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How Do We Know That CO2 Is Warming The Planet?

Updated on April 10, 2015


How do we know that we really need to act on climate change?

That’s the big question for human society today. For climate ‘alarmists’, if we fail to act, we will suffer serious and perhaps catastrophic losses in blood and treasure. For ‘denialists’, if we act, we will waste vast sums of money to solve a non-existent problem and that will cause significant losses in blood and treasure.

How can we know what to do?

I’d suggest that we can look at the sources of the knowledge that we do have. That will put us in a better position to know what information is, or is not, trustworthy.

The big question above breaks down into three large sub-questions:

1) How do we know that CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) cause planetary warming?

2) How do we know that we are responsible for the measured increase in greenhouse gas concentrations?

3) How do we know that warming will be a bad thing if it continues?

Let’s take them in turn, one or two Hubs per question. In this Hub we'll ask:

How do we know that CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) cause planetary warming?

Images courtesy NASA.
Images courtesy NASA.
Joseph Fourier
Joseph Fourier | Source

So how *do* we know CO2 warms the planet?

Most people are surprised to learn that this part of the story goes back deep into the 19th century. Mathematician (and Napoleonic official) Joseph Fourier had developed mathematical tools enabling him to accurately model the conduction of heat, and decided to use this ability to study the Earth’s temperature. What factors determined that temperature?

Fourier considered all sources of heat to the surface: heat from the Earth’s interior, heat from solar radiation, heat from space itself, and did his best to calculate how these interacted. At the end of the process, he was left with a mystery: the planet should be considerably colder than it is. He realized that something about the atmosphere altered the planet’s heat budget as he was able to calculate it. That ‘x-factor’ would later be dubbed, somewhat misleadingly, the ‘greenhouse effect.’ As Fourier wrote in 1824:

The heat of the sun, coming in the form of light, possesses the property of penetrating transparent solids or liquids, and loses this property entirely, when by communication with terrestrial bodies, it is turned into heat radiating without light.

Much information about energy flows in the atmosphere was gained over subsequent decades. But the essential question—what exactly was physically responsible for this mysterious effect?—remained unanswered until 1859.

John Tyndall
John Tyndall

In that year, an Anglo-Irish physicist named John Tyndall constructed an ingenious apparatus for studying the transmission of heat through various gases. He found, much to his surprise, that a number of them had just the sort of property that Fourier had inferred: though transparent to light, they were in varying degrees opaque to radiant heat. Prominent among them were water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Tyndall grasped the significance of this at once. If sunlight reached the ground and heated it (as we all experience fairly directly), but the heat could not so directly escape again to space, then those gases would act much as a dam acts in a river:

As a dam built across a river causes a local deepening of the stream, so our atmosphere, thrown as a barrier across the terrestrial rays, produces a local heightening of the temperature at the Earth's surface.

The modern scientific basis developed from there. To mention just a couple of highlights, the first mathematical model of CO2-driven global warming was calculated—by hand!—in 1896 by Swedish Nobel Laureate Svante Arrhenius. The result caused considerable interest, but research subsided into confusion and uncertainty after a few years.

In 1938, Englishman Guy Callendar updated and extended Arrhenius’s work. Among other things, he:

  • Developed time series of temperature readings to demonstrate that global temperature was indeed increasing;
  • Demonstrated that both atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperature had increased since the 19th century; and
  • Updated the physical theory by incorporating the then-new measurements of so-called ‘back-radiation’ from the atmosphere to the ground.

Guy Callendar
Guy Callendar

Callendar did much to inspire and inform the next generation of researchers, such as the Canadian-born Gilbert Plass, who developed computer software that enabled the detailed calculation of radiative transfers in the atmosphere. His work would eventually inspire comprehensive models of the Earth’s climate systems—atmospheric composition and circulation, ocean temperatures and circulation, and carbon cycles among land, sea, and atmosphere, and more.

A seminal figure in this work was Syukuro Manabe, a Japanese researcher who has spent most of his career in working in the United States.

Dr. Syokuro Manabe
Dr. Syokuro Manabe | Source

In 1967, he and Richard Wetherald had used a simple one-dimensional model to calculate that a doubling of CO2 concentrations would raise global temperatures by around 2 degrees Celsius. (Then, as now, that was projected to be likely by the end of the 21st century.)

By 1975, the two had worked up a much more realistic three-dimensional model. That one showed a rise of 3.5 degrees.

By 1979, the National Academy of Science “Charney panel”, tasked to examine what climate models had to say about the possibility of climate change driven by CO2, concluded that the panel was “unable to find any overlooked or underestimated physical effects” that could reduce expected warming below their range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees C.

This estimate has held up very well; it currently represents the ‘likely’ range of sensitivity, according to the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change. So we not only know that CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) cause warming, we have decent estimates of just how much they cause.


But what about observations?

What do we see happening with global warming and carbon dioxide in the real world?

Taking the latter first, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased roughly 40% since pre-Industrial times. Before humanity embarked upon its current fossil fuel binge, the atmosphere held about 280 parts per million. Now that figure stands at about 400 parts per million. (As of writing, the latest available monthly estimate is for January, 2015, and that figure stands at 399.85 ppm. The most recent daily value you can see below.)

The best record of this CO2 increase is the graph of the "Keeling curve." I'll explain that curve a bit more fully later in this series of Hubs, but here's what it looks like as of this writing:


Temperature Observations

But what about temperature? Some may ask, "Hasn't the Earth stopped warming?" After all, it's frequently asserted (particularly in online discussions) that there has been 'no warming since [year x].' This has even been dubbed the 'pause,' or 'hiatus.'

The short answer is "No, it hasn't stopped warming."

