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So about that CO2

30 Aug 2023 | OP ED Watch

One curious thing about climate alarmism is how uncurious the people who are forever hammering on about “the science” are about… “the science”. For instance on the critical claim that the recent rise in atmospheric CO2 is driven by human emissions. On the face of it, the claim is odd, because to answer a question from an alert CDN viewer, even the most dyed-in-the-Kool-Aid alarmist concedes that we only contribute under 4% of the total annual emissions into the vast, complex and overwhelmingly natural carbon cycle. And yet, to quote the bellicose “Skeptical Science” site, “natural land and ocean carbon remains roughly in balance and have done so for a long time… But consider what happens when more CO2 is released from outside of the natural carbon cycle – by burning fossil fuels…. the land and ocean cannot absorb all of the extra CO2. About 60% of this additional CO2 is absorbed. The rest remains in the atmosphere”. Oh really? Natural carbon dioxide is naturally absorbed but our artificial stuff isn’t. How, pray, does nature know the difference? Aren’t you even slightly skeptical about that?

Obviously not everything is exactly as described on the package. For instance we recently found ourselves frying up some bacon “made by a CARBON NEUTRAL COMPANY” and it didn’t improve our appetite. And the “Skeptical Science” site is all in on credulous alarmist claims, being created and maintained by John Cook, one of those who used highly dubious statistical methods to try to demonstrate a 97% consensus on a crisis that does not exist.

Cook’s doctorate, ironically, is on “the cognitive psychology of climate science denial”, speaking of people not being “climate scientists” and people denying actual science. But he’s not alone.

Very few alarmists would dispute the passage from his site above about 40% of our yucky CO2 not being absorbed, except the normal claim is that about half of ours is absorbed while the rest triggers Gaia’s gag reflex. Mind you then-Prince Charles claimed in his 2017 The Ladybird Book on Climate Change that it was 16 out of 36 billion gigatons (44%) because “there is no convenient hole in the sky for it to escape through”. Likewise, very few would dispute this related passage from that Unskeptical Science piece:

“Human CO2 emissions upset the natural balance of the carbon cycle. Man-made CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by a third since the pre-industrial era, creating an artificial forcing of global temperatures which is warming the planet. While fossil-fuel derived CO2 is a very small component of the global carbon cycle, the extra CO2 is cumulative because the natural carbon exchange cannot absorb all the additional CO2.”

Or even think about it. Including what’s different about the “additional” CO2. Because if it’s really true that “As you can see in Figure 1, natural land and ocean carbon remains roughly in balance and have done so for a long time” it is surely necessarily the case that what kept it in balance was that if more was released more was absorbed, and if less was released less was absorbed. And if so, it really is a mystery that nature suddenly can’t cope. And if nature has gone from absorbing 100% of the 100% natural CO2 to absorbing 98.5% of the 97% natural CO2, it must have some way of knowing which is which, or it would be absorbing 98.5% of both kinds.

We won’t nitpick that Figure 1 shows nothing of the kind, being merely a snapshot of estimated current flux using very crude aggregates rather than a historical chart. But we will protest that this statement is flagrantly wrong, since not even hard-core alarmists deny that there’s been a massive greening of the planet in the last half century as more CO2 has led nature, including the managed kind we call “agriculture”, to absorb more and more plant food. There may be no convenient hole in the sky for CO2, but there are very convenient holes in leaves, technically called stomata, and they are in fact one of the crucial proxies for paleo reconstructions of much higher CO2 levels in the past.

It’s also worth pondering the claim that “we know this because we can measure historic levels of CO2 in the atmosphere both directly (in ice cores) and indirectly (through proxies)”. Actually the ice cores are good on long-run levels. But it takes those famous bubbles a long time to form completely and seal, sometimes centuries or even millennia. So we don’t know about short-term fluctuations in the past.

Even so, we know that atmospheric CO2 plunged during the last glaciation, falling to a scarily dangerous 180 ppm, and then rebounded to 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. The “Skeptical” scientist, however, claims instead that “A natural change of 100ppm normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years.” Actually the standard story seems to be that it shot up rapidly from 180 to 280 and then stayed there for “the past 10,000 years”. (Or 6,000 if you believe NOAA. Like whatever man.) Even a bog-standard alarmist piece in YaleEnvironment360 says:

“There’s a lot of debate about both temperatures and CO2 levels from millions of years ago. But the evidence is much firmer for the last 800,000 years, when ice cores show that CO2 concentrations stayed tight between 180 and 290 ppm, hovering at around 280 ppm for some 10,000 years before the industrial revolution hit.”

