Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« Orwell prize | Main | Fred Pearce on Lisbon »


After the Paul Nurse programme the other day, eyebrows were raised over one of the claims in the show, namely that emissions from fossil fuel burning dwarfed natural emissions. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:

Bob Bindschadler: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It's about seven gigatons per year right now.

Paul Nurse: And is that enough to explain...?

Bob Bindschadler: Natural causes only can produce - yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year. So there's just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.

Paul Nurse: So seven times more.

Bob Bindschadler: That's right.

Aynsley Kellow, writing in the comments said that this was wrong, and so I thought I would try to clarify things by writing to Dr Bindschadler and finding out his source. This is it.

The source is the Arctic Impact Climate Assessment apparently, although I haven't actually looked for the graph in its original location yet. You can see the 7:1 ratio in the front graph, and you will also see that the graph is comparing two anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide, namely fossil fuels and land-use changes. Dr Bindschadler has agreed that this the graph therefore doesn't support the claim he made in the Horizon programme.

Dr Bindschadler suggests that the 7:1 figure is actually not that far out from the correct figure for net anthropogenic:natural carbon dioxide emissions, so the effect of the mistake is limited. We should note, however, that he was originally speaking about emissions rather than net emissions. But even if you look at the net figures I still don't think the numbers are correct. Prof Kellow has pointed me to this page at Skeptical Science, which puts the net figures at 29 GtCO2 emissions for anthropogenic and a net 17 GtCO2 (450-439+338-332) absorbtion from natural sources. For what Prof Nurse and Dr Bindschadler were actually talking about in the Horizon show, gross emissions, the 7:1 ratio for anthropogenic to natural becomes, by my reckoning 1:27 (i.e. with natural emissions completely dwarfing anthropogenic).*

So in terms of what is interesting us here, the figures in the Horizon show were clearly completely wrong, which I guess we knew. It's good to have confirmation of this though. The question is, what does this mean for Prof Nurse and the reputation of the BBC?

*Note that the Skeptical Science page is talking in terms of GtCO2 while Dr Bindshadler was talking Gt carbon, but it's the ratios we are interested in.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: psn code generator
    - Bishop Hill blog - Emissions

Reader Comments (108)

ThinkingScientist: never has your name seemed so apt, thank you. How much do we know about the carbon cycle? Quite a lot. How much don't we know? Quite a lot more. This should arouse much scientific curiosity, of exactly the kind Paul Nurse talked about from his own life. But a simplistic 7:1 ratio of fluxes given as a clincher to prove dangerous anthropogenic warming ... surely you must be having a laugh, Beeb and Nursey.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

When watching the programme I said "That doesn`t sound right". It is very helpful to have my doubts confirmed by this post.

The charitable view is that this is all a big mistake and a measure of declining standards at the BBC.

The uncharitable view is that this programme was intended to stitch up James Delingpole, just as the other recent BBC prgramme was intended to stitch up Lord Monckton. In the eyes of the general public, who do not follow every twist and turn of Climategate, these probably did the job of stitch up extremely well.

Others have already commented on the role of the Big Lie in all of this. In this context it is worth reminding ourselves of the words attributed to Dr Goebbels:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to
believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the
people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus
becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for
the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the
greatest enemy of the State.”

We also need to remind ourselves of the political capital that is invested in the AGW hypothesis - now enshrined in The Climate Change Act and in the political thinking of the three main political parties. Even the present Coalition government`s National Security Strategy and Spending Review says (para 1.30) "failure at Copenhagen was a strategic setback".