It is true that warming trends have been slower, if calculated over the past decade or so. But these changes in trend are not statistically significant. And that is shorthand for "There is no reason to think that these short-term trends are the result of anything except variations in things like the "ENSO" cycle of El Ninos and La Ninas." And these variations will average out over time, leaving the long term trend dominant.

This is well-illustrated by an exercise performed by statistician 'Tamino.' Take the the surface temperature record from 1970 to the end of 1999. Extrapolate it forward to the end of 2014, and compare reality to the projection. What do you find?

Let 'Tamino' answer that question:

"Just what was expected, that’s what actually happened."

To be crystal clear, what Tamino means is that 2014 falls squarely on the projected trend line. (It's also the warmest year in the temperature record to date, beating the record set in 2010.)

Here's the graph illustrating the point, taken from Tamino's website:


The Wrap

So, to sum up, there is:

  • A nearly two-hundred year record of scientific inquiry which has built a very strong understanding of how carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, including water vapor, warm the planet;
  • A significant increase in greenhouse gases, and
  • A strong observed warming trend.

(I consider the temperature observations a bit more in my Hub considering the climate 'impacts,' which is the jargon for 'effects of climate change'.)

So we know that it should be warming, according to physical theory, and that it is warming, according to observations.

What does the most authoritative assessment have to say about this?

Originally this image was sourced from: That link is now dead.  Instead use new link, below.
Originally this image was sourced from: That link is now dead. Instead use new link, below. | Source

Do you think CO2 warms the planet?

See results

But are we responsible for this increase in CO2? That, of course, is the second question that we asked above. And that's considered in the next Hub in this series. It's just one click away; scroll down a bit, and just above the "Related Hubs", you'll find a button labeled "Next."

Check it out!


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    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      3 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Thanks for your additional thoughts, Vladimir. Let me respond in order.

      "After all, in many areas of science the mainstream thought is only enjoying its pedestal due to the academic vanity of the "old school" which has turned into a religion while not allowing anything new to shake its credibility."

      I think that's what the climate disinformation machine would have you believe. When I look at the scientific literature, I don't see anything of the sort; I see a vigorous debate. But--as I said in my previous commet--not on questions that are well settled.

      "Before leaving this point, let us remember that a "flat Earth" was also a "mainstream knowledge" for a long time."

      Yeah, but, for the educated, not since approximately 240 B.C.

      "...nobody is denying a climate change..."

      You'd be surprised. I still meet 'em.

      "...which doesn't necessarily mean a global warming..."

      No, not necessarily. But that is what it means here and now. The observations are quite unequivocal.

      "...some experts are actually saying that we are more likely to be heading towards another ice age than some catastrophically high temperatures."

      No one with real expertise is saying this. Period. Some cranks may be, but that is quite a different kettle of fish.

      "I don't really care if there are 50 Einstains saying how we are having a global warming..."

      Possibly you should.

      "...let us leave something to the times to come when new data may prove their reasoning wrong."

      I have no idea what that is supposed to really mean. Taken at its most literal, it would imply that we trust no knowledge because it might later turn out to be mistaken. All I can say about that idea is that it would be a remarkable new tack for humanity to take.

      "I will always admit my humble, limited insights in the whole matter."

      No offense, but you may be overestimating your own humility; I haven't yet heard from you anything that I would actually call an insight.

      "...where theories are parading as science. In order for something to be scientific, there has to be a proof beyond a shadow of a doubt, not allowing alternative possibilities or even probabilities. There is no scientist in the world who is denying that 2+2=4, and all science has to have that axiomatic nature in order to qualify to be called science."

      This is really an important statement, because it gets to a place where you are seriously mistaken about what science is and how it works.

      First, 'theories' ARE science. The whole essence of science is understanding physical reality. That is done by means of models--not necessarily computational models of the sort that are usually termed 'climate' or 'weather models', but verbal and/or mathematical *representations* of how reality is structured. For example, Einstein's famous E=MC2 identifies how energy and matter are related.

      These models are assembled into coherent bodies of knowledge, which allow experimental testing to be done. If there is no theory, there is no experimental testing, because only the theory provides the ability to make testable predictions. For example, in the case of Einstein's theories about matter, energy and spacetime, those theories made a prediction that matter 'bends' light. Famously, that theory was tested by reference to a solar eclipse in 1919, and Einstein became a scientific celebrity.

      Without the theory, no-one would have been looking for the 'bent' light rays. And if they'd been noticed, no-one would have had a clue what they meant. So, yes, theory is very much of the essence of the scientific enterprise.

      Furthermore, even now--when multiple additional experimental verifications of Einstein's ideas have been performed--those theories are NOT "axiomatic". They can still in principle be falsified, should someone come up with an experimental test that they flunk. That's actually a vital feature of science, at least according to the reigning paradigm, notably expressed by Karl Popper:

      "...if a presenter is not whistled out of the room as an idiot, but people of some brains are considering his presentation to "have something there", then such a dude just might be more right than dozens of voices who are outnumbering and outlouding him."

      Precisely so. But in today's environment, it is the mainstream scientist who is having his presentation considered to "have something there", and the contrarian/denial cadres who are attempting to 'outloud' him.

      "I am just allowing more time to pass so that someone of more brains than mine and yours may prove you either right or wrong."

      Folks of more brains that you or me have already done so, to a very reasonable degree of certainty. And what they are telling us is that we have a very big problem, and very little time to solve it. They could of course be wrong--but betting the future of humanity on the notion that our best experts on the topic are wrong doesn't seem like the cleverest strategy possible.

      "...we could use some warmer winters here in Canada."

