The Generation Professionals Group is for utility professionals who work in biomass, coal, gas/oil, hydro, natural gas, or nuclear power generation fields. 


You need to be a member of Energy Central to access some features and content. Please or register to continue.


Coal Gets a Bad Rap - CO2 Cools the Earth and Creates More Plant Growth


It is important to refute the bad rap that coal is getting. Coal gets a bad name because people say the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere during the combustion of coal warms the earth. This is completely false. The empirical data (actual measurements) 1 show that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have no discernible effect on global temperature, see Figure 1. The land-sea temperature change shown is data from the United Kingdom's Hadley Climate Research Unit and the lower troposphere temperature change from the Microwave Sounding Unit satellite. The average CO2 plot is from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. While CO2 levels increased some 20 ppmw from 1998 until today, global temperatures did not increase as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models - they fell!

Figure 1. Earth temperature and CO2 concentration 1998-2010

As seen in Figure 1, CO2 in the atmosphere also varies with the growing seasons and the Northern Hemisphere that has more land mass than the Southern Hemisphere is controlling. According to the IPCC, man contributes some 2.9% of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere, nature the rest, see Table 1.  If we were to have globally eliminated all man-made CO2 on January 2010, the concentration would be the same as it was in January 2004. If we had eliminated double the amount of man-made CO2 in January 2010 we would go back to January 1998 when it was approximately 0.2 oC warmer than in January 2010. Further of all CO2 emitted to the atmosphere, nature absorbs 98.5% of it, so nature already has its own built-in mechanism to control the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.


Carbon Dioxide:                       Natural           Human Made                 Total         Absorption

 Annual Million Metric Tons        770,000               23,100                      793,100            781,400

% of Total                                 97.1%                  2.9%                         100%               98.5%

 Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis
(Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 188.

Carbon dioxide does not cause global warming like many erroneously claim, and coal is the greenest fuel we could possibly use. There is more carbon dioxide per million Btu of coal fired than when firing oil or natural gas.  Since nature absorbs most of the CO2 that is emitted to the atmosphere to increase plant growth and liberate oxygen there is more food and oxygen for an increasing world population. This is a good thing.

The US EPA is trying to regulate man-made CO2 which is orders of magnitude beyond stupid.  The man-made CO2 that was generated in the United States in 2010 that contributed to global CO2 concentration in the world was 16.4% of the worldwide man-made total4 and that calculates to be (390*0.029*0.164) = 1.9 ppmw.

The CO2 release from Medieval warming (800 year lag time) has caused CO2 in the atmosphere to rise some 2 ppmw per year from 1993 to 20112  Nature absorbs 98.5% of the CO2 that is emitted by nature and man. As CO2 increases in the atmosphere, nature causes plant growth to increase via photosynthesis which is an endothermic (cooling) reaction.  For every pound of biomass formed some 10,000 Btu are removed from the atmosphere. CO2 is absorbed, and oxygen is liberated. Further, a doubling of CO2 will increase plant growth rate by 300 to 400% 3, see Figure 2.

Figure 2. Increased Carbon Dioxide Effect on Plant Growth

NASA scientists claimed Cirrus clouds, formed by contrails from aircraft engine exhaust, are capable of increasing average surface temperatures enough to account for the warming trend in the United States that occurred between 1975 and 1994. "According to Patrick Minnis, a senior research scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., there has been a one percent per decade increase in cirrus cloud cover over the United States, likely due to air traffic. Cirrus clouds exert a warming influence on the surface by allowing most of the sun's rays to pass through but then trapping some of the resulting heat emitted by the surface and lower atmosphere 4. "

This explanation is absolutely backwards. These clouds cool the earth, they do not warm it. There is more radiant energy coming from the sun to the earth than from the earth to the sky. More radiant energy will be blocked during the day by atmospheric gases than will be blocked by radiant energy leaving the earth at night (insulating effect). The overall effect is cooling, not warming. The IPCC and other AGW proponents must have never completed a mass and energy balance before; you have to include both the input energy from the sun and the output energy from the earth, not just output energy from the earth by itself.

