Some data on global warming

June 15, 2014 • 8:37 am

Matthew Cobb called my attention to a page from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), showing temporal data on carbon dioxide concentration, sea level, temperature, sea ice, and other indicators of global warming.  It’s not pretty.

(Go here for an explanation of how the data were collected.)

Carbon dioxide is at its highest level by far over the last 400,000 years: 398.6 ppm (parts per million).  Some climate denialists say that it’s not a greenhouse gas, though, because it’s needed for plant growth!

Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.23.30 AM Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.23.45 AM Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.24.16 AM Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.24.32 AM Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.24.48 AMThere’s also a slider where you can monitor the changes from September 2002 through December 2009. Here are the endpoints:

Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.32.45 AM Screen shot 2014-06-15 at 10.33.02 AMBut, as the faithful tell us, it’s all good: either the End Times are around the corner, or, as God assured us, He’d never destroy the Earth again after Noah’s Flood.

It’s sad to think that, two generations from now, the Earth is going to be in much worse shape than it is now. And it’s even sadder to realize that we know it’s gonna happen, but governments don’t want to do anything about it. Perhaps our remote descendants—if they haven’t been supplanted by cockroaches—will look back and wonder, “What were they thinking?”



59 thoughts on “Some data on global warming

  1. At least we know that time travel will never be invented. How else to explain why our descendants haven’t come looking for vengeance.

    1. No, we only know that it won’t be possible to travel to arbitrary times in the past. There are still plenty of fascinating logically-possible TT scenarios!

  2. Yeah, everyone gets confused about the CO2 and photosynthesis thing. My research indicates that carbon is never the limiting reactant in plant growth. Nitrogen and phosphorus are. Of course, I guess that’s why we add fertilizer, eh?

    Increases in CO2 will warm the Earth reducing rainfall which would make water a limiting reactant in photosynthesis.

    All those people who think CO2 is the only thing plants require must have failed 5th grade.

    1. The fallacy here is thinking that if something has a good effect it cannot have a bad effect. Assuming CO2 is good for plants doesn’t imply that it can’t be bad for anything else.
      Gasoline is good for running engines, so it must be good to breath its fumes, or drink over ice with a tiny umbrella.

    1. Wishful thinking. And the greatest source of both ignorance and hoping for the best comes from you know where…

  3. Sorry for the multiple posts, but I wanted to add:

    The hottest year on record was 2010, then 2005, then 1998, then 2013 and 2003 tied for fourth. Then 02, and 06, and 09 and 07 tied for 8th and ’04 and ’12 tied for tenth.

    Ten of the 11 hottest years on record were in the last 12 years.

    But what about what happened before that?

    If we start with the year 2000 as our baseline, the hottest year on record was 1998. Then 1995, then ’97, then ’99, then ’90, then ’91, then 2k!. Then it was 1988, and 1987.

    Look at that, as of the year 2000, seven of the nine hottest years ever recorded were in the 1990s.

    1. It is somewhat of a mistake to focus on surface temperatures, since the land masses and atmosphere have absorbed less than 7% of the heat due to global warming. Faux “skeptics” like to focus on surface temperatures because they can they can more easily cherry pick a starting date (the huge El Niño year of 1998 is a favorite) in order to lie and say the ‘global warming has paused.’

      The oceans are responsible for more than 93% of the heat capacity of the biosphere. In the last decade sea levels have risen by 3.2 ± 0.4 cm and in the decade before that it was 3.2 ± 0.4 cm – the same, within the level of uncertainty. Data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) shows that a bit less than 1.0 cm of the 3.2 cm in the past ten years came from melting of Greenland (~2600 Gt) and Antarctic (~800 Gt) land ice. The best estimates indicate that ~7 mm out of the 6.4 cm in the past twenty years came from groundwater depletion. The rest came from thermal expansion. The oceans are literally acting as a liquid expansion thermometer, like a mercury or red-dyed alcohol thermometer. The heat content of the oceans – again, >93% of the biosphere’s heat capacity – is unquestionably continuing to rise. Sea level has been rising for more than 100 years, but faster in the past twenty years. Continued global warming is as much a stone fact as it is a fact that the rising level of a liquid thermometer indicates the heating of the liquid in the thermometer.

