A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

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Geological History Does not Support CO2's Importance

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At March 15, 2006 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I know this is an exercise in futility, but I'm trying to convince an energy lobbyist. How do I counter this: "the earth is 7/10ths seawater, and the temp of the oceans 10 feet under the surface (where the thermocline begins) is not subject to any change. So the changes you speak of only affect the other 30%"

    I'd love any information/links that address that. I'm not sure if he is correct or wrong. (Although I will say that changing the temperature of 30% of the oceans seems like a bad idea anyway).

  • At March 15, 2006 3:18 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Heh, we can only try!

    I guess my first response would be "so what?". Here is a finding from last year that does indicate that deep ocean temperatures are indeed rising:
    http://www.physsci.uci.edu/psnews/?id=159 but it is curious to take reassurance in the thought that 10 ft under the ocean surface everything is fine when we don't live there. You ought to challenge him on why he thinks this anyway? Who says it is only the top 10 feet? Doesn't sound reasonable to me. The NASA press release for that study is here.

    Another threat to the ocean, perhaps greater, is acidification from CO2 increases in the water.

  • At March 28, 2006 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    But the point is I don't have to disprove global warming: you have to prove it, because you are asking billions of people to make significant economic sacrifices on behalf of a scientific theory that you haven't proved.

    BTW, the Vostok ice cores seem to show that CO2 levels are a lagging indicator: as the temp warms, the earth becomes moister as well and more organic material rots, increasing atmospheric levels of CO2.

    In short, CO2 levels do not appear to drive the warming, but are driven by it.

    The massive temperature changes of the past were obviously non-anthropogenic. What proof do you have that the current changes are anthropogenic?

  • At March 28, 2006 7:51 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Firstly, there is no such thing as "proof" in science. But I understand what you mean. We do in fact have the strongest case that is possible to make, please see here, and the support of the strongest kinds of consensus you ever get in science.

    Secondly, you have it backwards. We should prove to ourselves beyond all reasonable doubt that altering the chemistry of our atmosphere will not do us great harm before allowing industry to pollute. There is no joy in the freedom to drive your big SUV to the grocery store if you will not find food there. That is a simplification, what will likely happen for at least a long time is that the food will still be available in rich countries while poor countries face enormous famines. Droughts and sea level rise will still affect the US.

    Re: CO2 and the ice cores, please see here.
    Re: natural past vs today, see this post.

  • At May 27, 2006 3:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It is not only 'geological history' that is unsupportive of 'greenhouse' concepts, CO2 and those other materials themselves do not support the behavior that the 'greenhouse platform' foists upon them.

    Next, look at supposed 'greenhouse amplification', with notice of the plot of atmospheric absorbance within the link: - http://www.ucimc.org/newswire/display/113579/index.php#comments

    -: it is seen that the supposed 'greenhouse radiation' is not even seen being surface incident. So there cannot be 'amplification of warming' in ANY real and VALID manner seen.

    There is not actual any observed 'greenhouse temperature amplification process', there is little valid data that can be produced, and the models mentioned are nothing more than a produced belief system that has material quantities plugged in with no regard to use of the known properties of the materials involved.

    Philosophese will NOT produce anything but a veneer over the nonsense belief system that some try to pass off as 'greenhouse science'.

    Peter K. Anderson a.k.a. Hartlod(tm)
    From the PC of Peter K Anderson
    E-Mail: Hartlod@bigpond.com

  • At November 15, 2006 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I saw a very simple experiment which demonstrates CO2's ability to absorb heat. Two identicial plastic (and clear) empty water bottles. One is filled with 'just air' and the other is filled with air with a greater concentration of CO2. Left in a greenhouse, the bottle with the higher CO2 concentration is definitely warmer. EVEN IF CO2 is correlates as a 'lagging' indicator it doesn't matter, CO2 absorbs heat, plain and simple. You have to remember that the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere is related to all kinds of causes; and we have to remember that temperature is a function of many factors.

  • At December 01, 2006 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm certainly of the school that believe CO2 is a lagging factor. Water vapor is FAR more efficient at absorbing long wave radiation than CO2.

    I don't think we should go around burning all the carbon we can get our hands on, but I think we should at least understand the process before we make any drastic decisions.

  • At December 07, 2006 4:26 PM, Blogger coby said…



    I would argue that the drastic decision we need to avoid is that of altering the earth's current atmospheric chemistry.

