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Discussion > On the importance of CO2

So this is a thread suggested by stewgreen. I'm not sure whether it is worth posting, as it seems certain that the subject has been thrashed out many times. Anyway, here's the history. It all started on the "Here we go again" thread, when one Radical Rodent said

I, too, was a firm believer of the AGW lie, though was puzzled as to how such a small change of a very minor component of the atmosphere could create such havoc.

I responded, somewhat provocatively:
So did no one tell you that 99% of the atmosphere is unaffected by IR? And that therefore the "very minor component" is actually a major component of what is left. Or did they tell you and you didn't understand or accept what you were given?

Quick as a flash, the Rodent shot back
What about water and methane, two “greenhouse gasses” that are more effective than CO2, and exist in far greater quantities? There is the point that, though these gasses can be made to show “greenhouse effects” in the controlled conditions of a laboratory, what evidence is there that they are as effective in the chaos of the open atmosphere conditions?

And I deflected that with:
Your GHE denial may win you respect from the odd few here but my guess is that most have got beyond that. It is so 20th century. You might also polish up your ideas of methane concentrations - CH4 does not "exist in far greater quantities" than CO2. Water vapour varies from much less than CO2 to much, much more, but its overall effect is only somewhat over twice that of CO2 despite there being much more of it on average.

Rodent was ready for that though and polished his greenhouse effect doubting instead of his methane concentrations, with:
since when has showing doubt about an unproven hypothesis been “denial”? Point me to any evidence that can be shown to correlate to any gas showing “greenhouse effect” in the atmosphere, and I might adjust my views.

At this point, from the shadows stepped David S with an astute and polite defense of the Rodent that I really cannot answer:
It is clearly theoretically possible that a change in the concentration of a minor component of the atmosphere could have dramatic effects, and an instinctive suspicion that this is unlikely is merely that, a suspicion. The real question is whether there is any clear evidence that the rise in global temperatures between 1975 and 2000 had a different cause from the almost identical rise in temperatures between 1910 and 1940. The "97% consensus" seems to require that the earlier rise can be explained only by natural variation, but the later one only by greenhouse gases.

and stewgreen appeared from nowhere with bundles of empathy:
- I guess by GHE you mean greenhouse effect
what did @Radical Rodent mean to say about the atmosphere ? he was wrong to say "water and methane, two “greenhouse gasses” that are more effective than CO2, and exist in far greater quantities?"
Employing empathy it seems to me that in a rush he mangled 3 concepts
1. quantity : water is in far greater quantities than CO2, but there is far greater CO2 than methane
2. per molecule effect : It something like CO2 is said to have effect something like 6 times that of water
whereas methane was said to have 21x & now said to have 30x
3. absolute effect : My understanding there is absolutely masses more water vapor, and a much bigger effect , but that it is considered to be not very variable when totalled up over the year ..whereas the total amount of CO2 has gone up by 20% in the last 50 years ..so that's where a lot of people expect the change in effect to come from.
- Is it really the case that for water " its overall effect is only somewhat over twice that of CO2" like you say ?

My reply to David, which was probably too nuanced and maybe too long:
David S, yes there are many puzzles about the temperature history (early 20th C etc) and about current temperatures. Many people study the subject and there are numerous explanations for any aspect. And the degree of certainty we can have about much of what we believe to be true in the past is clearly nowhere near 100%. When I look at the amount of work that goes into constructing global average temperature estimates (HadCRUT, GISS etc) from thousands of sensors - and the estimates still vary somewhat - I have to conclude that estimates of historical temperatures from relatively few measurement are likely not all that accurate. That is why they have error margins. But we have what we have. And we know for sure the characteristics if CO2, Methane, etc, even though some fertile minds can be persuaded to the contrary.

And my reply to stewgreen was on the short side:
The number I quoted was for water vapour, not water (ie. not including clouds) - see Kiehl 1997 (pdf)

And that brings us almost up to date, where stewgreen empathised some more:
@Raff "what did @stewgreen mean by water"
If you apply empathy you'll guess he was referring to "water vapour"
- If you have evidence, show me where in that report or another where your "overall effect is only somewhat over twice that of CO2" figure was used..please open up a new discussion thread and tell us

So in answer, I was quoting the abstract of the paper, where it said:
The authors find that for the clear sky case the contribution due to water vapor to the total longwave radiative forcing is 75 W m−2, while for carbon dioxide it is 32 W m−2. Clouds alter these values...

But clouds are water, not water vapour. I make 75 somewhat over twice 32. In fact it is 2.3 times 32, which I think is consistent with "somewhat". It is quite possible that I have misunderstood the quote, so do feel free to correct me.

