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My Turn: A primer on the carbon footprint

The July 13 Sunday Monitor column on climate change by Ayn Whytemare painted the problem of man-induced global warming with broad strokes.

One aspect that needs refinement is to explain what carbon is and how carbon dioxide effects our global temperatures.

Most of us have seen the term “carbon footprint” in the headlines over the past decade. And, perhaps, you have wondered exactly what that is and how it affects you.

As an earth scientist, I, too, have see the term casually used and decided to study it. The term is somewhat misused, because it is really carbon dioxide that is the concern.

Carbon dioxide is formed when one carbon atom combines with two oxygen atoms to release energy. It is what we exhale with each breath and what is produced by combustion.

Combustion occurs in our cars’ engines and in our heating system and at coal burning power plants. When we turn on a light, prepare a cup of coffee, or charge up our cellphones, we cause more carbon dioxide to be generated and thus increase our footprints.

Now to understand the problem.

In 1958, Charles Keeling began measuring the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere in an area unaffected by human activity – the top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

Since that time, the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has gone from 315 parts per million to more than 400. Now, parts per million may sound like an inconsequentially small number. However, in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy, so the more CO2, the more heat absorption. The sun has warmed the Earth since its birth.

I won’t bore you with energy measurements or physics, except to state that the radiation from the sun comes mostly as light that we can see. This light has a lot of energy per photon and may get reflected back into space by a cloud or the ocean. But some amount will make it to ground and warm it (or hit a leaf and power photosynthesis).

When the sun goes down, the warm ground radiates photons back into space.

These photons, which we cannot see, are infrared. Infra means “below,” so in this use it means “below red” or a photon of less energy than red (which is the lowest energy of what we can see – violet has the most energy).

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the quirky ability to absorb these infrared photons and become warmer (but not absorb visible light photons). In this manner, the atmosphere warms.

How much, you ask?

Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, after using more than 1.3 billion temperature measurements at more than 36,000 weather stations over the past 200 years, has estimated that Earth’s average temperature was very stable until around 1950 and has risen almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since then.

And, as the amount of CO2 continues to rise, Earth’s average temperature will rise.

Worldwide, mankind continues to burn cubic miles of coal and billions of barrels of petroleum each year in power plants and automobiles, drastically expanding our carbon footprint.

Astronomers have studied Venus for centuries, but only within the past half-century have they been able to determine what gases comprise Venus’s atmosphere.

The primary component is CO2, and astronomers believe it is responsible for Venus’s atmosphere being over 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many climatologists are concerned that if Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels keep rising, our planet may become too hot for mankind. They are also concerned that because CO2 has a very long residence time in the atmosphere, reducing the 400-plus ppm back to pre-industrial levels may take thousands of years.

Please note that what I have stated here are established scientific statements by peer-reviewed scientists, and I invite you to read further about global warming either through searching the internet or books from the library.

(Walter Carlson is a former geologist with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. He lives in Concord)

Legacy Comments54

This article is so full of half-facts, outright falsehoods, and logical fallacies its hard to know where to start. Firstly the 2 F warming (actually measured as 0.89 C of warming) has been since 1850, not 1950. This means we've seen a warming of less than 0.07 C per decade over the past century and a half. This means, all other factors being equal, that we will see at most 0.6 C more warming by 2100 AD, NOT the 3-6 C of warming that climate alarmists claim in their well falsified climate models. Which brings us to the other issue: the so called "consensus" is a small clique of self selected scientists, who are now proven to engage in blacklisting, blackballing, and gatekeeping of scientists who are objectively skeptical as scientists should be. That clique of activist scientists have developed over 100 computer climate models based on their CO2 hypothesis, which are used by the IPCC to project claims of this 3-6 C of warming in the coming century. The primary problem with all 100+ of these models is that NONE of them predicted the past 18 years of statistically insigificant warming, or flat temperatures.

miorrey...if you can find the data, you would see (as I stated) that the temps held fairly level until 1950, when it began to rise. But, go to the real source, check out: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/behind-the-hockey-stick/

DES? That explains your programmed propaganda.....you've been brainwashed. DES is where two supervisors blogged all day online while they were supposed to be working. Yup, DES that explains it!

yeah thats right...I remember ...Dick de Sieve

And you know this how??

