Ben Laurie blathering

CO2 and Global Warming

I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but it has long concerned me that there seems to be entirely too much politics and not enough science around the whole “man causes global warming” theory. Every conversation I’ve had with a zealot has centred around the idea that I must be some crazed, irresponsible loon if I don’t want to reduce CO2 emissions, because clearly I’m risking the future of the world. And, obviously, every responsible person will act to avoid that risk by doing their bit to cut down CO2.

But am I risking the world? How do we know that, say, the extra CO2 we put in the atmosphere is not saving us from the ice age that would otherwise be upon us?
So, in that vein, I am grateful to my dad for pointing me to research into the link between CO2 and temperature. The rather startling conclusion is that, yes, CO2 and temperature are linked, but the CO2 rise lags the temperature rise by 4-800 years. The scientists out there will need no further explanation.
I know I’m going to regret posting this, but what the hell – bring on the flames.


  1. The research seems to indicate that rising temperatures cause rising CO2 which cause rising temperates and so on.

    This shouldn’t be taken as evidence that humankind increasing the CO2 concentration won’t raise temperatures, but rather that it definitely will.

    Raising temperatures will cause a lot of problems. Hence being able to avoid rising temperatures is a good thing.

    One of the major causes of rising temperatures that we can actually control is CO2 emissions. Hence, doesn’t it make sense to try to reduce CO2 emissions?

    Comment by anonymous — 15 Mar 2007 @ 15:03

  2. It seems to me that there are two flaws in this argument:

    a) Causal links are one way. If the evidence shows that rising temperatures cause rising CO2, you cannot infer that rising CO2 causes rising temperatures. Perhaps you are thinking of some other evidence? If so, links, please.

    b) You state that we can control CO2 emissions, but my understanding is that the vast majority of CO2 emissions are not actually controllable by us. If it is true that rising temperatures are going to increase CO2 anyway, what is the point of us reducing the miniscule fraction we actually can control?

    Comment by Ben — 15 Mar 2007 @ 15:13

  3. whatever, who cares ? In around 10 years, their won’t be enough petrol for all the stupid cars (trucks?) we are driving. In 150 years, we won’t have any more coal. 50 years, no uranium anymore.
    What I would suggest, as CO2 stay for more than one century in the atmosphere, is that we burn all the possible oil the faster we can, so this global warming situation last only for one century, instead of 2 or three.

    I gonna raise my home heater to have 35°C instead of 18°C just to burn more oil and to get used with the next decade temperatures 😉

    Seriously, nah, doctor, you must be mistaken, it can’t be cancer, isn’t it? It’s just a little black bleeding spot on my skin, nothing serious, no ?

    Comment by emmanuel lecharny — 15 Mar 2007 @ 15:31

  4. My understanding is that the vast majority of CO2 emissions are not actually controllable by us.

    There was an article recently (I can’t find it now of course) that claimed that one of the largest sources of CO2 emissions was not cars, but rather the large herds of cattle in the US meatpacking industry. Of course the bastards didn’t actually link to the study so who knows if they are talking out their asses or not…

    Comment by Arthur — 15 Mar 2007 @ 16:33

  5. See? Yet another perfectly good blog ruined by setting out twit lure.

    Geez, Ben! Did you have to?

    – joat

    Comment by joat — 16 Mar 2007 @ 3:51

  6. Ok, taking this in order (ish):

    Does CO2 concentration effect climate? Wikipedia says this theory is called “radiative forcing”, and a few links lead me to here:

    The pretty graph you refer to has a vertical red line on the right hand side. This, apparently, represents the industrial revolution. The obvious inference would be that, on a global scale, changing climate by sudden vast increase in CO2 concentration hasn’t been tested yet, probably because coal doesn’t dig itself out of the ground and burn.

    “that the vast majority of CO2 emissions are not actually controllable by us” — I suspect said “vast majority” constitutes all the trees burning down, trees respirating, trees photosynthesising, animals breathing, algae, plankton, plankton, plankton, and plankton. These flows, while massive, alance each other out, and are not particularly relevant. What’s relevant is the relative quantity of CO2 that’s being put into the atmospheric system from elsewhere (elsewhere being, particularly, fossil fuel), and how significant THAT is, both in quantity, and in effect. If there were any similar operation underway in reverse (say, making trees into charcoal, then sending that charcoal to the moon), then that would be worth including in the climate model.

    “Causal links are one way”, indeed! Ha! If my house burns down, I shall have that as my epitaph. Ben says there are no chain reactions!

    The main problem with cows is said to be methane emissions from their stomachs (and the numbers in which they are kept), methane being a more potent greenhouse gas. (One factor here is probably how rapidly, or otherwise, stray CH4 molecules spontaneously oxidise in air, turning back into CO2).

