By the Numbers: CO2 Mostly Natural
This post compiles several independent proofs which refute those reasserting the “consensus” view attributing all additional atmospheric CO2 to humans burning fossil fuels.
The IPCC doctrine which has long been promoted goes as follows. We have a number over here for monthly fossil fuel CO2 emissions, and a number over there for monthly atmospheric CO2. We don’t have good numbers for the rest of it-oceans, soils, biosphere–though rough estimates are orders of magnitude higher, dwarfing human CO2. So we ignore nature and assume it is always a sink, explaining the difference between the two numbers we do have. Easy peasy, science settled.
The non-IPCC paradigm is that atmospheric CO2 levels are a function of two very different fluxes. FF CO2 changes rapidly and increases steadily, while Natural CO2 changes slowly over time, and fluctuates up and down from temperature changes. The implications are that human CO2 is a simple addition, while natural CO2 comes from the integral of previous fluctuations.
1. History of Atmospheric CO2 Mostly Natural
This proof is based on the 2021 paper World Atmospheric CO2, Its 14C Specific Activity, Non-fossil Component, Anthropogenic Fossil Component, and Emissions (1750–2018) by Kenneth Skrable, George Chabot, and Clayton French at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
The analysis employs ratios of carbon isotopes to calculate the relative proportions of atmospheric CO2 from natural sources and from fossil fuel emissions.
The specific activity of 14C in the atmosphere gets reduced by a dilution effect when fossil CO2, which is devoid of 14C, enters the atmosphere. We have used the results of this effect to quantify the two components: the anthropogenic fossil component and the non-fossil component. All results covering the period from 1750 through 2018 are listed in a table and plotted in figures.
These results negate claims that the increase in total atmospheric CO2 concentration C(t) since 1800 has been dominated by the increase of the anthropogenic fossil component. We determined that in 2018, atmospheric anthropogenic fossil CO2 represented 23% of the total emissions since 1750 with the remaining 77% in the exchange reservoirs. Our results show that the percentage of the total CO2 due to the use of fossil fuels from 1750 to 2018 increased from 0% in 1750 to 12% in 2018, much too low to be the cause of global warming.
The graph above is produced from Skrable et al. dataset Table 2. World atmospheric CO2, its C‐14 specific activity, anthropogenic‐fossil component, non fossil component, and emissions (1750 ‐ 2018). The purple line shows reported annual concentrations of atmospheric CO2 from Energy Information Administration (EIA) The starting value in 1750 is 276 ppm and the final value in this study is 406 ppm in 2018, a gain of 130 ppm.
The red line is based on EIA estimates of human fossil fuel CO2 emissions starting from zero in 1750 and the sum slowly accumulating over the first 200 years. The estimate of annual CO2 emitted from FF increases from 0.75 ppm in 1950 up to 4.69 ppm in 2018. The sum of all these annual emissions rises from 29.3 ppm in 1950 (from the previous 200 years) up to 204.9 ppm (from 268 years). These are estimates of historical FF CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, not the amount of FF CO2 found in the air.
Atmospheric CO2 is constantly in two-way fluxes between multiple natural sinks/sources, principally the ocean, soil and biosphere. The annual dilution of carbon 14 proportion is used to calculate the fractions of atmospheric FF CO2 and Natural CO2 remaining in a given year. The blue line shows the FF CO2 fraction rising from 4.03 ppm in 1950 to 46.84 ppm in 2018. The cyan line shows Natural CO2 fraction rising from 307.51 in 1950 to 358.56 in 2018.
The details of these calculations from observations are presented in the two links above, and the logic of the analysis is summarized in my previous post On CO2 Sources and Isotopes. The table below illustrates the factors applied in the analysis.
Despite an estimated 205 ppm of FF CO2 emitted since 1750, only 46.84 ppm (23%) of FF CO2 remains, while the other 77% is distributed into natural sinks/sources. As of 2018 atmospheric CO2 was 405, of which 12% (47 ppm) originated from FF. And the other 88% (358 ppm) came from natural sources: 276 prior to 1750, and 82 ppm since. Natural CO2 sources/sinks continue to drive rising atmospheric CO2, presently at a rate of 2 to 1 over FF CO2.
2. Analysis of CO2 Flows Confirms Natural Dominance
Independent research by Dr. Ed Berry focused on studying flows and level of CO2 sources and sinks. The above summary chart from his published work presents a very similar result.
