Climate Change: no comprende (continued)


There are hundreds of monitoring stations worldwide that measure and monitor atmospheric CO2 levels. The Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) program, of the World Meteorological Organisation(WMO), is a partnership involving 80 countries.  It provides reliable scientific data and information on the atmosphere, and the natural and man-made changes that occur within it.

For periods before 1958, air bubbles trapped in polar ice cores are used to determine CO2 levels. Over the last 10,000 years, before the Industrial Revolution, the levels of CO2 were pretty stable – 275 to 285 parts per million. But since the industrial revolution, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 100 parts per million. At the moment, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing by around 15 gigatonnes every year.

Of course, nature reduces our impact on climate by absorbing more that half of our CO2 emissions (thankyou, nature). The amount left over is called the “airborne fraction”. Since 1958 it’s been sitting at around 45%. Deforrestation, however, reduces the planet’s ability to naturally absorb CO2 – as such, deforrestation is another human activity which contributes to increased CO2 volume in the atmosphere. Thank goodness trees are a renewable resource (for now, anyway).


Scientists expectation that increased atmospheric CO2 will absorb more infrared radiation as it escapes back out to space is based on decades of lab experiments and radiative physics. A study of data collected by two satellites (NASA’s 1970 IRIS satellite and Japan’s 1996 IMG satellite) found that CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs more infrared radiation as it escapes back out to space, i.e. it does indeed have a greenhouse effect.


Using publications containing historical energy statistics from 1751 onward, The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) has estimated that about 337 billion tons of carbon have been released to the atmosphere from the consumption of fossil fuels and cement production. Half of these emissions have occurred since the mid 1970s.

The 2007 global fossil-fuel carbon emission estimate is 8365 million metric tons of carbon. It represents an all-time high, and a 1.7% increase from 2006.

Liquid and solid fuels accounted for 76.3% of the global emissions from fossil-fuel burning and cement production in 2007. Combustion of gas fuels (e.g., natural gas) accounted for 18.5% (1551 million metric tons of carbon) of the total global emissions from fossil fuels in 2007.

Since the 1970s, emissions from cement production (377 million metric tons of carbon in 2007) have more than doubled. They now represent 4.5% of global CO2 releases from fossil-fuel burning and cement production.

These were the top 10 Total Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions emitting countries in 2007:

(1) People’s Republic of China (Mainland) (1899-2007)

(2) United States of America (1800-2007)

(3) India (1858-2007)

(4) Russian Federation (1992-2007)

(5) Japan (1868-2007)

(6) Germany (1792-2007)

(7) Canada (1785-2007)

(8) United Kingdom (1751-2007)

(9) South Korea (1945-2007)

(10) Islamic Republic of Iran (1902-2007)

Australia came in at #16 (1860-2007).

In terms of Per Capital emissions, Australia is ranked #12. China was #70, The US was #11 and India was #142.


Ok, this is where my understanding really wanes.

I have read that scientists measuring the type of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere observe that the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels is more numerous. I don’t, however, know how they observe this.

I’ve also heard that these observations have been backed up by measurements of the levels of oxygen in the atmosphere (falling oxygen levels). And that carbon found in coral records several centuries old shows that there has been a steep rise in the type of carbon that comes from fossil fuels. But I don’t know who has conducted these studies. Yet.


So, that’s it. That’s all I know about the science. Not much, but it’s a start.

I’ll endeavour to find out and improve my knowledge on the evidence of human-induced climate change in the months & years to come. It seems to me that it is becoming increasingly important for average citizens to understand the scientific evidence and let that guide their political and lifestyle decisions, as the forces opposed to climate change action (particularly action of the economic variety) ramp up their efforts to kill this as a political and moral issue, in order to preserve the status quo.

I’ll leave you with a clip of David Attenborough and Professor Peter Cox from his documentary The Truth About Climate Change. Here they explain a graph similar to the one that convinced David of the reality of climate change:


About Pauline Vetuna

Posted on June 19, 2011, in Environment, Personal, Politics, Science & Tech. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I am generally skeptical on climate change. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to take care of our planet and things have gotten out of control. Yet, they say there is global warming despite the fact the last couple winters have been some of the most harsh I’ve seen in my lifetime (at least in my country). I’m sure pollution isn’t helping our ecosystem, but in what way is the real dilemma for me. It doesn’t help that the scientists can even all agree on this subject.

