COMMENTS | Greenhouse gases very poorly understood | Notice


Re: “OVERVIEW | What penance does Colorado pay for the sins of a globe?” June 21st.

The sins disputed in the title of the article are the supposed sins of mankind against the planet, among which are man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) and man-made methane and ruminants (CH4) . The real sins are against the trusted people of Colorado, America and the world. Let me explain.

The author of the Sunday article writes from a political point of view but makes some flawed scientific statements. “Methane is rocket fuel for climate change, blah, blah…” No. Our atmosphere is made up of about 78.1% nitrogen, about 20.9% oxygen, about 0.93% argon, the rest being trace gases. Thus, at least 99.93% of the atmosphere is made up of N, O2 and Ar, with 0.07% or less of greenhouse gases. Again, less than a tenth of 1%. 100 is a greenhouse gas. This is why greenhouse gases are called trace gases. Of these less than 0.1% of trace gases, by far the most common is water vapor (H2O in gaseous form). The LA Times reported in November 2011, “Several readers reported an omission in last week’s post about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s publication of its annual greenhouse gas index, which showed that man-made gases that contribute to global warming continued to rise. The post – and AGGI – mentioned carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, but failed to mention the biggest contributor to global warming: old water vapor. I wonder why NOAA has failed to omit the gas that accounts for the vast majority of greenhouse warming? Think about it: without water vapor in the atmosphere, the earth would freeze and life would cease. But NOAA omitted it from its report.

The other critically important atmospheric tracer gas is CO2. Without it, life would not exist. Humans and mammals need oxygen (O2) to survive. O2 comes from plants that consume CO2 through photosynthesis. Plants want carbon and hydrogen and release O2 as a by-product. The planet is getting greener due to the increase in CO2. As it becomes greener, more oxygen is available for mammalian life. In 1950, CO2 was around 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) and is now just over 400 ppmv (0.04%). Humans have contributed to this increase, but 95% of atmospheric CO2 comes from natural sources: ocean warming, decomposition of organic matter and volcanoes. Anthropogenic CO2 (of human origin) is a very minor contributor to atmospheric warming. Humans eat carbohydrates (i.e. molecules built from carbon and water) for energy and carbon as a structural building block. Plants consume CO2 through photosynthesis to obtain carbon for the production of sugars and cellulose. Ice core data has proven that the earth has had atmospheric CO2 at levels much higher than we know today and that life has thrived. Research has shown that CO2 enrichment of greenhouse crops to 1000 ppmv or more will, in some cases, increase yields by 50%.

So, let’s review. Water vapor is responsible for most of the global warming greenhouse effect. The rest of the greenhouse effect comes from CO2 and CH4 (methane). Remember that all trace gases are less than 0.1% of atmospheric gas; most of it being water vapor. CO2 is 400 ppmv or 0.04% and CH4 is 1.8 ppmv or 0.00018%.

A little over 1,000 years ago, Eric the Red established a new colony which he called Greenland and wine growing flourished in Britain. It was what was called the medieval hot period. There were a lot of ruminants at that time and no cars or fossil fuel industry.

Roy johnston


The author holds a doctorate. in plant science and genetics.

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