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On climate change, zero-sum thinking doesn't work

Posted on 2 April 2018 by Guest Author

Joseph Robertson is Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Founder and President of the Geoversiv Foundation, and lead strategist in the Resilience Intel initiative.

Democracy is not a zero-sum game. Behaving as if it is degrades democratic process and our personal political sovereignty.

A zero-sum game is a contest for control of finite resources. Whatever one gains, another must lose. When two or more candidates compete for a single public office, only one can win, so many people view politics as bloodsport, applying “winner takes all” thinking to everything political. But elected officials are not conquerors; they are sworn servants to all their constituents.

The beating heart of a free society is the guarantee of personal political sovereignty, safeguarded by transparent institutions, checks and balances, and a free press.

Political sovereignty is informational sovereignty. Disinformation disempowers. Distortion of our informational environment has slowed humanity’s overall effort to eliminate corruption and transcend harmful practices, like those that destabilize Earth’s climate.


Snapshot of the ‘Peace Synapse’ relational synaptic graph of climate, peace and security knowledge relationships, spanning the period 2009-2016. Photograph: Geoversiv Foundation, using the GDELT global knowledge graphing system.

What corrosive hyper-partisanship misses is that human intelligence, creative collaboration, and adherence to basic principles of fairness, make more good possible and so result in real value added — throughout the system, for the benefit of everyone.

Success requires dealing ably with complexity.

Neurons in the human brain organize themselves into vast 7-dimensional sandcastle structures — flashes of consciousness that emerge and disappear in millionths of a second. Brains are organic synaptic networks. More connections mean more possibilities – more “going on.” Bigger, more complex constellations of neural-attentive cohesion are effectively a bigger landscape for thoughtful attention, recall and imagination — an expanded, diversified space for figuring out what needs figuring.

Zero-sum thinking strips intelligence from our politics. Generative thinking recognizes that complex constructive interactions make us smarter, more capable, freer, and more secure.


The unauthorized use of 50 million Facebook users’ data to corrupt the informational environment touching 57 billion “friend pairs” to induce a desired voting response appears to have been a deliberate effort to degrade the personal informational sovereignty of American voters. Illustration: Joseph Robertson

At the human scale, we naturally demand trustworthy generative value-building be an organic part of our experience. If we are informationally sovereign, we can scale up smart decision-making to correct hidden market failures and expand routine access to increased value for everyone.

To distort and disrupt climate and energy decision-making, carbon pollutersspent hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades. Their aim was to degrade the sovereignty of voters, consumers, rivals in the innovation space, the free press, and even nation states.

Such corrosive behaviors have undermined the competitiveness of polluting industries, making outdated methods appear longer lived than they stand a real chance of being, even as they build up unprecedented, nonlinear carbon liability. Market forces will eventually stop rewarding ever more costly carbon-intensive practices that put irreplaceable natural life-supports at risk.

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Comments 1 to 34:

  1. Very well said. Imo there's far too much zero sum game thinking, and short term knee jerk reaction thinking coming out of the White House, and not enough calm wisdom and longer term science based  thinking.

    However "Such corrosive behaviors have undermined the competitiveness of polluting industries," surely means non polluting industries?

    Regarding the plunging costs of renewable energy and battery storage this is interesting :

    "The plunging cost of storage, along with that of wind and solar power, appears to have crossed a new threshold after a tender conducted by a major US energy utility suggests “firm and dispatchable” renewables are now cheaper than existing coal plants."

    "The stunning revelation came from Xcel Energy in Colorado, and quietly released over the Christmas/New Year break, although some outlets like Vox and Carbon Tracker were quick to pick up on the significance."

    The original article stated "Market forces will eventually stop rewarding ever more costly carbon-intensive practices that put irreplaceable natural life-supports at risk."

    Yes, but this should not be interpreted to mean market forces will solve the climate problem alone. It's going to take some legislation, like the EPA legislation on CO2, some subsidies and a carbon tax and dividend, because market forces alone are well known to be far too slow and inadequate to deal with environmental problems, due to the tragedy of the commons problem.

    In fact I personally think it needs a combined approach of more personal initiative, better corporate behaviour without always having to be pushed, and government legislation in the background to give things a push and help where market forces don't provide sufficient answers.

    However one would hope Trump could see the obvious fact that market forces do show that coal is no longer economic. Perhaps he doesn't believe in market forces, and just wants to run the economy by command from the whitehouse on his gut instincts. Isn't that communism or even worse?

