missing' from the atmosphere. Here is a quote from our post here at SkS from just a few days ago: Where has it gone? Simple: Into the ocean. Evidence? The observed pH decrease is caused by CO2 forming carbonic acid (H2CO3). And see also our list from Skeptical Science that shows why we know the CO2 is from human actions.
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  32. Thank you Alexandre and Doug. Yes, I was using ppm instead of ppmv. Doug, I was not questioning that CO2 sinks into the ocean, that is clear to me. But when I've tried to do calculations from data, I've get obviously wrong result and I wanted to know where I've been wrong. Well, guess I'll have to learn more.
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  33. Alexandre @30, how do you convert ppm by mass of CO2 into ppm by volume?
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  34. Tom, Alex and MP: Most people are very sloppy about ppm and ppmv and mean ppmv when they say ppm. That is they take it as understood that the units are the same: volume CO2 per volume 'air' and not some mixture of units like volume per mass. (However, by using the ideal gas laws you could convert). From our post:
    1 part per million (ppm) of this atmospheric mass is 5.1 x1012 kg (5.1 billion tons), but this does not take into account the fact that CO2 molecules are heavier than other molecules in the atmosphere. Most of the atmosphere is nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%). Nitrogen (N2) has an atomic mass of 28 and oxygen (O2) has a mass of 32. Thus, we can say the 'average' molecule in air has a relative mass of about 29. CO2 however has a mass of 44. So, 1 ppm of CO2 thus has a mass of (44/29) x (5.1 x1012) kg = 7.7 x10^12 kg = 7.7 billion tons. If the calculation is done more carefully then the answer is 7.8 billion tons of CO2. (The FAQ at the US government Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center says 1 ppm CO2 = 2.13 Gt C, but we recall from post 5 that we can convert that to Gt CO2 by multiplying by 3.67: 2.13 x 3.67 = 7.8).
    Thus 31e12 kg CO2 is 4.0 ppm. The atmospheric increase is less than this due to absorption by the ocean.
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  35. 21,22,23 I am not a structural engineer, but I am a mechanical engineer. This is not a thread about 9/11, I was only using it as an example of what can happen to settled science in the public arena. ( -Snip- ). I am not angry, just frustrated. I see, thanks to the hard work of contributors to this site, those on the other side of the fence playing all kinds of tricks in order to futher their cause while this side, to its credit, plays with a straight bat. Unfortunately, the public doesn't see this and so do not object when Monckton puts on his top hat and tails and put on another show of deception and illusion. In turn, the politicians pander to the whims of the general public opinion which leads them to the politically safe position of supporting business as usual. I have no idea where we go from here, but it does seem to me that this side is losing the war while winning every battle. The issue is whose flag will be flying on the remaining bit of high ground when climate change has run its course. It would be a shame if settled science continues to be ignored the way it currently is.
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    [DB] Ideological statements snipped.

  36. funglestrumpet, in my experience, when a blog, YouTube video, or other such 'common sense' source defines 'settled science' as proving something which peer reviewed scientific literature disagrees with the 'common sense' interpretation has usually overlooked or misunderstood some vital detail(s). Thus, for instance, when AGW 'skeptics' insist that the greenhouse effect violates the 1st and or 2nd law of thermodynamics they are often doing so in earnest belief... but clearly have misunderstood how the greenhouse effect and/or these laws work. This can even lead to things like thousands of TV weathermen and meteorologists signing a petition saying that global warming isn't happening. People working in a field can have a general understanding of how things usually happen without really knowing the underlying science.
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  37. Doug, You are partly correct. Not all the missing CO2 is making its way into the ocean, but being removed by plantlife. In fact, the largest portion may indeed be used by plants for photosynthesis.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Evidence please, preferably a reference to peer-reviewed journal article, appearing in a journal capable of giving a reliable peer review (i.e. a journal that regularly covers the science of the carbon cycle)?

