May 1, 2009

Spit and Pie Charts

I find that visual representations sometimes are very enlightening, after all "a picture is worth a thousand words" right? I thought I'd paint a picture of one of my favorite global warming quotes. The late Reid Bryson who was considered to be the father of modern climatology once said

"You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide".

What did he mean?

Well first let's look at a typical alarmist representation of the danger of carbon dioxide. This first pie chart shows a common representation of carbon dioxide.

This graph shows the distribution of GHG in Earth's atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide is clearly in the majority

So as you can clearly see that poisonous Carbon Dioxide is the primary source for this entire greenhouse effect that is going to boil the oceans, melt the ice caps, drown Bangladesh and reek havoc on the lives of your grandchildren.

So now that we have identified the problem as true eco warrior guardians of the Earth, let's get to the source of the problem.

This next pie shows where all that nasty carbon dioxide comes from.

As you can see the problem shrunk a great deal. Only about 11% of carbon dioxide of that 82% in that original chart is (so called) man made. We did not actually make it, it has been here all along, man despite common belief really does not make anything from scratch, he just puts existing stuff together in new and exciting ways. In the case of carbon dioxide he just basically burns an existing natural substance for all kinds of nefarious purposes, like staying warm.

Now let's get to that spittun. You see the one thing left out of the press release of the impending catastrophe, is that poisonous carbon dioxide is not the main greenhouse gas, spit is. Well not exactly spit, actually not water drops at all but water vapor.

So where does carbon dioxide compare to water vapor in the scheme of things?


Now you begin to see what old Reid was talking about. Notice how minuscule mans contribution to the entire greenhouse effect is. In the first chart we are left with the impression that 76% of the greenhouse effect is from CO2 without much perspective put to it at all.

When you hear about carbon dioxide emissions it is referred to in terms like gigatons, but remember for each of these gigatons that we emit old Ma Nature is outpacing us about twenty to one.

Now .28% of the entire greenhouse effect sure does not sound that impressive does it?

Now our final pie, to show how tiny carbon dioxide is in the scheme of things check this out:

This is the make up of our Earth's atmosphere. Nitrogen, Oxygen and that tiny sliver of Argon. Where is carbon dioxide and methane and all that other stuff? They are too small to be represented in a pie chart, that is why they are called trace gasses.

How small amount of carbon dioxide is there in our atmosphere? Imagine the above graph represents 100,000 dots, so nitrogen would be 78,000 dots, oxygen would be 21,000 dots, Argon would be 1,000 dots and carbon dioxide would be currently about 39 dots. Or as Roy Spencer puts it:

"As of 2009, there are only 38 or 39 molecules of CO2 for every 100,000 molecules of atmosphere, and it will take mankind’s CO2 emissions another five years to raise that total by 1 molecule, to 40 out of every 100,000 molecules.....Yes, we might double the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere by late in this century…but 2 times a very small number is still a very small number."

It is not like that tiny amount of carbon dioxide is not important, life would come to a screeching halt without it. As that heretic Freeman Dyson pointed out:

"The fundamental reason why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critically important to biology is that there is so little of it. A field of corn growing in full sunlight in the middle of the day uses up all the carbon dioxide within a meter of the ground in about five minutes. If the air were not constantly stirred by convection currents and winds, the corn would stop growing."

But I still like Reid's

"You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as doubling carbon dioxide".




  1. Love this post! I've been trying to explain this to people, but they continue to buy into the media alarmist BS and it's driving me nuts! Now this latest Cap and Trade legislation is coming up and it's going to accomplish ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than to take more money out of our pockets.

  2. It is hard to believe that there has been only one comment left so far....

    While the numbers given in this blog post MAY be basically correct regarding such items as the relative atmospheric concentrations (in molarity, presumably) of various greenhouse gases (GHG), the percentage emissions of CO2 by source, the percentage emissions of various GHG by source, and the percentage molar concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, they are largely irrelevant. Nothing is said of absorption. If water vapor is, at least on average, absorbed as much as it is emitted, then the 95.00% figure makes it that much easier to show that a change in other emissions could make a noticeable contribution to the so-called greenhouse effect. This leaves a possible 0.28/5.00, or 5.6%, new contribution that nature (or man) must absorb or that will result in an increase of the "greenhouse effect". If then any GHG contributors other than CO2 (CO2 implied in this blog post as being the same as all man-made GHG contributions) are absorbed at roughly the same rate as emitted, then this 5.6% change figure will rise accordingly in relation to what nature (or, again, man) must absorb in order to prevent an increase in the "greenhouse effect".

    I am not a doomsayer and certainly do not agree with the severity of many of the climate change predictions, but I think we are not without cause for some alarm, and the misdirection by both sides on this issue (including this blog post) does the public a disservice.

  3. Well said.... And even though there are few comments it may mean more that people read and move on without commenting....

  4. Water vapor may be a powerful greenhouse gas, but it's concentration in the atmosphere is controlled entirely by the heat of the atmosphere. (water vapor is produced by evaporation.) This means that you can't change the concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere unless you change the temperature. Thus water vapor cannot cause warming, it can only enhance it. CO2 on the other hand is not controlled by temperature. What your data shows demonstrates that as you increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, atmospheric temperatures will rise and causing more water to evaporate and more water vapor in the atmosphere. This is known in science as a 'positive feedback mechanism'.

    Additionally you fail to understand the role of natural hydrological and carbon cycles.Broadly speaking (at least on human timescales) they are in balance. Think of it like this - You have an airport with space for 100 people.100 people arrive each hour and 100 people leave each hour. The airport is in balance (scientifically this is called a dynamic equilibrium). If you increase the number of people coming in by 1 to 101 (in other words by just 1%) then the system is no longer in balance and the airport will begin to become overcrowded. This is why a tiny increase in carbon dioxide to a carbon cycle that is already in balance can lead to a build up in atmospheric concentration and this is exactly what we have seen. Yes when compared with the total amount of greenhouse gases human contributions make up less than 1 %, but that doesn't mean they are insignificant, just like adding 1 person to inbound flights in the airport analogy will make a significant difference after a while.

    In short, the data you are describing doesn't mean what you think it means and, rather than being 'covered up' or 'ignored', it is well known and well understood by climate scientists.