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The Utter Futility of Reducing Carbon Emissions

The Climate Catastrophe Confab in Cancun, Mexico, is now over. Once again we heard the cries from the 20,000 delegates about how the wealthy nations of the world have stolen the future from developing nations by using up all the carbon space in the air by their reckless and selfish use of fossil fuels. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed:

We need to fundamentally transform the global economy, based on low carbon, clean energy resources.

It’s quite interesting and revealing -- when one looks at the decisions made at the conference, nearly all of them are about money, not climate.

The problem with this transformation of the world economy to low carbon resources? Even if we could eliminate all fossil fuel use around the world, it would have virtually no effect on Earth’s temperature. The attempt to reduce human carbon dioxide emissions to control global warming is completely, utterly pointless and doomed to failure. ... well, perhaps I should qualify that statement a bit: Reducing man-made carbon dioxide emissions is completely and utterly pointless if your goal is to change the future climate. On the other hand, if you’re looking to make money from the trading of carbon allowances (carbon credits), then it makes a great deal of sense. If you’re looking to control the way the modern world makes energy, then it makes perfect sense as well. If you’re trying to save the world from capitalists, it's highly desirable to reduce “dirty” carbon emissions.

If your mission is to extract money from developed nations and give it to those countries that have been robbed of their right to burn fossil fuels to grow their economies, then it is the moral thing to do. If you are in the renewable energy business, it makes perfect sense to support the reduction of carbon dioxide “pollution.” If you’re one of hundreds of environmental corporations whose mission is to save the planet at any cost, then shutting down all sources of man-made carbon dioxide is quite sensible.

Earth has a thick atmosphere that provides the living things on it and in its oceans with a warming greenhouse effect. This keeps the Earth’s temperature at an average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit. If there were no greenhouse effect the average temperature of the Earth would be zero. Life as we know it would not likely exist.

The primary greenhouse gases listed in order of their contribution to the effect are: water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. There are others, but their concentrations in the atmosphere are so small they don’t contribute much effect. Water vapor and clouds are about 90% of the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide about 8%, nitrous oxide about .95% and methane about .36%. It’s the combined greenhouse warming from these gases that gives the Earth its current average temperature.

Studies by Raval & Ramanathan (1989) estimated that the greenhouse effect of a cloudless atmosphere is 146 W/m2 (watts per square meter) for the average Earth. They further pointed out that water vapor is accounting for most of this greenhouse effect, leaving about 8 W/m2 for the total amount of atmospheric CO2 -- some 8%. In addition, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment showed that 3% of the atmospheric CO2 comes from man-made sources. Global gross primary production and respiration, land use changes, plus CO2 from the oceans totals 213 gigatonnes of carbon exchanged each year between the Earth/oceans and the atmosphere. The IPCC figure also shows man-made carbon emissions to be about 7 gigatonnes, bringing the total to 220 gigatonnes per year. So from this, we can see that making energy from fossil fuels is producing about 3% of the carbon dioxide added to the air each year. From that, the total human component of the greenhouse effect is therefore about 3% of the total carbon dioxide component of the greenhouse effect, which is 8%.

That gives us a value of .2% from man-made carbon dioxide. If you think that’s a small number you’re right.