    • Hi Susan,
      I actually understand the scepticism because there is such a lack of clarity and understanding about the science in the public domain, even amongst people who accept that human induced climate change is real – hence my interest in finding out more about it for myself. I personally find debates about the existence of climate change amongst politicians, commentators and non-scientists to be completely unhelpful and nauseating. In regards to the environment, I am not interested in opinions on the science (on economics or some other aspect, sure, but not the science). I’m really only interested in facts. So I guess I’m on the hunt for more facts at the moment, from peer-reviewed respectable sources. I expect it’s going to take me a while.
      As for the colder weather… I hear that argument used a lot. This is one explanation/rebuttal I’ve heard in response to it: there is a difference between WEATHER and CLIMATE. The analogy I’ve heard is this:

      Trying to judge climate change by the normal ups and downs and variations of weather is kind of like attempting to figure out if the tide is rising or falling by watching the waves roll in and out. The tide is changing but you can’t necessarily tell that by the size of the waves.

      Climate is weather averaged over time. In order to find climate trends scientists look at how weather is changing over a longer time span. In the US, over the past decade, new record highs occur nearly twice as often as new record lows:

      I guess the “then why has it been so cold” argument is why many have abandoned the term “global warming” in favour of “climate change”. I’ve read Thomas Friedman refer to it as “global weirding”.
      Whatever you want to call it, I want to understand the science – what we know for sure and how we know it. As well as a layman can, anyway!

      • I see what you mean about climate, but that has been changing like the tides for thousands of years as well (according to scientists anyway). The trick is in knowing whether the current climate changes are natural or man made (or both). This isn’t the first time in the history of the earth that things have warmed up. On the other hand, it is the first time man has had such a huge impact (or footprint) on the ecosystem. There were no scientists around to record the data until recently. I do not believe grabbing samples from ice caps is conclusive evidence. It gives us a partial idea of how weather/climate looked before, but not the full picture.

        I can understand you want to look at science closely. I’m just not able to fully rely on it because they have been wrong so many times that I just can’t fully trust scientists. The choice to believe them is up to each of us individually, though. My opinion is my own and I understand it has no importance in the grand scheme of things. It is just impossible for me to comment on this subject without inserting it, lol. I will try to refrain in the future as I understand where you are going with this.

      • “The trick is in knowing whether the current climate changes are natural or man made (or both).”

        Yes, and that’s precisely what I would like to understand – *how* scientists know human carbon emissions/activities are responsible for the current climate change. And, indeed, what actually constitutes “consensus” in science.

        And It’s quite possible that in trying to find answers I will actual become a sceptic (distinguishing sceptic from deniar here – I do think there is a big difference between the two. The former is quite healthy).

        I am really approaching this from a place of “I accept this is real because *those* respectable sources said it is. Now I want to know *how* *they* know.”

        We all trust or simply take for granted the fruits of science everyday – our society is based on science and technology, yet it seems that many people never take an interest in understanding (even in a very basic way) anything about it. So, I guess on a personal level, my questions and desire to know more about climate change are also part of me coming to realise that I really do want to understand the physical world better. And the more I find out, the greater the awe and reverence I have for it, and the greater the interest I have in good world “stewardship” (can’t believe I’m using a theological term here, LOL).

        A healthy bi-product of asking questions, I think.

      • P.S. Please don’t feel like you need to refrain from commenting if you disagree. If you have a link to sound information I want to read it!

  2. you make some interesting points…and I must confess that I am shamefully illiterate when it comes to data around climate change…I base it more on observation and some reading…what i have not done as yet is really look at the exact science….

    • I understand. I accept climate change is real, because scientists I respect have said it is. But it frustrates me when I hear people say the science ISN’T settled…. and I want to be able to say, “well, actually…” but can’t.
      Which is why I want to equip myself with that understanding 🙂

  1. Pingback: Climate Change: no comprende « Just the Messenger.

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