      It's very understandable that Canadians wish for a little winter warmth; I should know, as a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

      Increasingly, Canada is getting them:

      Unfortunately, with the warmth comes disruption: changed rainfall patterns, including "rainbombs" like the ones that drenched Toronto and Calgary in recent years; changed ecologies, since many characteristic species don't tolerate the warmer temperatures well; and continuing sea level rises bedeviling coastal communities all around Canada's very long coastlines--just to name three prominent ones.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      When it comes to (climate change) politics and money seem to (Trump) Science.Pun. Intended!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Doc---I certainly can't match either your resources or your eloquence in this matter, so allow me to merely continue with my little bits of uninformed logicalness.

      The fact that something is "mainstream" doesn't say much in favor of it. After all, in many areas of science the mainstream thought is only enjoying its pedestal due to the academic vanity of the "old school" which has turned into a religion while not allowing anything new to shake its credibility. Before leaving this point, let us remember that a "flat Earth" was also a "mainstream knowledge" for a long time.

      Secondly, as most of the "contrarians", as you call them, are contending, nobody is denying a climate change, which doesn't necessarily mean a global warming. Climate has been well documented to keep changing, but some experts are actually saying that we are more likely to be heading towards another ice age than some catastrophically high temperatures.

      As you may see by now, I am not impressed by names of authorities and the magnitude of their career in science. You stated very well that science is constantly changing, and it should, if the progress is not to be frozen into a dogma.

      Thus, at a face value I don't really care if there are 50 Einstains saying how we are having a global warming---let us leave something to the times to come when new data may prove their reasoning wrong.

      Anybody is free to slap me with "who do you think you are", and I will always admit my humble, limited insights in the whole matter. But I am simply wired to look at things from different perspectives and not fall for something just because this or that number of impressive dudes are saying this or that to be so. Some call it "thinking out of the box".

      What gives me enormous excuse for this attitude is the unstable nature of science, where theories are parading as science. In order for something to be scientific, there has to be a proof beyond a shadow of a doubt, not allowing alternative possibilities or even probabilities. There is no scientist in the world who is denying that 2+2=4, and all science has to have that axiomatic nature in order to qualify to be called science.

      To my kind of logicalness, if a presenter is not whistled out of the room as an idiot, but people of some brains are considering his presentation to "have something there", then such a dude just might be more right than dozens of voices who are outnumbering and outlouding him.

      All this doesn't try to make any of your arguments invalid, Doc---I am just allowing more time to pass so that someone of more brains than mine and yours may prove you either right or wrong.

      As far as I care, we could use some warmer winters here in Canada. I hope the Earth's axis shifts a little so we get some palm trees and Hollywood gets some snow. Some of those hotheads and potheads need some cooling down. (This humorous ending is intentional to help you take me less seriously---if it's possible at all, LOL.).

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      3 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Hi, Vladimir, and thanks for commenting. In my opinion there is nothing 'honest ignorance' that requires forgiveness.

      I do have to disagree a bit about the 'equally impressive credentials' bit, though, at least in respect of climate change. It's been demonstrated that scientific opinion on climate change is highly lopsided, with the 'mainstream' enormously outnumbering contrarians. And, further, that the imbalance only grows more marked in proportion to the expertise of those surveyed. There's a convenient summary of the many surveys and studies on this on wikipedia:

      (That's just the subsection on surveys of literature and scientists, but it's also worth considering in this regard the record of support for the mainstream from numerous scientific societies around the world.)

      More generally, it's worth noting that scientific disagreement is "not a bug, but a feature". What I mean by that is that the process of arriving at reliable scientific models of reality is often highly adversarial. One scientist put it in a nutshell by saying that every scientist must accept that the first thing that happens when their newest result is published in the professional literature is that everyone will immediately attempt to--forgive the coarse language--"kick the shit out of it." So at the growing edge of science, expect disagreement--that's how hypotheses are tested, found wanting, and modified or dropped.

      Eventually, most of the dross gets pared away, and science gives us a 'good enough' model of how reality works. At that point, most researchers go on to fight about something else. Then the science may be called 'settled'--although in principle, it never settles completely, because there is always the possibility that someone will find a way to show how the model is inaccurate or incomplete in some way. And of course, there are always scientific Don Quixotes around, who keep tilting at the 'sort-of-settled' science, almost always without result. (But not quite "always!")

      In terms of climate change, some parts are at the growing edge, and scientists are contending furiously; at others, we have a few Don Quixotes trying to knock over windmills.

      One example of the former is climate sensitivity. Although there has been a great deal of research done, estimates of how much the climate will warm in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide have been very difficult to pin down definitively. The best estimate is about 3 degrees Celsius, but estimates range from about 1.5 C to 4.5 C. One recent paper made headlines by claiming to have ruled out higher values--but that is subject to the normal critical process I described, and is being disputed now.

      Note, however, that the idea that global temperature rises in response to increased CO2 has zero respectable scientific opposition. That fact is highly 'settled.' To be sure, there are Don Quixotes out there tilting at the windmill; but they have no scientific credibility--although they may make noise in the blogosphere, they have not advanced a credible hypothesis in the scientific literature. (Eg., the "Sky Slayers" group, which has proposed an alternative theory, which has been universally found unphysical.)

      I know that assessing scientific credentials can be difficult and unsatisfactory for laymen--I'm a layman, too, after all--but the touchstone is what impact their work has in the professional literature. You don't say which set of hearings you have in mind, but I'm going to address this one:

      The witnesses invited were:

      Michael Mann (mainstream)

      Judith Curry, John Christy, Roger Pielke Jr. (contrarian)

      Now, let me note a couple of things first. One, the majority party in Congress has stacked the deck here by inviting one representative of the mainstream and three contrarians; that reflects, not the scientific reality, but the preferences of the politicians in charge. And two, even so, all three contrarians do in fact accept that CO2 does warm the planet--their reservations are about how much warming to expect, and about the severity of the expected consequences.