Oct 26, 2014 at 1:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Now, put what you 'know' into a model and get it to hindcast the last 10,000 years, 4,000 years, 1,000 years, 500 years and the next 30 and we'll get back to you 30 years from now. If the historical models are really good we might be interested sooner. We are well past the point where disconnected bits of science tell us anything useful.

If however you update your predictions every few years and say 'see it looks just like reality' we will give you a derisive smile and walk away. The secret is not to demonstrate we don't understand how the climate works but to prove you do.

Oct 26, 2014 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

@Raff do any other sources say anything like that ?
- and also what is the margin of error on those numbers ?

I say that cos I remember seeing figures with a much bigger variation
ie water vapour is between x and Y % , CO2 is between P and Q % .

to me that precise figure of 75 seems "too good to be true"
..aha I see they have put a condition "for the clear sky case "

As ever if a model is reliable then it should be good at predicting the real world.
..however the real world is not made up of a world of "clear sky" only

Oct 26, 2014 at 5:54 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

stewgreen, I don't know of other estimates or error margins. There clearly are margins of error, so if the real ratio was 1.5:1, 3:1, 4:1 or 5:1 (water vapour:CO2) instead of 2.3:1 what would that mean to you? How would you evaluate it? What would it change in terms of your (or Radical Rodent's) understanding of whether CO2 can have a significant effect on temperature? Quibbling about the exact number seems fruitless.

Why is 75 "good" in your view, as in "too good to be true"? If they has said 75.1, then I might agree that it was suspect. Clear skies means there are no clouds, doesn't it? Is there something wrong with there being a condition? If you do an experiment do you not set and report the conditions? If not how does anyone know how to interpret your results? And if you want to report the effect of CO2 relative to water vapour, would you not study it in the absence of confounding factors (clouds)?

Your criticisms make little sense to me. They seem just like arguing for the sake of it. If you really think that CO2 does not make a major contribution to the energy balance of Earth (a view that Radical Rodent clearly holds), then say it and give some evidence.

Oct 26, 2014 at 8:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff we are talking about the REAL WORLD atmosphere which is a mix of clear and unclear skies , where as that report you quote is in a model with 100% clear skies ..it's not the real world.

"If you really think that CO2 does not make a major contribution to the energy balance of Earth "
I am content to say I don't know instead of jumping to any conclusions.
It's not that I have certainty of some other predicition,
... it's just that warmists have not justified the certainty they have that future climate patterns will be a negative thing for humanity ie likely catastrophe

Can you predict the trend of climate patterns from the trend of CO2 in the atmosphere ?

Oct 26, 2014 at 8:32 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Raff: please do not put words into my mouth. I have not, nor ever, said: “…that CO2 does not make a major contribution to the energy balance of Earth.” I say, and have always said, that I am not convinced that CO2 can make such an impact on global temperatures, given its very small presence (less than 0.04% – in other words, equivalent to less than 4p in £100; that really means that each molecule would have to be trapping an awful lot of heat). As no-one has yet given me any evidence to support the hypothesis that it does, I maintain my scepticism. I find the concept of the atmosphere being heated primarily by a mixture of conduction and convention more acceptable. Like Stewgreen, I am content to say that I don't know, and certainly am not going to jump to any conclusions.

Oct 26, 2014 at 9:03 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Stewgreen, if researchers want to figure the effect of CO2 vs water vapour, they would be sensible to do it with clear skies. Don't you think? But since you are so interested in real world atmospheres, if the real ratio was 3:1, 5:1 or 10:1 (water vapour and water to CO2) instead of 2.3:1 what would that mean to you? How would you evaluate it? What would it change in terms of your (or Radical Rodent's) understanding of whether CO2 can have a significant effect on temperature?

I am content to say I don't know instead of jumping to any conclusions. It's not that I have certainty of some other predicition, ... it's just that warmists have not justified the certainty they have that future climate patterns will be a negative thing for humanity ie likely catastrophe

You can't decide whether there really is a connection between CO2 and the energy budget until someone proves that future climate patterns will be negative? Er, ... wow!

Radical: "less than 0.04% – in other words, equivalent to less than 4p in £100"

So did no one tell you that 99% of the atmosphere is unaffected by IR? And that therefore your 0.04% is actually a major component of what is left? Wait a minute, we've been here before. You don't learn, do you?

"each molecule would have to be trapping an awful lot of heat" - how much, do you think? Or it could mean that there are a lot of molecules - how many, do you think? And careful with "trapping", some people will get very upset about that. You could be in for a lecture from Martin about mice walking into his shed.