Which necessarily means first that it naturally fluctuates by pretty wide margins and second that it got from 180 to 280 very quickly as the glaciers retreated. But nobody calls him out on it. Or one another. Or on when exactly the major impacts of warming hit, or are going to, and what they are. Or that climate ever was stable, and “should” be, as Katharine Hayhoe claims. Her less excitable colleagues know it’s not true. But they don’t say anything.

Except that they’re concerned with the integrity and accuracy of “the science”. Which we really are, so we do call out those who spout nonsense, and those who wink at it.

P.S. We also wonder why, again according to NOAA, atmospheric GHGs increased faster from 1950 to 1990 than from 1990 to 2005, since human production certainly didn’t decrease. But they don’t; instead they declare that “The NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) tracks the increasing amount of heat being added to the atmosphere by human-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Which isn’t even true; AGGI tracks the gasses, then they make a dogmatic assumption about their impact and claim their index measures it. What a weird way to do science. And how strange that they get a pass on it from the John Cooks of this world and vice versa.

7 comments on “So about that CO2”

  1. To be noted. Vostok/Epica ice cores show an ~1C rise/fall per 10ppm. Today's ratio is 1C/135ppm rise. Somebody please explain.

  2. Alan, it is well-established the heat-related properties of CO2 are not linear with concentration levels. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the less temperature change each additional unit provides. So while a 100 ppm increase from 180 to 280 might result in a 10 degree increase in temperature according to the ice cores, the next 100 ppm increase will result is a smaller increase. Indeed, perhaps none, if the saturation point for CO2 is reached. Some scientists believe it already has done, essentially. Adding more CO2 will have a negligible effect on temperature at this point, according to these scientists, because all of the work that CO2 can do is already being done by the existing concentration.

  3. One item that the alarmists fail to mention when discussing that CO2 went from 180 ppm to 280 ppm after the last continental glaciation period (we’re still in an ice age) was the fact that the 180 ppm it went down to was perilously close to the extinction level of 150 ppm. They also fail to mention that the CO2 concentration has been declining towards extinction for a long time. If anything, the Industrial Revolution saved life on this planet rather than risking eliminating it.

  4. This article is complete nonsense, which is very unusual among the articles at this website that I have been reading for many years. The +50% increase (+140ppm) of the atmospheric CO2 level since 1850 was entirely from manmade CO2 emissions of about +250ppm, including a rough estimate for CO2 emissions from wood burning. Anyone who claims to have an alternative explanation -- there are none -- is a fool. The annual (year over year) increases of the atmospheric CO2 level are NOT caused by the seasonal carbon cycle. They are caused entirely by manmade CO2 emissions. At least 99.9% of scientists living on this planet agree with that claim.

    This article promotes a conservative myth that leads to conservatives correctly being called climate deniers, It should be deleted from this website. ... I have a climate and energy blog where i recommend 15 good climate and energy articles every day. Almost every article from this website gets recommended. This one is a rare exception. ...
    The CO2 level change from 180ppm to 280ppm in the ice core era normally took about 100,000 years, until the recent change to the current interglacial. Then it took only 10,000 years for CO2 to increase from 180ppm to 280ppm, from about 20,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago. That does NOT explain the CO2 increase from 280ppm (1850) to the current 420ppm (2023). ... Once we are in an interglacial, we can't have another one -- we can only leave the interglacial, with global cooling, that no one will like. https://honestclimatescience.blogspot.com/

  5. Increase in atmospheric CO2 can, in part at least, be attributed to oceans degassing as they warm.
    This is a commonly held perspective amongst many scientists, myself included.
    " The annual (year over year) increases of the atmospheric CO2 level are NOT caused by the seasonal carbon cycle. They are caused entirely by manmade CO2 emissions. At least 99.9% of scientists living on this planet agree with that claim." <- this is a falsehood.

  6. WRONG
    Because of the increase of atmospheric CO2 from manmade CO2 emissions, the oceans are absorbing MORE CO2. The fact that the oceans are about 1 degree C. warmer than in 1850 ONLY means that the oceans absorbed slightly less CO2 from the atmosphere than they would have if the ocean temperature had remained constant. Slightly less would be about 10 to 20ppm less.
    Nature (oceans, land and plants) have been a net CO2 absorber as manmade CO2 emissions added about 250ppm more CO2 to atmosphere since 1850, absorbing about 110ppm of the 250ppm. Different scientists will provide slightly different numbers, but the key fact remains: The additional atmospheric CO2 since 1850 is manmade.

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