A u-turn now would make them all look extremely silly. There will be no willing volunteers. In the meantime the state will continue to try to hold the line. The uncharitable view deserves a hearing.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

There is no question that the dialogue between the 2 is extremely confusing and doesn't make much sense. My thought is that we are seeing a heavily edited longer exchange between the 2. Maybe Sir Paul's "so seven times more" was refering to fossil fuels versus land use changes, but that statement was spliced into completely different context by a (maybe junior) editorial assistant who didn't understand the material he/she was editing. Just a theory.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRain on your parade

This is obviously a Royal Society position and not a 'cockup'. It cannot be a co-incidence that Paul Nurse and Ron Oxburgh have made the same statement on separate occasions.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterChairman Al

Should add that I would need to re-watch the segment to see if it is 2 or more shots have been edited together. If not then my theory is wrong.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRain on your parade

One should realise that a graph taken from the Arctic Impact Climate Assessment report is not to be used as evidence for the actual rise in temperature versus CO2. The AICA looked only at impact, (the matter of WG2), not at the basic data that underlie the doctrine, which are the IPCC's (WG1); these are accepted without question.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered Commentermokummer

Richard Drake
DPdlS (and many others): it's premature and counter-productive to assess Paul Nurse's motivation.

Of course, it could be my tired old eyes, but I do believe his lips were moving. However, having been around for nearly 70 years, I do tend to go by my previous experience:

I no longer make excuses for those who clearly should have known better because I find that, in the end, they did know better.

Another maximum to use is: "Follow the money." It is usually the course of least resistance.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra


6. The total carbon estimated in various places (in tonnes, just for fun!) is
a. Atmosphere 800,000,000,000
b. Soils, veg, humus 2,300,000,000,000
c. Ocean 39,000,000,000,000
d. Carbonate Rocks 65,000,000,000,000,000
7. There is more carbon in soils than the total of the atmosphere and all living matter.
8. Much of the carbon in those carbonate rocks was once in the atmosphere (as was all the fossil fuel carbon as well) and the oceans.

I find these numbers interesting and about what I expected -- about 99% + of the carbon in the form of dissolved bicarbonate or solid carbonate and NOT in the atmosphere.

Where did you find these numbers? I have been looking for them for sometime. I would be interested in looking at them more carefully. Clearly, we have very little knowledge of the "carbon cycle" and it needs much more thorough and honest study.

Feb 3, 2011 at 4:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Don Pablo says:

I no longer make excuses for those who clearly should have known better because I find that, in the end, they did know better.

I agree.

Richard Drake is being characteristically fair and reasonable, but on this occasion I think round condemnation is in order. If the error wasn't deliberate alarmist misrepresentation is was shockingly sloppy to let it through the edit process.

This sort of slapdashery brings science into disrepute.

If the fault lies with the BBC (ie Sir Paul says 'I only saw the finished product on the night it was broadcast, too late to correct the error' then the BBC needs to issue a clarification and an apology.

Fact is, somebody needs to. Question is - who?

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I want to be clear about this - if I made an error of this magnitude in my work, there would be serious consequences. At the least, I would lose business and reputational face; at worst, I would face legal action and its consequences.

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Why should Dr Bindschadler, Sir Paul and the BBC just get away with it?

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


Dr Bindschadler has admitted he made a mistake. That's fine in my book. Now Sir Paul needs to do the same thing.

I don't know what line of business you are in, but in the media, ideas fly about relatively unchecked. I think we want a free exchange of ideas.

You might make a case for a more professional approach in the IPCC though.

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:23 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill


Agreed that Dr Bindschadler has in fact admitted error - to you, in an email exchange. Has he done so more publicly?

Agreed that the deafening silence from Sir Paul is unacceptable.

Agreed that a free exchange of accurately expressed ideas is necessary for moving any debate forward.

Agreed re IPCC.

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I slightly regret part of my earlier comment: I am not engaged in special pleading for my particular 'line of business'. It is much like most. If most of us were to make a very public statement that is profoundly in error, there would be consequences. The main difference in the fallout would depend on whether you are the boss or an employee.

Feb 3, 2011 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Thinking Scientist:

Re: Total carbon estimates for various places - interesting !

Kindly provide your source - these figures would be a wonderful addition to my daughter's ongoing grade 7 science project/experiment; How various levels of atmospheric CO2 influence plant growth.

Feb 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterB.O.B.

BH and BBD

but in the media, ideas fly about relatively unchecked. I think we want a free exchange of ideas.

Agreed that a free exchange of accurately expressed ideas is necessary for moving any debate forward.

