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Global Warming: The Basics

Posted: March 8, 2013 at 3:00 pm   /   by

I was recently having a conversation with a friend when talk rambled onto the subject of global warming.  When I was dismissive of the idea, she asked “ you think Global Warming is a hoax?”  She wasn’t being snarky, she was genuinely surprised to hear me explain why I don’t buy into all the hysteria, or the admonitions that if we don’t all drastically cut back on our carbon-footprint, we are all doomed.

Sometimes I have to remember not everyone is such a wonk as me.  Not everyone is interested enough, or has the time or the background to take a critical, serious look at the science behind the theory of anthropogenic, or human-caused, global warming.  So with that in mind, here is a quick rundown of some of the basic theory, but at the end of it all there are really only two numbers you need to remember: .003 and .03.  With those two numbers, you should be able to explain to any of your friends or family why they should be skeptical of Global Warming.

What exactly is the theory of Global Warming? – The term Global Warming has become a convenient short-hand reference to the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) or that human activity is causing a change to the climate which if left unchecked will disrupt weather patterns, with disastrous results.  It is used somewhat interchangeably with Climate Change, which still refers to human activity.  The theory claims that due to the rise in industrial activity beginning in about 1850, humans have been emitting ever greater amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, and this is causing the planet to get warmer.  They claim in fact that it is now much warmer than it has ever been, at least for the past 100 thousand years or so, and that this rise in temperature is due to human activity.

It’s All about the Carbon – The most important thing to remember about this theory is that it all revolves around CO2.  The operative part of the theory is that CO2 acts as some super-duper greenhouse gas, and has an enormous impact upon the amount of heat retained by our planet.  Nobody disputes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and can cause a retention of heat.  CO2 is also a Trace Gas, meaning there is only an extremely tiny amount of it present in our atmosphere.  In fact the amount of CO2 present is only about .003, or three-tenths of one percent.  Representing three tenths of a percent in a pie chart, the line is almost too small to see:


Another way to visualize it: if the entire atmosphere of our planet were represented by a stack of 1,000 blocks, the total content of CO2 would amount to only three of those blocks.  The other thing that is sometimes easy to forget is that there is a fixed amount of CO2 on our planet.  Except for an unimaginably small amount lost over time through outgassing, we have exactly the same amount of CO2 now as we had when the dinosaurs were stomping around.  No more is magically created, and it doesn’t come here from outer space.  Human activity doesn’t “make more CO2.”  The last important thing to know about CO2 for now is that when you hear people talking about carbon or CO2 emissions, what they are talking about is taking CO2 that already exists someplace, and emitting it into the atmosphere.  CO2 is constantly being emitted by natural processes.  Decaying plant and animal matter, volcanoes, and outgassing from the ocean all emit CO2.  In fact, natural processes emit vastly more CO2 every year than all human activity combined.  Humans emit approximately six to seven gigatons of CO2 each year, according to some estimates.  Natural processes emit more than thirty times as much.  In other words, the human contribution is about .03 or three percent..

So far everything I’ve talked about regarding CO2 is not in debate.  These are just the basic facts, and not even the people who believe in AGW theory argue with any of this.  Where disagreement begins is the central, most important assertion of AGW theory: CO2 acts as a “super” greenhouse gas, wielding an enormous effect on the climate through its extraordinary heat retention properties.  This is vitally important to the theory because there is such a tiny amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere.  There is so little of it present, it MUST have truly prodigious heat retention properties, otherwise its effect on the climate would be in proportion to its presence in the atmosphere.  This next thing I’m going to say is very important:

There is no scientific evidence supporting the assertion that CO2 has any such “super” greenhouse properties.  None.

That is correct.  It has never been demonstrated, either in laboratory experiments, or in nature, that CO2 has the ability to cause any change in global temperature through increasing its presence in the atmosphere in the miniscule amounts generated by human activity.  Remember how little CO2 there is in the atmosphere?  The amount of increase in atmospheric CO2 theorized to have accumulated over the past 100 years is .0001%  In other words, we have gone from approximately .03% to .031%, at least in theory.  Supposedly, this tiny increase is going to cause ocean levels to rise catastrophically, massive species extinction, enormous tracts of agriculturally productive land to be ruined—in short, utter devastation.

It all comes down to two (very!) little numbers.  In order for AGW theory to be true, you must believe that the 3% humans contribute to the total annual emissions of CO2 can substantially increase the .03% of CO2 present in the atmosphere, and that this miniscule increase is capable of catastrophic effects.

Greg Conterio

Gregory Conterio grew-up in the middle of the cornfields of central Illinois, spent 12 years living in the People’s Republic of Los Angeles, and another 15 in Miami, Florida, giving him a first-hand perspective on the rich variability of American culture.  Although formally educated in zoology, he saw opportunity in the then emerging Information technology field 25 years ago, and has remained there ever since, although he denies being an early pioneer in the now fashionable trend of pursuing useless college degrees.  Having an entrepreneurial background, Gregory has long been a staunch advocate of free markets and minimal government intrusion into our lives.  He currently runs a small IT consulting firm based in South Florida, where he resides with his wife of 25 years, his daughter, three Whippets, and an unknown but growing number of chickens, having discovered belatedly the rural lifestyle is not so bad after all.