    1. I confess I’m irritated by this lazy sort of “both sides do it” prattle…

      This is what a President looks like, using his bully pulpit yesterday in front of our next generation, to “try to do something about it”:

      “When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long. But nobody ignored the science. I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.”

      “There are some who also duck the question. They say—when they’re asked about climate change, they say, “Hey, look, I’m not a scientist.” And I’ll translate that for you. What that really means is, “I know that manmade climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot, so I’m not going to admit it.”

      1. I guess the point is that it is too easy to point at government when those actually have to be elected by somebody in the first place.

        The sad truth is that it isn’t (just) some shadowy conspiracy that is at fault here but most of us – all those who take the car to work, who use their air conditioning when it is not really necessary, who leave light on when it is not needed, who are too lazy to properly isolate their houses, who have ever in their lives used an airplane to go on holidays…

        Basically, everybody who isn’t living on a self sufficient farm in Somalia or so shares the responsibility for what is happening, although obviously to varying degrees.

        1. While it is true that government in a democracy is elected by all of us, the way things go is never that simple. I’m not sure what the numbers are, but my guess is that a majority take global warming as a serious issue and could be persuaded that it is now urgent.
          The problem it seems to me is big oil and coal. They flood the media with trash science which confuses the heck out of the voters. They prop up corrupt politicians who are willing to give them a vote on this or that bit of legislation. With proper leadership anything can be accomplished (see FDR leading us through WWII). Without it we are adrift. Don’t blame the little people too much. Look for Obama to take the lead now that he is a lame duck. Lets hope it comes in time to make a difference.

          1. I am not ‘blaming’ little people too much because I am aware that the problem with democracy and free market is really everybody individually doing what is rational from their perspective even if it dooms the system as a whole – which is the charitable interpretation of the snarky comment above.

            Still, if people were really serious about an issue they could just vote a different party in, and indeed if people understood the seriousness of the situation some radical green party would get 80% of the votes in every country. But obviously most voters are content enough with the present situation, and that is, in a way, also understandable.

            Developing hybrid cars and aiming for a 20% reduction in CO2 output and all this is very cute, but if we took the situation appropriately serious we would collectively have outlawed the use of petrol cars and airplanes world-wide in the 1980ies and enacted laws that only one room may be heated in winter, for example. Would any government have survived that? Of course not. IRL, they tend to lose a lot of votes just because power or petrol prices increase by 20% or so, although a realistic price taking externalities into account would probably be at least 5x what it is today. And so it goes.

  4. Too much CO2? Oh, we’ll find a place to put it.

    The problem is not too much CO2 – it’s too many of us, producing CO2.

    1. Probably true. That is if we don’t manage to wipe ourselves out.

      I suspect that in the coming decades the trend will only become stronger. Partly due to additional CO2-Emissions from emerging and energy-hungry economies. But CO2 is not the only problem we are facing. CO2 is only the gas that we emit the most. Methane also is a greenhouse gas and even a stronger one than CO2. And like the data show above, it’s not pretty:

      I’ve heard a climate scientist on TV once who even if we were to completely stop all CO2-Emissions now, the warming trend would still continue for a while. To me that means that we probably won’t get our act together until it is too late. Humans only seem to be capable of acting when the danger is immediate. And in this case it probably means that it will be too late.

      And for me the most infuriating to me is that the ones who are responsible for it probably won’t be the ones suffering the most.

    2. Yeah, but there is also a record of some of us trying hard. My spirit may be damped when it comes to the climate, but after >two millennia of god-stuff we are making ground towards eradicating religion.

    1. NASA does atmospheric observations — they have not yet been funded to instrument smokestacks. I would encourage such a suggestion however.