Oct 26, 2014 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

*sigh*

…99% of the atmosphere is unaffected by IR…
So what? How much heat energy is being … now, what would be an appropriate word, other than “trapped”? – let’s try “absorbed”… by 0.04% of the volume of the atmosphere? Let us design a greenhouse covering, say 100 square metres. Instead of covering that area totally with glass (so common, don’t you agree?), we cover it with a web of glass with a total outer surface area of 1 square metre. How effective would it be in ripening your tomatoes? Now, of that square metre, let’s make a total of 0.04 square metres of it a super-greenhouse glass. Will your tomatoes now be scorched out of existence?

Just how much heat is there bouncing around? How hot do these CO2 molecules get? Probably what energy they are absorbing they then re-radiate in all directions – unless you know that it is only re-radiated downwards. Hmmm... it still seems an awful lot of energy required to be captured (good enough?) to heat the vast chaos of the atmosphere, but, you obviously know so much better, so it must be true. Hey – you are right! When you have no scepticism, believing anything is SO easy!

You really are quite gullible, aren't you?

Oct 26, 2014 at 11:22 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

@Raff you said "Water vapour varies from much less than CO2 to much, much more, but its overall effect is only somewhat over twice that of CO2 despite there being much more of it on average." ie you were talking about the real world
but the evidence you then gave was for a model with clear skies
..you have moved the goal posts

Oct 27, 2014 at 9:34 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@Raff Do you support war ?

you said "You StewGreen can't decide whether there really is a connection between CO2 and the energy budget until someone proves that future climate patterns will be negative? Er, ... wow!"
- that is not why I said ..I said if you want to spend OUR money on something it is upto you Raff to prove the cost is lower than the benefit ..in this case if the climate we have in the future is not going to be that negative or problematic ..then why spend big money today on measures to mitigate CO2 ?

- If I said to you my "selected experts" say we have to make a trillion dollar war on X and Raff is going to pay double tax to pay for it and give up some of his freedoms.. would you say yes, OK ?

My guess is Raff would say "NO" to a trillion dollar war on X
...but he is adamant we MUST have a trillion dollar war on CO2

Oct 27, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

@Raff just posted elsewhere : "It's arguing in bad faith. Plenty of people here claim that CO2 behaves itself as a greenhouse gas in the lab, but once set free is it's own man, so to speak. It is standard fare. It's the "acceptable face" of GHE denial - on the lines of "I don't deny the GHE; CO2 clearly works as a GHG in the lab; but outside in the real world....oh, no it is different there".
- That is quite funny as it is obviously denial itself
- When the real world doesn't replicate models based on lab experiments, and the climate trend goes over many years on a different pattern to those predicted by those models, cos the real world is not black & white simple but rather is much more "full colour complex" with all kinds external variables, feedbacks and time delays ... people like Raff seem to DENY what is happening in that real world and say stuff like "we know the temperature trend should have increased, so that means the heat is hiding, but we just never predicted that nor can we prove where this heat is hiding"

So by warmists logic :
.... skeptics are "deniers" cos they deny something which has NOT actually happened.
but warmists are "NOT deniers" even though they deny something which has actually happened.

- As the latest book on proper reasoning Think Like A Freak says "People should not be afraid to say 'I don't know'"

Oct 28, 2014 at 1:56 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

But, stewgreen, as has been pointed out many times before, people are very, very afraid to say "I don't know" when the likely outcome of that confession is to have a P45 arrive on your desk!
To quote Upton Sinclair

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

Oct 28, 2014 at 2:11 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

"People should not be afraid to say 'I don't know'"

Of course. If you said, "I don't know whether CO2 acts as a GHG and whether that will result in a temperature rise and by how much", I would be delighted. If you also said, "Because I don't know what effect CO2 will have, I also cannot know what the risks are and whether we should do something about it. Therefore I will defer to people who do know", I would give you a hug.

But that is not what sceptics say. Nobody here or at WUWT "doesn't know". You all just know - there is certainty all around. Climate scientists couch all their work in confidence intervals and conditionals, but in an earlier discusson I could get nobody here to admit that the possibility of something bad happening climate-wise was not zero. You all just know! The earth isn't gaining heat, the climate hasn't changed, the seas haven't changed pH, glaciers are not shrinking, sea levels are not rising, etc, etc - or if they are it's all natural and nothing to do with us. And of course you know there will be no big global social or economic losses unless we do something about CO2, in which case we are stuffed. I'm exaggerating of course, but that is the impression you give.

So, your recommendation for people to say, "I don't know", comes back to you.