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  2. I would like to get the scientific community to feed back on the impact of Animal Agriculture on the emerging climate crisis.  A recent UN study seemed to fault Animal Agriculture for nearly 50% of global emissions because Animal Ag contributed to desertification, deforestation, eutrophication and acidification of the oceans, wild animal habitat loss, inefficient land use, excessive water usage and health issues affecting over-utilization of medical resources.  While the list didn't end there, it would be good to know what subscribers to this site have to say.  If my request is off topic, please offer a re-direct.  Thank You.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] This post by Dana addresses that.  Please place any concerns or questions you may have on it, after reading it and the comments below it.  Thanks!

  3. Related reading: "How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon."

    Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

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  4. A deliberately under-represented consideration/motivation in the currently developed socioeconomic-political systems is the need to only assign positive value to things that can withstand deep investigation into being sustainable benefits for all of humanity, especially the future generations, actions that would pass being evaluated to ensure they are not contrary to any of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    Zero-sum thinking has a history of developing unsustainable harmful results, not just the current climate science exposed over-development in unacceptable directions. The clear evidence of those damaging developments resulted in the international collaboration that has produced the Sustainable Development Goals, efforts that started before the 1972 Stockholm Conference, efforts that have faced constant resistance.

    My MBA education in the 1980s helped me be aware that zero-sum thinking can develop negative-sum results, especially the power of deceptive emotion triggering marketing (deliberate disinformation campaigns) to create unjustifiable temporary (unsustainable) perceptions of winning relative to others.

    Negative-sum developments are tragically common today. Perceived winners create a future that could have been better 'overall' than it ended up being. But those 'competitors' would need to change their minds about what to value, change their mind about how to play the game, change their Private Interests in order to help develop a better potential future (the Global Public Interest).

    Aspects of systems that develop damaging 'learning to compete to appear to be the winner relative to others' (the zero-sum approach to things that leads to negative-sum results), must be 'corrected' to sustainably correct the resulting damaging developments and reduce the chances of other unsustainable damaging winning.

    Systems that develop unsustainable activities that are harmful to others can also be seen to develop resistance to being corrected. The portion of the population pushing to expand or prolong such systems, and resisting correction of such systems, are undeniably the 'problems to be corrected'. The correction requires education efforts potentially including restrictions on influence and freedom until clear changes of attitude and actions toward positive-sum ways have developed'.

    Sean Carroll's “The Big Picture” provides a comprehensive understanding of the total system of Reality and its variety of inter-related and integrated sub-systems. It is a good explanation of the fundamentals of the entire system that humanity is developing in, is a part of, including the future results in the system. It helps understand how the actions of individuals influence the future that develops. The final chapter “Caring”, is particularly enlightening. It includes the following statement “The personal desires and cares we start with may be simple and self-regarding. But we can build on them to create values that look beyond ourselves, to the wider world.”. That relates to one of my favourite quotes from John Stuart Mill's “On Liberty” - “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”. And that understanding is related to the importance of developing more positive-sum thinkers, particularly among the wealthy and influential.

    Naomi Klein's “No is not Enough” provides a comprehensive presentation of the harmful unsustainable developments that have been occurring and how those Winners try to increase their undeserved winning in pursuit of more of their harmful developed Private Interests.

    People all have their Private Interests. They develop those interests as a result of the influence of the environment they experience. Aligning those developed Private Interests with the Public Good of developing sustainable improvements for the future of humanity is what is required.
    The SDGs, curiously not mentioned in “No is not Enough”, are a robustly developed understanding of the collective of Private Interests that need to be encouraged to develop (similar to what Sean Carroll says of robustly developed scientific understanding, the SDGs are open to improvement but are unlikely to be significantly altered by new learning).

    A good way for systems to develop positive-sum results would be to have the highest expectation and requirement for helpfulness apply to the biggest winners, the richest and most influential/powerful. That basis for correcting/penalizing someone who chose not to behave more helpfully/correctly would mean less hope of winning in ways that 'are understandably unhelpful but are hoped to not be able to be legally proven to have been contrary to an interpretation of whatever the written rules of the moment are'. Less freedom for the 'more popular, more profitable, more successful, bigger winners' to be excused for believing what they want and doing as they please would be a good thing. It would help limit the development of damaging zero-sum thinking.