      1. We know the stoichiometry of combustion, so there is no particular reason to instrument smokestacks. Idiot deniers will often make the bullshit claim that ‘natural’ of ‘volcano’ CO₂ emissions are much greater than those from fossil fuels – it’s nowhere close to being true. That CO₂ emissions are anthropormorphic is shown by examination of the change in carbon isotopic composition after the industrial revolution. Fossil fuels have virtually no ¹⁴C so burning fossil fuels has reduced the ¹⁴C fraction in the atmosphere. In addition, the ¹³C to ¹²C ratio in inorganic carbon sources (like carbonates) is higher than than in organically-derived carbon sources (photosynthetic processes exhibit an isotope effect) and the recent atmospheric ¹³C to ¹²C ratio has decreased in the manner expected from burning organically-derived carbon.

        1. Exactly. And this is the specific smoking gun evidence that really pins the increase in CO2 on the burning of fossil fuels, rather than from other sources like volcanoes. I wish this detail would be pointed out more often to the public.

  5. Its not the religious I’m so frustrated with. It’s all the technically minded people, especially engineers (chemical engineers, more specifically), who have convinced themselves that they know more about the processes from their linear or at best embedded differential equations about the heat cycles of the very complex and chaotic thermal cycle of our little planet.

    1. The arrogance of engineers or scientists is almost unanimously sequestered among peers. In public (e.g., on TV) truth is subject to the criticism of the audience, which is not very informed, therefore truth is extended a great deal to tings which are not true.

    2. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil (and himself an engineer, whatever else he may be)has stated (without any doubt that I can subjectively detect) that global warming is “an engineering problem.” If I correctly recall, the “engineering problem” is not to reduce the ppm but to compensate for the effects/consequences of the ppm increase, about which he and his ilk apparently are inclined to do nothing.

      No doubt some scientists are arrogant (being homo sapiens primates and all that), but can one make any general statement regarding scientists’ arrogance compared to that of engineers? What distinguished arrogance from confidence? (I don’t imagine engineers spend much time worrying about the efficacy of scientists’ theories. The “theory” of gravitation is not so provisional that it prevents successfully landing probes on Mars 35M miles away.)

      Whatever arrogance “STEM” types may possess, theirs surely pales in comparison to that of Romneyesque MBA/JD corporate CEO/venture capitalist/hedge fund types, for whom STEM types are expected to be genuflecting handmaidens.

      1. Tillerson’s stance seems to that of Werner von Braun [as reported by Tom Lehrer] “ve only make them go up..”

        Bringing CO2 levels down is seemingly not in Exxon-Mobil’s mission statement..

  6. Perhaps sheer human fecundity is our downfall and will eventually feed back to bring about our extinction? So sad bcause we have the ability to over-ride the reproductive drive – but it requires intelligence to do so.

    But, extinctions do provide room for somethiing else to evolve – hopefully more intelligent. I guess we’re just part of an ongoing process.

  7. There’s an excellent blog about climate change and global warming deniers called “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” by Peter Sinclair, which is chock full of information and science. Peter Sinclair also has a YouTube channel or two under the name of Greenman in which he posts numerous videos he made (and continues making). I fully recommend both:

  8. A few years back there was a National Geographic article(was the cover story in fact) explaining global climate change. They listed 10 or so “actions” governments/populations could do to help mitigate CO2/methane emissions. They never mentioned population control…didn’t even hint at it. Pissed me off, because I knew it was a deliberate omission. Nat Geo is afraid of the blowback from truth it seems.

    1. Whatever happened to the zero population growth movement? Maybe it just seems impossible to achieve.

      1. FWIW, I heard UN:s latest projections is that it will happen, and with a graceful exit*, within this century.

        Since the stabilization has been prognosticated for so long, and the population curves has followed suit, I haven’t bothered to check. I’m sure it is correct. Population size is not going to be a huge problem, I think the statisticians stopped believing that in the 80’s or so.