Another news source did a live radio interview with the head of DES and the head of IT for the state, the heavy guy, can't remember his name. They admitted that readers here and elsewhere found out that the posters, one used his real first name were blogging at times posted here and other sites during work days and work day hours. They would not tell the people interviewing what would happen but one was a supervisor and now he no longer is. They both should have been fired.

GWTW is correct. At least one was a union officer as well as a DES employeel, and he was blogging at all hours of the workday. I don't know whether he was fired or demoted, but he no longer posts here, although I've seen his letters from time to time in the CM.

Hurray for Bruce!..And after accusing many of us on the Right of getting paid to comment, the only 2 people we know for sure that did..were liberals..Oh and who paid them? The taxpayers..does it get any worse??

Math for liberals: lets say CO2 has increased 100 PPM (even more than Walt says) . PPM's for liberals means Parts Per Million. So 100 PPM means 1/10,000th of an increase. Now Walt wants you to believe that the addition of 1 CO2 in 10,000 (an itsy bitsy amount since the beginning of the industrial revolution) ..... is the end of the world. I actually give some readers more credit ( excepting liberals of course). Remember that mans contribution to CO2 is miniscule as nature provides 97% NATURALLY . This news come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which used data from 114 U.S. weather stations considered to produce the most accurate temperature readings. The data say the country has cooled 0.7 degree Fahrenheit in the past decade. With satellite data showing no global warming for 17 years and 10 months, and even the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledging a “pause” in rising temperatures, it’s time to stop talking about a climate change problem. PS : CoAuthor of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Projects Climatologist Dr. Judith Curry has publicly reversed and debunked the controversial manipulated study

ROTFLMAO !!! You keep floating this baloney about no global warming in 17 years. YET, NOAA/NCDC states: "...Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average. To date, including 2013, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occured during the 21st century. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2013. " So, where did you find your baloney??

You do a lot of ROTFLYAO, how to find time to stay misinformed, I just can't fathom.

Unlike you and BPR, I read. I find good books at the Concord Public Library. It probably is too advanced for you, but you could check out 'White Planet' or 'Overheated' or 'Energy for Future Presidents'. If you find something in them you don't understand, you might find a grammar school kid to explain it.

Oh the "Public" library. You are reading on everyone's dime. Try to find conservative books there......those three are simply propaganda and two of them are not even climate scientists.

Oh if you are looking for conservative books, try the thrift stores. They are pilled up upon each other. O'Reilly, Coulter, Beck, Brand new too, look like they have never even been opened.

Well, it makes sense that they are unused-hard to find anyone who know HOW to read who would waste their time reading that fiction.

OReillys books fiction? Seriously?

Seriously. "Killing Jesus", for example. Jesus died because he was cutting off Rome's revenue supply of tax money? Seriously? “…Killing Jesus has all the critical rigor of your local church’s Nativity play. The basic argument of the book is that Jesus died because he interfered with the taxation-heavy Roman revenue stream. The reason the Jews eagerly anticipated the Messiah, writes O’Reilly, is, ‘When that moment arrives, Rome will be defeated and their lives will be free of taxation and want.’” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/the-gospel-according-to-bill-o-reilly-s-new-book-killing-jesus.html

Well it seems like right wing super pacs buy these books by the ton so they can get on the NY Times bestseller list and them dump them as gifts to donors and no one wants them. A few months after they come out who cares about them. No literary classics there.

and your proof this is happening with Oreillys books ..is where exactly? made up in your fantasy world?

Wow...you have a whole bunch of anger built up-you should seek counseling. Oh, and perhaps find a grammar school kid to read those books to you.

No anger, keep reading on the public dime. Keep reading only things that you agree with. Keep reading propaganda.

So, Itsa...you have a problem with 'public' libraries?? You must want to keep the general public uneducated and dumbed down so the conservative's misinformation and misstatements won't be challenged. Conservatives don't want a well educated society-all their conservative ideas would get challenged. And, BTW-I've not found a book ANYWHERE support the deniosphere on global warming. Maybe you could find a book to recommend, written by a climatologist or meteorologist with an advanced degree supporting your position, that I could read??

