Another year, another summer, another depressing realization for me. Namely, that no one in America seems to have the sense to wrap their minds around whats really happening in the atmosphere.
I was talking to one of my fellow mechanical engineers today at the office and I realized that part of the problem in explaining why anthropogenic global warming is such a ridiculous farce is that most people are simply afraid of math and numbers in general. Words like "parts per million" have no meaning to the vast majority of the population -- other than whatever arbitrary meaning politicos such as Al Gore assign them.
Here's a simple breakdown. Don't be afraid of numbers -- try to stay with me whether you're engineering minded or not. From various sources the consensus seems to be that pre-evil man CO2 levels were 200-280 parts per million, or ppm. The latest off of Mauna Loa show something like 360-380 ppm. Now depending on how you slice it, that runs a rough increase of either 90% or 28.6% (380/200 vs 360/280). That alone is enough to tell you that scientists have absolutely nofreaking clue what is going on here. If you told your boss that costs had increased somewhere between 28.6 and 90 per cent I sincerely doubt you'd be considered for that fat promotion. But, alas, here we are. The data is what it is, whether or not you can establish any kind of consistent "start point".
For the sake of discussion, lets take the worst case scenario -- that is, that CO2 concentrations have almost doubled (200-380 ppm) in the past two hundred years due solely to the industrial revolution and Daimler's devil-machine. It still remains true that CO2 makes up a darn near insignificant part of atmospheric composition, as shown below:
|Constant components |
(proportions remain the same over time and location)
|Nitrogen (N2)|| |
|Oxygen (O2)|| |
|Argon (Ar)|| |
|Neon, Helium, Krypton|| |
|Variable components |
(amounts vary over time and location)
|Carbon dioxide (CO2)||0.0370%|
|Water vapor (H20)||0-4%|
|Sulfur dioxide (SO2)||trace|
|Nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2)||trace|
To put that in a way that's a bit easier to see and understand, here's a handy-dandy flash animation. We're talking slivers of slivers here.
This is to the extent that when modeling combustion reactions (similar to how climatologists model climate change) engineers simply use 79% N2 and 21% O2 and move on their merry way. But I digress; the point I'm trying to make here is that what you've got is a multiplication of fractions. In fraction form, .0370% is 370/1000000, our familiar 370 ppm number. Even using a 90% change in CO2, this means that ultimately you're changing the total composition of the atmosphere by 180 ppm, or 0.018%. If you use the 28.6% number that drops to 80 ppm change, or 0.008%.
Unfortunately, changing the atmospheric gases does most definitely not correspond to changing the greenhouse effect that keeps us comfortably oscillating around the freezing point of water. These gases do not all contribute equally to how much albedo is absorbed as heat and how much is let back out into space. From numerous accredited sources it can be shown that water vapor contributes somewhere between 97 and 99% of the greenhouse effect. It happens to absorb radiation far better than CO2 does.
Even if you ignore the effect of other greenhouse gases such as CFCs, Methane, Ozone, and Nitrous Oxides (NOx) and say that the remaining 1-3% of the greenhouse effect is solely dependent on CO2 you're still only talking about a 28.6-90% change of that same1-3%...leaving CO2 contributing somewhere between 1.286% and 5.7% of total greenhouse heat trapping, or a change of 2.7% at worst. That correlates to a global change of 0.04-0.41 degrees C (assuming an average global temperature 0f 15 degrees from 1800-2000 AD).
Oddly enough, that 0.4 degree rise is precisely within the range of what the IPCC predicted. Could it be that their climate models are as rough and crude as my back-of-the-napkin calculations? Even assuming absolutely every single worst-case scenario the whole way, like roughly doubling the amount of CO2 in the air, assuming that entire amount is produced by man, and assuming that it contributes well more than its fair share of greenhouse radiation absorbance, I can't reproduce their predictions of 0.6-1 degree rises.
I went back and re-read what I wrote and while there's nothing more than basic multiplication involved, it wasn't as easy of an explanation as I'd hoped. At the end of the day, though, I would hope that most people can understand and follow percentages and multiplication. If you would be interested in a more in-depth analysis, there's a great one (with many sources) here.
Whew! What a way to get back into blogging.