    BTW, this post brought a smile to my face, much appreciated. :o)
  38. This study by Yude Pan of the U.S. Forest Service found that one third of the CO2 emissions was absorbed by the world's forests.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Link activated. The net sink given in the abstract is 1.1 ± 0.8 Pg C yr–1, which could be as low as 0.3 pG ry-1, which is much less than a third of anthropogenic emissions (about 8.7 pg yr-1 using the 2008 figure). The upper end of the uncertainty is 1.9 Pg yr-1, which is more like a fifth of fossil fuel emissions. It is well known that not absolutely all of fossil fuel emissions will end up in the oceans; but the bulk of it will.
  39. 38, Eric the Red, That's pretty common knowledge, that some portion of the CO2 has gone into extended plant growth, due both to reclamation of land (such as farmland that has again forested in the U.S. Northeast) and some plants simply growing larger (for now) in what are, at this fractional point in the path towards dangerous CO2 levels, slightly better growing conditions (more CO2, slightly warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons, with only slightly worse or more common drought/precipitation conditions in just a few, contained areas). That will change, and there's only so much additional growth that can take place before plant life is no longer a sink. Eventually, as temperatures become too high for some regions and species, and drought and negative precipitation changes transition ecosystems (forest to savanna or prairie, or the expansion of current deserts), plants will become a source of additional carbon instead of a sink. All of the extra carbon that is being sequestered by plants may get back into the atmosphere and oceans, and possibly/probably even more than that. What's your point?
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  40. Sphaerica, While temperatures and lack of precipitatino could become too high for certain species in certain regions, much of the world's plantlife exists in Northern latitudes well below limiting temperatures. Prediction temperature and precipitation increases in these areas would be more than sufficient to counter any potential losses in the more arid regions. My point was a counter to Doug statement about all the missing CO2 from the atmosphere making its way into the world's oceans. Apparently more is being sequestered by plants. I strongly disagree with your contention that all the extra carbon will eventually get back to the atmosphere. If anything, plants are likely to sequester have even larger percentages in the future.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] "Prediction temperature and precipitation increases in these areas would be more than sufficient to counter any potential losses in the more arid regions." reference please. Note the Amazon is not in Northern lattitudes, neither are the central African rain forests. The arid regions tend to be in mid-lattitudes. "If anything, plants are likely to sequester have even larger percentages in the future." reference please.

    Note Sphaerica is correct in that much of the CO2 used by the biosphere for photosynthesis is released back to the atmosphere by plant respiration and by the decay of dead plant matter. CO2 is only sequestered by permanent increases in plant biomass. This is unlikely to increase indefinitely as human population increases and puts pressure on the land available for forrest. However if you have a verifiable source that suggests otherwise, I would be glad to hear about it.
  41. EtR#40: "If anything, plants are likely to sequester have even larger percentages in the future." Eric, Eric. Look around. Plants die; their stored carbon goes back into the atmosphere/soil - especially in those parts of the world still doing slash and burn. Look at the seasonal atmospheric CO2 cycle: decreasing during the active NH growing season followed by increasing in the fall. The magnitude of the peak-to-trough change is very consistent from year after year. That's not a sign of sequestration. The only plants that may store carbon for any length of time are trees, but we still deliberately burn them. None of that is about to change 'in the future' under BAU. And riddle me this: - If CO2 is not actively going into seawater, why is seawater increasing in acidity - due to the formation carbonic acid, for that matter? - Despite the sinking of some CO2 into increasing biomass and increasing ocean acidity, atmospheric CO2 keeps on rising. If its not coming from our emissions, where does it come from?
