Sunday, 4 July 2010

A question about the effect of carbon dioxide

I used to read lots of things about "global warming", now that "global warming" has been abandoned I read a lot about "climate change". Even a half-educated newt is aware that the "climate change" is the new term for what used to be called "catastrophic man-made global warming". I have had a lot of fun offering the occasional thought on the subject here and commenting about it elsewhere.

What I have never been able to do (because I have neither the inclination to seek the necessary knowledge nor the necessary knowledge to be able to interpret the necessary knowledge) is give figures that mean something. Figures like "if we add so-many giga-tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the next five years averaged temperatures - as measured by flawed instruments in only a few places - will rise by so-many hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit". I am not in a position to make that calculation / estimate / stab in the dark.

What I can do is read about (and suffer from) additional taxes being imposed on activities that produce carbon dioxide. I recently bought a new car. Out went the "executive saloon" and in came a small car because I no longer have to undertake long journeys for work - that the old car stopped working also came into the equation. The consequences included a reduction in annual road tax from £245 to £155 and a reduction in the cost of my resident's parking permit from £200 to £70. Both discrepancies arise directly from the carbon dioxide fetish. The reason given for taxing big cars more than small cars and for imposing higher charges for parking big cars rather than small cars was carbon dioxide. Nothing else. Some would suggest it is just an excuse to increase taxes but I would not be so cynical.

That is all very well if you believe carbon dioxide to be the deadliest gas since the days of Auschwitz and poor misunderstood Saddam's little Kurdish experiment. Let's assume you do believe that. Please answer me a question.

What would be the effect on the climate from the UK doubling its production of carbon dioxide? I don't ask for a fully-analysed track of all possible consequences, I ask for a real life answer that is comprehensible to Mr & Mrs Ordinary.

In principle there can only be three answers.

First, our additional CO2 would cause an increase in global temperatures. OK, if so, how much? As I recall, the UK produces around 1.6% of global man-made CO2, what I want to know is what effect a doubling of the quantity would have - so please tell me what effect the UK currrently has on temperature and how it would change.

Secondly, our additional CO2 would have no effect because the quantity we produce is so small that any change that might occur would be too small to be measurable and should, therefore, be treated as zero.

Thirdly, no one knows.

It's all very well saying "we're all in this together" and "we must all do our bit because many a mickle makes a muckle", that doesn't address my concern. I want to know what difference would result from the UK doubling it's CO2 emissions.

Unless someone can identify a consequence that is more than de minimis we really shouldn't worry about what we produce today. There is no point reducing something for the sake of the planet if doubling the same thing would make no substantive difference.

Does anyone know the answer to my question?


We are DOOMED I tell you said...

Does anyone know the answer to my question?

No - but that won't stop them telling you.

Neil said...

Actually, dear Fat Bigot, you have left out the fourth possibility. Worded as per your first, but with "increase" replaced by "decrease".

My "vote", for what it's worth, is that your third answer is the correct one.

gyg3s said...

"Does anyone know the answer to my question?"


At best we can only be 90 percent certain (remember that report from a couple of years back?) that there will be an increase in temperature.

However, like the turkey that gets fed everyday until Christmas Eve; who can predict with 99.7% certainty that he will be fed the next day; these predictions are only as good as the knowledge upon which they are based.

In other words the 90 percent certainty is nonsense.

Chuckles said...

They seem to prefer peta-grams as a unit... Bring back the Firkin, I say.

'Who knows' is probably the most correct answer, but 'indistinguishable from nil' is a close second in my book.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Bigot

“What would be the effect on the climate from the UK doubling its production of carbon dioxide?”

And the answer is: no one knows for certain - get enough opinions and one of them may be accurate within acceptable limits, but as with a stopped clock, you'll be none the wiser.

My personal guess is – bugger all.

The 'greenhouse gas' analogy has been debunked since the way the atmosphere works to raise global temperatures is the exact opposite of a greenhouse (or indeed a windowless shed which heats up without benefit of any transmission of radiation, just like your loft), which relies on stopping the heat from being dissipated by convection or the wind. Atmospheric warming is the *result* of convection.