The cooling effect of water vapor in the stratosphere was proved following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Atmospheric scientists studied the effect of water vapor on temperature in the wake of the attacks. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited commercial aviation over the United States for three days following the attacks and this presented a unique opportunity to study the temperature of the earth without airplanes and their contrails.

Dr. David Travis, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin, along with two other scientists, looked at how temperatures for those three days compared to other days when planes were flying. They analyzed maximum and minimum temperature data from about 4,000 weather stations throughout the contiguous (48 states) United States for the period 1971-2000, and compared those to the conditions that prevailed during the three-day aircraft grounding period and the three days when planes were flying before and after the grounding period.

It was found that the average daily temperature range between highs and lows was 1.3 to 2 oC higher during September 11-14 with air traffic grounded compared to September 8-11 and September 11-14 with normal air traffic (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Average diurnal (daily) temperature range (DTR) 5

The data conclusively proved that stratospheric water vapor trails have a net cooling effect and therefore all other so-called greenhouse gases must have a similar effect, since the IPCC says water vapor is the worst so-called, but misnamed  "greenhouse gas".  The cooling effect of carbon dioxide because of its relatively low concentration (390 - 400 ppmw), compared to water vapor (~1 to 2% in the atmosphere), has a very slight cooling effect that is so low you could not measure it.

CFC destruction of ozone cooled the lower stratosphere some 1.4 oC and warmed the earth some 0.6 oC from 1965 to 2002 until the production of CFCs was stopped by the Montreal Protocol6. CO2 in the atmosphere had nothing to do with warming! Sure wish there were more technical people in the world who knew how to analyze data.




1. Hadley Met Centre temperature- land and oceans: and Scripps monthly CO2 concentrations from the Mauna Lao, Hawaii Observatory:

2. Ashworth, R. A., "Global Warming from CO2 - All Politics, No Science!"

3. Pearch, R.W. and Bjorkman, O., "Physiological effects", in Lemon, E.R. (ed.), CO2 and Plants: The Response of Plants to Rising Levels of Atmospheric CO2, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1983), pp 65-1055.

4. Minnis, P., "Clouds Caused by Aircraft Exhaust May Warm the U. S. Climate", NASA Release 04-140, April 27, 2004.

5. Travis, D., A. Carleton, and R. Lauritsen, 2002: Contrails reduce daily temperature range. Nature, 418, 601.

6. Bob Ashworth, "Earth Warming Effect Only Due to CFC Destruction of Stratospheric Ozone!", EnergyPulse July 16, 2013.

Bob Ashworth's picture

Thank Bob for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.


Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on Mar 6, 2014 7:00 pm GMT
More goofy math and snapshot science from Mr. Ashworth. (sigh)

Yes, "nature" "produces" a lot of CO2, as it circulates within the biosphere. We eat carbon-based food, and exhale CO2, to the tune of 2 lbs per person per day. Plants consume CO2 during the day, and exude it at night, but on balance consume more than they put out. All animal life does what we do, EXCEPT, we ALSO dig fossilized carbon out of the ground and burn it. The ongoing measurement of ratios of C13 to C14 in the atmosphere CONFIRM that the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere is from the millions of year old carbon we are digging up and burning. (sources available upon request).

First: The key numbers above are: 793.1 GT enter, and only 781.4GT are reabsorbed - net 11.7 GT per year building up in the atmosphere. The real buildup is now closer to 18GT, by the way. So ppm continues to grow, and will soon continuously exceed 400, on the way to at least 600 by 2100, and quite possibly double that if we continue "business as usual". I run my own models, based on population growth and average per capita emissions (carbon footprint), and can readily demonstrate the effects of both.

Second: Global temperature variations will show differently, based on where you make your measurements, at the surface, or at particular individual altitudes. Over the course of multiple decades, not Ashworth's snapshot 13 years (a current FAVORITE of the denialists), all average temperature measurements show an upward trend, more or less concurrent with rising CO2 levels. Why "more or less"? There ARE indeed other factors involved - solar insolation variations, El Nino v. La Nina ocean circulations, volcanic aerosols (but NOT volcanic CO2), etc. etc.

FACT: In spite of the deep freeze that North America is experiencing this winter, this January has been the fourth warmest GLOBALLY, since records have been kept (140 years).

