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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.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says even this small component of warming caused by man’s use of fossil fuels will cause dramatic warming in the future. This dramatic warming is forecast by the use of computer models. The IPCC’s forecasts are flawed for many reasons, but one significant error is the residency time of carbon dioxide in the air far into the future. The IPCC claims carbon dioxide, once emitted into the air, stays there for 50 to 200 years. The vast majority of studies say the residency time for carbon dioxide is more like 5 years.

The very small human component of the greenhouse effect has profound implications when governments are considering reducing carbon dioxide concentrations to fight global warming. The United States produces about 20% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions each year. If we were somehow able to shut down all sources of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States, the effect on the global average temperature would be 20% of .1 degree, or .02 degrees. And that’s with shutting down everything that makes carbon dioxide! This decrease of .02 degrees is so small it is completely irrelevant. If achieved, it would drop the global average temperature from 59.0 to 58.98 degrees, and it would take billions, if not trillions, to achieve. After all -- we make 87% of our energy from burning fossil fuels. If there were a way to eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions on a global scale, the decrease in temperature would be .1 degree -- dropping the temperature from 59.0 degrees to 58.9 degrees. Once again, completely insignificant at a cost that would quite possibly bankrupt the world.

When so much is at stake you would think this would be common knowledge, but apparently it is not. Part of the reason is that there are so many competing factions looking to squeeze every dollar they can from the lie. Interestingly, the Chicago Climate Exchange closed its doors recently. This can only be seen as good news. Not for Al Gore, Goldman Sachs and others, but for the nation at large: very good news. Apparently, the Republican revolution of 2010 has caused the climate exchange to be taken off life support. The Republicans took over the House of Representatives and made significant gains in the Senate. Because of this, the idea of a national cap and trade law that would allow the buying and selling of carbon allowances on a national scale is over. “It is dead for the foreseeable future,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and the Environment, part of the Competitive Energy Institute. “Economy-wide cap and trade died of what amounts to natural causes in Washington,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund that supported cap and trade legislation.

So on the bright side, not all is lost. The bad economy is dragging on and on, and enough people, except for the 20,000 delegates in Cancun, have come to see that trying to control the climate is potentially out-of-this-world expensive and impossible. They’ve seen that a few individual investors would make billions while nations go broke and the climate goes on doing what it has been doing for millions of years -- changing on its own. If only more people knew the total temperature payback for eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions was one-tenth of one degree of cooling.