  • At December 07, 2006 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    C02 levels as a lagging indicator across known geological history really forms one of the more formidable objections to the C02 as a 'greenhouse pollutant' model.

    It is one that begs the question, why do so many (senators, journalists, etc) insist that we end the debate NOW when a potentially scientifically sound objection looms in the background?

  • At December 08, 2006 9:10 AM, Blogger coby said…

    CO2 as a feedback ("lagging factor") in the glacial cycles is not a contradiction of modern greenhouse theories or anthropogenic global warming theories at all. It is simply a specious sound bite that convinces those people inclined to disbelieve AGW already and not inclined to actually research the science.

    Read this.

  • At December 16, 2006 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    These links are increasingly frustrating as it would appear that many posters would rather engage Coby personally in debate as if he/she were Marilyn vos Savant rather than clearly define and prove their points.

    You make very good points, Coby, and perhaps you are a mensa member. lol At least you make them simple enough for me, which I understand isn't everyone's gift.

    As to proving global warming vs. disproving it...I'll state again here if we're all dead, proof will be a bit late, don't you think? Drastic perhaps, but what are the consequences if we are overzealous? maybe our wallet isn't as fat and perhaps our lives aren't as inconvenienced? You may be dead but you had indoor plumbing. News flash, some folks still survive fine without it.
    "I would argue that the drastic decision we need to avoid is that of altering the earth's current atmospheric chemistry." My point exactly.

    Now that I've ranted, I'll address the original post about convincing a lobbyist. Of course, if the aforementioned scenario isn't enough, you can also reference the effects of slowing thermohaline circulation (such as the gulf stream) and acidification, which Coby already mentioned. I'd further investigate the methane burps as well (or just search methane as a new report said it was due to cows). I won't provide extra links as I'm sure there are some here that I haven't gotten too and also it is easy enough to find reports on.


  • At December 27, 2006 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In my search to be informed about all this global warming and co2 concern I found the Orbital Variations in connection with the Stages of Glaciation very interesting. About every 100 thousand years the earth goes through a glacial hot and cold cycle with about 10,000 years of increased Heat followed by about 90,000 years of Cooling. This has happened consistently for the past 1 million years. We are now at another peak in the cycle. Before long the earth will start its 90,000 year cooling period. According to the experts co2 didn't cause this in the past so I find it hard to believe that co2 is causing it now. We all want to save the world and say that we did. The world will save itself with us in it. Though I do think we should not screw things up too bad while we're hear.

  • At December 27, 2006 1:29 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Re glacial cycles - Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment and your desire to be informed.

    There are substantial differences between what is happening now and orbital cycle driven climate changes of the past:
    - the rate of warming is about 10-20x faster
    - warming did not pause for ~10K yrs and then resume in any of the other cycles
    - CO2 never rose this high (by far) at any time in the last several million years
    - the orbital forcing mechanism that governed the climate over this last million
    years should be very slowly driving the temperature down (new glaciation in
    about 30Kyrs), not rapidly driving temperatures up. Those cycles hae been

    Aside from that, according to the experts CO2 did not initiate the deglaciations but it did contribute more than 50% to the total change.

    See these related articles:

  • At February 20, 2007 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "...Every scientist relishes the thought of uncovering new data that overturns current understanding...." says Coby.


    Not the Global Warming 'scientists'.

  • At March 14, 2007 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Babs said

    *if we're all dead, proof will be a bit late, don't you think?*

    To which I respond, if we're all starving and freezing because we've wrecked our global economy (which hurts the poor first, and the most) only to find that global warming wasn't true, it'll be a bit late, don't you think?

    Global Warming propagandists are either scientists chasing funding and notoriety, or else leftists who don't have a Soviet Union to brag on anymore and need another way of making people hate capitalism. Global Warming is caused by the sun, not by co2. the co2 levels lag historical temps by almost a thousand years, but the solar flare activity follows temps precisely.

    It's no coincidence that the great evil cause of global warming is also the main byproduct of active industry. It's the industry, not the co2, they hate.

    I still can't figure out why leftists hate capitalism so much. It feeds the world and gives hope to the hopeless, like nothing else can.

    But I know them well enough to see through this junk.

    Dave in Texas

  • At March 23, 2007 5:35 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Ah yes, the old "BP and Shell are run by communist tree-huggers" argument. Dave in Texas, you gotta start getting your information from somewhere besides Faux News and "Ann-the-man" Coulter.