Denialists such as Mr. Ashworth, and his backers, ignore basic chemistry and physics, and narrow in on snapshots of naturally noisy data, then thump their chests and cry "LIES LIES, IT'S ALL A PACK OF LIES!!!", followed soon by cries of "GLOBAL CONSPIRACY TO REDISTRIBUTE WEALTH!!!"

Third: Cloud formation may contribute to either cooling or warming, depending on the altitude where they form. It is part of the ongoing research and modelling to determine what types of clouds will form under increased temperatures and water vapor as the climate continues to warm.

Through constant monitoring of denialist blogs, one sees such assinine things as:

We should ignore ice melting because didn't you know that the Wisconsin Glacier melted in a mere 20 years? (Truth was it took more than 12,000 years to retreat, before finally disappearing)

CO2 is good for plants and makes them grow better! (see above photos of pine tree growing in greenhouse) Fact - the areas where CO2-hungry plants are growing continue to shrink by milliions of acres per year, due to deforestation. So, will plants grow a little better in a lot less space - go ahead and speculate on the net result.

Mr. Ashworth again performs the miracle of denialist science by taking tiny bits and pieces of the story, and uses them in a simplistic attempt to refute the much larger and more complex picture. Kind of like putting an orange peel under a microscope, and missing out on the shape of the orange because of those pesky dimples in the skin.


Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 6, 2014 7:00 pm GMT
Fact: temperature increases predicted by climate models have not occurred for the last 15 or so years. Mismatch is significant.

Premise: Climate is more complex than models have anticipated, with natural variability very likely much more significant than presupposed. CO2 is likely not as significant as originally expected.

Conclusion: Current models are not a proper source for forecasting the distant future temperature of the planet. Models must properly match the reality of actual measured conditions.

Visions of imminent catastrophe are not supported by reality. The cult of "green" energy should stop trying to scare everybody.

Let the "sunshine" of scientific investigation go wherever logic dictates, with sound scientific proof being the final arbiter (as opposed to a religious fanaticism).

Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on Mar 6, 2014 7:00 pm GMT
Well folks, in Canada we are enduring one of the longest coldest winters since 1982. When people talk of global warming all I can say right now is "bring it on". It is a whole lot better than this believe me.

The problem with much of what Richard says above is none of it is science - it is all theory. It must be regarded as theory since it cannot be proven by experiment. It should also be quite apparent that not a single prediction made has come to pass. The reasons why that is the case are that (a) the models are wrong (b) there are other unknown factors at play that are not modeled or (c) that the climate does not respond to CO2 emissions in the way that the modelers think. It is likely a combination of all three.

What I do find very alarming is that only now have the computer scientists decided that it is important to model cloud cover. One of the obvious outcomes of a warmer planet covered mostly with water is that there will be moire clouds. Are you really telling me that cloud cover is NOT in current models. If that truly is the case then any predictions based on that are pure nonsense.

Scientists also recently discovered that the pine aerosolsl emitted by pine forests negates much of the effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - a fact I am quite sure that is not included in these computer models.

I absolutely concur with Michael is that scientific investigation - not the religious fervor of Goreism is what we need and that indeed should be the final arbiter.

I can't wait for palm trees lining the streets of Toronto


Bob Ashworth's picture
Bob Ashworth on Mar 7, 2014 7:00 pm GMT

CFC Destruction of stratospheric ozone caused the earth to warm, not CO2. Once CFCs were eliminated, the earth started to gradually cool. One CFC can destroy 100,000 ozone molecules during it time in the stratosphere (University of Alaska). The same atmosphere reflects energy back to outer space form the sun as it does from the atmosphere back to earth. Don't you realize we get our energy from the sun which is much greater than the energy reflected back from the earth. So if you thought about it for more than a nanosecond, you would realize that the atmosphere is cooling.

Science is important to the world. We teach our children so many untuths: 1) CO2 cases warming, not it cools, 2) evolution, all that exists is the One Consciousness, 3) Fossil fuels, no they are abiogenic, they were produced in the high temperatures and pressures that exist in the earth 4) Photons have no mass, no they do have mass and are traveling in a helix, 5) The sun gives off energy due to hydrogen fusion, no it comes from neutron repulsion.