I quite agree with BBD. Shooting your mouth off with rhetoric and propaganda is not expressing ideas. However, carefully thought out and researched ideas must be freely available. The media has been remiss in checking what they say more and more over the last 50 years. When I took a course in journalism at Columbia University many years ago, the rule was: "Who? What? When? Where? Why?" with the adjunct of "How?" Almost none of that is found in the efforts of today's press.

I believe that BH and others are trying to reverse that trend, particularly with HSI but the absolute tripe being expressed by many as "ideas" is sad.

Thinking Scientist

I agree with B.O.B. that you should point to your source or sources. As noted, I have been looking for it for over a year.

Feb 3, 2011 at 6:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

"Thinking Scientist"

"The problem arises because, as Susan Hack puts it, “scientism” enables assessors to avoid evaluating evidence in favor of evaluating whether the evidence “counts as science”.
Here are her six signs: 1. Using the words “science,” “scientific,” “scientifically,” “scientist,” etc., honorifically, as generic terms of epistemic praise."


Feb 3, 2011 at 7:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

Don Pablo and B.O.B.,
I'm not sure where Thinking Scientist got his figures, but Fig 7.3 provides both figures and a graphic representation of fluxes, sinks and stores of carbon. It is possible to add these up.

This would seem to provide an authoritative source.

I have just arisen here in the Antipodes, but I think it was Thinking Scientist who pointed to the 20% band of uncertainty in this figures, meaning that (gross) emissions from fossil fuels — and more so net anthropogenic emissions — are substantially less than the error term.

I think Feynman had something to say about much being made of something so small as to be practically unmeasurable.

This shouldn't be taken a reason for zero concern, but as someone else on the thread put it, the actual figures suggest that action on mitigation, sink enhancement and increased natural fixation from carbon dioxide 'fertilisation' might not be too difficult if we are concerned over that forcing remaining from the the ever-flattening curve of radiative forcing.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

"...When people come along later and point out that the real figures were about 5%, and showed no change on the preceding trend, you don't retract your figures. You don't do anything at all...." --Frank Davis

Based on past behaviour, more likely you immediately launch into a spittle-spewing, ad hominem attack on the people who have pointed out your lie, calling them: "Deniers! Anti-science obstructionists! Child asphyxiators! Right-wing slime! Big-Oil collaborators! Wall Street lickeys!" And so on. (For a complete list, comb Joe Romm's site. I forget what it's called.)

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

First, I am not here to criticize Paul Nurse or the BBC program. I highly respect Sir Paul and his contributions in genetics and cell biology (I have used some of his mutants in my own work). I have yet to view the BBC program.

What really bugs me is that graph. My criticisms here are mainly focused on the graph itself; I don't have the context.

First, it is from 2004. Nothing recent?

Second, the temperature plot appears to be the hockey stick...'nuff said.

Third, though it is a "pretty" representation, the 3D effect makes direct comparisons nearly impossible.

Fourth, the 3D representation "hides the baseline" of CO2 concentration, which I guess is 240 ppm.

Fifth, the units of CO2 concentration and carbon emissions are in different units.

Sixth, even worse, concentration (amount/volume) is compared to rate (change in amount/time). How can one assess the influence of one rate on the other? With such an oblique representation, you cannot even take an eyeball derivative or integration.

Of course, the data is readily available to compute these numbers (though conversions are rarely displayed or cited). A much better graph could have been suggested.

I agree with many of the comments above, you have to look at total flux (rates) to get an accurate comparison.

Oh yeah, my guess for the "official" increase in CO2 concentration for 2010: 2.52 ppm.

Cheers...gotta do some real work.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterRandomReal[]

I am with Fenbeagle (and the Bish).

There ought to be no rhetorical misrepresentation, tucked away under the folds of literal interpretation. This was a popular science programme; any sensible director or narrator would be aware of the pitfalls of simplification, to begin with. A simple clarification would suffice, although I am not holding my breath.

Feb 3, 2011 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterShub

All of us agree about pointing out the sloppiness and how misleading the programme was. Aynsley's a star to spotting this - and for that radio interview after Climategate, which I pointed friends to, and no doubt much else!

