[Vision2020] Questions about global warming

Paul Rumelhart godshatter at yahoo.com
Sun May 13 17:55:47 PDT 2007

I have been looking into Global Warming, and I have some questions that 
have come up as I've been attempting to educate myself on this topic.

First, look at this graph from the Energy Information Administration 
which appears to be part of the Department of Energy (from 
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggccebro/chapter1.html in case your 
email doesn't show it):

Trends in Atmospheric Concentrations and Anthropogenic Emissions of 
Carbon Dioxide

I've been attempting to understand this graph for a little while now, 
and something about it seems strange to me.  Hopefully, I have 
misunderstood it completely.  The text for this image states: "Figure 1 
is a line graph showing the trends in atmospheric concentrations and 
anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.".  Ok.  We're talking millons 
of metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere here, with a scale that goes 
from 0 (in 1860 or so) to about 6,600 at present.  I had at first 
assumed that they were showing the total amounts of carbon int he 
atmosphere on the right hand side, but the numbers are way too low for 
that and they start at zero.  There is supposedly right now about 730 
billions metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere, so that top 7,000 
million tons number must mean something else.  It's somewhat close to 
the current number for billions of tons of carbon put into the 
atmosphere by "Fossil Fuel Combustion and Industrial Processes", which 
appears to be an annual number.  To make these numbers come together, I 
have to assume that the above graph is showing the amount of change in 
millions of tons of carbon each year since 1750.

So my question is, what happened in the 1960s?  That is the point at 
which the lines cross.  So, if you look at 1860 you see that the entire 
amount of carbon increase each year in the atmosphere (the orange line) 
is about 2400 million tons.  So that's the baseline for the 
non-anthropogenic increases.  It would basically have been going up by 
that amount without our help every year, anyway.  Perhaps we had some 
effect before 1860 burning wood and coal, cutting down forests and so 
on, but presumably not the steep incline we see later - so we're not so 
much to blame here.

Now, if you look at 1950, you see that the total anthropogenic amount is 
about 1500 million tons, yet the total atmospheric increase is about 
3600. Subtracting the two, you get a difference of 2100 million tons 
instead of the 2400 million tons that I would have naively predicted.  
It gets hugely worse in the 1960s, where the graphs actually cross.  At 
that point, the total amount of atmospheric change per annum is due to 
anthropogenic changes.  From that point forward, the amount of 
atmospheric change would have been dropping, if not for the huge spike 
in anthropogenic change.  We have the strange situation where the total 
amount of atmospheric change is less than the total amount of 
anthropogenic change, which is just flat-out weird.  What this seems to 
say is that if you simply stopped burning all fossil fuels and stopped 
all industrial processes, the amount of carbon in the air would drop 
quite quickly.

This is why I'm skeptical that we are going to have as disastrous an 
effect as seems to be assumed by global warming proponents. 

Take a look at the next graph on that site:

Global Carbon Cycle (Billion Metric Tons Carbon)

We are focusing so much on the dashed line heading from the factory to 
the atmosphere that we seem to be ignoring the question of why 90 
billion tons of carbon come out of the atmosphere and end up in the 
ocean while only 88 billion tons makes its way back.  Same with 
vegetation and soils - 120 from atmosphere to vegetation/soils, 119 goes 
back.  Even the changing land-use figures are in our favor, by 0.2 
billion tons.  This seems to mesh with the previous graph, i.e. if you 
stop all industrial process altogether than the amount of carbon in the 
atmosphere will drop by 3.2 billion tons every year.  Since the article 
stated that certain greenhouse gases have increased by 25% since 1850, 
then there must have been 730 / 1.25 = 584 billions of tons of carbon in 
the air at that time.  Thus, it would take (730 - 584) / 3.2 = 45.625 
years to get back to pre-industrial levels.  Of course, these changes 
are probably not linear - I'm sure they all change  with great 
complexity, which is why relying on those numbers in the other direction 
without better understanding them seems foolish.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be pressuring our government and that 
of other countries to lower that 6.3 number, but maybe we should also be 
trying to find ways to increase the differences in those different 
areas.  The only way that comes to mind right off hand is to take much 
of our current vegetation and sink it to the bottom of the ocean so that 
when it grows back it will have to take it's carbon from the 
atmosphere.  Of course, that's not a viable solution for a whole host of 
different reasons - but the idea is to "think outside the box" (gods I 
hate that phrase) and look for other solutions at the same time we are 
trying to convince those lunk-heads in charge that depending on fossil 
fuels is a Bad Idea for many different excellent reasons.

Just to forestall some things: I am not saying that global warming isn't 
happening, obviously it is.  I'm not saying we aren't having an effect 
on it, obviously we are.  That's a change in my thinking since I started 
learning about this.  I was skeptical at first that we could have such 
an enormous effect.  While that 6.3 number is small compared to the 
amount of carbon going into the air from the oceans or from vegetation, 
it's much larger proportionally than I would have guessed.  My position, 
if you would call it that, is that this whole process is so bloody 
complicated that we shouldn't be sounding the Trumpets of Doom and Gloom 
all the time until we have some better numbers and a model that we can 
use that has shown itself to be predictive.  The above is talking just 
about the relatively simplistic carbon cycle, and doesn't even touch on 
the other greenhouse gases, their interactions, or what the various 
numbers given above are going to do as the earth warms even more or even 
what their current rates of change are at this moment.

If we do need to sound the trumpets, think about this - what if we have 
set into motion a series of processes that will dump so much carbon from 
the atmosphere before they stop that we will *need* to keep up our 
anthropogenic changes or risk freezing to death?  I'm not actually 
serious here, just trying to illustrate why "doom and gloom" doesn't 
really help the debate.


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