    Efforts to educate the entire population, increasing awareness and improving understanding in the pursuit of positive-sum helpful developments, are undeniably essential to the future of humanity. The alternative is strengthening resistance to correction of regionally popular and profitable damaging ultimately unsustainable activity resulting in more harm done before it is effectively curtailed. The efforts to oppose or delay development of the corrections that climate science has exposed are required, particularly through the past 30 years, are undeniable and undeniably harmful in spite of being popular and profitable. This is undeniable proof that popularity and profitability can only be 'measures of success' in a system where nobody attempts to 'compete to appear to be the winner relative to others'. Popularity and profitability only indicate justified success in systems where everyone strives to be more aware of what is really going on in pursuit of sustainable helpful developments for the future of humanity.

    The evolving systems of human interaction with others and the environment can actually develop a less beneficial future for humanity. More freedom for people to believe whatever they wish and do as they please can actually be understood to develop more damaging and less sustainable behaviour. Education/learning that is focused on helping others be more aware and better understanding of what is really going on and the essential objective of sustainably improving life for all of humanity into the distant future is essential for humanity to have a future on this, or any other, amazing planet.

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  5. This article " On Climate Change, Zero-Sum Thinking Doesn't Work" written by a guest Author on the Skeptical Science Website, was written by someone who is very politically charged and biased.  But I wonder if the Author sees the larger picture?  If so, it would be written without the Political Spin. I do not believe that Conservative Thinkers, who can be broken down as Republicans, Tea Party Patriots, Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, NRA Members, Factory Workers, Small Business Owners and Workers, Hunters, Fishermen, Policeman, Firemen, Military Personnel both presently serving and Veterens, Mothers and Fathers, and many others including Billionaires like our President, get up in the Morning and want to ignore Science and destroy the Planet.  I do not believe this at all.  If we examine the Facts, Reality will guide us to the correct conclusions and the Path we should collectively take.  The Political Spin ruins any inteligent examination.

    When you look at a Mountain, there is a Tree line, the Trees can not grow above that Altitude.  That is because CO2 is heavier than Air, and there is no CO2 at the higher Altitudes.  CO2 is not a Greenhouse Gas. 

    I believe there is Climate Change, as China and the greater Asian Region of the Planet is rapidly becoming Industrialized.  The people in Asian are going from riding Billions of Bicycles to riding in Billions of Automobiles, Trains, and Planes.  China now produces more than 6 Times more Steel than the rest of the World combined.  China is also leading in the Manufacture of Aluminum, all Chemicals, Paints, Paper, Cloth, everything.  The Production of everything in China does not stop just because the demand for the products decreases.  China keeps it's people working even if there is not further demand for it's products.  There is more Steel Plate on the Ground in China, then the rest of the World can use in a Year, and yet Chinese Steel Mills continue to produce at record amounts. This massive uncontrolled industrial monster in China has no Enviromental Controls Agency, no OSHA Safety Agency, and No Agency to look at Energy Efficiency.  This massive uncontrolled industrial monster in China is set on destroying any Industrial Factory outside of China.  And when this Task is complete, and Industry outside of China is destroyed, China can raise the Prices of it's Products as it wishes.    

    The Waste Energy Heat from this massive uncontrolled industrial monster in China, is carried to the North Pole by Trade Winds.  The Artic Ice is melting, but there are reports that the Antartic Ice is Growing.  This fact causes Anti Global Warmers to cry Foul to those believeing in Global Warming.  So who's observation is Correct?  Both are Correct!  But CO2 is not a Greenhouse Gas.  In fact, the Sumation of all the Energy that Man has created, in all the Countries on the Planet, in one Year is less than the Energy that the Sun Transmitts to the Surface of the Earth in 1 Hour.  This is simple Math any High School Student can do.  The Sun imparts much greater than an average of 160 W of Energy per Sqaure Meter on the Surface of the Earth.  1/2 the Surface of the Earth facing the Sun is still 260 Tillion Square Meters. 260,000,000,000,000 X .160 KWatts X 24 Hours =

    998,400 TWH of Energy of from the Sun in one Day on the Earth.

    Man Produces 157,500 TWH per Year from all sources of Energy.

    Therefore, our Sun imparts more energy on the Earth in 4 Hours, than man uses in a Year.  Man is not causing Global Warming.  Man may be Poisioning Asia, polluting the Air and Waters in Asia, Killing the Wild Life, destroying Humanity in Asia, preventing the Native peoples from living off of their changing habitats, and man be causing Regional Climate Change, but Man is not causing Global Warming, and CO2 is one of the best gases man has prodcued.        

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  6. Dan I don't know what kind of engineer you are but your tree line Co2 heavier than air thing is complete nonsense. No engineer worth anything would spit out such idiotic BS. You seriously need to educate yourself before commenting.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] over the line.