Perhaps my attitude to Paul Nurse can best be styled the Gorbachev hope. I well remember how, after a succession of dismal Soviet leaders, it was Margaret Thatcher who first decided that Gorby might be different - "someone I can do business with". But this was from first-hand experience - in fact from a heated debate they got into when they first met, as I remember.

I don't have the advantage of first hand contact with Paul Nurse and the verdict "just like all the others" may be the right one. No hard feelings if so. He's certainly a better media performer than anyone at that level that I can remember. I'm hoping the quality turns out to go deeper. That's how history really makes progress.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Chairman Al: "It cannot be a coincidence that Paul Nurse and Ron Oxburgh have made the same statement on separate occasions."

I don't visit alarmist sites -- but I would guess that there may well be such a site that has this claim listed in some handy list of bullet points for believers to trot out when trolling, chairing 'investigations', or producing propaganda videos for the BBC. Rain on your parade's junior researcher may have picked it up there. Not that that excuses anyone -- least of all the President of the Royal Society.

Feb 3, 2011 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJane Coles

Richard Drake:
Many thanks. I'll keep you on as my publicist! I must confess, though, that a poster across at Climate Resistance claims to have spotted it earlier and posted at the Grauniad. As The Grauniad website seems to crash my browser (who said Safari lacks superior features?), I haven't checked, but I agreed to grant them first claim.

On another fact check, Professor Garnaut here is gearing up to produce more economic analyses that will justify the governments plans to price carbon. He repeats the canard that Australia is 'world champion of per capita emissions', which it is if one os prepared to overlook Singapore, but — hey — let's not let the facts stand in the way of the message. We are No. 1 in Annex 1 parties, to be accurate. Of course, some would counter that the Singapore figure is high because they refine a lot of oil and produce a lot of chemicals that are exported, but that's the same reason Australia is high. And Singapore's having no binding commitments under Kyoto draws attention to the fact that we and New Zealand are the only countries in our region that do. These facts are inconvenient.

Incidentally, Professor Garnaut claims there is no peer reviewed evidence in the past five years that undermines the case in AR4. This, of course ignores several points:
1. The Climategate guys have done their best to keep material out of the literature.
2. There is also no evidence to support they key features of the theory that AGW is 'dangerous' (rising water vapour, tropical hotspot, etc)
3. There is ample evidence of an absence of rising cyclone incidence and intensity, yet Profesor Garnaut has stated publicly that Cyclone Yasi and floods are evidence 'consistent with' - so one does not have great confidence that he is following the evidence too closely.

Perhaps His Grace might start a thread on evidence in the past five years that weakens the IPCC case. I can think of my colleague Garth Paltridge's paper analysing raidosondes that found an absence of evidence of strongly rising water vapour, which I think was 2007. Any others?

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Sorry Don Pablo et al, I went home from work for dinner and a "discussion" with my wife about why we need a second AGA. I have apologised, finshed my wine and wil continue contributing suitably contrite...

The figures come from Ian Plimer's book Heaven and Earth, but I did spend the time this afternoon checking them against IPCC AR4. The numbers are broadly in line except AR4 does not give a value for carbonate rocks. The uncertainty bounds are taken directly from AR4 but they are all quoted as +/- some value but don't state the confidence interval (sloppy science, as ever).

I have a confession that I although I normally classify myself as a geophysicist and geostatistician owing to my professional experience, my degree is actually in Oceanography and Soil Science (bizarre I know, but I did joint honours in these subjects) so I do know a little bit about carbon in soils. Soil is amazing stuff really, so NEVER call it mud or dirt where I can hear you...

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Regarding AR4, it is quite evident in the graphs in chapter 7 that they show the human carbon contribution in terms of net flux because it makes it look very alarming. But in the context of the magnitude of the fluxes in nature, as well as the uncertainties, the estimated contribution from humans is pretty small.

Also remember that the contribution from burning fossil fuels probably has a small uncertainty, but it is dwarfed by the uncertainties associated with natural fluxes. The apparent sum to zero of the natural fluxes must be either coincidence or deliberate (to imply natural equilibrium or steady state). Some of the estimates are assumed from differences and of course some potentially huge CO2 contributors are ignored. As Ian Plimer repeatedly points out, there are a very large number of hidden volcanic sources subsea - just think of all those spreading centres between the continental plates such as the mid-Atlantic ridge. They must produce huge amounts of CO2.