Oct 28, 2014 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Raff, you really are a past master at the art of misunderstanding.
The earth isn't gaining heat — I don't know who has claimed that but I would like you to define more precisley what you mean by "the earth". Your accusation is a bit vague.
The climate hasn't changed — Climate is always changing. I haven't come across anyone who denies that, except perhaps Michael Mann who seems to be trying to convince us that past warm and cold periods never happened. The question is why we should consider change dangerous. Can you give me a convincing answer?
The seas haven't changed pH — Bit like the climate really, they keep doing that. Why is that considered important by a certain secrtion of the environmental movement but (when you do some proper research) not so much by the people qualified to pronounce on the subject?
Glaciers are not shrinking — Some are; some aren't. Has it not occurred to you that the reason we find bodies in mountain passes (just as one example) is because those glaciers and ice fields weren't always there. See my comment about changing climate,
Sea levels are not rising — See my comment above re ocean pH. Also about glaciers. The evidence for the claim that sea levels are rising at a rate that has the potential for serious problems any time in the next half-millennium is dubious to say the least.
What do you see happening during the last 30 years that has never happened in the past? What do you see that makes you believe that the current state of the earth's climate is unique and potentially dangerous.
Come to that what empirical evidence do you have that any of the five (false) accusations that you level at "everyone" who contributes to this site is relevant in the long-term to the earth's climate?
And please, no "97% of scientists say ..." or "The models say ..." because we shall just laugh at your gullibility.

Oct 28, 2014 at 5:46 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson

All the changes you describe have taken place, with organisms moving, adapting or becoming extinct in response.

The current situation is unique in two ways.

1) The rate of change is unprecedented. Organisms which would have adapted or moved before are dying because there is no time .

2) An industrial civilization of 7 billion people, based mostly on coastal plains, has built up during the last few millennia of relative climate stability. This has no experience of rapid adaption to large changes in sea level, rainfall or temperature.
Consider the problems of drought in California and Sao Paulo, or the rise in sea level affecting Florida and New York.

Oct 28, 2014 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

@Mike Jackson Raff put his answer in the wrong thread so @TinyCO2 answered him well there

"mainstream here, namely that CO2 is not a GHG or that CO2 might be a GHG in a bottle but not in the wild or variations on the theme" Raff.
- No, that's your impression. A common habit for warmists to create a strawman denier they can beat up.

"If you choose to take the most ridiculous views and treat them as representative of climate scepticism, then that is bad faith on your part" YBYJ
- As I wrote before, Raff is giving us a masterclass in warmist behaviour.

Well said TinyCO2 , yep agree it appears strawman argument, we've seen similar tactics before
I said what I said, not what Raff says I said, anyone can just check my previous comments above

Oct 28, 2014 at 6:51 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

The rate of change is unprecedented.
Your evidence for this, please.
Organisms which would have adapted or moved before are dying because there is no time.
Your evidence for this, please.
This has no experience of rapid adaption to large changes in sea level, rainfall or temperature.
(1) So what? (2) Identify your terms "rapid" and "large", please.
Consider the problems of drought in California and Sao Paulo...
Not unprecedented
... or the rise in sea level affecting Florida and New York.
You what?

Oct 28, 2014 at 7:08 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike Jackson

Unprecedented?

Read our old friend Marcott et al 2013. By definition this could only be falsified. In years of reading I have not encountered a global temperature rise exceeding 0.8C in 130 years or a global average sea level rise exceeding 3.2mm/year. Perhaps you have examples?

extinction?

Adaption?

Read your history. Research The Mayans, the Anasazi, Easter Island andd Angkor Wat as examples.

Drought?

Read news coverage on their current water supply problems. Also papers such as this .

Sea level rise?

Try this or this .

Oct 28, 2014 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Mike Jackson

I don't think the drought link worked. Try this . There's a link through to the original paper.

Oct 28, 2014 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

stewgreen, there you are, immediate proof. Mike Jackson, a stalwart of the blog, just knows what has happened to the temperature, climate, glaciers the seas. He just knows it is not anthropegenic. No doubt, no confidence intervals, no possibility that he is wrong. Think Like A Freak you said. Spot on!

Please suggest some published papers from the climate sciences that state without equivocation (doubt, confidence intervals, probabilities etc) that any of the controversial aspects of the science are as rock solid certain as MJ believes "it's not us".

Oct 29, 2014 at 1:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

And exactly where in that posting did I say anything about "just knowing" what happened to anything. Where did I say I "just know" it isn't anthropogenic?
And anyway since you apparently "just know" that the science is settled and you "just know" that it is anthropogenic and you also (probably) "just know" it's all going to get worse and end in disaster why should you even care what a freak like me thinks?
The fact that your mind is so tightly shut that you don't even bother to question your assumptions and cannot even tolerate other people doing that simple job for you marks you out as a cultist (I think I spelt that right). One day you may see a glimmer of light.
If the rest of the world thought as you do we wouldn't have progressed beyond the stone age.

Oct 29, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson