Blame C02? - Part. 2 - The Blend...

In a recent interview with HUFFPOST CANADA, Gerald Butts, former senior advisor to Prime Minister  Justin Trudeau, made the following statement concerning climate change - "People think of climate as a political issue, but it's an issue of physics and chemistry." The article also repeated a recent facebook post by Butts that said:   "Supposition: nothing of a high degree of difficulty can be done without a corresponding degree of trust among the people trying to do that thing. Discuss."

Do you remember the early days when global warming first reared its ugly head? At the time the popular prevailing theory explaining global warming was that excess burning was causing too much carbon dioxide to collect in our upper atmosphere (presently residing at .04% of total gases concentration) and that this was warming the earth by a process called the "Greenhouse Effect".  Worldwide skepticism and the resulting backlash eventually led climatologists to rename our problem "Climate Change", but they have stubbornly clung to the supposition that carbon dioxide is the major culprit causing these undesirable variations in weather patterns around the world. 

Today, we are embroiled in the argument, but the deniers are steadily losing ground in the face of a literal onslaught of social media pressure designed to force our societies to accept the fact that man made "climate change" is real and that we have to do something about it before it is too late. Politicians have leapt on to the bandwagon as they sensed an opportunity to increase revenues through the imposition of various morality fines such as the carbon tax, designed to force all of us to curtail our activities that create carbon dioxide (like driving to work) while directing fuel surcharges into government coffers. 

On the positive side, the drive to curtail carbon use is good for business and therefore is good for government revenues. Reducing carbon has led to formation of alternate energy systems such as solar and wind power. The old style gas sucking "american iron" car is being replaced by efficient electric vehicles. Mass transit systems are being built to get us off the roads and into electric subway cars. Pipelines are discouraged and reluctant approval is given to hydro electric dams, as the need for electric energy will skyrocket as we buy 20 million electric cars / year instead of the present 300, 000. We are at the beginning of a massive life style revolution not dependent on carbon to power our activities.

Already, societies have rewritten the narratives that hold their people together under a common theme. We all now seek to live "green" and to give up our individual freedoms for the common good. The Climate Change model has become our new religion - replacing traditional forms of religion in giving the new narratives credibility  and threatening armageddon for those of us who dare to ignore the warnings that  are delivered to us daily through our media.

But the culprit is not just carbon dioxide. Science has recognized that other gases also contribute to global warming, in particular methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorocarbons which are all bleeding into the atmosphere from many sources including melting permafrost, farting cows, fertilizer degradation, and leaking air conditioners. However, the majority of communications  still feature carbon dioxide as the main culprit and comparisons are constantly given through the media between present day levels of C02 and past periods when everything was apparently hunky dory.

So is this approach valid? I recently looked at a couple of EPA based articles that detailed the relative concentrations of the offending gases in the atmosphere as well as their relative strengths. At first glance it seems apparent that carbon dioxide, present at 82% of the total, would indeed be the one to blame the most and to tackle first in our efforts to reduce its warming activity.  Just makes sense - look at the comparisons - methane 10%, nitrous oxide 6%, fluorocarbons 3%, carbon dioxide 82%. What would you do?

It's definitely profitable to blame carbon dioxide more than the other gases. It's easy to determine how much carbon humans consume and expel as carbon dioxide whereas we cannot get a handle on how much methane, nitrous oxide or fluorocarbons we are leaking into the atmosphere. There's also a lot of carbon dioxide compared to the other gases so a relatively small tax applied to the large quantities results in windfall level revenues for those taxing it. Win/win to focus on carbon - if you're the government.

From the standpoint of actually reducing climate change however there's a real problem with ignoring the "minor gases" in favour of the major gas, carbon dioxide. This is because carbon dioxide is actually  the least effective gas compared to the other culprits when it comes to blocking atmospheric heat creating the "greenhouse effect". Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is 25 times more effective, nitrous oxide is 300 times more effective and fluorocarbons are 12000 to 25000 times more effective! This difference in activity (officially known as the Global Warming Potential GWPbrings into question the practice of simply viewing their relative concentrations and then pointing the finger at the most prevalent culprit as the means of solving our overheating problem. When we compare this way, we are essentially comparing "apples to oranges to grapefruits to bananas".

It makes sense to convert all of the ingredients to a common denominator and in this case the obvious choice is to read all of them as if they were carbon dioxide molecules. When we look at the concentrations in this new light (ie. C02 equivalents) the profile changes dramatically. We now have the following: carbon dioxide 82 units, methane 250 units, nitrous oxide 1800 units, and fluorinated gases 36000 units. Presented as percentages we have the following: carbon dioxide .24%, methane .65%, nitrous oxide 4.7%, and fluorocarbons 94% (minimum).

This viewpoint states that carbon dioxide is almost miniscule in causing climate change compared to the other greenhouse gases even though it's the most prevalent. In fact, compared to fluorocarbons, all of the other gases are relatively minor actors in the whole "greenhouse effect stage play" we are being forced to participate in by government and social media pressure. We really need to go after fluorocarbons, the only really artificial gas the sky is accumulating compared to the others that have been cycling throughout our eco system for all of time. 

The literature doesn't seem to put these elements together. We talk about the concentrations,  the changing levels / ratios of each gas or the relative warming strength of each gas without looking at the whole picture. By combining the measure of volume with its global warming potential we come up with a number (C02 equivalents) that allows us to make a valid comparison of the major greenhouse gases and indicate where to take the most effective action to control their damage. Let's call our new tool the "Global Warming Equivalence GWE" = (% of total gas blend X GWP).   The media doesn't report this, as far as I can see.

Is it just me? Am I reading these numbers wrong? It seems logical to me to compare one thing to another in the same units. We don't measure items in feet, inches, centimeters, and kilometers and then compare them without converting everything to a common denominator. Why then would we give equal weight to an ingredient that is 12000 times or more virulent than another in causing serious changes to our environment? It makes no sense, and yet it appears that this is exactly what we are doing!!

Perhaps rather than forcing us to reduce our carbon footprints we should be looking for ways to eliminate the presence of fluorocarbons completely. Along with this, perhaps we could equip the 10000 planes that are in our skies everyday with a fluorocarbon filter system (to be invented?) that will start to take the gas out of the sky. Certainly seems we'd get a bigger bang for our buck (12000 to 25000X) than decreasing carbon dioxide. Just a thought.

So, back to Gerald Butts... Hope this article helps people realize that it is indeed an issue of physics and chemistry. Also hope that people realize science and physics must be interpreted properly before any reactive actions are taken by humans, particularly those who we elect thereby - who we trust - to manage our affairs on a global basis. 

Love to hear your opinions.

Cliff

Oh, one last thought - there's a neat video on the button below demonstrating just how much C02 there is in our atmosphere relative to ALL the other gases such as nitrogen and oxygen etc. (not just the 4 greenhouse gases). For every 85800 molecules of air (ie. all gases) only 33 molecules are actually C02!  And of those 33 molecules, 32 are caused "naturally" by Mother Nature and needed for life itself.  1 molecule is from man made burning activities. We're trying to eliminate 1 molecule in 85800 or face armageddon. Wow. Aren't we special.

 

Please note: these images and the discussions surrounding them are easily found on Google. I'm not even going to attempt to make a bibliography because this isn't a scientific paper, it's an opinion piece. If you doubt me go search them out. The exercise is quite revealing.