Also my little thought is this - if the ice core data such as Vostok shows that CO2 rise has a lag (is later than) temperature by about 800 years, then some of the modern CO2 signature could reasonably assumed to be a consequence of the Medieval Warm Period and not humans at all.

Feb 3, 2011 at 10:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

At what point in the Nurse video is the quoted exchange happening?

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Maurizio --
I don't have the video, but you can see the quoted exchange in the transcript here. Just search for the word "volcanoes."

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

Thinking Scientist:
I think the figures showing a natural balance in and out is revealing, especially given the large bands of uncertainty that you quite rightly drew our attention to.

The meme of environmentalism is one of 'nature's delicate, harmonious balance.' Given a Rorschach blot (which is pretty much what ±20% is) the chances must be pretty high that a collective process would 'socially construct' * a figure that reflects the underlying social values of the participants (which includes representatives of Green NGOs and environment ministries). Given the absence of strong evidence, they would tend to project their values and the collective nature of the process would (if anything) increase this through a sense of solidarity.

* Before any of you hard-headed types rush to dismiss me as just another post-modernist social scientist, I'm a critical realist who thinks we can strive towards knowledge and fail in various ways (including social construction), but adherence to something resembling Popperian approaches to knowledge provide us with the methods to increase the reliability of our knowledge. Note also that Spencer Weart put it, as a collective undertaking, climate science is inherently socially constructed — which is not to say that it ONLY socially constructed.

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow


I am a strong advovate of Karl Popper's view of science, this in spite of his Marxist tendencies. His view of the falsification of theores and the distinction between science and religion on that basis is to me the problem with AGW theory.

I am also quite a fan of Copernicus and Galileo. Especially the idea of science "proven" by "consensus".

Feb 3, 2011 at 11:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Thinking Scientist:
You have Popper's politics wrong. In fact, he was a strong advocate of the same kind of (classical) liberalism that infuses his philosophy of science. Look at the titles of his works in political thought. The Open Society and Its Enemies takes on fascism, communism and Platonism. His target in The Poverty of Historicism is the dialectic of Hegel and Marx, which leads him to advocate 'piecemeal social engineering' rather than attempts at holistic transformations. (We cannot know today what we will know tomorrow, therefore we can have no confidence in grand visions and 'Five Year Plans'). Take small, incremental steps and review the results. Keep the debate open, celebrate dissent and scepticism.

Kuhn and Feyerabend were more on about a description of the way science advances - lot's of circling of wagons to defend the dominant paradigm, until it eventually collapses and is replaced by another. Feyerabend was particularly clear that scientists are 'red in tooth and claw' and behave in private exactly as the Climaetgate e-mails show. But neither of them can serve as useful sources of how we (as citizens) should demand they MUST behave. When we do try to set prescriptive standards, we tend to come closer to Popper than Kuhn or Feyerbend (witness the US Supreme Court in its Daubert ruling).

Feb 4, 2011 at 12:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Aynsley, I can confirm that your comment about Popper's political stance is accurate. I clearly remember him being asked a question, and him answering that "I am a liberal, and I vote Conservative". His Logic course at the LSE was the one that after all these years still stays with me.

Regards, Anthony.

Feb 4, 2011 at 2:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Ratliffe

I suggest that somebody who knows the correct postal addresses, copies this post twice and mails the copies in real old fashioned stamped addressed envelopes, to both the chairman of th BBC and the secretary of the Royal Society, asking for explanations and for an appology to be prominently displayed in the Times newspaper, with a comment from the person mailing the copies, that this would prove the bona fides of the respective organisations.

The responses, if any, would be illuminating and may well provide more input for Josh.
But perhaps either or both, being venerable and honarable institutions, may rush to oblige.