    “But am I risking the world? How do we know that, say, the extra CO2 we put in the atmosphere is not saving us from the ice age that would otherwise be upon us?”

    You don’t KNOW. The most ludicrous of decisions may turn out to be for the best, if things were not as we thought, eg. jumping from a cliff and just happening to land on a lunatic bent on world domination, who was sitting by the cliffs planning the destruction of the world on his black powermac, thereby preserving the free world entirely by accident.

    Is the world as we know it at increased risk because you left your coffee machine on for an hour? Well… SORT of, though thinking that way seems like a fast track to insanity.

    Is the world as we know it at increased risk because humans are engaged in what one might call “Accidental Terraforming”? Well, the question you have to ask yourself is, do you feel lucky? (Alternatively: What could possibly go wrong?)

    Comment by ti' — 16 Mar 2007 @ 9:46

  7. There are times in Massachusetts that it feels as though we are already in another ice age, however surely the responsible thing thing to be doing is to examine some of the outputs of our actions- be they beneficial, benign or detrimental to, well. I was about to say planet, but lets say “us” instead. According to the stuff I’ve read in the press (ok, I can only just read, but there you go) there seems to be concensus that there is warming taking place and it is likely causually linked to CO2 (and other) emissions.

    As far as I know there are not many viable ways (yet) of taking the CO2 and locking it up out of the way to prevent it from (its suspected link) causing warming. Consequently I think it’s fair to suggest that maybe restricting its output is a Good Idea, just in case. If in 100 years or so the Upper Peninsual of Michigan is being lost to runaway glaciation then maybe it’ll be time to get out the fossil burners again. For now, given the liklihood of, say, half a billion Chinese buying cars during the next generation, rapid increase in global air travel and failure to find a cure for bovine flatulence prudence would, I think, suggest caution. If it all turns out to be sun spots I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

    Comment by Barney — 16 Mar 2007 @ 17:38

  8. CO2 and temperature lag has a simple answer: feedback.

    Worth reading the rest of the traditional sceptic claims, because thanks to the recent Channel Four show The Great Global Warming Swindle, they’ll probably get a wider hearing in the UK than they once did:

    My position is that global warming is more complex than you’ll see in the newspapers, but then so is everything, including the counter-counter-arguments to global warming sceptics (which you’ll never see in the newspapers, because by that point editors eyes glaze over, and they start going through the Britney slush pile)

    Comment by danny — 20 Mar 2007 @ 2:41

  9. In response to Ben’s response to my original comment, I was presuming a rise in CO2 cause a rise in temperature because of what I read on the page you linked to:

    “As the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere builds up, it results in more warming and further release of greenhouse gases (i.e. a feedback cycle).”

    I was presuming a rise in CO2 causing a rise in temperature was a given, but perhaps not.

    Comment by anonymous — 22 Mar 2007 @ 20:37

  10. […] Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t get my ass totally handed to me when I posted on this subject last. But there were a couple of things I should respond to. Firstly, Ti’ (hi, Ti’!) rightly takes me to task for poor phrasing “Causal links are one way”, indeed! Ha! If my house burns down, I shall have that as my epitaph. Ben says there are no chain reactions! […]

    Pingback by Links » CO2 and Global Warming Part II — 28 Mar 2007 @ 17:46

  11. The planet is heating up. That is an undisputed fact.

    Whether we (as humans) are to blame remains to be seen. And as yet there is no hard evidence to suggest we are the culprits. For as many studies there are to prove it there are as many to disprove it.

    Either way governments are going to use global warming as another tool to control people. More taxation, less rights and less freedom of choice.

    Third world countries will be unable to develop causing more starvation and death. All in the name of ‘Global Warming’.

    Comment by Iain Williams — 26 May 2007 @ 2:43

  12. Science is an inexact art form it seam to me.
    Some of the most reviered “laws of science” held as gospal for years have been proven to be inacurate. These “laws” were held up by consensus within the scientifc comunity with doubters being ignored.
    Concensus is all that holds global warming up with those brave enough to speek out against the concensus being vilified by their piers and not being published.
    If concensus rules the world, please tell me, Why is it colder in Scotland ow than it was ten years ago?

    Comment by gez — 22 Jun 2007 @ 15:36

  13. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that manmade global warming is used as a figleaf to justify political goals. Most people who support the reduction of CO2 emissions lack scientific backgrounds which is the essence of the whole discussion. The IPCC bacame a marxist haven, anti-capitalism, globalization etc.

    Comment by Saud — 27 Feb 2008 @ 20:55

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