      But let's compare the citation statistics of the various scientists here. That's considered an important measure of a scientist's reputation because a citation means that their work was relevant to someone else's work--essentially, it's an acknowledgement of scientific influence. Here are the numbers for Michael Mann:

      Citations 28637 11579

      h-index 75 50

      i10-index 168 132

      (The first column is lifetime numbers; the second is since 2013 (last 5 years). The "H-index" of 75 means that Dr. Mann has 75 papers with at least 75 citations each. The "I10-index" of 168 means that 168 of Dr. Mann's publications have at least 10 citations.

      Here's the link where I got them:

      And here are the comparable numbers for the others:

      Judith Curry:

      Citations 17437 6041

      h-index 63 38

      i10-index 170 95

      John R Christy

      unavailable (!?)

      Some papers here:

      (About 1800 citations for papers on the first search page.)

      Roger Pielke Jr.

      Lifetime citations: 15901

      You'll note that Dr. Mann has been considerably more influential, as far as we can tell, than any of the others. That's particularly noticeable in the 'since 2013' column. Dr. Curry received her doctorate in 1982, whereas Dr. Mann received his in 1998 (the year the original 'hockey stick' paper came out), giving the former researcher roughly 16 additional years of citations with comparison to the latter.

      I'd add that there is a concerted attempt by some to 'balance' the equation by disparaging Dr. Mann. For instance, see this recent smear piece by serial disinformer James Delingpole:

      Note that the only criticism of his scientific work is a false description of the 'hockey stick' work done in 1998 and 1999. (Far from being 'discredited', the 'hockey-stick papers' have been the basis of a whole genre of research using proxy data to reconstruct past climate conditions--and the results have largely supported and extended the original results.)

      Everything else is either personal or political--which, in my opinion, should be a strong indication to anyone that there is a political agenda at work; one quite divorced from scientific results.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Doc---Forgive my honest ignorance in the whole matter from which stems this impression that a lay person is left with cherry picking between so much opposite "scientific evidence" in this matter.

      I believe I am not the only one who finds rather disturbing this phenomenon of scientists of equally impressive credentials coming up with some totally opposite conclusions.

      Whether it's about medical science, astrophysics, nutrition, or sciences of human mind, we are facing a ridiculous amount of disagreements in the scientific community.

      For instance, I watched a meteorological expert of some reputation giving a report at the American Congress about this matter of global warming---calling it an absolute hoax. Then I watched another few presentations backed up by a lot of convincing "scientific evidence" suggesting the same.

      I won't go into details, trusting that others reading this also had a chance to be equally confused at the end; just like they were when they heard one doctor calling coconut oil dangerous, and another one calling it a cure for a whole list for health problems.

      All this doesn't make your article any less interesting, and even though my optimistic nature is leaning towards calling it all a hoax---I'll end it the way I started it---I don't "know", and "beliefs" have always been up for grabs.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Well, thanks for some links. I'll have to take a look.

      But your claims don't make much sense.

      Firstly, the 2010 numbers may only have been projections when that article was written, but they aren't much different from the observed reality. For instance, last year's emissions were reported at similar level by the International Energy Agency:

      "Annual global emissions remained at 32 gigatonnes in 2014, unchanged from the previous year."

      For 2012, the number was 31.7 GT:

      So the human contribution is very much as stated in the link I provided.

      (And by the way, you seem to be confused. The projected 2010 data has nothing to do with "Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998"; it comes from Friedlingstein et al., 2010, as the USGS article clearly states. The data used was 'projected' because you obviously don't get 2010 data until sometime after the end of 2010! The Marty and Tolstikhin paper was one of the estimates of *volcanic* emissions that was considered.)

      Second, if there had indeed been a 300% increase in vulcanism since 2003, as you claim, that would merely have taken the volcanic CO2 contributions from around 1% of human ones, to around 3% of human ones. Hardly a big deal.

      Third, in the article on volcanic eruptions, you don't actually provide any evidence that there was such an increase. You *say* there was, but saying in your Hub is really no different from saying it in mine.

      Trying to find something like that claim out there on the Intertubes, I see that these guys think--in a 2003 article, interestingly--that *solar activity* is--or was--up 300%, and they expect to see earthquakes increase 500% by 2013:

      The search box says that they think that atmospheric pressure on Pluto has increased 300%. How they think anyone can possibly know that, I'm not sure. That's not as colorful as the claim that the Moon is "growing" an atmosphere of something they call "natrium." (That's probably a distortion of the root word for 'sodium'--the moon does indeed have a trace atmosphere including sodium, but it's not a new development.)

      Anyway, they link to this blog:

      In it, I find a claim that earthquakes have increased by 500% between 1875 and 1975. It may, or may not, come from one Dr. Dmitiriev, who makes a claim about disasters in the same paragraph.

      Searching for Dr. Dmitriev, I found this deep well of nuttiness:

      So, it's probably Dr. Alexi Dmitriev, who is:

      "Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, and Chief Scientific Member, United Institute of Geology,Geophysics, and Mineralogy, Siberian Department of Russian Academy of Sciences"

      That latter seems to be a small institute in Novosibirsk. The staff directory is here, dating to 2003, by which time the elusive Dr. Dmitriev seems no longer to have worked there:

      An English translation of Dr. Dmitriev's paper sourcing all these various claims is here:

      The text states that it dates from 1996; apparently all those folks citing the various developments it describes were unaware that the source is nearly 20 years old.

      And, unfortunately, Dmitriev gives no source for information on earthquakes; there's a table showing that there were 20 catastrophic ones between 1963 and 1993, killing 102,000 people, but he doesn't give his source. In any case, that couldn't be the source of your claim of an increase since 2003, obviously.

      All in all, that's rather a lot of wasted time.