  7. Every scientist agrees waste heat isnt a problem. What made you think otherwise? Try reading the AR5 Summary for Policy makers or Technical summary to understand what the science claims actually are before making. Your statements about CO2 are nonsense and directly contradicted by experiment and observation.

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  8. Philippe Chantreau, "Carbon dioxide, also known by the chemical formula CO2, has a higher density than the other gases found in air, which makes CO2 heavier than the air. Air is composed of approximately 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and less than 1 percent of other gases".  CO2 is a small fraction of the 1 % of other Gases.  It is absurd to think that a minute increase in CO2, can cause Global Warming. 

    You must have some emotional maturity issues for your use of name calling, when none is required.  Please, I mean no offense, only to educate in this matter.

    CO2 is dangerous to workers because it can become concentrated when trapped in crawl spaces under industrial furnaces, or other areas with poor ventilation.  But possibly you have never held a job, where the Safety Department requires you to be educated in the dangers and proceedures of confined spaces.

    Again, I concede that Industrial Cities can elevate local Temperatures, and when concentrated with as many Industrial Cities that exist in China, Regional Weather patterns can be affected.  Especially when the Industrial Cities of Europe and the Americas are in decline.  But the Energy from the Sun laughs at all the combined Energy created by man.  A solar flare in our direction and all life on Earth is toast.  

    Do a little reasearch yourself Philippe, I give you the Wikipedia site for Energy.  It really is very simple math, and I bet you could follow it if you tried.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please keep it civil.

  9. Dan_the_Engineering_Man @5

    You compalin the article is politically biased, however its not biased. Because it's a simple fact that polls do actually consistently show republicans more sceptical of climate science than democrats.

    You say republicans dont want to destroy the planet. Strawman argument as nobody has accused them of that. However it's a fact thar the current republican administration has downgraded numerous useful Obama era environmental protections in this article, and so they are damaging the planet whether they intend to or not.

    You say trees dont grow above the tree line because CO2 is heavier than air. Nothing to do with temperatures at high altitudes, precipitation, soils, shading effects  then?    In fact CO2 is detected at high altitudes with measuring devices in weather baloons etcetera.

    You appear to say there is climate change because Chinas industrial machine generates CO2 emissions. This conflicts with your previous two incorrect statements that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, and doesn't exist "above the tree line".

    It's probably also worth noting that while China produces more total emissions than America, America has higher emissions than China on a per capita basis. 

    You complain about Chinas industrial machine and it's affects on the west. Now I'm going to agree the issue needs watching carefully, but you totally fail to see the other side of the issue, that it has given the western world numerous low cost consumer products.

    You think China will become a giant industrial monopoly, but that isn't happening, because rising wages in China are already slowing its industrial growth, and its shifting manufacturing to other countries like vietnam and bangladesh etcetera. Its implausible to believe any one country would dominate manufacturing, and you have more to fear from multi national corporate monopolies.

    You say the Waste Energy Heat from this massive uncontrolled industrial monster in China, is carried to the North Pole by Trade Winds and is melting the arctic. You provide no evidence of this, and research studies conslusively show heat generated directly by industry and transport  is insignificant in global warming as in this article.

    You say global warming is caused by the suns energy. This would require an increase in the suns energy, but it's been decreasing in recent decades as in this article.

    This is just a relatively quick response to your comments. Have to agree with PC that no engineer would seriously generate the nonsense in you post.

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  10. Dan_the_Engineering_Man@5,

    As a long time Professional Engineer with an MBA I spotted may holes in your comment, in addition to the one that Philippe pointed out @6 and the one that scaddenp pointedout at 7.

    The first one I add is the political one. Every category of people you listed also includes Liberal Progressives.

    The most glaring error of understanding is your claim that "CO2 is not a Greenhouse Gas.", that was correctly pointed out by scaddenp.

    Your other expressions of thoughts is similarly questionable.

    I will close by hoping you do not extend the approach you have taken to mis-understanding this issue to your Engineering work. That would be irresponsibly tragic.

    Do more research to be sure you properly understand what is going on, setting aside personal preferences, just as you would do with any engineering work you perform.

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  11. Dan: The Mauna Loa observatory, which has been measuring increasing atmospheric CO2 since the late 1950s, is located at an elevation of 3379 meters (11,145 ft) above sea level. Not sure if this is above or below the treeline. Nevertheless, CO2 is a well-mixed gas and occurs throughout the troposphere and into the stratosphere.