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  42. Muon, I cannot answer your riddles, because I do not believe that CO2 is not increasing or being dissolved into the oceans. Someone else will have to answer them. The CO2 which re-enters the atmosphere from plants is that which is burned, whether for heat, food, or clearing. Looking around (as you suggest), most reports show increases in world forestation (in spite of the continued slash and burn policies), and carbon sequestration. The seasonality trend increases towards the northern latitutse, with Barrow, Alaska showing an annul difference of ~16ppm compared to the ~1 at the South Pole. In fact, the entire southern hemisphere shows very little seasonality, presumably due to the much larger emissions in the NH. Since plants have expanded and sequestered more carbon during the recent warming, I see no reason for this trend to not continue. In fact, it should accelerate if temperatures and precipitation continue to rise. The last area of carbon uptake is calcification, although this most likely pales in comparison to plant and ocean sequestration
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  43. 40, Eric the Red, Here is a simple, factual discussion of carbon sinks (from the EPA). No hand waving and generalized, unproven statements of relative quantities. Anyone who actually wants to read about and understand this, rather than go with vague but unsupported pronouncements and claims, is directed to Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide (corinne le Quéré, Michael r. raupach, Josep g. canadell, gregg Marland et al., 2009) Note that CO2 uptake by land has generally been greater than ocean, and increasing over the past decades. This is a semi-permanent uptake (meaning an increase in biomass as opposed to an annual uptake and release), however as common sense will tell anyone, this increase cannot continue forever, and contrary to hopes and wishes, can and will actually reverse. Repeated claims that warming means more, better precipitation are just that, mere claims. Actual studies show quite the opposite. This is a good page to look at for a good, accurate summary of what the future will likely hold: Climate Change Drought which includes the following animation. You can figure out for yourself what is really going to happen to all of those carbon sinks without simply accepting the word of the hopeful and dangerously optimistic.
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  44. EtR#42: "because I do not believe that CO2 is not increasing or being dissolved into the oceans" Can you rephrase this without a double negative? Do you believe that atmospheric CO2 is increasing? Do you believe that CO2 is 'being dissolved' into the oceans? Do you understand what it means if what you believe is in contradiction with direct measurement? Do you accept that others, possibly a vast majority of others, might say that measurement is more relevant here than 'belief'?
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  45. Muon, Ok, I will rephrase my statement: CO2 is increasing and being dissolved in the oceans. Not sure about your second paragraph though. There are a lot of measurements reported, some which contradict each other. If you can be more specific, then I could answer your question. I am not sure why you keep mentioning "belief" with regards to measurements either.
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  46. EtR#45: "CO2 is increasing and being dissolved in the oceans." Thanks for the clarification. I used the word belief (noun variant of the verb believe) because you stated what you believe. The CO2 increase in question is atmospheric CO2; the measured increase is a multi-year trend (~70ppm in ~50 years), distinct from regular annual cycles. CO2 increase in the oceans is also measured; there are local differences, but the trend is up. You stated here and Sphaerica provides research confirming that biomass is increasing. So now we have to provide a source for all this CO2; if not anthropogenic, where is it coming from? "There are a lot of measurements reported, some which contradict each other." This statement is too ambiguous. What measurements, where, when; how do they contradict? But your answer to the prior question is far more important to this discussion. Where is all that CO2 coming from???
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  47. I guess if you assume it is not anthropegenic, then the only logical source is degassing of the oceans. But why would you think it is not anthropogenic?
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  48. Muon, I only used the word believe to indicate that I did not agree with the premises in your riddle.
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  49. This is a great post...although I do find it depressing that there is a need for it. If there is one thing we know with almost absolute certainty it is that humans are responsible for the current increase in CO2. As for the settled science debate, I'm with DM...I try to imagine what would overturn the case for human impact on CO2 and it is very very hard.
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    [dana1981] Thanks.  I agree, and that's probably why we took so long to address this myth.  It's one of those totally settled issues that whenever it comes up, you just think "are you really denying this?".  We've got another one in the pipeline on the 'CO2 is a trace gas' argument.  They're such lame arguments that you wish people would just stop making them.  But they won't, so we have to add them to our database.

  50. EtR#47: "degassing of the oceans" We all know that is not happening. "why would you think it is not anthropogenic? " I have ample reasons to understand that the increased CO2 in question is anthropogenic. I'm glad you now admit to agree with this mainstream understanding; we're making progress. As far as my 'riddles' were concerned, they were just questions, not riddles. I apologize for using a turn of phrase from the old Batman TV show.
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