      So, where DO you get the information? I don't find anything of the sort out there, but hey, it's a big Internet after all.

      You say that we aren't responsible for climate change; apparently you think it's due to the advent of 'Nibiru'. With all due respect, that's considerably more "absurd" than anything I or the USGS has said.

    • somethgblue profile image


      6 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Well, let's breakdown your so-called 'evidence' shall we, this is how 'science' twist supposed facts. I have capitalized the key words for easier understanding.

      "The 35-gigaton PROJECTED anthropogenic CO2 emission for 2010 is about 80 to 270 times larger than the respective maximum and minimum annual global volcanic CO2 emission ESTIMATES.

      (Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998)

      Projections and estimates ARE NOT facts, sorry you lose. You're using a report that projects and estimates emissions that predates the increase of volcanic activity by five years and projects data 12 years into the future . . . we are talking absurd.

      You want links, you got 'em!

      Since 2003 there has been a 300% rise in volcanic activity above and below the surface of the ocean, if you want to deny it feel free.

      I'm not saying humans are not polluting the planet I'm saying we are NOT the reason the planet is heating up and I have written over a hundred articles listing the reasons why.

      You have barely scratched the surface and seem intent on pointing the finger at humanity, we do a lot of bad stuff but climate change/global warming whatever you want to call it ain't one of them.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      No, I am not calling you foolish. I said that you were recycling a particularly foolish meme. You are.

      I appreciate your stylistic hints, which I am sure are motivated by honest concern for my view count. However, looking back at our conversation, my perception is that I am doing a hell of a lot better at backing up my points than you are. Your style has been to ask rather cryptic questions as if they were highly meaningful, and pass quickly on. For example:

      "However since you mentioned forest fires, isn't there one in Brazil that has been burning for a decade now?"

      Dear fellow, what is the point?

      Interesting, and a bit ironic, that you boast of your skills with Google. Why don't you actually use them to supply your readers with information? In regard to that fire, for instance, you might have supplied this link:

      But maybe you wouldn't care for this bit:

      "Perhaps most significantly, the NASA study implicated climate change as the primary cause for these fires, finding that drought and heatwaves related to increases in human heat trapping gasses had depleted ground moisture levels, resulting in a greatly increased instance of fires."

      However, you are quite thoroughly mistaken about volcanic eruptions--though it's not your mistake originally. Dr. Ian Plimer--whose educational attainments should have led him to know better--made that allegation in media interviews and in his "Heaven And Earth." However, it has been shown to be incorrect: human emissions are about 130-135 times larger than volcanic ones:

      "The 35-gigaton projected anthropogenic CO2 emission for 2010 is about 80 to 270 times larger than the respective maximum and minimum annual global volcanic CO2 emission estimates. It is 135 times larger than the highest preferred global volcanic CO2 estimate of 0.26 gigaton per year (Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998)."

      There is also the question of rates of vulcanism: if you (or Dr. Plimer) are claiming that it's responsible for the 40% increase over pre-Industrial levels of CO2, then you need to show that vulcanism is increasing, if you want to make an serious case, at least. But there's no evidence of such an increase.

      So, who here should be 'ashamed?' The one who provides correct information, appropriately documented, or the one who buys into pure (and purely irresponsible) mythology, promoted by 'shills' (to reuse a word you injected into the discussion a while back) like Professor Plimer?

    • somethgblue profile image


      6 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      You're not calling me foolish, are you?

      That would be in direct violation of your own impeccable standards of engaging in commentary discourse, would it not?

      Do you suppose you can merely type the words 'no offense' and then feel free to insult at will, how does that work?

      Well, let's try it shall we . . . No Offense but your articles are long boring cut and paste jobs, that state others' opinions while neatly side stepping glaring errors of omission and offering none of your own theories or ideas.

      My Google works perfectly fine, if I wanted to read other peoples (scientists') ideas and theories I'm perfectly capable of doing so.

      Try sharing an original idea or concept with us, take a stand and voice your opinion loud and clear. All these graphs, charts and graphics look neat but let's get real your readers are not scientists, so don't treat them like they are.

      Simple sentences, make your point and then back it up.

      My point is your 'science' is bought and paid for tripe. I've watched the process of grass growing and found it more entertaining than reading your articles.

      However since you mentioned forest fires, isn't there one in Brazil that has been burning for a decade now?

      One volcanic eruption spews out more greenhouse gas emissions in one day than a 100 years of industrial pollution and get this it sends it six to ten miles into the atmosphere.

      So how many volcanic eruptions have occurred since 'An Inconvenient Truth' aired? I would hazard a guess close to a hundred and those are just the ones on the surface. There is one erupting off the coast of Oregon under the surface on the ocean floor that has been going strong for months.

      Yes, we certainly contribute to the pollution of this planet but Global Warming and Climate Change are twisting the facts to scare the public and you should be ashamed of yourself for contributing to that but I doubt very seriously if you have ever considered it.

      Either you are part of the problem or part of the solution.

      Is your finger hovering over the delete button, lol?

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      No offense intended, but you are recycling a particularly foolish meme from around 2007, which argued that global warming, if common to the whole solar system, must be due to one common cause, most likely the sun.

      It sounds logical, but it's not. First, its illogical in that those pushing this meme also argued that either a) Earth wasn't really warming, or that b) we couldn't tell whether Earth was really warming. That made no sense, the first because it's a blatant contradiction, the second because if the extravagantly well-instrumented Earth's warming 'couldn't' be determined, then how could the temperature trends on other bodies in the solar system?

      Moreover, the evidence for the alleged warming trends on other bodies is thin, and often includes suggestions of other physical causes. For instance, *if* Mars is warming, it may be due to changes in the Martian albedo, not to solar changes. In the case of Jupiter, sometimes included in this idea, the warming observed was not only known to be due to other causes, it was actually projected in advance by computer modeling of the Jovian atmospheric circulation!