Life is very simple. If you understand a subject it is easy to explain, but man wants it to be complicated so he can say anything and someone else can't refute him. Bob

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on Mar 9, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
A few ämonths ago we Heard some goodfy statements on this site about nuclear from a gentleman who claimed to be a finance professional. I dont mind hearing people say that they hate nuclear and are ready to do anything to prevent its expansion, because like that person, as soon as Malcolm or somebody explains to them that what they thought was the living truth about nuclear was actually a silly lie, they find someplace else to flash their finance professional credentials.

Coal is a bit different though. This is a topic about which it is necessary to be careful, Some very smart people who are not in the habit of going goofy when they have an audience advise caution, and someday - when I get more time - I intend to try to understand exactly what they are saying. As for this business of models, I suspect that for the most part the persons involved in their Construction are hustlers or charlatans or both. In most of the places where I have worked, anybody with a nice haircut and smile can Always pick up a few dollars by saying that he or she has a model showing that buyers and Sellers of coal belong in Guantanamo.

Carl Carlsson's picture
Carl Carlsson on Mar 11, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Loved the last sentence: "Sure wish there were more technical people in the world who knew how to analyze data." If only that applied to the author, and some of those he chooses to cite.

Citation #5 references a study that "proves...conclusively" the net cooling effect of water vapor. It does no such thing. I was skeptical of drawing such a broad conclusion from such a limited data set, especially since Mr. Ashworth failed in his summary to address the obvious: surely the study had to have dealt with the presence and timing of cloud cover during the period in question, as the impact could dwarf all other variables.

So, I followed the citation to the study itself, which was a less-than-one-page article (including images, credits and citations) in Nature. The article notes that there was significant variation in cloud cover during the period in question, and that the impact was only addressed in a cursory manner with no compensation whatsoever in their analysis. This failure to deal with the most critical variable renders any conclusions meaningless. Not really surprising, though, when 2 of the three authors were primarily geographers (I couldn't find a degree for the third).

Satisfied that this "study" proves what he wants it to prove, Mr. Ashworth then takes an additional bold leap, "...and therefore all other so-called greenhouse gases must have a similar effect...". Sorry, no.

I am a huge skeptic of the bulk of the climate change hysteria, and unimpressed by the models and predictions of the chicken littles. Still, I'm far less impressed by the arguments of Mr. Ashworth and most of his fellow deniers. As someone who knows how to analyze data, or at least recognize flawed research when he sees it, I find the above piece rather embarrassing.

David Bruderly's picture
David Bruderly on Mar 11, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
I second Richard Vesel's criticism of this article. Skeptics focused on atmospheric temperature data conveniently ignore fundamental laws of physics and chemistry and inconvenient facts. Armchair skeptics also ignore well documented changes in the energy content and acidity of ocean waters. Armchair climate skeptics and retired engineers forget that climate is a thermodynamic problem that involves both air and water; it is a poorly understood fact that ocean waters store most of the heat energy that drives Earth's climate. It is also a FACT that the upper layers of the ocean are warming and becoming more acidic as increased heat energy and CO2 is transferred from air to water. Concurrently, the North Atlantic Deep Water is becoming less saline - due to melting Arctic ice - and thus less dense. It is not alarmist to point out the FACT that ocean currents are driven by density gradients and that a major consequence of observed warming would be a significant change in the strength and stability of ocean currents as well as the jet stream in the upper atmosphere. The recent southern excursion of the "polar vortex" is easily explained by instability triggered by current warming trends. With respect to the comment about the need for experimental data to confirm theories and validate models -- that experiment is underway. The observed increases in Mauna Loa CO2 data are caused by human combustion of fossil fuels; this is a FACT. Climate models use the same established principles of physics and chemistry that have been proven reliable in thousands of other simulations. The problem is NOT the models nor the data; the problem Is that political scientists, hired by the fossil fuel industries, are experts at communicating junk science to the mass media in ways that obfuscate facts and discredit the findings of physical scientists and biologists.