    See here. Not that closed minds admit any light.

  • At April 10, 2007 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have a couple of questions that to me at least seems relevant. How long has this global warming been going on. And by what criteria is it measured. Are scientists going back 1000 years, and how did they measure the temp. with any accuracy 1000 years ago. And how do they account for the warming which ended the ice age? The burning of fossil fuels certainly wasn't a factor.

  • At April 10, 2007 4:44 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Anonymouse

    The temperature record is a bit of a mix of things as you go back in time due to the types of data available. The record for the last 150 years is based on actual thermometer readings and stopped 150 years ago because earlier than that there is just not enough global coverage. Prior to that we must use proxies which range from tree rings to coral rings to lake/ocean sediment to ice cores. Based on the best analyses to date, the current episode of global warming began around 1900. Initially it is thought to be at least 50% caused by solar variations and decreased volcanism worldwide but around 1970 it really began to take off and was due pretty much entirely to anthropogenic causes, the largest single factor being CO2 emissions.

    Have a look at this updated version of one of the articles here about past temperatures, it has good graphics and more detail about determining the past, plus links to good sources:

    The warming that ended the ice age was caused by changes in the earth's orbital inclination (Milankovich cycles). These changes resulted in more sunlight on the N. hemisphere where the most extensive icesheets were. As the ice sheets began to retreat, the earth's albedo (reflective property) was lowered meaning even more sunlight absorbed and accelerated melting. Also as the oceans warmed they began to release more CO2 to the atmosphere which enhanced the greenhouse effect, another positive feedback. According to the best calculations in the overall warming, even though it triggered it, orbital forcing was very small, albedo change forcings were much stronger and GHG (both CO2 and CH4) forcing was the strongest forcing factor of the overall temperature change.

    Thanks for the questions, they certainly are relevant!

  • At April 26, 2007 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    In a botany class I took in college, I saw a chart of historical global tempuratures. It was in our book, and the chapter had nothing to do with global warming. I have not been able to find anything since that goes back further than the 1880's. Unfortunatly, around the time we started recording temps world-wide, there was a massive volcanic eruption, which cooled the earth, and skewed the data. I agree that we need to cut unrenewable energy consumption, but when I saw that chart them years ago, I realized that we are in a cooler era in our history, just coming out of a mini ice-age, and that periods of global warming and cooling have been taking place longer than we've been around to notice it. The record we have is of such a short amount of time, that it's laughable to worry as much as we are. It is the equivalent of freaking out about global warming every spring, and freaking out about global cooling every winter. If someone runs across the kind of info I'm looking for (ave global temps going back millions of years) please forward me the info....

  • At April 26, 2007 6:15 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Michael,

    You can find some longer term temperature records, from proxies of course, at this article.

    For millions of years have a look at wikipedia.

    Before you go look, you might consider what the temperatures are like on some of the other planet's in the solar system. If you think this is irrelevant, and I would agree, perhaps you might consider why it is irrelevant and if some of those reasons don't apply to the earth's deep past. There are thriving ecosystems in the frigid regions near the earth's south pole, but what would happen if the entire globe became that climate in one century or even several?

    I recommend reading these other articles in my series:


    Thanks for the comment!

  • At July 11, 2007 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    I was just wondering if you had any links to info about other organisms in earth history producing CO2? It is my understanding that early organisms did flood the atmosphere with co2 and this did cause levels of co2 in the atmosphere to be much higher than they are today, and this did cause a global warming.

    It is also my understanding that several times in earth histroy there have been dramatic warming periods were the tempreture rose as much as 12*C over a 100 year period.

    I agree that global warming could have disasterious affects for humans and other creaters alive today that are adapted to this climate. However climate change, no matter what is causing it, has always made animals go exinct. Life itself has always persisted.

    I sometimes think its arrogant of humans to think that we could affect the earth, and life on earth, in a unique way. We have directly caused the extinction of species, but so have thousands of other species on earth. Life competes. We may be causing gloabal warming but so have (i think) have other organisms in earths history.

    I'm worried for humans but not for life and certantly not for the earth. Both have seen much worse that we could bestow on them.

  • At July 11, 2007 5:36 AM, Blogger coby said…

    I was just wondering if you had any links to info about other organisms in earth history producing CO2?

