10th April 2010
The great boon of CO2
CO2, being 0.03 per cent of the atmosphere, is represented by a line 1/2 as thick as that shown
[Note: This post forms part of my personal explorations regarding various aspects of climate change. I hope to bring the key facts together in due course. For my blog post on changing sea levels please see this. ]
The miracle of carbon
Carbon is the key building block of life. It constitutes 18 per cent of our bodies. Carbon is the most amazing atom in the universe because of its ability to bond with key elements like hydrogen and oxygen and create proteins ("its ability to create four covalent bonds [allows] … it to … create carbon chains of various lengths and configurations, or to connect to non-carbon atoms in order to form compounds with unique and specialized chemical properties" – see here; in general open any book on organic chemistry).
Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is the only known way for us to get carbon into our bodies. We don't eat coal or (if we are rich enough!) diamonds. The only way to shove it into our carbon-starved bodies is to eat plants, or to eat animals that have eaten plants. If CO2 disappears, plants disappear, we disappear. Period.
After reading up widely, and thinking a fair bit on this issue, I've arrived at a view about CO2 in the air – that CO2 was, is, and will remain a GOOD thing. We can never have 'too much' CO2 in the air (e.g. indoors, the level of CO2 commonly exceeds 10 times the level found in the atmosphere without any harm whatsoever to the human body). CO2 is NOT a pollutant. It doesn't harm us in any way. It only benefits us. It is a great boon.
Why do we need to such understand things for ourselves?
Why do I need to understand the science behind CO2 personally? Why can't I take someone else's word (e.g. IPCC's word) and 'live with it'. Because I don't trust 'experts' or ANYONE but myself. I have seen enough rubbish being touted by 'economists', medical doctors, and other highly paid 'experts' to know that there is nothing in this world that one can't better understand with one's own analysis (scientific, reasoned). As the Buddha said: "Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. … Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy." I insist on critical thinking and will NOT accept any opinion until I fully understand and therefore internalise its entire logic.
Note that citing Ian Plimer extensively in this blog post does not mean I 'believe' in what he says because he is an eminent Professor. Not in the least. I am citing him for convenience, having arrived at my views based on information received from a wide range of sources, including his book. It is through my own understanding of the facts that I know what I know, not because I've read it here or there. We must always assess logic and evidence independently, using our minds, and never rely blindly on anyone's word.
So, like all scientific views, these (my) views should be treated as tentative excursions towards the truth. All science is a tentative excursion towards the truth. If ANY of the facts I cite below are found to be wrong, I'm happy to revise my understanding about CO2. But I'd like to be PROVEN to be wrong, first. With solid facts.
SUMMARY OF MY FINDINGS
1) The claims by IPCC CO2 regarding the harm likely to be caused by CO2 are not only grossly over-inflated, they are plain WRONG. CO2 IS NOT A POLLUTANT. CO2 is the reason we are alive. CO2 is the only manna that ever 'fell' from heaven (to be precise, all new CO2, that is not part of the carbon cycle, is spewed out by volcanoes from the bowels of the earth: without new CO2, all carbon would soon get sequestered into the bottom of the oceans).
2) There will be NO major warming of the Earth as a result of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level (that is well above 100 parts per million, hence ineffective in increasing the greenhouse effect). NOTE: Warming and cooling will take place, but for causes other than CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
3) Whether CO2 has significantly increased over the past two hundred years is questionable both on methodological grounds (measurement disputes) and because CO2 is quickly sucked out of the atmosphere by life forms, particularly bacteria (which as we all know multiply like mad in the presence of food – CO2 is bacteria food!). Significant increases in CO2 simply can' be retained in the atmosphere for long. CO2 has seen a long-term secular decline since the formation of the earth's atmosphere.
ALLEGED 'COSTS' OF CO2 INCREASE TO LIFE ON EARTH
Fact 1: The IPCC estimate re: pre-industrial CO2 is wrong. CO2 levels in the air constantly change, regardless of the activity of man. The pre-industrial data is based on the LOWEST reading using the pre-1955 Pettenkofer method – and that is a matter of great concern. The reality appears to be that CO2 levels bounce about quite a bit in the atmosphere (box below).