Is there uncertainty in modeled predictions? Absolutely. But uncertainty does NOT invalidate the fact that GHG levels are increasing and the consequences demand a responsible analysis of risk and an appropriate legal and economic policy response by elected leaders -- a response that empowers the People to act in their own self-interest to protect the Commons from exploitation by the Mercantilists (Thomas Jefferson, 1776 and Adam Smith, 1776).

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 12, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Well, since we are talking about chemistry, the ocean will never become "acidic". Physical impossibility.

The climate models are not accurate, as evidenced by the complete miss in predicting the last +15 years of a flat temperature. Quite clearly, more complex than originally assumed, with the actual impact of CO2 very uncertain. Long range predictions of "catastrophe" are not properly supported.

"The recent southern excursion of the "polar vortex" is easily explained by instability triggered by current warming trends" Really? I have a hang-nail, must be caused by global warming.

Try using science properly, instead of deception to fraudulently induce belief in what appears to be essentially religious dogma.

Jack Ellis's picture
Jack Ellis on Mar 13, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
In my opinion Mr. Bruderly sums up the situation quite nicely. Burning fossil fuels IS going to raise atmospheric and ocean temperatures. Tom Murphy, an assistant professor at UC San Diego, explains why in terms most of the people who read this blog should be able to understand. You can find the article here: If you don't believe his analysis, write up one of your own, but use facts, not pseudo science or hand-waving.

How to deal with the problem is another matter, though burning a few billion tons of coal per year certainly isn't going to help. Renewables should be one part of the solution. Some form of nuclear power is needed as well, though perhaps based on technologies that don't use uranium.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 13, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Why you leap to the conclusion that more CO2 leads to catastrophe is baffling. Ditto for using Uranium.

The impact of more CO2 in the grander scheme of things remains unknown, but seems unlikely to be as severe as postulated. Measurements of the planets "temperature" over the last +15 years have been essentially flat, completely contrary to the climate models. CO2 is absolutely vital to plants and by direct extension mankind. Warm weather is required for life as we know it. The warming since the last ice age cannot be termed "catastrophic" by any stretch of the imagination.

There are no alternatives to uranium. Fissile plutonium-239 is converted from uranium-238 and fissile Uranium-233 is converted from thorium-232. In all cases, uranium is involved.

Jack Ellis's picture
Jack Ellis on Mar 13, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
I never said anything about a catastrophe. What I did say was, atmospheric and ocean temperatures would rise. How far and how quickly aren't clear, but if you disagree with my assertion, you also disagree with the principle of conservation of energy and you're implying that scientists are either wrong or misrepresenting the observed physical properties of the atmosphere, land and the oceans with respect to absorbing, reflecting and radiating solar energy.

You're correct that no one really knows what will happen as CO2 levels rise. It could be great for life on this planet, or it could be catastrophic. It might depend a lot on where you live. I live at 6,000 feet with a hundred million acre feet of water within walking distance. Other people live at sea level and may have no place to go if the temperature rises a bit and the land they live on becomes innundated.

In my mind two things are certain. Atmospheric CO2 levels are rising, and the rising CO2 levels are raising the temperature of critical parts of the environment. Everything else is uncertain.

As for uranium, we could short-circuit a lot of the mostly hysterical public debate over how safe or unsafe nuclear plants are if we had an alternative that produced less waste and could not be weaponized. I'm not suggesting we can't use uranium but the public interest might be far better served by finding a way to make the issues around uranium as a nuclear fuel moot instead of continuing to slam our collective heads against the wall.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City, CA

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Mar 14, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
You are assuming that CO2 (a trace gas) is capable of exceeding the impacts of natural forces. That remains to be seen. As such, one cannot reach the conclusion that CO2 will cause the planet to warm, with predictions of subsequent catastrophe even more speculative. Your statement that "...and the rising CO2 levels are raising the temperature of critical parts of the environment" is speculation and not sufficiently supported to be called true. The likelihood seems small, however, based on the dismal predictive capabilities of the current climate models.

The bomb capable material (chiefly plutonium) used in today's nuclear reactors can be chemically separated, but that is a messy process and does require a lot of stuff. Such equipment is not normally available to terrorists. However, rogue nations like North Korea and Iran can (and are) extracting the fissile material. They can (and are) enriching Uranium to levels to make bombs. Those bombs could be given to terrorists. Equating commercial nuclear reactors in western nations to the problems caused by rogue nations and terrorists is not logical. However, such a calculus is consistent with the left's attempts to use deception to scare and then fraudulently induce folks into going along with their otherwise crackpot ideas.