  1. pappy says:

    I question the statement that “all CO2 exists somewhere” with his inference that it exists as CO2. This would mean that our body is filled with CO2 that we expel each time we breathe. CO2 exists everywhere as Carbon and Oxygen, separately. Some reaction must take place to combine the two elements, such as breathing or combustion. The potential amount of CO2 is the same today as it was when the “dinosaurs stomped around”, but that does not mean that the actual amount has not changed.

  2. GregoryConterio says:

    Technically you are correct Pappy, but it is something of a quibble. Anytime organic material decays or is burned, the greater part of it’s carbon takes the form of CO2. The carbon cycle, which I referenced, is actually about carbon transitioning back & forth between free atmospheric CO2 and the carbon that is used in sugars, fats, proteins, etc. that organisms are “built” from. The point was that there is a finite amount of it on the planet, there is not more of it now than there has been in the past, and humans are not “making more” of it, as is commonly perceived.

  3. dleeper47 says:

    See also studies about the impact of long-term (1500-year) solar cycles, which both *drive* and *lead* (by hundreds of years) the level of CO2 in the atmosphere.  
    Spend 10 minutes with real scientists at the link below.

    1. @dleeper47 I think I may have to quote you on the “real scientists” comment when I post this on the site.

      1. dleeper47 says:

        @WesternFreePress Solar Cycle warming is so powerful that in the last great warming cycle, grapes were grown & havested in Scotland.  You can’t do that now — it’s too cold.
        How can politicians & bureacrats at the UN hope or claim to stop the force of this cycle?  They can’t.  But they will pretend to do so if it will lead to greater power for The State and for Global Government.
        In general, warming is better than cooling — it would be far better to reap the benefits and deal with the consequences than try to “stop” the cycle.  
        If the Left were smart(er), they’d find a way to further their statist ideology with the truth rather than a monstrous lie.  But lying comes so naturally to them that I guess they just can’t help themselves.  Thank goodness.  It gives us an opening.

        1. @dleeper47 I remember flowers growing outside my window in February in St. Andrews. I had never seen such a thing.
          Yes, greater government is the goal. That, and all the money a lot of their elites are making from this giant scam.
          Yes, warming is better!
          Yes, but they seem to get away with lying most of the time, so why would they stop?

  4. andrea Silverthorne says:

    Well I agree for a different reason. Carbon Dioxide and other gasses, all except water vapor have adiabatic properties, which means any heat or cold, any temperature change at all, is internal to the gas and does not effect the environment. The only thing that holds heat in its gaseous form is water vapor.  I’m a gardener. We trap heat in the water that evaporates from the plant by keeping it in the greenhouse, not carbon dioxide.
    Water vapor is holding all the heat. When air goes up a mountain it changes the internal pressure of the gas and makes it condense i.e. loose the water vapor that is carrying the heat with it; that is why it cools
    Now the question is why did NASA let one of its people, Hansen,  tell us an Orwellian half truth for so long, and when are they going to tell the public the truth. Why doesn’t NOAA come out and say this to the public. Why do they let the myth continue. It does not matter that there is a myth; it matters that the government will not take a position on the myth. Radiative forcing is therefore a joke.
    Now, that said. Gasses fall out by atomic weight. They say that the atmosphere is well mixed, but here again it is a half truth; we have a working atmosphere and things are always going up and oxidizing into other gases, but eventually they fall out as to their atomic weight.  They are finding water vapor in the sky where it should not be, much higher than normal.  Scientists are worried about it; it contributes to global cooling.  We need to know: is increasing carbon dioxide which sits lower to the ground pushing other gases up? If carbon dioxide increases are effecting the position in our atmosphere of water vapor, maybe there is a different reason to stop its rise.  
    I have a report by a scientist that said in 1957 the ocean had absorbed all the man made CO2 in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. What was new from that point forward that put all that excess CO2 in the air in such a short time. ? If its all going to the ocean does the raising level mean the ocean is carbon saturated south of the equator. Carbon Dioxide in the water is known to cause global cooling.
    In 2010, lightening scientists found that methane made it’s hydrate in the sky and that is how we got lightening. Imagine, that they knew lightning was initiated by the separating of  the positive and negative ions, but they did not know how until 2010. At the weight it falls out, pressure makes it is an aerosolized solid form and it can form its hydrate; that is how we get hail and clouds and snow. Methane lowers the temperature to form its hydrate. We need to be worried about rising levels of methane more.  Methane is the one gas that in its solid form in the deep earth and in the sky can trap heat, but just like CO2 in  gaseous form it traps no heat that affects us.
    We are all in this together, including the energy people. Frankly. I think global warming is anthropogenic; its just that its not coming from our factories and cars;  there are much fewer anthropogenic sources causing it than is realized. It is global cooling we have to fear the most. Puno Peru got down to minus four degrees F in its spring  on August 29th and froze hundreds of thousands of animals overnight, 56 degrees lower than normal. Again, Methane causes global cooling in our atmosphere and we have so much of it we are going to need all the heat we can get.
    We are warmed by radiant heat from the earth. If we did not have that heat we could not live on earth; it would be to cold, the sun is not enough; therefore we should look to see if something is allowing more heat to come up from the deep earth. It is the only place left to look for the source of the heat.
    Bottom line; it’s not Ok to give a scientist a Nobel Prize for discovering Hanta virus comes from a mouse. Where did the mouse get it from? Our science stops short.

Global Warming: The Basics