Feb 4, 2011 at 3:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

Anthony Ratliffe:
Popper visited Otago when I was a graduate student there. The Chair was held by Alan Musgrave, who published with Imre Lakatos at the LSE. There is a strong philosophy of science group there. I took none of their courses as a undergraduate, but the tea-room 'seminars' were memorable! I did study Popper in political philosophy courses, with Jim Flynn, who placed great emphasis on reason and evidence as the basis for polite debate - and the importance of treating one's opponents with respect. Jim was just beginning his work on race and IQ and (though a committed humanist who spent time in jail in the US civil rights era) he remains a model for me of someone who who cared intensely, but avoided noble cause corruption in his scholarship. An ethical philosopher by training, he nevertheless discovered what became known as the Flynn Effect: the professional psychologists, working with standardised data, missed the fact that everyone was improving their performance on IQ tests over time. Lessons there for climate science.

Feb 4, 2011 at 4:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

Aynsle and Anthony:

From Wikipedia:

"In 1919, Popper became attracted by Marxism and subsequently joined the Association of Socialist School Students. He also became a member of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria, which was at that time a party that fully adopted the Marxist ideology.[9] He soon became disillusioned by what he saw to be the philosophical restraints imposed by the historical materialism of Marx, abandoned the ideology and remained a supporter of social liberalism throughout his life."

I stand corrected.

Feb 4, 2011 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

ThinkingScientist Feb 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM

The carbonate figure may well be an underestimate. Calcite is probably the commonest diagenetic cementing agent not only in the carbonates, but in many clastic sedimentary rocks such as sandstones. It is also commonly present in subordinate amounts in mudstones and shales, the most abundant sedimentary rocks of all, which are often significantly calcareous or marly.

Feb 4, 2011 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

This blog article contains the usual distortions that we have come to expect from the denier community.
If you look at the US Dept. of Energy report

You'll see that the 770GTons of CO2 from natural sources is balanced by the 781 that is absorbed by natural sources. In other words, far from being a source of CO2 27 times larger than human production, the environment is a net sink.
The man-made contribution of CO2 estimated here at 23.1 GTons overwhelms the natural sinks of CO2 by a factor of two, and completely accounts for the observed increase in atmospheric CO2.
The input from volcanoes of less than 1GTon per year is completely trivial compared with these numbers.
I do sincerely hope that Bishop Hill is not responsible for doing any book keeping with real money.

Feb 4, 2011 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterTom P

It strikes me that the observed atmospheric level of CO2 is largely regulated by its solubility in the water of (mostly) the oceans. As sea surface temperatures rose, they released more CO2 than what they absorbed. There is also the balance of partial pressure the other way: increasing the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the amount absorbed.

How can one say that just because we're putting X tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, compared to nature's Y tonnes, that the total CO2 remaining in the atmosphere must be (X + Y)?? The partial pressure increases so more must be absorbed at the same temperature.

Further; the oceans aren't comprised of inert chemicals: There's life in there ... much of it plant life that photosynthetically fixes some of the dissolved CO2 into its cells; and more CO2 means more food for those plants and more plants to absorb more CO2. Those organisms have 3 ultimate fates: being eaten (which invokes the 3 fates recursively), dieing and decomposing or dieing and sinking to the ocean floor. The sediments can build up and fix the carbon for millions to hundreds of millions of years.

CO2 is not uniformly distributed throughout the Earth's atmosphere. It varies geographicallly, with altitude and over short periods (<year) by at least an order of magnitude more than anthroprogenic input. If one is to properly analyse the radiative potential for warming, one must at first establish how much, where and when CO2 is present; and the temperature of the surroundings atthose CO2 levels. Radiation does not vary linearly. It is mathematically invalid to use averages to estimate radiation.

And in a freely-convecting atmosphere (with a healthy proportion of water acting as a "refrigerant") that inherently absorbs perturbations (producing "weather"), one wonders at the importance of the net "global warming" from anthroprogenic atmospheric CO2 contributions; if they are insignificant or infinitesimal.

Heat transfer in the Earths atmosphere and oceans is far from radiative. Convection transports heat throughout the system; to the coldest regions from where it radiates more effectively. The "extra heat" from CO2 wouldn't even make a measurable difference to the convective currents. Variations in solar radiation hitting the surface, from e.g. changes in albedo are two to three orders of magnitude greater. And they happen every day.