There is an alternative to today's nuclear fuel (uranium oxide) that could significantly reduce the perceived problem. Silicone carbide fuel used with gas reactors is extremely difficult to reprocess to extract plutonium. However, one is still left with the enrichment issue and a rogue state.

Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on Mar 15, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Well there is a whole lot of messed up nuclear physics here. I hope I can straighten it out for you. Or you can read Glasstone and Sesonske who wrote the book on the physics of nuclear reactions.

So Bob first. Sorry to disagree with you but the Sun operates on nuclear fusion. Since neutrons are not charged particles (they are electrically neutral - hence the term neutrons) it is impossible for them to repulse each other. So as far as I can see neutron repulsion cannot possibly occur. It is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that our Sun and ALL the other suns in our solar system use nuclear fusion to generate the vast amounts of energy they throw off. In the process of fusion neutrons ARE emitted (if that is what you meant by repulsion) but the basic process is the fusion of vast number of nucleii as a result of the gravitational compression of the core. When all fusion reactions that give off energy (any reaction up to and including Fe (iron) are done the Sun will end its useful life and we will all be toast. Fortunately that is a billion years off - or so we think.

Jack next. Your concern about using uranium is misplaced and wrong. Firstly Uranium-235 it is the ONLY naturally occurring fissile isotope of anything. Everything must start with U-235 there is just no other option. To make any of the other fuels work you MUST have plentiful supply of neutrons so as to transmute the other non-fissile elements into ones that will undergo fission.You cannot make a thorium reactor without first using Uranium and the same goes with Plutonium.. I am sorry to disappoint you but nothing goes without burning U-235 first. Nothing. Of course Plutonium is a completely man-made material. It does not occur naturally and is only produced inside nuclear reactor fuel by the absorption of neutrons bu U-238. As Michael notes it is a very difficult material to handle. It is radioactive and gives off alpha particles mostly. But it is also chemically toxic. Good luck to anyone who wants to deal with that stuff. It can be reprocessed safely but the equipment is complex and expensive.In short very very difficult to "weaponize" nuclear fuel. Such fears are greatly exaggerrated.

And lastly for Bill Payne: Installation of hundreds more nuclear plants is the only viable solution as the Chinese folks already know and are doing.

But in all this climate science that I read about I have yet to hear an explanation as to why - befoire mankind was even on the Earth - the global temperatures were much greater than they are now. It was not elevated man-made COP2 in the air that caused that was it?

What I do know is that there is so much we do not know about how this world actually works that to make predictions based on a sketchy knowledge of it is at best alarmist and at worst downright untruthful.


Jack Ellis's picture
Jack Ellis on Mar 17, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Malcolm first. You said, "But in all this climate science that I read about I have yet to hear an explanation as to why - befoire mankind was even on the Earth - the global temperatures were much greater than they are now. It was not elevated man-made COP2 in the air that caused that was it? "

Since there are no living witnesses to the time when the earth's atmosphere was warmer, all we have is informed speculation. So it's quite possible that the atmosphere contained a lot of naturally occurring CO2 before there was abundant plant and animal life. As plants and animals died, the carbon they absorbed from the atmosphere in the process of living and growing was buried, decomposed, and over time became fossil fuels. As carbon concentrations in the atmosphere declined, the atmosphere cooled. As we burn fossil fuels and release that stored carbon back into the atmosphere, the physics dictates that more solar radiation will be absorbed than will be reflected or radiated and global temperatures will rise until equilibrium is reached. How fast it happens and exactly how this plays out is beyond my pay grade. It could happen quickly, it could happen in fits and starts, and it could take a couple of thousand years. By the time it matters, I'll be turning back into CO2 myself.

As for proliferation, I'm quite a bit less concerned than some folks because as we've already seen, anyone who wants to can make a weapon and there's little that can be done to dissuade, discourage or stop them. I personally think there are easier ways to sow fear, confusion and economic disruption for those who are so inclined, and so I'll confess to a certain amount of ignorance in a clumsy attempt to take away the proliferation argument from opponents of nuclear power.