        *That is a stabilized population level, not an even worse drop that was the earlier likely outcome.

        1. “Population size is not going to be a huge problem” –


          Human population size is the ONLY problem: everything else we worry about is just a multiple of it, and would be inconsequential for a small enough N.

          Sorry for shouting guys, but WTF.

      2. I never heard of the zero population growth movement…however, it should be one of humanity’s aspirations to keep a lid on the number of people. At the very least, big mammals on our planet will appreciate not going extinct quite as soon as they likely to go extinct.

  9. Visit Miami, New Orleans, and Galveston while you still can. Galveston will hold out the longest because they jacked up the whole city 17 feet shortly after the 1900 storm, but I expect it to be destroyed by 2120, possibly much sooner.

  10. the Earth is going to be in much worse shape than it is now

    In what measurable sense? The “only” one I can think of is biological diversity. Which of course is bad.

    But I used to believe a lot of earlier projections, that turns out being doubtful. That the population size would grow out of any easy way to feed people, that we would run out of any easy way to get energy (say, out of fossils), that poverty was increasing, that health was deteriorating, that desertification decreased productive land, et cetera.

    All of them has turned out wrong! The latest changed one, and I’m sure I’ve said it many times here, is that AGW will be a moral problem since it will hurt the poorest most. Yes, it likely will, but the scale may not be anywhere near what I believed.

    A few days ago I was given the rate at which people were killed by catastrophes vs the rate of reported catastrophes. Now, it’s a bit apples and pears comparison, since the catastrophe numbers are economical, and both property values and reporting has increased. But the death rates have gone down to nearly nothing compared with the historical record, while the catastrophes have involved many more people (since we are more numerous). All because of improved knowledge and reduced poverty (it is claimed).

    I find it harder and harder to read the dystopic descriptions, because they don’t feel factual. The GW world should be more bioproductive, even if the diversity may be lower. (Or higher, last I read about it recovery levels are a random outcome after extinctions.) The Ice Age cycles will disappear, for good or bad. AGW is still a moral problem, but a lot smaller than I believed until this week. The coasts will be unrecognizable, neither good nor bad.

    I’m not saying the good balances the bad, just that it is complicated and the projections change over time. The unmeasurable claims doesn’t help. It is perhaps better to say that the process is worrying because of the complexity and the uncertainties. Such a description will stand for a long, long, time.

    1. One problem that seems “factual” is that with hundreds of millions of people moving about he earth looking for more satisfactory living conditions, conflicts are bound to arise. The instability will likely affect everyone. Even those not directly affected by climate itself.
      It is speculated this may already be taking place. Syria’s civil war comes on the heals of drought and poor harvests. The current cultural and political divisions become the fault lines of climate tremors.

      1. For example: Take Bangladesh. A huge part of that poor country is a flood plain. There are also >100 million people there. What will happen if the sea rises? Even a tenth of the population displaced would be a humanitarian disaster. And this is just one example.

    2. “The GW world should be more bioproductive, even if the diversity may be lower. (Or higher, last I read about it recovery levels are a random outcome after extinctions.) The Ice Age cycles will disappear, for good or bad.”

      Ice ages probably disappeared as a result of human activity even at pre-industrial levels; and a good thing too. The GW world will be good for tomatoes, bad for other crops. And as for ultimate recovery levels, you’re possibly right. All you need to do is wait a couple of million years or so, and see how well we do with less land and more desert.

      1. At 37N97W, six or more weeks of 105D high June-Aug temperature combined with about half of normal annual precipitation results in extensive crop failure, native pasture goes dormant/ponds dry up causing emergency cattle herd divestment, rivers no longer feed the Missouri/Mississippi watershed, and those two transport systems become diminished/unreliable, bad news for transportation costs for many ag & raw materials, etc. Many garden vegetable crop yields were severely reduced by this 5 degree heat increase, while some were not even helped by extensive watering and failed completely.