The increase in CO2 since industrialisation began has an effect. It is small. From memory the total increase in global temperatures is about 0.7 deg F (0.35 deg centigrade) according to this theory.

There is an apparent link with climate and sunspot activity. The Maunder minimum of sunspot activity coincided with the 'little ice-age' around mid 1600's to the beginning of the 1700's. The solar cycles since the 1960's have been the most active on record and, using a proxy measurement, for the last 1,500 years. Hmm. The current cycle – No 24 since observations began – is showing a very slow start with few sunspots. Double plus hmm. Though a single cycle does not a trend make.

I suspect the real reason behind the CO2 / global warming scam is that CO2 is a proxy for fossil fuel consumption. The peak of oil production is imminent - it appears to have plateaued from mid-2004 (download the spreadsheet from - and since the global economy and Western standards of living run on cheap oil energy, especially for transport and more critically food production, our beloved leaders appear to be trying to cut oil consumption without alerting the public to the imminence of a major downward shift in their standards of living. If they can achieve a reduction in living standards while making people feel good and green, or at least guilty every time they turn on a light, there is a chance that when the real crisis hits, people will be accustomed to going without, albeit for 'the sake of polar bears'.

Give me a choice between global warming and cooling and I'll take warming any time. If you really want a scary story consider the effects of shortened food growing seasons and lengthened winter heating seasons due to global cooling; then add peak oil and ...


john miller said...

No one can possibly know what the UK's CO2 emmisions are.

There is no omnipotent being that can do god's own survey of every piece of CO2 emmitting equipment.

And it's not relevant.

Leaving aside that many CO2 emmitting devices ingest CO2 anyway (Hello TFB!), classifying something as "man made" is irrelevant. If poison ivy gave off a lethal gas, would the victim care if it were cultivated by moi or by god?

Not many living things like being in a CO2 free environment. It's not natural.

If you were in a CO2 free environment whilst tucking into the Saturday Night Special at the Curry House, the post dejuener kiss of life by the maitre d' could be a challenge for both of you.

And the big lie happened only last year. A "climate change scientist" told The Times that CO2 was poisonous. Sorry, old boy, I have a GCE, 1970 vintage, so I know that's a load of old bollocks (It's a specialised chemozoological term). The H2S in my farts is poisonous, but the CO2 I exhale isn't.

Consider the inertia in the Earth's weather system. (Don't even try to tell me the difference between weather and climate - it's whatever you greenies's want it to be whenever you want it.)

Then consider the places on the Earth that do not contribute to any human interactivity with the weather system at all:-

All the blue bits on the map
Virtually all of America
Virtually all of Asia
A lot of Europe

I may have one of those wrong...

Then consider a huge ball of nuclear explosions, fission and fusion and possibly matter conversion looming 93 million miles away. A ball of energy that will give you radiation poisoning at 52 degrees latitude after a couple of hours exposure.

So, now let's hear it for MMGW again please?

Frank Davis said...

There are a surprising number of "extreme sceptics" who don't believe that there is any greenhouse effect at all.

In the first place, real greenhouses aren't warmer because their glass absorbs infra-red light. If the glass is replaced with salt (which doesn't absorb IR) they stay just as warm. What the glass does is to stop convection currents cooling the greenhouse.

But there seem to be quite a few people (including a number of scientists) who say that the greenhouse gases don't produce warming, on the grounds that a cold atmosphere can't transmit heat to the warmer ground, because that would break the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (heat flows from hot to cold).

I'm a neutral on this one. But a recent study with solar ovens has claimed that, because these ovens can work in reverse at night, and freeze food, it shows that the heat flow at night is skyward, and so there isn't any greenhouse effect.

So maybe even the fundamental physics is uncertain, and nobody has a clue what they're talking about.

TheFatBigot said...

Thank you all for your contributions.

The "greenhouse" point is fair criticism to an extent, but only a limited extent. I don't know that anyone claims gases in the atmosphere operate on ground temperatures like a greenhouse trapping heat.

Nonetheless it seems fair to infer that the atmosphere around the planet allows ground temperature to be greater than it would be absent that atmosphere. It has an effect and it is unavoidable that it will be given a (scientifically inaccurate) nickname.