Feb 4, 2011 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernd Felsche

Tom P

Booker and Delingpole stated "natural causes such as volcanoes" which was taken by Bob Ward and you to mean "just volcanoes".

Perhaps you shouldn't begin your comments with slurs like "deniers". When you then proceed to make an error, you look twice the fool. I do sincerely hope that you are not responsible for writing or researching.

Feb 4, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterconiston

Tom P

Agreed with Coniston. The denier tag is not helpful.

I have posted a fair bit on this topic on earlier threads. The question was: are Nurse and Bindshadler essentially misrepresenting the facts?

The answer is: yes.

There was some debate about their motives.

Your statement about the size of the environmental sink is correct, AFAIK, but not centrally relevant to the discussion here.

It looks like more of an excuse to be offensive to other commenters on this thread and the host of this blog.

Not a terribly grown-up way of going about things, is it?

Feb 4, 2011 at 4:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Should be 'Bindschadler' above.

Feb 4, 2011 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

I feel strongly and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information?

Feb 4, 2011 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterkakon

@ ThinkingScientist

Your comment on 'dirt' interests me, have always wondered/curious about how the planet keeps its land topsoil & how it started (weathering etc..).

perhaps the Bish can give you a post :- )

Feb 4, 2011 at 11:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterdougieh

Tom P

'I do sincerely hope that Bishop Hill is not responsible for doing any book keeping with real money.'

If CO2 were in deficit rather than in surplus, we would have cause to be concerned. It is the currency of life, that is really real money.

Feb 4, 2011 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Berne Felsche

A very good post. Yes, it is naive to approach everything as hard fixed numbers and steady states, particularly if the numbers are finger in wind guesstimates that could well be orders of magnitude off, like volcano emissions. Earth processes constantly oscillate trying but never quite achieving equilibrium, some we think we understand, most we probably don't.

Feb 4, 2011 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Forgot to ask...what are the error bars on non-human fluxes? I seem to recall some are so large, the error themselves are larger than all human emissions combined. But I might be wrong.

Feb 5, 2011 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

I can't see the 7:1 ratio in the front graph because as you say the graph is comparing two anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide. So I dont see how this graph could support the statement that man made emissions are 7 times greater than natural emissions.

'Dr Bindschadler suggests that the 7:1 figure is actually not that far out from the correct figure', where ? At the top of the posting you say he claims this graph as his source but you then go on to say he agrees that this graph therefore doesn't support the claim he made in the Horizon programme.' There is the contradiction at the heart of the matter. What exactly is Dr Bindschadler saying ? At any rate it is Nurse that suggests anthropogenic emissions are seven times greater than natural , to which Bindschadler assents. So when Dr Bindschadler agrees that this graph doesn't support the claim he made in the programme can we be sure he is referring to the seven times greater claim asserted by Nurse?

I suspect that wires have been crossed. Can we see the correspondence that goes with this?

There is a massive difference though between 7:1 and 1:27 . I can't work out how you've got 1:27 , perhaps you should put your findings forward for peer review.

Feb 9, 2011 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone

The quoted text at the top of this article:

"Bob Bindschadler: We know how much fossil fuel we take out of the ground. We know how much we sell. We know how much we burn. And that is a huge amount of carbon dioxide. It's about seven gigatons per year right now.

Paul Nurse: And is that enough to explain...?

Bob Bindschadler: Natural causes only can produce - yes, there are volcanoes popping off and things like that, and coming out of the ocean, only about one gigaton per year. So there's just no question that human activity is producing a massively large proportion of the carbon dioxide.

Paul Nurse: So seven times more.

Bob Bindschadler: That's right."

That's were the 7 to 1 ratio claim comes from! Did you really miss that Hengist?

Feb 10, 2011 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Can we see the correspondence and the working for the 1:27 ratio claim please?

Feb 13, 2011 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterHengist McStone


1:27 is in the comments. I don't think disclosing the correspondence is appropriate, but by all means ask Dr Bindschadler. I have no objections.

Feb 13, 2011 at 6:49 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>