      Another problem with the 'it's the whole solar system' idea is that solar radiation has been measured by satellites for many decades now, and there is no sign of a trend that would explain the observed warming on Earth or anywhere else.

      Which brings up one last point: no one has ever claimed that ONLY greenhouse gases can cause climatic change, or that only humans can change greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere of Earth (or any other planet, for that matter.) Natural climate change occurs on Earth and elsewhere. But that does not mean that humans (or any putative LGMs that may exist out there somewhere) can't cause climate change as well. Think of forest fires: they can be caused by lightning strikes, but they can also be caused by careless campers.

    • somethgblue profile image


      6 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Wouldn't it be prudent to determine if other planets in the solar system were warming as well?

      Now according to you we can't fly a plane out of the atmosphere but I reckon we could send a probe out into the solar system to determine this?

      Wouldn't it be interesting if the other planets were warming up as well, would that mean that little green men drive SUVs, also?

      Gee, I wonder how difficult that would be to find out, hmmm do ya reckon the reason I mention it, is because I already know the answer?

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Thank you, Kristen!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      6 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Nice hub Doc Snow. Well-written and well-researched. It's very insightful and informative as well. A lot of useful knowledge in this hub. Voted up!

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Appreciate your efforts right now, mbf! I don't know about the Henry Ford water injection thing, though it sounds plausible enough. I do know that at one time he took Edison to Florida to scout land for growing crops for ethanol for fuel! But they couldn't compete with cheap gasoline.

      We're planning for solar in our retirement home, but everything about that process--move, jobs, contractors, blah, blah, blah--is glacially slow.

    • mybrianthe fixer profile image


      6 years ago from Northern Ireland sometimes feels like Earth

      Hi I am just an average Joe on basic wage, would like to be kinder on our small planet, I recycle. Keeping warm and food are important solar panels are out reach for me. As for buying science I seem to recall Henry Ford bought the patent for a water injection kit for petrol cars(saves 20/30% on consumption) shelved it because of his interests in the oil industry. TPTB are just like him. Thanks for the links on solar panels will look into them when funds allow.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Well, I did quickly check UK solar panel prices. This site is the first thing I found:

      Says there that "The average cost of solar panels and installation is between £6,000 and £9,000."

      Currency converter says that the pound is worth $1.52 US, so that's $9,000 to $13,500.

      As the site says, not cheap--but on the scale of home reno projects, it's not that bad either. (Check what kind of kitchen you can buy for that money, for instance. You'll find it's surprisingly easy to spend a lot more.)

      This site has it lower--"between £4,000 and £6,000:"

      And if you think it's still too high, wait a couple of years. With current price trends, it's very likely that the price will be 10-20% less than today. Prices of solar panels now are literally less than 1% of what they were back in the 70s.

      But that said, I'm a bit puzzled why you think the price of solar panels (or living costs more generally) has a lot to do with whether or not climate change is dangerous. You seem to be implying that somehow the scientists profit from the solar cells. I'm not aware of anything suggesting that that's true--and, really, how would that work? You've got thousands of researchers around the world; how would the payoffs work? And why wouldn't the relatively puny renewable energy industry just be outbid by the much, much larger fossil fuel industries?

      (Who, by the way, are known to be buying science when and as they can--see the lamentable case of Dr. Willie Soon, currently in the news, or search the history of Dr. Patrick Michaels.)

      You ask: "If you are right why is the means to solve this out of my reach." I don't know what to tell you, there. Do you really think that the existence of a problem depends upon the price of its solution being convenient?

    • mybrianthe fixer profile image


      6 years ago from Northern Ireland sometimes feels like Earth

      I think you hit the nail with gravy train. Look at living costs in UK where I live, highest in western world, and if you want to go green check out the cost of a basic solar panel in UK. If you are right why is the means to solve this out of my reach. Regards Brian.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      myb, I'm not too sure what you are trying to say. Yes, ice cores from Greenland do go back tens of thousands of years--100,000, actually.

      But they show a remarkably stable climate:

      "Studies of isotopes and various atmospheric constituents in the core have revealed a detailed record of climatic variations reaching more than 100,000 years back in time. The results indicate that Holocene climate has been remarkably stable and have confirmed the occurrence of rapid climatic variation during the last ice age (the Wisconsin). Delta-O-18 variations observed in the core part believed to date from the Eemian Stage have not been confirmed by other records [1] including the NGRIP core and are now believed not to represent climate events: the interglacial climate of Eemian Stage appears to have been as stable as the Holocene."

      And I'm not too sure what you mean to imply by the your statement that we 'only had campfires not so long ago.' Of course there is such a thing as natural climate change. But that does not mean that humans can't cause it, too, anymore than the wildfires that result from lightning strikes mean that humans can't cause wildfire with matches.

      As you may have read in this Hub, we have a lot more evidence than just the fact that we observe warming today. We have a long-standing prediction that CO2 increases would cause climate to warm, and lo! the climate has warmed in conjunction with rising CO2. We also have a very thoroughly worked out physical explanation as to why and how this happens. And it is corroborated by numerous physical observations, only some of which I had space for in this Hub. They include the spatial pattern of warming (Arctic amplification, stratospheric cooling in conjunction with tropospheric warming), direct measurements of outgoing long wave radiation by satellites, and ground measurements of downwelling LWR.

      On the other side of the ledger, if this explanation is somehow wrong anyway, despite the evidence, then we have literally no explanation, as all other known factors fail to account for it. It's not the sun. It's not some oceanic cycle, and it's not a physically-unmotivated glacial 'recovery.'