Post 1955 data is based on the infra-red spectroscopy method, which has significant flaws because most observations are deleted. Using ice-cores is the third method, but it has limitations as well. The fact remains that CO2 levels have been HIGHER than current levels even in 1820.
BOX: Chemical method of measuring CO2
"A pre-IPCC paper used carefully selected Pettenkofer method data [of which 90,000 readings are available since 1812]. Any values more than 10% above or below a baseline of 270 ppmv were selected. The rejected data included a large number of high values… The lowest figure measured since 1812, the 270 ppmv figure, is taken as a pre-industrialisation yardstick. The IPCC want it both ways. They are prepared to use the lowest determination by the Pettenkofer method as a yardstick yet do not acknolwedge Pettenfoker method measurements showing CO2 concentrations far higher than now many times since 1812." (Plimer 419). Also see this paper.
See the figure below
Fact 2: One can dump as much CO2 into the air after about 100 ppmv without experiencing any run-away global warming. CO2 molecule has extremely limited capacity to absorb infra-red radiation beyond a small concentration in the atmosphere. 'Because the radiation properties of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are already saturated, increasing atmospheric concentrations beyond current levels will have no discernible effect on global temperatures' (Source: from http://lavoisier.com.au/). There appears to be NO POSSIBILITY of significant heating of Earth with increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere. "there is a maximum threshold for CO2, after which an increase in CO2 has very little effect on atmosphere warming" (Plimer 425). That threshold is around 100 ppmv. In 2006, Willis Eschenbach posted this graph on Climate Audit showing the logarithmic heating effect of carbon dioxide relative to atmospheric concentration:
A new study argues convincingly that CO2 actually cools the atmosphere, because it doesn't create more energy, simply diverts it from the sun, and radiates it much of it back into space.
The range of infrared radiation from Earth is 6 to 22 microns. Each greenhouse gas and water vapor absorbs radiation from different areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. Carbon dioxide and water absorb long wave radiation from 12 to 19 microns. Methane absorbs wavelengths 6 to 8 microns. Water blocks radiation below 7 microns from being reflected out to space. What is the window of possible infrared radiation back out to space and how do these gases contribute to closing the window? (see: http://www.enviroliteracy.org/pdf/labge1.pdf).
Fact 2A: As evidence: CO2 levels have been higher by hundreds of times in the past (Plimer, p.411), even though temperature has hardly been higher (Figure below shows that temperatures on Earth never exceeded an average of around 22 degrees even 600 million years ago compared with about 15 degrees today. Plimer notes: "Ice ages occurred when atmospheric CO2 was higher than at present." He also notes that 'The CO2 content of air has hardly ever been as low as today' (ibid). "The current CO2 content of the atmosphere is the lowest it has been for thousands of millions of years, and life (including human life) has thrived at times when CO2 has been significantly higher" (Plimer 425).
"In the past when the atmospheric CO2 concentration has been more than 25 times the present value, there has been no runaway greenhouse or 'tipping points'" (Plimer 371) – this is because CO2 loses the capacity to heat the atmosphere after around 100 ppmv.
Source: Plimer, p.242.
Indeed, "during the biggest glaciation of all time the atmospheric CO2 was far higher than today" (Plimer 242).
Fact 3: LIFE SUCKS CARBON out of the atmosphere almost as quickly as it is put into the atmosphere (we are very fortunate that tectonic and volcanic activity keeps supplying at fresh CO2 molecules into the atmosphere, else at the rate at which life sucks out CO2 from the atmosphere, all life on earth would soon end once its food supply (CO2) was consumed by life and sequestered into the bottom of the oceans. Each time a volcano erupts, we can breathe in peace for some more time.) See this.