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  12. Dan_the_Engineering_Man

    "When you look at a Mountain, there is a Tree line, the Trees can not grow above that Altitude. That is because CO2 is heavier than Air, and there is no CO2 at the higher Altitudes."

    "Carbon dioxide, also known by the chemical formula CO2, has a higher density than the other gases found in air, which makes CO2 heavier than the air."

    CO2 is heaver than oxygen, but the atmosphere has "well mixed gases" with CO2 at very high altitudes because of winds etc as briefly discusssed in ths article. This is established science, that has been measured at high altitudes with measuring devices. 

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  13. Scaddenp, I guess none of the Scientists that you speak of came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh was once the Steel Capitol of the World.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, it was comom knowledge that Pittsburgh and the surrounding Counties were always 5 Degrees warmer than the out laying Communities. Even areas farther to the South of Pittsburgh were colder.  It is difficult to understand what 100's of Cities with the Industrial capacity of 1940's and 50's Pittsburgh, would do to Regional Climate if condensed into one Country, but that is what has happened in China.  Every Steel Mill, every Aluminum Mill, Glass Factory, Chemical Plant, Textile Factory, each one, uses the Energy of a Large Residential City.  As you add Manufacturing, you must add Power Plants, they also add Heat depending upon types of fuel.  Check out any Thermal Dynamic Cycle you can think of, burning any Fuels in the conversion to Electricity is at best 40% Efficient. Therefore, you have 60% wasted Heat from all the Fuels burned.  How can the Scientists that you speak of, ignore that fact?       

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] "How can the Scientists that you speak of, ignore that fact?"

    Scientists ignore no such thing.  Waste heat is addressed on this thread

    And, while urban areas are undoubtedly warmer than surrounding rural areas, this has had little to no impact on warming trends.

    "The Urban Heat Island effect is real. Berkeley’s analysis focused on the question of whether this effect biases the global land average. Our UHI paper analyzing this indicates that the urban heat island effect on our global estimate of land temperatures is indistinguishable from zero."


    "Time series of the Earth’s average land temperature are estimated using the Berkeley Earth methodology applied to the full dataset and the rural subset; the difference of these is consistent with no urban heating effect over the period 1950 to 2010"


    "The simple take-away is that while UHI and other urban-correlated biases are real (and can have a big effect), current methods of detecting and correcting localized breakpoints are generally effective in removing that bias. Blog claims that UHI explains any substantial fraction of the recent warming in the US are just not supported by the data."

    Please note that Skeptical Science is a big place, with thousands of blog posts and rebuttals addressing virtually every topic available in the science. Please familiarize yourself with the site, using the Search function in the upper left of every page when in doubt about which thread to place a comment on. 

    And remember that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  14. Again, you are simply guessing what the science knows or not instead of bothering to read. What you are talking about is UHI effect, very well studied as it has to be corrected for in temperature record. As someone who works in thermodynamics, I am extremely aware of waste heat, but as you point out, it is insignificant compared to solar output. It is also insignificant compared to greenhouse effect.  Please see the waste heat myth here for more details. Comment there, not here, if you want to discuss waste heat further. Off topic comments get deleted.

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  15. Awesome, we have a discussion instead of name calling.

    First, I did not give my Political opinions.  My description of Republicans was to show that it is absurd to believe that roughly 1/2 the population wakes up every day in anticipation of how they can destroy the Planet.

    Secondly, there are maybe trace elements of CO2 in higher elevations, but not enough to support Photosynthesis.  I would imagine, warm CO2 Gas exiting a Power Plant might linger until it cooled, but it will return to the ground level.  Please people, CO2 is heavier than AIR.  Please don't call me names for explaining that fact. CO2 is heavier than Air, how can it be a Greenhouse Gas, insulating the Planet? I am sorry but first there is not enough CO2, it is a tiny fraction of Air, and second, it is heavier than Air.

    As for the holes in my math, all the Energy that Man uses in a Year is less than 4 Hours of the Energy that the Sun imparts on the Earth.  Look it up yourself, I even give the website.  Don't be angry with me, I am simply looking for the Truth.  

    I like solar and Wind Power, I am not against them.  I understand how Power Companies work and that having multiple Sources and Fuels are important to National Security and our Welfare.  A pile of coal that could last a Month at a Power Company would be very nice to have especially in the event that something like a Tornado happened across a Gas pipeline or to a Wind or Solar Farm.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Again, read the Comments Policy.   And ensure all future comments are constructed to comply with it.

    Ideological, off-topic and sloganeering statements snipped.