      The last thing I don't understand is your phrase that 'global warming is a false flag.' The 'false flag' was (understood literally) a deception, allowable under classical rules of war, by which one could fly an enemy flag in order to bring them to battle. Do you therefore mean that global warming is a ruse, perhaps by politicians looking to institute a New World Order, or implement the sinister Agenda 21? Or maybe by scientists, who, smart as they are, have realized that they have a fabulous 'gravy train' if they just play along with the narrative?

      I've heard these ideas put forward. But they are pretty ridiculous, frankly. If there were some such conspiracy, it would have leaked--we'd have had the Edward Snowdon of climate science come forward already.

    • mybrianthe fixer profile image


      6 years ago from Northern Ireland sometimes feels like Earth

      Hi all look at the ice core samples taken from the Arctic. They record snow fall going back tens of thousands of years and they show dramatic climate changes within 10/20 years at any given time. We only had camp fires or no fire not so long ago. Global warming Is a false flag.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Thanks for the praise, Chris. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

      I'm always leery of short-term forecasts, but the scenario you outline is certainly not unreasonable. And I'm torn about the prospect: we need a wake up call to really push us over the finish line of an international climate deal, and to rachet up the ambition level of said deal. But the potential damage is not pleasant to contemplate.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 

      6 years ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Great Hub I like how you broke things down into terms most people can understand. I don't understand those who still don't believe in climate change or that humans didn't play a role when we have facts and data to prove them wrong.

      Last year was the warmest year on record and we're already setting records in January and February with either a weak or non existent El Nino present. We may have gone through a temporary hiatus, but it's beginning to look like we're heading into a new rapid warming era stemming back from the 1990s.

      This will only increase the devastating droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather events that we've been experiencing lately and eventually it will kill millions of people because it'll be too late to stop it.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Right. But if you look at the diagram, you see that pretty much anything under 1,000 atmospheres--which is about the highest pressure you find in the deepest parts of the ocean--still requires temperatures lower than about 230 K. And the ocean is warmer than the freezing point of water, which is ~273 K. So I don't think that you'll find solid CO2 anywhere on the Earth (except in a special cooler at your supermarket, and other 'unnatural' places like that.)

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      6 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      What I'm referring to when I say "temp parameters" is the temp environment wherein co 2 is present under pressure. Namely the Earth's ocean at the depth necessary for the phase change to occur may change.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      No, I don't think that the temp parameters, to use your phrase, can change. As I understand it, those properties are essentially inherent to the physics of the molecule.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      6 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Saw the co 2 temp - pressure phasing diagram. Is,it possible that the temp parameters could change under certain circumstances? perhaps global cooling ! You're right about co 2 not cooling solely because it solidified.It's the other way around. co 2 solidifies by combing pressure & lower temp. Obviously it only works one way! gas to solid due to both a low temp & high pressure environment . Pressurizing co 2 causes it to lose heat to the environment around it! The reverse happens when co 2 is present in a lower pressure & higher temp environment.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Good questions, Orin. And I don't know the answers.

      But there are business groups doing advocacy around environmental issues. If we can search them up, that might provide a place to start.

    • profile image

      P. Orin Zack 

      6 years ago

      How might we go about learning their motivations? Do you know of a site where they publish such things? And how might we put the reframing out into the world? (Do those business leaders read your Hub?)

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Orin, yes, I think that reframing could be quite useful. It would be interesting to know more about the motivations of business leaders who are already pushing for carbon mitigation (I know that there are some.) Those motivations would shed some light on your notion.

      swk, thanks for your thoughts. I don't think that your idea for solid CO2 at the poles quite works, though; the South pole is of course land, and the North not all that deep. (I see from Wikipedia that the pressure in the deepest oceanic deeps--the Marianas Trench--is only a bit more than 1000x SLP, and at 273 K (the freezing point of water), you'd need considerably more than that to solidify the CO2. See this phase diagram:

      And then, it wouldn't cool further just because it solidified.

      But what an imaginative thought! Love it.

      You're right about values and alternatives, though.

    • someonewhoknows profile image


      6 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      It's likely there is a very strong connection between climate change and co 2 concentrations in earths oceans. We know that co 2 is a gas and that co 2 can become a solid under enough pressure. So , it should be possible for enough co 2 gas dissolved in the planets oceans could conceivably become solid at some at a certain depth at the bottom of some oceans. The north and south poles would be the most likely places for such an event to occur.

      If, it did occur that would lower the temp of the ocean would it,not!

      If,that's the case then there can be huge differences between atmospheric temps at the equator verses those at the poles. This of course would be the cause of huge storms and weather disruptions cause by such temp extremes.

      As,for lowering co 2 emissions .Cutting down rain forests faster than they can regrow is not the answer.Nor is continuing to pollute the air with more co 2 gas through transportation etc.

      It, would be much better if ,we the people on this earth would not be so interested in self and be interested in the worlds common needs.

      There are alternatives to internal combustion engines more so than most of us are aware of. Ceramic fuel cells that turn natural gas into electricity is only one such example.

    • profile image

      P. Orin Zack 

      6 years ago

      In that series, I laid the blame for encouraging the controllable causes of Global Warming at the feet of the global bankers, because they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the increased profits in most any sector of the world's economies. But the industries at the front lines, the ones that see the actual business opportunities from a climate change, for good or for ill, would be both the construction companies, as you suggest, and the real estate companies that handle the transactions making that construction necessary. But how would the labor unions involved in all that construction work feel about it? Would they pitch in as well?

      The effect of this would be on the order of a concerted effort to 'terraform' the Earth with the objective being to foster a climate environment that best suited the business environment. It would pit some industries against others, of course, but that's the normal way of things now.