I don't have a problem with "greenhouse effect" because ground level would be cooler if not for the atmosphere and the air in the space enclosed by a greenhouse would be cooler if the greenhouse were taken away. The cause of warming in each case needn't be the same for the basic effect to be the same.

J Bonington Jagworth said...

I am just about prepared to believe that CO2 contributes a small amount to general warming, but it is pretty insignificant compared to, say, the effects of water vapour and clouds, whose presence and concentration we have absolutely no control over.

A learned commenter on another blog I read (Harmless Sky) has calculated that if all known reserves of fossil fuels are burned, the CO2 level could possibly reach 1000ppm, or 0.1%, which doesn't sound nearly so threatening (it's currently 0.038%). It's hard to see how such a small component could have a dramatic effect, especially as it has been very much higher in pre-historic times, with no ill effects or 'runaway' heating.

As it happens, commercial greenhouses routinely operate at over 1000ppm to encourage growth of their plants, which love the stuff...

Anonymous said...

you've hit the nail on the head with this argument - its not even a question of warming, its a question of what impact will any changes make.

Given that its very likely that China and India will probably never come along on the CO2 cuts, and that 30% of emissions come from "other" countries (ie all the ones that a clamouring for $$ in 'climate compensation') - thats something like 60% or more of global emissions right there - so the entire developed world could shut up shop for 100 years and still we'd only cut CO2 by 40%. And thats not taking into account the doubling of world population thats going to occur in the next 40 or 50 years - not a lot of that is going to happen in the 'developed world'

I live in Oz, and we're much the same as the UK - 1% of global emissions, and yet our government is dead set on positive action and trading schemes and billions of $ in taxes. For what - 10% of 1% (and falling as a global %). Might as well be trying to lower sea level with a teaspoon.

J Bonington Jagworth said...

"Might as well be trying to lower sea level with a teaspoon"


Your remark has reminded me of a back-of-envelope calculation I did a while ago, in response to a cack-handed 'experiment' done on a BBC children's programme a while back to demonstrate the evil CO2 in action. This used bell jars, thermometers and incandescent lights to show that CO2 had a heating effect. I'm not sure we were told how much CO2 was used, but what they certainly didn't do was add it in proportion. A 10 litre bell jar of bog-standard air contains 3.8 ml of CO2, so to double it (the figure that the warmists get excited about), you would need about a teaspoonful and, as with the earth, any result would be lost in the noise.

J Bonington Jagworth said...

FB "that the old car stopped working also came into the equation"

I'm sure it did! I'm sorry to hear that you've 'saved yourself money' buying a new small car, for the rather spurious reduction in road tax (although I see this is now called vehicle excise duty to remove any obligation on HMG to spend it on roads). A side-effect of the CO2 obsession is that older large cars are now worth buttons, and any increase in tax and running costs are more than outweighed by the reduction in depreciation. You also get something well screwed together from heavier gauge metal that will probably last longer and will waft you along in greater comfort and silence than anything small and built down to a price.

My elderly neighbours have just had a rush of blood to the head and bought an immaculate Saab convertible, with leather upholstery and a pampered history, for under £3k, and I strongly suspect it will outlast them. I myself have an old Mazda Xedos, also with the leather stuff and a lovely smooth V6 that still requires occasional glances of the rev counter to confirm that it is still running. It will be 18 this year.

TheFatBigot said...

I'm hopelessly late in reply Mr Jagworth, I hope you get to read this.

The car I recently disposed of was a Rover 75, 2.5 litre V6, fantastically comfortable and barely purred even at 70mph. The suspension was fantastic. Before that I had a C class Merc. The Rover won hands down.

If it had appeared economical to get it repaired I would have done. The problem was that the air conditioning went awry in an extraordinary way, depositing huge amounts of condensation in the car and the boot (at one point the well for the spare wheel was a swimming pool.

There's lots of electrics in them there cars and water ain't no good news. Replacing it wasn't just about day-to-day running costs. I was concerned that the thing could be a constant source of problems. The way of life is that those problems are always most likely to arise when they would cause maximum inconvenience. So I cut my losses and forked out a wedge for a smaller, newer replacement.

I wish I didn't have to, but I concluded that I did have to in order to remain mobile. I doubt I'll ever drive as good a car again.