Turning to Michael, who said, "... the rising CO2 levels are raising the temperature of critical parts of the environment is speculation and not sufficiently supported to be called true".

Not exactly. I'm assuming the basic physics behind absorption, reflection and radiation of solar energy as a function of atmospheric composition is correct and that it points to a net increase in solar energy absorption as CO2 and other greenhouse gas concentrations increase. If you think that's wrong, run your own experiments and let us know how they turn out but I'm willing to accept the experimental results of others on this point. However there are two other important factors that come into play. First, whether and how effective cloud cover is at mitigating or perhaps enhancing the impact of higher energy absorption due to GHGs, and second, the established principle of conservation of energy, which requires that the increased net absorption of solar radiation has to warm something. The impact of clouds is a bit of a wild card but there's no arguing the conservation of energy principle unless you live in certain parts of the US where science is a four letter word. There's a lot of thermal inertia in the air, seas and land mass, and the interactions among those three sets of energy absorbing materials are likely not well understood so I'm not surprised that short-run predictions (where the short run is anything less than about a hundred years) could be wrong whereas I think the warming argument is pretty compelling because it's supported by basic, well understood science. Where I'm willing to be quite a bit more skeptical is with respect to the trajectory of any change and the attendant side-effects. Those are not well understood, which means any changes could play out over a few millennia and be relatively benign, or they could play out over as little as 50 years and lead to dramatic changes.

I'm not advocating that we panic over this, because in the rush to do something, politicians will likely do more of the wrong things, but I'm not prepared to claim there's nothing to be concerned about either. None of the available options are particularly palatable and all of them will require convincing a skeptical public. On balance, I prefer the environmental hazards of nuclear power because the volume of hazardous waste is manageable. I dislike coal because it is difficult and expensive to clean up, and it produces enormous amounts of waste that are difficult to manage even before we talk about carbon.

Jack Ellis, Tahoe City

Bob Ashworth's picture
Bob Ashworth on Mar 18, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Carlsson: Sure wish you knew how to analyze data, but you don't. There are other studies that came to the same conclusion as Travis. Since your analytical qualities aren't there, how about a little common sense. The atmosphere reflects energy from the sun just as the atmosphere reflects energy from the earth but the sun is our source of energy and is much greater than the energy from the earth. Approximately 1365 watss/m^2 compared to ~340 watts/m^2. Also, ask a five year old kid, if he goes outside when there is sunshine and a cloud goes overhead does he feel warmer or cooler? Any mass between you and the sun will cool. Gases are mass, in case you didn't know. As I said I sure wish people knew how to analyze data. Common sense can also be used. It ain't complicated!
Carl Carlsson's picture
Carl Carlsson on Mar 25, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Sorry Mr. Ashworth, but I have three issues with your reply.

First, you provided no rebuttal to my very significant criticisms of the "study" you cited; specifically 1) it is a very short article and not a study, 2) the authors' credentials are shaky at best, 3) they do no more than pay lip service to the single most important variable that impacts the results of their evaluation, and 4) you draw conclusions that clearly don't follow from the cited "study".

Second, you claim there are other studies that draw the same conclusions but provide no citations.

Third, your "common sense" example is lacking. You describe a scenario where a 5-year-old feels cooler when a cloud passes before the sun, then talk about the cloud (the "mass between you and the sun") cooling, rather than the child. Of course the person on the ground feels cooler, but this could occur because the cloud absorbs heat, reflects it, or both. It might be as you are trying to describe, but again you leap to conclusions without providing adequate justification. I don't think representing something as complex as our climate using such an overly simplistic and flawed analogy amounts to common sense.

Bob Ashworth's picture
Bob Ashworth on Mar 27, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Mr. Carllsson:

Carl Brehmer proved H2O vapor is cooling, see I interfaced with him before he made this video.