Fact 3A. Bacteria have a relentless capacity to absorb CO2: Not only do land based plants flourish with increased CO2, but bacteria all over the world multiply dramatically when they find more food – particularly in the case of ocean bacteria and single-celled plants (which are part of the food chain in the seas). The availability of more CO2 in the oceans leads to dramatically increased populations of bacteria and ultimately fish and other creatures of the sea, leaching out all 'excessive' CO2 from the surface of the planet, as the 'excess' CO2 (there is no such thing in nature) is converted into sediments at the bottom of the sea. The existence of MASSIVE quantities of CO2 in polar sea water also explains the mind-boggling abundance of sea food there, such as krill, which attracts whales all the way to the poles to feed. Increasing CO2 in the water would mean MORE krill, and more whales. "Bacteria rule the world and, together with water, are a key driver of the carbon cycle" (Plimer, 148).
Some more evidence has recently emerged. (“Cooling, Dilution and Mixing of Ocean Water by Free-drifting Icebergs in the Weddell Sea,” Deep-Sea Research Part II).
"while CO2 emissions had quadrupled, natural carbon “sinks” that sequester the greenhouse gas doubled their uptake in the past 50 years" [Source]
BOX: Marine microbes and bacteria
Microbes constitute 90 per cent of marine biomass: 'microbes comprised half to 90 per cent of all marine biomass, but were essential to the Earth's biological function by processing different gases in the Earth's atmosphere.' (See 'Oceans census uncovers a billion microbes' in The Australian, 19 April 2010).
Ocean bacteria absorb carbon dioxide: See here.
How Ocean Bacterium Turns Carbon Into Fuel: See here. "One of the biggest movers and shakers is the lowly cyanobacteria, an ocean-dwelling, one-celled organism. .. Forty percent of the carbon in the carbon cycle is reused and recycled through these tiny creatures."
[Don't forget that the "carbon cycle" leaks: a good amount of carbon is permanently lost through calcium carbonate and bones that are lost into the bottom of the sea permanently. That is why we need new carbon from volcanoes.]
- Fact 3B: Multicellular organisms have expedited the absorption of CO2. "Since multicellular life appeared on Earth, there has been a constant draw-down of CO2 from the atmosphere that once had more than 100 times the current CO2 content" (Plimer 148).
The concept of Q10 in biology (and elementary understanding of the behaviour of single-celled plants) puts paid to any delusion that CO2 (which is food for plants) will hang in the atmosphere sitting "un-eaten" by life. In addition, new evidence suggests alkaline desert soils may be responsible for uptake of carbon (Xie, J., E Yan Li, E.Cuixia Zhai, E. Chenhua Li, and E. Zhongdong Lan. 2009. “CO2 Absorption by Alkaline Soils and its Implication to the Global Carbon Cycle”. Environmental Geology, Vol.56, 953–961.)
- Fact 3C: Because it is food, CO2 has a very quick turnaround in the atmosphere: "the residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere is less than 4 years" (Plimer 413). "There is very little disagreement. The lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 5 years" (Plimer 422). On the other hand, "The IPCC suggests that the lifetime is 50-200 years. The IPCC lifetime has been criticised because lifetime is not defined and because the IPCC has not factored in numerous known sinks of CO2" (Plimer 421). "If the CO2 atmospheric lifetime were 5 years, then the amount of the total atmospheric CO2 derived from fossil fuel burning would be 1.2%, not the 21% assumed by the IPCC" (Plimer 422). "If humans burnt all the available fossil fuels over the next 300 years, there would be up to 15 turnovers of CO2 between the oceans and the atmosphere and all the additional CO2 would be consumed by ocean life and precipitated as calcium carbonate in sea floor sediments" (Plimer 325)Update: "Furthermore, there are several peer-reviewed papers reporting the half life of CO2 in the atmosphere to be between 5 and 10 years. A half life of 5 years means that more than 98% of a substance will disappear in a time span of 30 years" (see here)
Fact 4: CO2 is particularly ADSORBED at the Poles: Cold sea water (at 10 degrees C) absorbs 19% more than its own volume of CO2. Polar areas absorbs more CO2 than elsewhere (Plimer 324). During the Ice Ages, the oceans cool down and adsorb most atmospheric CO2, reducing CO2 levels in the air. As the Ice Age ends (due to factors that are totally unrelated to CO2 in the air, because there is VERY LITTLE CO2 in the air during the ice age anyway!), the oceans warm up and release the CO2 mostly near the equator. We should expect to find CO2 levels in the air decreasing AS A RESULT OF the Ice Age and increasing as the Ice Age ends, and the Earth warms. That is precisely what the ice core data confirm. CO2 levels LAG, not lead. If it were to go the other way, all our knowledge of physics would be violated.