The library has done you no favors, that is obvious. No one wants to keep the general public uneducated. We want a fairly educated society that is not propagandized by the Left. Book? An Appeal to Reason by Nigel Lawson. Now before you google it and some Left leaning site tells you it is all wrong, etc. READ IT! Then comment.

Try a real science book for a change--maybe “The Discovery of Global Warming” which you can get via inter-library loan or read on line. You won't find much accurate information in anything by Nigel Lawson, another denier who poses as a realist and moderate--who could argue with a title like "An Appeal to Reason" after all? I believe his son is married to the sister or daughter of Lord Laughingstock himself--Christopher Monckton of Bletchley, the most famous denier of all, and serial liar (claims to have 'discovered cures for AIDs, and other diseases, and routinely plays fast and loose with the facts on any number of topics). Lawson is better but compared to Monckton almost anybody is. Lawson follows standard practice of picking and choosing the facts to suit his ideology, and that of his lobbying group—the high-minded sounding “Global Warming Policy Foundation”. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2014/mar/06/lord-lawson-climate-sceptic-thinktank

Or you could read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Globa; Warming but I doubt you would be open minded enough to crack the first page.

I'll look for it at the library. BTW: I read Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" some years ago. Besides being execrably written, it was replete with errors I'd be happy to point out. I expect I could do the same to "Politically Incorrect..." as well, since distorting the science is the name of the game with such books, underneath a patina of seeming "rationality" and moderation.

Here's a sensible piece, free of the reactionary cant most of the deniers specialize in, when they're not busy distorting the science.http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~eps5/readings/Holes_Clim_Sci_Nature.pdf

100% liberal playbook - demean and smear the messenger when he cant debate the issue - way to go Brucie 100% spoon fed playbook content.

Itsa, doesn't like anything with the word "public" in it.

Only things like "public" transportation aka herding the ignorant masses into a cattle car in the name of social control. "Public" is not a bad word, it depends how far you take it. A "public" park or library are OK so long as no ideology or agenda follows that like political correctness as in libraries having books slanting one way or the other. Yes, it happens. "Public" toilets are a must. But having everyone to continue to chip in for every fringe public service or perk is getting tired. Money is not the solution to every single societal ill.

Itsa, Rag all you want, on whatever subject you choose, but please don't step on public libraries. Technology may render their future a tad uncertain, but this nation still owes a debt of gratitude to the public library system. The Free Library can still provide a full education to any motivated patron. You just got Ben Franklin rolling in his grave, buddy.

Libraries have turned into shills for progressives. Many books they don't agree with they never put on their shelves. Also, they have turned into a haven for dregs to surf the web and view kiddie porn and other nefarious subjects. But they have a place as a "neutral", balanced keeper of public opinion and public records for others to view. That is their function, not as an "activist" place of propaganda. Franklin has already turned quite a few times in the last 6 years.....that is something I am positive about.

Poor Walter - modern day information actually flows faster than a library offers. For instance take this information published just THIS WEEK : This news come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which used data from 114 U.S. weather stations considered to produce the most accurate temperature readings. The data say the country has cooled 0.7 degree Fahrenheit in the past decade. Just last month global satellite records have now shows that for over 50% OF SATELLITE RECORDS.........satellite data showing no global warming for 17 years and 10 months,..... and even the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledging a “pause” in rising temperatures. What? that wasnt in a library book - who wooda thunk?

ROTFLMAO...you keep spouting garbage and, of course, never give a link to it because you would be too embarrassed-not to mention that it does not exist.

Wally, ROTFLMAO is so passé get into the 21st century. Oh and 1G of Ram is no longer considered huge.

Hi, BestPres. You pride yourself as having a stalker, me. The FACT is that I'm more like your very frustrated 9th grade Algebra I teacher who comes to class every morning having to remediate your middle school math. NOAA has been very closely tracking atmospheric CO2 on Hawaii for a long time. Here are their observations: 1960 - approx. 320 ppm, 2010 - approx. 400 ppm. That 80 ppm, sir, represents not 1/10,000, but 25%. The math is pretty simple. The lie about the pause is another topic for another time.