        This occurred in 2012. It is the predicted norm for this area within a few decades, although 105 in about year 2070 might be considered the good ol’ days, before things really went to shit. This is USA breadbasket country, folks. A 400 mile wide strip from Mexico north into Canada starting about 50 miles west of here is in its 4th consecutive year of water rationing; the Smoky Hill River that meets the Kansas & then Missouri/Mississippi has been a dry sand strip for 3 years.

        I’m not too sanguine about the affects of coastal flooding, either, especially when one factors in the impact on the 4 principal river delta’s on the planet.

        I heard a great analogy about temperature increase recently. If my temp goes up a degree and stays there, I don’t feel as good as I do at 98.6 but I get along mostly OK.

        Two degrees higher, 100.6, I’m still functioning somewhat close to my normal capacity but for lesser periods of time before my performance begins to drop precipitously; beginning to lose the ability to cope with anything but fairly modest physical and mental output requirements; susceptible to unusual aggravation from heretofore ordinary things, like insect bites I wouldn’t even have noticed before; more likely to succumb to bacterial infection & the like than when I feel normal.

        At 101.6, three degrees higher — like Earth in 2100 — I’m pretty damned miserably ill, no longer denying I need to schedule an appointment with my doctor, and ready to follow whatever regimen he prescribes no matter how onerous. I still have time, at that point, to avoid experiencing the effects of a permanent temperature change from 98.6 to 101.6.

        Earth, however, if 3 degrees C warmer in the year 2100, is unlikely to have an available cure inside of a number of years that probably includes a couple of zeros. It is almost certainly locked into a feedback loop at that point that guarantees a total rise a great deal higher than only three degrees.

  11. “Perhaps our remote descendants—if they haven’t been supplanted by cockroaches—will look back and wonder, “What were they thinking?”

    The answer is, too many of them weren’t thinking, they were praying.

  12. GW will not be the end of us. It will, at the worst, be a slow, unrolling series of economic disasters as we experience loss of coastal areas, drought and desertification in agricultural areas, and longer hurricane seasons. There will be more deaths due to natural disasters, there will be starvation, and possibly wars over shifting resources.

    1. Depends what you mean by ‘us’. ‘At least one human economy, culture, and germline’, would be setting the bar pretty low. Avoiding extinction of 10% or more of other vertebrate and higher plant species (i.e. surviving a ~90% mass-extinction of our nearest and dearest) may be about the most we can hope for.

  13. God promised never to destroy the earth again by flooding, not that he would never destroy the earth again. The bible states that the earth will be destroyed by fire next time.

    1. Not only is donor pressure strongly suspected as the reason info about climate change was removed from this museum and is also not to be found in other “public” like venues, but the article goes on to note that the plaque in question equated AGW with effects from volcanic activity. Scientist’s opposed it as originally worded, but it disappeared before this issue was publicly addressed by museum management. Censorship may occur in many different ways.

      The quote below is from the article at the link above:

      ‘The revelation isn’t exactly shocking, given that the museum’s benefactors include Exxon and Chief Oil & Gas. (The museum strongly denies that its donors have any influence over the exhibits.) But as the Dallas Morning News notes museums across the country are facing challenges in presenting climate change to the public at a time when the issue has become politically fraught: …’

      The US military includes AGW outcomes in its planning. Why don’t FOX, Christian media outlets, and all the rest of conservative media (including internet outrage meister’s) ever mention this, one wonders? Their audience is unlikely to venture elsewhere for information and can therefore be kept ignorant, is my surmise.

      But even that bunch of authority-source believers ought to be noticing rate hikes by now, one would think:

  14. “Perhaps our remote descendants—if they haven’t been supplanted by cockroaches—will look back and wonder, “What were they thinking?'”
    Maybe they’ll look at all the churches and mosques and synagogues and hear a quote or two from Rick Perry or Dennis Prager and correctly conclude that . . .we weren’t thinking very much at all.

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