The graph above summarizes Dr. Berry’s findings. The lines represent CO2 added into the atmosphere since the 1750 level of 280 ppm. Based on IPCC data regarding CO2 natural sources and sinks, the black dots show the CO2 data. The small blue dots show the sum of all human CO2 emissions since they became measurable, irrespective of transfers of that CO2 from the atmosphere to land or to ocean.
Notice the CO2 data is greater than the sum of all human CO2 until 1960. That means nature caused the CO2 level to increase prior to 1960, with no reason to stop adding CO2 since. In fact, the analysis shows that in the year 2020, the human contribution to atmospheric CO2 level is 33 ppm, which means that from a 2020 total of 413 ppm, 280 is pre-industrial and 100 is added from land and ocean during the industrial era.
My synopsis of his work is IPCC Data: Rising CO2 is 75% Natural
A new carbon cycle model shows human emissions cause 25% and nature 75% of the CO2 increase is the title (and link) for Dr. Edwin Berry’s paper accepted in the journal Atmosphere August 12, 2021.
3. Nature Erases Pulses of Human CO2 Emissions
Those committed to blaming humans for rising atmospheric CO2 sometimes admit that emitted CO2 (from any source) only stays in the air about 5 years (20% removed each year) being absorbed into natural sinks. But they then save their belief by theorizing that human emissions are “pulses” of additional CO2 which persist even when particular molecules are removed, resulting in higher CO2 concentrations. The analogy would be a traffic jam on the freeway which persists long after the blockage is removed.
A recent study by Bud Bromley puts the fork in this theory. His paper is A conservative calculation of specific impulse for CO2. The title links to his text which goes through the math in detail. Excerpts are in italics here with my bolds.
In the 2 years following the June 15, 1991 eruption of the Pinatubo volcano, the natural environment removed more CO2 than the entire increase in CO2 concentration due to all sources, human and natural, during the entire measured daily record of the Global Monitoring Laboratory of NOAA/Scripps Oceanographic Institute (MLO) May 17, 1974 to June 15, 1991. Then, in the 2 years after that, that CO2 was replaced plus an additional increment of CO2.
The data and graphs produced by MLO also show a reduction in slope of total CO2 concentration following the June 1991 eruption of Pinatubo, and also show the more rapid recovery of total CO2 concentration that began about 2 years after the 1991 eruption. This graph is the annual rate of change (i.e., velocity or slope) of total atmosphere CO2 concentration. This graph is not human CO2.
More recently is his study Scaling the size of the CO2 error in Friedlingstein et al. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
Since net human emissions would be a cumulative net of two fluxes, if there were a method to measure it, and since net global average CO2 concentration (i.e., NOAA Mauna Loa) is the net of two fluxes, then we should compare these data as integral areas. That is still an apples and oranges comparison because we only have the estimate of human emissions, not net human emissions. But at least the comparison would be in the right order of magnitude.
That comparison would look something like the above graphic. We would be comparing the entire area of the orange quadrangle to the entire blue area, understanding that the tiny blue area shown is much larger than actually is because the amount shown is human emissions only, not net human emissions. Human CO2 absorptions have not been subtracted. Nevertheless, it should be obvious that (1) B is not causing A, and (2) the orange area is enormously larger than the blue area.
Human emissions cannot be driving the growth rate (slope) observed in net global average CO2 concentration.
4. Setting realistic proportions for the carbon cycle.
Hermann Harde applies a comparable perspective to consider the carbon cycle dynamics. His paper is Scrutinizing the carbon cycle and CO2 residence time in the atmosphere. Excerpts with my bolds.
Different to the IPCC we start with a rate equation for the emission and absorption processes, where the uptake is not assumed to be saturated but scales proportional with the actual CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (see also Essenhigh, 2009; Salby, 2016). This is justified by the observation of an exponential decay of 14C. A fractional saturation, as assumed by the IPCC, can directly be expressed by a larger residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere and makes a distinction between a turnover time and adjustment time needless.
Based on this approach and as solution of the rate equation we derive a concentration at steady state, which is only determined by the product of the total emission rate and the residence time. Under present conditions the natural emissions contribute 373 ppm and anthropogenic emissions 17 ppm to the total concentration of 390 ppm (2012). For the average residence time we only find 4 years.
The stronger increase of the concentration over the Industrial Era up to present times can be explained by introducing a temperature dependent natural emission rate as well as a temperature affected residence time. With this approach not only the exponential increase with the onset of the Industrial Era but also the concentrations at glacial and cooler interglacial times can well be reproduced in full agreement with all observations.