  16. Nigelj @12 , you are overly harsh regarding Dan's ideas of atmospheric gasses arranging themselves in layers according to their molecular weights.   In many parts of the world, turbulence produces a complete mixing of all the gasses.   But there certainly can be pockets where this does not happen — for instance, in Dan's immediate vicinity, CO2 (having a Relative Density of 22) completely displaces O2 (Relative Density 16) from the lowermost 12 feet of the atmosphere.  Which explains much.

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  17. Gases do mix - usually schools demo this with bromine - try youtube to see how fast even a heavy gas mixes vertically. For the vertical profile of CO2, numerous measurements. Eg

    from this source but many many others. Note the horizontal scale. Not a lot of variation (40ppm) even at low altitudes. Your intuitions are letting you down.

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  18. Dan_the_Engineering_Man @15

    "Secondly, there are maybe trace elements of CO2 in higher elevations, but not enough to support Photosynthesis"

    No, concentrations of CO2 are  high even at altitudes of many kilometres in research  here, here,  and here. This has been measured many times using various instruments, and is settled science.

    Trees don't grow above the tree line because of low tempertures, levels of moisture and shading effects here.

    Eclectic,  ha ha message received and understood. 

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  19. If I am to believe that tiny trace amounts of CO2 in the upper Atmosphere is a Greenhouse Gas causing Global Warming, then perhaps we should understand how CO2, which is heavier than Air, can get in the Upper Atmosphere.  The first possibilities are Factories, Power Plants and  Airplanes, which burn Fuel, and exhaust CO2 and CO, could bring CO2 into the Upper Atmoshere.  Factories and Power Plants are at Ground level, and as their CO2 exhaust rises, they would cool and return to the Earth, because, CO2 is heavier than Air.  But what about Airplanes?

    After all there are over 102,000 Comercial Airline Flights per Day.

    Why haven't we heard anything against flying Airplanes? 

    Checking the Web, we use 17.3 Billion Gallons of Fuel for Air Travel in the United States alone.

     Boeing says their 747 uses 5 Gallons per Mile and a 10 Hour Flight will use 36,000 Gallons of Fuel. 

    A Gallon of Fuel weighs ~7.8 Pounds, and complete Combustion is ~ 14.5 Units of Air to 1 Unit of Fuel, so the exhaust is creating between 100 to 115 Pounds on NO2, CO, and CO2 per Gallon of Fuel.  And all of this Airplane Exhaust is 10 to 25,000 Feet above the Ground.  Burning 17.3 Billion Gallons and producing 1.7 Trillion Pounds of exhaust per Year, in the Upper Atmosphere, might have some effect and explain why some Scientists say they have measured Trace CO2 in the Upper Atmosphere. 

    I would think that Scientists would be studying and isolating the effects of air travel. 

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  20. Dan_the_Engineering_Man @19:

    Perhaps you should do some homeowrk before you imply that scientists have not been studying the effects of air travel.

    For example...

    Update 7/10/16 — A deal was agreed by 191 countries in Montreal on 6 October 2016. The agreement adopts an offsetting approach to constraining aviation emissions. Starting from 2021, airlines that have opted into the measure will have to purchase offsets to balance their emissions growth above 2020 levels. More than 65 countries representing over 85% of global air traffic have said they will participate from the beginning. More countries can opt to join in after 2024 or 2027, by which point the scheme will be mandatory for all but the smallest countries. The scheme will be reviewed every three years.

    In 2010, the aviation industry agreed an aspirational goal to cap its emissions after 2020, so that future growth would have to be “carbon neutral”.

    This won’t be easy. The industry is expected to grow at an average rate of around 5% per year over the next two decades. This means that it will either have to find a way to drastically increase its efficiency, or balance its own emissions through cuts made in other sectors.

    All this takes place in light of the UN Paris Agreement agreed in December 2015, which could soon come into force.

    The agreement set a target to limit global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels, with a tough aspirational goal of limiting it to 1.5C. Analysis by Carbon Brief has shown that aviation could consume a quarter of the emissions budget for 1.5C by 2050.

    Explainer: How aviation could, finally, agree a climate deal by Sophie Yeo, Carbon Brief, Sep 26, 2018

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  21. Dan_the_Engineering_Man @19

    "Factories and Power Plants are at Ground level, and as their CO2 exhaust rises, they would cool and return to the Earth, because, CO2 is heavier than Air. "

    No. CO2 from these sources is carried high in the atmosphere and stays there, and is well mixed. 