      The great Atlantic gyre that we experience as the Gulf Stream has an enormous effect on the local climates on both sides of the Atlantic. If it is more profitable to ensure that it continues than to weaken it, then the profiting business interests would pressure against actions that threaten to slow or stop it. Deep ocean drilling which can loose torrents of 'spilled' crude into the gyre would be of grave concern, as would any other oil spill that gets into the sea. Activity that causes massive melting of the ice in places such as Greenland and the poles would also threaten the gyre, as it is driven by heat exchange and salinity gradients, and that brings us back to carbon dioxide.

      What I'm suggesting is an effort to reframe the issue in such a way that environmentalists and business interests are on the same side. The players in taking action through that framing are both governmental and non-governmental, such as industry.

      Is this an idea worth spreading?

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Great to hear from you, Orin--and thanks for the praise.

      You've got a great story idea there--my thought would be that the 'who' would be really important. Maybe construction companies would *like* the increased business?

    • profile image

      P. Orin Zack 

      6 years ago

      I'm happy to see you embarking on a series of this nature, and look forward to the rest of it.

      Since I always think in terms of what-ifs, I wonder how the 'deniers' would respond to a call for ideas on how to manage the planet's environments to maximize global profitability. If they were to assess the existing climates in terms of whether they were a benefit or hindrance to profits, would they want to adjust them in some way? After all, damage due to storms, flooding and other climate-related events has been extremely costly in places. What changes might they seek, and how would they implement those changes? Would they collaborate to maximize global profitability, or would they conspire to choose which areas to sacrifice in order to benefit other areas? And if we could get them to answer such questions, what might we learn from them? (Come to think of it, you could interpret the future I laid out in my recent series of stories that started with 'Bait' to be an exploration of what they might do to implement those choices.)

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      He was a great mathematician and scientist, for sure.

      If you missed it in the links capsule above, my Hub on "Global Warming Science in the Age Napoleon" traces his life and work. For convenience, here's the link again:

      As a musician, I particularly appreciate Fourier's work on waveforms, which has acoustic applications. (Though I don't want to give the impression I understand the math at any great depth!)

    • Mark Johann profile image

      Mark Johann 

      6 years ago from New Zealand

      I like how Joseph Fourier calculate the heat for some useful piece of information.

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Yes. We need to stop using the atmosphere as a dump for combustion by-products.

      It sounds simple enough, when put so baldly, but of course restructuring our energy economy is not so simple, which is why people fight about the question.

      But that is what we have to do. The alternative is that we take our planetary climate farther and farther from the conditions that have prevailed during our existence as a species. It is literally true that, by the end of the present century, we could be trying to live with temperature conditions that haven't been seen since the days of our foremother 'Lucy' the australopithecine, three millions or so years ago, during the Pliocene era. And if we haven't seen those conditions, that goes double for the crops we have bred from wild ancestors over the past few thousand years.

      We aren't going to be able to undo all the damage we have done so far--for example, it may be too late to save the Arctic sea ice--though it will likely be around for a few decades yet, it has already lost something like 60% of its volume, and CO2 burdens are going to increase for a time yet no matter what efforts we make. If it goes, there will be consequences, though just what they are is not yet known with any certainty. (Further planetary warming may well be one, though.)

      But there's good reason to think that action taken today--meaning, over the next couple of decades--can significantly affect conditions over the second half of this present century. Some specific actions would be:

      1) Align economic incentives to favor clean energy: remove all subsidies to fossil fuels, maintain or implement incentives to build clean energy infrastructure, and tax or regulate carbon emissions. (The latter is probably the single best step, and has been done in several places with success. A recent example is the Canadian province of British Columbia.)

      2) Build clean energy tech as fast a possible. Renewables are presently (in my opinion) the best single bet here: they are now, by and large, cost-competitive with traditional energy sources and are getting cheaper, even as the long-term trends on fossil fuels go the other way. (This is not quite true of solar, yet--and in some ways solar is the most most exciting and disruptive renewable technology. Only a few solar projects so far have been bid in a costs comparable to fossil fuels--but with cost trends showing relentless decreases, it's very likely that a couple more years will bring solar into range on cost, even if fossil fuel prices continue to languish for a while.)

      3) Work toward more sustainable social models. While clean technology is, in my opinion again, extremely important in lowering carbon emissions, it's also quite likely that we need to change social structures, too. Can we really be sustainable while putting consumerism at the center of our economic model? Seems doubtful at best, no?

      A grab bag of things that might help: incentivize long-lived, as opposed to disposable products (nothing disposable should be socially 'cool'); more walkable communities in social planning--you shouldn't have to drive to buy virtually anything you need; mandate sustainable construction and renovation (building codes); mandate land conservation (land use practices can be carbon sources, making the problem worse, or carbon sinks, helping to solve it--and the numbers on both sides of the ledger can be pretty significant); eat sustainably, using less meat (meat is inherently about 10x more energy intensive than vegetable food, and the difference can be exacerbated by industrial farming practices, like feed lotting).

    • Goodpal profile image


      6 years ago

      An ordinary person like me worries about loss of smooth seasonal transition as a year progresses and the increasing frequency of harsher climatic events year by year throughout the world.

      As the climate gets more and more unfriendly, harsh and abrupt with passage of each year, risk to human and other forms of life is increasing. This risk is for all - climate change believer as well as cc deniers. It needs not much commonsense to understand that we (the people) exist on this planet because it provides for all our needs and has benevolent climatic conditions.

      I am least concerned about the fight between the believer and deniers. I am also not concerned if climate change has taken place in the past in the dinosaur-age or flying snake-age.

      Is there any solution to ameliorate the climatic conditions so that the risk to people gets lowered?

    • Doc Snow profile imageAUTHOR

      Doc Snow 

      6 years ago from Camden, South Carolina

      Thanks for checking out this Hub. If you've got an idea or question, how about sharing it here?


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