Question: Why do bacteria not entirely suck out CO2 from the seas during the Ice Age. Because of Q10. Life activities multiply with temperature. Too cold a temperature reduces life activity.
Fact 5: Increases in CO2 levels in the atmosphere DO NOT increase acidity in the sea. "The oceans have been salty and alkaline since the beginning of time, even whe
n temperature was higher and atmospheric CO2 was at least 25 times the current value. This is because rocks on the land chemically react with air, water and micro-organisms to form soil and because submarine volcanic rocks and sediments chemically react with sea water. When we run out of rocks, the oceans will become acid" (Plimer 293).
Conclusion: CO2 DOES NOT HEAT THE PLANET AFTER 100 PPMV. THE CURRENT LEVELS OF CO2 ARE LOW. THE PLANET HAS SELF-REGULATING PROCESSES TO DEAL WITH MUCH GREATER USE OF FOSSIL FUELS. THERE ARE ZERO ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF INCREASED CO2. HENCE CO2 IS NOT A POLLUTANT AND THE QUESTION OF NEEDING TO CONTAIN CO2 THROUGH ECONOMIC OR OTHER POLICY DOES NOT ARISE.
BENEFITS OF CO2 INCREASE TO LIFE ON EARTH
Instead of being a pollutant, CO2 is a great boon to mankind. While increased CO2 levels CANNOT increase the temperatures of the world noticeably, the increased CO2 DEFINITELY helps increase plant productivity, since CO2 is plant food. [Apparently Stern assumed that CO2 has NO fertilisation effect on plants! (Plimer 197) A more ridiculous assumption can't be imagined.]
RESULTS OF THE COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS
BENEFITS OF CO2 > COSTS OF CO2 (which are zero).
HENCE MANKIND CAN INCREASE CO2 IN THE ATMOSPHERE WITHOUT ANY FEAR. IT MERELY AMOUNTS TO ADDING TO THE WORLD FOOD SUPPLY, SOMETHING THAT IS POSITIVE FOR LIFE ON THIS PLANET. CO2 IS GOOD.
Life on earth will end once volcanic activity slows down.
Despite its best efforts to pump CO2 into the air, mankind can't change the secular long-term decline in CO2 in the earth's atmosphere, as volcanic activity is constantly reducing over time, with the cooling of the earth.
As CO2 levels drop below 100 ppmv, the Earth will cool very rapidly, entering into a permanent Ice Age. Even the natural slowing down of the rotation of the earth in the next few billion years (which will bring the Earth closer to the sun and heat up the earth slightly) wont' help us. Well before that, at 150 ppmv, plants will die off, killing off all life on earth (unless we breed plants that can live on less than 150 ppmv). By about 4-5 billion years from now, we had better figure out a way to leave the Earth. Let's enjoy CO2 till we can! Take it easy!
http://climatology.suite101.com/article.cfm/climate-scientist-faces-knockout-punch-in-virginia-court How the hockey stick graph was based on the study of ONE TREE!
For more nonsensical predictions about CO2 that never turned out to be true see this.
http://www.climatechangefraud.com/climate-reports/7288-dr-martin-hertzberg-in-explosive-attack-on-global-warming-theory – seems to show that the greenhouse gas effect is exaggerated.