    CO2 is carried high up  mostly due to constant turbulence, winds, hadley cell processes, and random molecular motion from the energy of gas molecules that bounces everything around. It would require much larger density differences between the various gas molecules and constantly completely calm conditions to overcome this and form discrete layers.

    No layering in the atmosphere has been measured.

    "But what about Airplanes?"

    Emissions of carbon dioxide by aircraft were 0.14 Gt C/year in 1992. This is about 2% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in 1992. (older data but its similar now)

    Scientists know how much extra CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere and aircraft emissions simply dont account for the full quantity. Therefore this shows significant quantities of CO2 from cars and factories is carried high in the atmosphere.

    Your suggestions are worth considering because at face value you would think the atmosphere might form layers, but it simply doesnt and a few google searches to  check your ideas would have shown you this. I did a google search out of curiosity to better inform myself on some aspects of this issue.

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  22. "we should understand how CO2, which is heavier than Air, can get in the Upper Atmosphere". 

    Indeed, and you can get this understanding from pretty elementary texts on gas diffusion.  The short answer is that given the strength of gravitational force on earth and the temperature of the atmosphere, kinetic energy from molecular collisions dominates over gravity. The video I showed with bromine, much heavier than CO2, shows it diffusing upward, not settling at the bottom, and it eventually becomes well mixed. No turbulence required but convection and turbulence certainly speed the process.  

    The bromine experiment by itself shows your intuition is wrong about CO2. Notice also how evenly CO2 is distributed vertically through the atmosphere If your hypothesis that molecular weight overrides diffusion was correct and planes were needed to move stuff up, then you would predict at heavy hydrocarbons would be at base of atmosphere of Titan (no planes to mix anything) and lighter methane would be at the top. Instead all the gases are well-mixed vertically as on earth.

    If you want to learn more about the distribution, sources of CO2, then have a look at the resources (images, video) available from the NASA CO2 measuring satellite (OCO2), on the NASA page, as CO2 varies with season etc.

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  23. @scaddenp

    Compare your video of diffusion of bromine into air with diffusion into a vacuum. I guess it is not just diffusion any more but .... Whoosh!

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  24. Dan_the_Engineering_Man's claim that CO2 is heavier than other atmospheric gases has a tiny kernel of truth to it, but his conclusions fall into the "not even wrong" category.

    The tiny kernel of truth is that if you release a large quantity of a gas into the atmosphere, during those first few moments when that released gas is acting as an independent, cohesive mass its density will affect whether it rises, falls or remains at the same level in the air. The question is, how long will it continue to act as an independent, cohesive mass, and how long does it take to mix with the air and become distributed evenly throughout?

    From a safety point, heavy gases such as accidental releases of CFCs can and will sink to floor level in a room, and create a suffocation risk. The same holds true of other dense gases: if you have compressed gas tanks in a lower-level room with poor air circulation, best have an oxygen level warning system - if the tank leaks, the dense gas will fill the room from the floor up. By the time you can't breath at head level, collapsing to the floor puts you in an oxygen-free zone and death follow soon after. Anyone with confined space training knows the risks of suffocation in places where air circulation is absent and dense gases may exist.

    Where Dan_TEM utterly fails is in the case where there is time and motion to mix the gases. In the atmosphere, Even tiny differences of density of regular air, such as the heating at the earth's surface on a sunny day, leads to convection and turbulence. Even without free convection, wind causes turbulence and vertical mixing. Those nice cumulus clouds on a summer day? Only a few hours earlier, that water was evaporating from the earth's surface. The zone over which mixing occurs is in the order of kilometres in height. Try reading Wikipedia's Planetary Boundary Layer entry.

    If Dan_TEM were even remotely correct, oxygen and nitrogen would separate out and the bottom 21% of the atmosphere would be O2 and the top 78% would be N2, and all the H2O would be at high altitude and none at the surface. This obviously does not happen.

    Even in the absence of turbulent mixing, gases of different densities will, over time, diffuse to their own hydrostatic equilibrium. Each gas acts independently in such a case. Consequently, the pressure vs. height relationship is independent for each gas, and therefore relative concentration with height will vary slightly. But this does not lead to stratification, and does not happen in our atmosphere.

    Dan_TEM is not worth listening to.

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  25. @Bob Loblaw 24

    " ... does not happen in our atmosphere."

    Am I right in thinking it does happen in our high/stratospheric atmosphere? 