PBR also fails to acknowledge that the crucial temperature indicator to be concerned with is the oceans. The oceans are absorbing 20 times the amount of heat than that of the atmosphere. This is not just surface water, these figures cover the water to a depth of 1500 feet.

That statement places you as an executive board member of the LIDV''s . When globull warmingh alarmists cite the ocean warming you know you have an misinformed person that just re-regurgitates blather. The increase of 10^23 Joules. corresponds to a rise of only about 0.04C..... Run for the HILLS !!!!!

Evironuts or as I call them Enviroextremists are always talking about the carbon footprint. We could take all of the Draconian methods to reduce climate change, China and India will not and it would not amount to squat. We are not big enough to reverse the path that the climate is on. Check out this website which debunks all of the myths about going green and trading prosperity for some theory: http://thatdberight.blogspot.com/2009/05/list-of-top-10-green-myths.html

FACT CHECK TIME FOR THE LIDV PRESIDENT.. (you must be a public school student) ..... an increase of 80 PPM out of 1,000,000 is how much?

Fact check time for the student who didn't pay attention: a change from 320 to 400 is approximately what percent? That's unfair. I'll give you the answer so you can go on to Geometry. It's 25%. An increase from 320 to 400, regardless of the dimensions (that's more actual math talk) is and always will be 25%. And you call others uninformed!

Thanks for the math lesson. Perhaps you should stick to math and give the Globull Warming ideology a rest.

YOU ARE EMBARRASING YOURSELF - an increase of 80 parts per 1,000,000 is how much? - liberals use statistics like a drunk sailor uses a lamp post - for support not illumination

You continue to post information containing the same misunderstanding of the carbon cycle, and what portion of it--the airborne portion-- is involved in causing the greenhouse effect. That's what the math should be focused on, as gracchus rightly points out. It's well-established from the climate record that climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 (from the pre-industrial level) is about 3 degrees C. Any effort to divert attention from this basic fact of climate science is fundamentally dishonest and designed simply meant to mislead and confuse.

To be very clear: it's a DOUBLING of the airborne portion which results in a 3 degree Celsius increase in air temperature.


"Global Warming" is spelled with only 2 Ls. Perhaps your “spell check” is disabled as it seems your “basic math solution solver” is certainly disabled. .008 is NOT the increased amount from 320 ppm to 400 ppm, actually the increased amount is smaller, and it’s .00008. But with your “basic math solution solver” still disabled you also miscalculated the amount of change which mathematically is… .00008/.00032 = .25 And still to date in all the recognized physical sciences a .25 amount of change is equal to 25%. Remember .25 = 25/100 = ¼.

No, no, it is spelled with two L's. Glo"bull". Or it could be Glo"baloney" warming. Embraced by hysterics who believe we should all dial back our prosperity and lifestyle to "save the planet".

Who cares? The hysterics go on and on about Globaloney.

Obviously the math lesson didn't take. In case you hadn't noticed, math doesn't have an ideology; but that never stops BestPres, Itsa and the usual suspects.

again..... a rise of 80 parts per 1,000,000 is what percentage rise? It must be awful being a public school educated LIDV. We will make it easier for the LIDV - lets make it 100 per 1,000,000. Now cross out 2 zeros from both sides of the equation. LIDV's ...sheeeeeeesh

BPR... Focus..., 320ppm increased to 400ppm. The amount of increase is 80ppm. 80ppm/320ppm = 0.25. Keep focusing. 0.25 = 25/100 = 25%. You're stuck on the ppm description. Try figuring the problem instead with 320 hot air balloons that increased to 400 hot air balloons. That is an increase of 40 hot air balloons, 40hab/320hab = 0.25, so that increased amount has caused a 25% change in hot air!....balloons.

My apologizes BPR. I mistakenly said in the hot air balloons example the increase was only 40 hot air balloons. Everyone knows it is actually 80 hot air balloons; 400hab-320hab = 80hab; 80hab/320hab = 0.25 which really does equate to a 25% change and in this case it's an increase. I sincerely apologize for my mistake that probably compounded your confusion.

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