by Eric Grimsrud
The essence of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) problem is really quite simple and can be viewed in this way. The Earth contains two very different forms of carbon. We can call one of these “geological carbon” (GC). GC includes “inert” substances such as the fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and various inorganic substances such a calcium carbonate (limestone). These forms of carbon stay put in and on the Earth essentially forever if they are left undisturbed.
The other basic form of carbon we can call “biological carbon” (BC). BC consists of that in all living plants and animals as well as the CO2 in our atmosphere and the CO2 that dissolves in our oceans, lakes and streams. The BC forms of carbon are “active” and continuously cycle through the atmosphere, oceans, plants and animals rapidly on the geological time scale.
The present AGW problem has been caused by the exceedingly rapid rate with which man has been converting GC to BC by the combustion of fossil fuels. While the plants might like the extra CO2 man has been adding to the BC cycle, the atmosphere and the oceans do not.
In the atmosphere, this extra CO2 increases the amount of radiation (heat) that is absorbed as the Earth attempts to cool itself via its emission of infrared radiation. Therefore, just as you get warmer when you put on a heavier coat, the Earth also gets warmer as extra atmospheric CO2 is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.
Next, consider the exceedingly rapid rate with which man is converting GC to BC. We began doing this on a significantly large scale in about 1850. We have become so good at it that we now estimate that the Earth’s known reserves of oil will be gone in several decades and its known reserves of coal will be gone in less than two centuries. If allowed, that would mean that man would accomplish this massive conversion of GC to BC in approximately three centuries, which is to say “instantly” if viewed on the geologic time scale.
Now consider the very slow rate with which this extra CO2 will be removed from the BC cycle and returned to the inert forms of GC. First, it takes many million years to naturally convert plant material to the fossil fuels, so let’s ignore that one. Another means of BC to GC conversion is called the “weathering” of CO2 by which the CO2 dissolved in rain drops or in the oceans comes in contact with rocks that contain calcium oxide (CaO). A small portion of that dissolved CO2 will then be converted to limestone (CaCO3). Unfortunately this process is also very slow and has a significant effect only over a time scale of several millennia. Another natural process by which carbon can be removed from the BC cycle is by its sequestration into the soil of the Earth via the roots of plants and trees. While increased forestation could help increase the rate of removal of atmospheric CO2 by this mechanism, our planet is clearly not moving in that direction.
Therefore, every single day, with business as usual, we are ratcheting up atmospheric CO2 to a new highest level that is unprecedented during the Age of Man and that change will last essentially forever on the time scale of Western Civilization (say a millennia or two). That is, we cannot undo what we are presently doing. Today, the atmospheric CO2 level is 35% higher than it has ever been in at least 750 millennia and is increasing at a rate of 0.6% per year. As this rate is further increased by the rapid economic development of other countries (especially China and India), we can expect to see a 50% increase in the pre-Industrial Age level of CO2 by the year 2020 or sooner. That is only 10 years from now!! Why would anyone who understands the warming effect of the greenhouse gases think that we can get away with that?
Upon reflection of the overall driving force behind AGW related above, we should realize that we are already in big trouble and should not take any comfort whatsoever in the fact that there are indeed some uncertainties still remaining concerning with just how bad things are going to be in the next few decades. As these details are being increasingly worked out and we beginning to see the initial effects of warming, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise by about 2 parts per million per year to a new, highest million-year level that will last essentially forever on a time scale of relevance to human civilizations. This is equivalent to each of us putting on a continuously heavy coat every single day and not ever being allowed to take it off either in the summer or winter. This fate will then also apply to all individuals in future generations for more than a millenia.
Yes, the essence of AGW is really that simple. The only rebuttal to this description would seem to be the claim that CO2 is not an important greenhouse gas. Therefore, I will probably get the opportunity to debunk that bogus claim very soon and look forward to doing so, if required.
Your turn, Ed (EricG 10.9.25)