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  26. John:

    From a quick Google search:

    ...which includes in its opening paragraph:

    The observed stratospheric profiles of d15N and d18O were in agreement with those calculated using a steady-state 1-dimensional eddy-diffusion/molecular-diffusion model, which suggests that the upward decrease of stratospheric d(O2/N2) is caused by a gravitational separation of O2 and N2

    ...which I would interpret to mean "yes". The stratosphere appears to be stable enough to see some gravitational stratification.

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  27. Dan_the_Engineering_Man @15,

    I wish to clarify my comment @10 about your presentation of a political misunderstanding in your comment @5.

    Your comment @5 included the following:
    “... it would be written without the Political Spin. I do not believe that Conservative Thinkers, who can be broken down as Republicans, Tea Party Patriots, Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, NRA Members, Factory Workers, Small Business Owners and Workers, Hunters, Fishermen, Policeman, Firemen, Military Personnel both presently serving and Veterens(sic), Mothers and Fathers, and many others including Billionaires like our President, get up in the Morning and want to ignore Science and destroy the Planet.”

    It is a misunderstanding and misrepresentation to claim that those categories of people are “Conservative Thinkers”. As I corrected in my comment @10 those categories each contain Progressive Liberals.
    The more important distinction is if a person cares More about how their actions may help or negatively affect others, than they care about how they can personally benefit from an action.

    Using that categorization the collective thinking they are Right or Conservative, or claiming to be that, currently includes a high percentage of people more concerned about their personal benefit than they are about helping others, mainly because greedy neoliberals and less tolerant religious and racial extremists have been welcomed into the group that has United to increase the chances of winning their unjustified Private Interests though unjustified abuse of wealth to obtain unjustified regional popularity.

    Specifically on the matter of climate science the SkS OP “American conservatives are still clueless about the 97% expert climate consensus” is the most recent of many OPs presenting the higher level of climate science misunderstanding among people who identify as Republican, a high percentage of the group who (to quote your comment) “get up in the Morning and want to ignore Science and destroy the Planet.”

    I agree that many people in the categories you listed do not “get up in the Morning and want to ignore Science and destroy the Planet.”, but that is because the large number of others claiming to be Conservative or Right are misunderstood to be able to be labelled Conservative Thinkers.

    Which brings me to my final observation. You need to provide a definition for what you are referring to when you use the term Conservative Thinker. Visualizing Venn Diagrams of all the different possible categorizing of people can help you appreciate the need to clearly define the category you refer to. The category of people who identify as Republican includes many people who accept or correctly understand climate science. And the category of people who identify as Democrat includes many people who do not accept or who misunderstand climate science. But the evidence shows that currently the group identifying as Republicans has a much higher percentage of people who do not accept or who misunderstand climate science.

    I end this comment by referring you back to how I ended my comment @10. Engineers need to be careful to thoroughly understand the work they do to be sure they get it Right.

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  28. Dan_the_Engineering_Man,

    Have you heard of the Ozone layer? Can you explain how molecules of O3, heavier than CO2 could be up so high?

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  29. One Planet - not a good example. O3 is generated in the stratosphere. Diffusion is limited as it is a highly reactive molecule.

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  30. On the other hand, the CFC that destroy the ozone, creating the ozone hole are lifted from surface by convection and diffusion. If Dan was right, the CFCs would accumulate as a layer at ground level.

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  31. Yes, O3 is highly reactive. NaSty stuff a ground level where it readily combines with many biological tissues (such as lung tissue).

    Much of this discussion revolves around non-reactive gases. CFCs are largely non-reactive (which is why they make such good refrigerants) - until they reach the stratosphere where they break down under UV radiation. The by-products then react with O3, upsetting the natural balance between O3 creation and O3 reaction (destruction).

    If Dan was right, there would be no oxygen-breathing live at the surface....

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  32. scaddenp and Bob Loblaw,

    My comment@28 to Dan_the_Engineering_Man was to prompt his thoughts on the matter since he was claiming CO2 cannot be up in the atmosphere because it is heavier than O2.

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  33. One Planet Only Forever @27,

    You do not provide no an explanation for the finding you present - "the evidence shows that currently the group identifying as Republicans has a much higher percentage of people who do not accept or who misunderstand climate science."

    Perhaps JS Mill, who is described as "One of the most influential thinkers in the history of liberalism," has provided us the explanation.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Typo corrected.

  34. MA Rodger@33,

    The quote from John Stuart Mill regarding the group called Conservative in his time in England fits with his warning in "On Liberty".

    “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    The quote you referred to is essentially Mill saying the Conservative Party in his time relied on the support of members of society who grow up mere children, or stupid.

    Today's case related to the Republicans may be more sinister.

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