I believe these are credible researchers. Dr. Travis is a Dean at the University of Wisconsin 1994 – Ph.D. in Geography (Atmospheric Sciences Emphasis), Indiana University, Bloomington. 1989 – M.S. in Geography (Bioclimatology Emphasis), University of Georgia, Athens. 1987 – B.S. in Geography (Physical Geography Emphasis), University of Georgia, Athens. Dr. Carleton's credentials: Dr. Carleton is a Professor in Physical Geography at Penn State, with specific research and teaching activities in Climatology. He is a graduate of the University of Adelaide (Australia), where he did both his Bachelor’s and Masters Degrees in Geography, and also the University of Colorado (Ph.D.). Ryan Lauritsen apparently was a geography student he is now Chief Web Engineer at Intelliweb Studios Education The Ohio State University Northern Illinois University University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

A wise man once said "simplicity and profundity are one!"

Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on Mar 28, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
So, Mr. Ashworth, then what do YOU predict will happen when atmospheric CO2 increases to 600-1500 ppm, depending on population growth and "business as usual" carbon combustion with atmospheric dumping? Another Ice Age?

Recently released information regarding CO2 levels 250M years ago, when much of our fossil fuels were still living organisms on the surface, indicate substantially higher temperatures, humidity and CO2 levels than we experience today. How does your "CO2 cools the planet" quasi-theory explain this?


PS - Please do not use blogs as ANY credible source of "scientific proof". Blogs are rubbish, reflecting junk science and nothing more.

Bob Ashworth's picture
Bob Ashworth on Mar 28, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Man's activities only account for 2.9% of the CO2 and nature absorbs 98.5% of all atmospheric CO2 according to the IPCC. If you look at the Antarctic ice core data you will see that temperature rises first then CO2 some 800-1000 years later as the oceans warm and the solubility of CO2 decreases so more CO2 is liberated to the atmosphere. Gore said the opposite. The sun controls the amount of radiant energy that hits our planet and so controls our temperature. Man's activities did increase temperature on earth from 1965 to 2002 from CFC production that destroyed ozone in the stratosphere. The stratosphere cooled some 1.4 C and the earth warmed around 0.6 C from more UV light hitting it. CFC production was stopped in developed nations in 2000 and undeveloped nations in 2012, so the Montreal Protocol stopped the warming effect.

I used the Brehmer blog to show what he did. He did the actual tests back in time that showed the cooling effect of humidity.

Bob Ashworth's picture
Bob Ashworth on Mar 28, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
I forgot to add that the cooling effect of CO2 because of it being only in ppmv does not cool much. Water vapor at 1-2% has a measureable cooling effect but CO2 being only around 400 ppmv does not. 1-2 % water vapor is 10,000 to 20,000 ppmv.
Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on Jun 16, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
The only way ANY substance can provide a cooling effect is if it directly reflects, or absorbs/re-emits solar radiation back into space. If it does not do this, then it is at best a non-participating neutral substance, OR it absorbs and traps solar radiation and increases the energy/temperature of the biosphere. So it is not the mass of the cloud that cools the child, it is the IR+visible opacity of the cloud. How bloody silly can you get?!? If the same mass of transparent CO2 or neon passed overhead, the bulk of IR and visible solar radiation would pass right through, and the child would feel no cooler.

Comparing CO2 ppmv to water vapor ppmv is a non-sequitor. Water vapor exists in a global equilibrium with the oceans based on the current average temperature. IF we increase that temperature with additional buildup of CO2, there is likely to be more water ppmv, without additional cloud formation, and an increased greenhouse effect. Positive feedback mechanism we don't want to experience.

Anyone wish to take a look at a strictly "by the numbers" model for atmospheric CO2 buildup between now and 2100? Just let me know.


Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on Jun 16, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Mr. Keller,

No one is claiming the ocean will be come acidic. The claim is that it is "acidifying" - i.e. the historic pH levels are declining from pre-industrial 8.18 to the current value below 8.07. Projections are for a drop to below 7.95 as atmospheric CO2 approaches 600ppm.

I can assure you that much of sea life will not tolerate such a change very well. Your own blood has a buffering mechanism which controls it to a pH range of 7.35 to 7.45, and if that changes outside that range, you WILL notice it. Ocean life forms do not have an ability to adapt to external pH changes beyond a certain tolerable range - starting with corals and other small lifeforms upon which the larger ones feed.

Numbers are everything, while rhetoric holds little value.


Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »