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Friday, December 01, 2006

CO2: Do We Laugh Or Cry?

As everyone knows, the Supreme Court will rule on a lawsuit filed to force the EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. This is not a grab of power by the judiciary, but the product of a deranged Congress which keeps shoving knotty questions off to the courts, who are totally unequipped under our constitutional system to deal with the overall questions effectively. So the judicial system has been forced into a rationally untenable situation, and the balancing of tradeoffs which should inform the debate will not be made.

Citizens really should be concerned about this. CO2 emissions either are an immediate climate problem or they are not (see this excellent article about the very poor correlation between CO2 rises and warming but the very good correlation between cosmic ray flux and temperature), but one thing we know scientifically is that regulating a rather small portion of the total CO2 emissions produced by burning fossil fuels, which only amount to about 6% of all CO2 emissions into the atmosphere isn't going to change anything.
This is the GLOBAL estimate from CDIAC:

Given that the relative CO2 emissions keeps shifting from countries like the US to countries like India and China, the idea that regulating CO2 emissions from highway vehicles in the US could possibly affect climate in a century is gut-bustingly hilarious. Seriously, banning cement production and use in the United States would produce more of an effect on atmospheric concentrations of CO2. See this extremely funny article by Charles Kubach at Mine-Engineer.com regarding California's efforts on carbon emissions:
Motor vehicles driven 12,000 miles per year will contribute 5 tons annually per vehicle, with about 20,000,000 vehicles in the state, this amounts to over 100,000,000 tons of CO2 per year. Then there are 13 cement plants operating in California (about 10% of the nations cement plants are in California), which produce about 85,000,000 tons of CO2 per year, while producing over 98,000,000 tons of cement. Then there is the power generating industry, which accounts for about 67,000,000 tons of CO2 per year. (California buys a lot of its electricity from neighboring states), and over 50% of its power plants are fueled by natural gas.
So roughly this is a total of 284,389,500 tons of CO2 per year (including the 32,000,000 tons produced by breathing humans). These figures are approximate as of 2004. Globally in 2004, 26,000,000,000 tons of CO2 were released into the atmosphere. California's share of global emissions is 1%, a drop in the bucket. Therein lies the Law Makers Folly. Even if the emissions were reduced by 50%, the air in California would not get any cleaner, for reasons illustrated below. India, for instance releases about 1.4 billion tons of CO2 per year (almost 5 times California's CO2 emissions), and have little if any pollution systems in place, and as their economy is rapidly expanding, their emissions will expand by millions of tons per year (more than California produces, probably).
Research is underway regarding carbon sequestration, if we find it necessary to do so. It's probably the only alternative that stands the chance of making a difference, if that is, it turns out that anthropogenic CO2 is a climate forcer. This is not settled. CO2 is a dynamic system, as shown in the above (government generated) diagram. Emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere doesn't mean that it stays in the atmosphere, and during times of rising temperature, more CO2 is naturally emitted into the atmosphere, whereas during times of falling temperature, CO2 drops. This is a totally natural cycle which has held true for millennia. When the world gets cooler, CO2 in the atmosphere starts to fall. When the world gets warmer, CO2 starts to rise. In both circumstances, the change in atmospheric CO2 follows the temperature changes.

The world's primary greenhouse gas is water vapor, accounting for 97% of atmospheric warming. There are other gases which also contribute to atmospheric warming (methane is one of the most potent), but let's ignore them for a moment, and let's assume the other 3% of atmospheric warming is entirely caused by CO2 in the atmosphere.

Update: This CBC 2005 peak-oil article says that about 25% of all American oil consumption is consumed on the highway. That sounds about right. The US consumes about 25% of the world's fossil fuels, although our share is dropping quickly. So, 1.5% of that 6% is the US, of which less than a quarter is what would come under regulation. To make it easy, assume that regulating .5% of that 6% is what the Supreme Court is discussing. Assume that regulation would reduce that .5% by 20% or .1%. Would reducing global carbon emissions by .1%, reducing, in theory but not in practice, global CO2's anthropogenic rate of 14% of total CO2, which at most generates 3% of greenhouse-gas induced warming, change anything? End Update.

Can anyone credibly claim that by reducing a fraction of that 6% of all CO2 emitted globally by fossil fuel combustion, we would change global temperature within 100 years? The answer to that question is a resounding "NO".

Here are the two facts about CO2 absorption that is often missing in the debate. 1) There is a maximum amount of absorption that we can expect from CO2, beyond which increased CO2 will have no effect on global warming, and we are getting close to it and 2) The absorption by CO2 is a diminishing relationship with CO2 concentration. This means that if the first doubling has X effect on world temperatures, the next doubling has much less than X effect, etc.

What this all means is that the effect of CO2 on warming will max out in the coming decades, and the total effect on world temperatures will be small, say a degree or two. And, believe it or not, most global warming advocates agree with this.

So how do they get big warming forecasts? Well, they assume positive feedback loops. For example, they assume 1 degree of CO2 caused warming will result in a bunch of water vaporizing into the atmosphere. Water is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, so they get models that say 1 degree of CO2 warming causes an extra 3 degrees (for example) of H20 driven warming. This is how they get the nightmare forecasts. The take two degrees of CO2 warming and drive it up in their models with these hypothesized positive feedbacks and get eight degrees of warming.

The problem is that if our understanding of CO2 warming on a scale of 1-10 is a 7 (which is probably high) our understanding of these positive feedback loops is about a 1. We have no proof of them, and in fact we don't observe these effects in recent history. In fact, some of these loops could actually work the other way around - ie higher temperatures could cause water to form more clouds, which would cool things off. For water, therefore, we don't even know the SIGN of the feedback, much less the magnitude. But all the models you ever hear of in the press assume this loop is positive and big. Because no one is funding or giving any love to scientists who come up with a small number for warming.
By the way, MaxedOut, I can't find your email. Could you email at my coyote blog site. You were an early supporter of mine and I want to send you a review copy of my new novel
Thanks very much! I'll do that. I can't imagine how in the world you found time to write a book!

Regarding the CO2 positive feedback, what the recent ice core studies imply is that there cannot be one.

First, the lag seems to have shown up over and over again, indicating that CO2 rose and fell as a result of temperature changes. This means that there is an external forcer. Recent studies implicate cosmic ray flux, especially stalagmite studies.

Now, other recent studies also seem to show that every once in a while there is a sudden, drastic change in temperature which doesn't "take". The studies correlating sudden changes at the equater and in the interior of multiple continents show that these are global effects, and therefore it is nearly impossible to conclude that ocean current changes created them. The logical implication is that once again cosmic ray flux is the cause, and in fact, recent work on stalagmites by physicists seems to indicate that.

This means that the cosmic ray flux is variable, with both sudden pulses and longer periods of lower or higher activity. Given the weak effect of observed CO2, it seems extremely probable that CO2 DOESN'T create a long-term feedback loop under natural conditions. The probability is that warming produces plant growth and also puts more moisture into the air, increasing the ice caps over centuries, and increasing the ice caps' reflection of the sun's rays back into space.

Now, it is true that we are changing the system, and I would personally prefer, out of sheer conservatism, to invest heavily in nuclear power to cut down CO2 emissions.

But the changes in CO2 in the past were significant, and if they have never produced runaway warming in the past, it seems obvious that a near-future environmental castrophe is not in the cards.

The studies with high enough discrimination to show the time lag are recent, and if these studies had been around pre-Kyoto, Kyoto would never have been adopted, IMO.
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Is US petrolium consumption really falling, or are emerging markets increasing their consumption thus making the us "share" appear as it is being reduced?
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