So, different to the IPCC’s interpretation the steep increase of the concentration since 1850 finds its natural explanation in the self accelerating processes on the one hand by stronger degassing of the oceans as well as a faster plant growth and decomposition, on the other hand by an increasing residence time at reduced solubility of CO2 in oceans. Together this results in a dominating temperature controlled natural gain, which contributes about 85% to the 110 ppm CO2 increase over the Industrial Era, whereas the actual anthropogenic emissions of 4.3% only donate 15%. These results indicate that almost all of the observed change of CO2 during the Industrial Era followed, not from anthropogenic emission, but from changes of natural emission. The results are consistent with the observed lag of CO2 changes behind temperature changes (Humlum et al., 2013; Salby, 2013), a signature of cause and effect. Our analysis of the carbon cycle, which exclusively uses data for the CO2 concentrations and fluxes as published in AR5, shows that also a completely different interpretation of these data is possible, this in complete conformity with all observations and natural causalities.
5. More CO2 Is Not a Problem But a Blessing
William Happer provides a framework for thinking about climate, based on his expertise regarding atmospheric radiation (the “greenhouse” mechanism). But he uses plain language accessible to all. The Independent Institute published the transcript for those like myself who prefer reading for full comprehension. Source: How to Think about Climate Change
His presentation boils down to two main points: More CO2 will result in very little additional global warming. But it will increase productivity of the biosphere. My synopsis is: Climate Change and CO2 Not a Problem Brief excerpts in italics with my bolds.
This is an important slide. There is a lot of history here and so there are two historical pictures. The top picture is Max Planck, the great German physicist who discovered quantum mechanics. Amazingly, quantum mechanics got its start from greenhouse gas-physics and thermal radiation, just what we are talking about today. Most climate fanatics do not understand the basic physics. But Planck understood it very well and he was the first to show why the spectrum of radiation from warm bodies has the shape shown on this picture, to the left of Planck. Below is a smooth blue curve. The horizontal scale, left to right is the “spatial frequency” (wave peaks per cm) of thermal radiation. The vertical scale is the thermal power that is going out to space. If there were no greenhouse gases, the radiation going to space would be the area under the blue Planck curve. This would be the thermal radiation that balances the heating of Earth by sunlight.
In fact, you never observe the Planck curve if you look down from a satellite. We have lots of satellite measurements now. What you see is something that looks a lot like the black curve, with lots of jags and wiggles in it. That curve was first calculated by Karl Schwarzschild, who first figured out how the real Earth, including the greenhouse gases in its atmosphere, radiates to space. That is described by the jagged black line. The important point here is the red line. This is what Earth would radiate to space if you were to double the CO2 concentration from today’s value. Right in the middle of these curves, you can see a gap in spectrum. The gap is caused by CO2 absorbing radiation that would otherwise cool the Earth. If you double the amount of CO2, you don’t double the size of that gap. You just go from the black curve to the red curve, and you can barely see the difference. The gap hardly changes.
The message I want you to understand, which practically no one really understands, is that doubling CO2 makes almost no difference.
The alleged harm from CO2 is from warming, and the warming observed is much, much less than predictions. In fact, warming as small as we are observing is almost certainly beneficial. It gives slightly longer growing seasons. You can ripen crops a little bit further north than you could before. So, there is completely good news in terms of the temperature directly. But there is even better news. By standards of geological history, plants have been living in a CO2 famine during our current geological period.
So, the takeaway message is that policies that slow CO2 emissions are based on flawed computer models which exaggerate warming by factors of two or three, probably more. That is message number one. So, why do we give up our freedoms, why do we give up our automobiles, why do we give up a beefsteak because of this model that does not work?
Takeaway message number two is that if you really look into it, more CO2 actually benefits the world. So, why are we demonizing this beneficial molecule that is making plants grow better, that is giving us slightly less harsh winters, a slightly longer growing season? Why is that a pollutant? It is not a pollutant at all, and we should have the courage to do nothing about CO2 emissions. Nothing needs to be done.
Footnote: The Core of the CO2 Issue Update July 15
An adversarial comment below goes to the heart of the issue:
“The increase of the CO2 level since 1850 are more than accounted for by manmade emissions.
Nature remains a net CO2 sink, not a net emitter.”
The data show otherwise. Warming temperatures favor natural sources/sinks emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere, while previously captured CO2 shifts over time into long term storage as bicarbonates. In fact, rising temperatures are predictive of rising CO2, as shown mathematically.
It is the ongoing natural contribution to atmospheric CO2 that is being denied.