    I don't have any handy, but it is my understanding that you are correct and for example Snowball Earth was ended because of CO2 buildup from marine organisms.

    It is also my understanding that several times in earth histroy there have been dramatic warming periods were the tempreture rose as much as 12*C over a 100 year period.

    You may be thinking of things like the Younger Dryas event ~8000 years ago, but this was not global it was only in the H, seen best in the greenland ice cores. Further back in geologic history we can not resolve the records finely enough to establish similar rates, but it seems quite rare to have global warming close to the rate we are seeing today. The PETM event being the best and most recent (65Myr bp) example of very rapid warming.

    I agree that global warming could have disasterious affects for humans and other creaters alive today that are adapted to this climate. However climate change, no matter what is causing it, has always made animals go exinct. Life itself has always persisted.

    Yes, life will persist.

    I sometimes think its arrogant of humans to think that we could affect the earth, and life on earth, in a unique way.

    I think it is a matter of observed fact. We are a unique species and no other has such an impact on the globe. We are causing extinctions at a rate that rivals any of the great extinction events in earth's evolutionary history. The global changes (like CO2 buildup) caused by other organisms or natural processes ocur on much much shorter timescales.

    I'm worried for humans but not for life and certantly not for the earth. Both have seen much worse that we could bestow on them.

    I think with the exception of asteroid impacts and super volcanic events this is not true.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • At November 26, 2007 8:57 AM, Blogger giveusthetools said…

    Some, I believe, important new and radical issues on the role of CO2 v H2O can be found on John Brignell's website
    < www.numberwatch.co.uk > Please go on to the Forum there and read my recent Posts:-

    "Exploding The Myth of AGW (Hard Science Thanks To Dalton)&(Isaac Azimov To The Rescue)". If the issues I raise interest you, please leave comments there as well as here.

    Thank you all

  • At November 26, 2007 10:32 AM, Blogger coby said…

    what a bunch of gibberish! But truly worthy of the site on which it is posted.

    "This assertion [that anthrpogenic emissions are causing CO2 to rise] is based on the premise that all natural carbon sinks have been accounted for"

    No, it is not. It is based on observation. So the rest of your paragraph, nonsense that it is, is simply irrelevant. This is called a strawman argument.

    I read on a little, but see no reason to spend any time rebutting.

  • At November 26, 2007 2:17 PM, Blogger giveusthetools said…

    Thank you for your (not so civil) response. However, I would set the record straight for other readers:-

    1, I am not a climate sceptic.

    2, I am an independent research&development engineer, specialising in 'gas chemistry' fluidics, and chemical kinetics.

    3, I am, by constitution and training, highly sceptical of only bad, uninformed, and politicised science.

    4, In the disciplines we have a very high regard for the Proper use of the 'uncertainty principle', which says that, if the science is uncertain, Do Nothing, you might 'Burn your Fingers'! The science of 'Global Warming' is still at the hypothetical stage and is manifestly Not settled, except by bureaucrats and politicians. We Could be playing with fire! Note, I said, Could.

    My article on 'numberwatch' forum which you politely call gibberish, is an honest attempt to bring attention to the fact that we may have hold of the 'wrong end of the stick'. If we have, then our current activities spell real disaster. I believe that the public should be given the opportunity to judge for themselves. We may be locked in to the 'Canals on Mars' syndrome.

    I urge your readers to look at my article, read fully, and 'inwardly digest', there is a great deal of empirical evidence out there for my hypothesis. Here are some empirical facts which can be easily checked:-

    Look up Speleology (no not Al Gore), Caving. Caves get regularly checked for build up of CO2, which is always associated with O2 depletion, it is also associated with reduced humidity H2O, and reduced temperatures, and dryness of the throat, why, how can this happen? Rising CO2 is purported to raise humidity! And thereby raise temperatures! Please do not drag in the 'red herring' of long wave IR radiation, there is just as much IR energy exchange going on in caves as out in the fresh air.

    All I asked was that you looked at the article and as I requested, try to answer the questions within the constraints of the known Gas Laws. Again, for the record, I believe that we could be facing some anomalous Warming, the signs are definitely there. The big Question is can we do anything about it? And if we think we can, What! If we risk tipping the balance the wrong way with possibly misguided mitigation policies, then swallow our Hubris and play safe with Adaptation.

    Now Pollution is a very different matter.

    Corby, my regards, David

  • At July 11, 2008 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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