Debunking Myths About CO2, Global Warming & Greenhouse Gases

 

Thumbnail photo: A loose necktie/Wikimedia Commons

 

The science is very clear: Manmade CO2 emissions are predominantly responsible for the global warming that we're seeing. Or are they? Manmade climate change deniers reject this idea, and there's a whole spectrum of belief that they adhere to, ranging from the idea that CO2 only has a limited impact, has no impact, or even has the effect of cooling our planet. Some go so far as to argue that the greenhouse effect would violate the laws of physics. There are many different myths about carbon dioxide, and here in this video, I'll debunk several of them.

The common refrain that CO2 is not a pollutant is irrelevant, because the more important question to ask is: Will rising CO2 levels cause harm? The fact that CO2—and other greenhouse gases—are present in very small amounts in the atmosphere doesn't mean they can't have a large impact on global temperatures. In addition to their concentration, we also need to take into consideration the properties and effects that these molecules have.

The greenhouse effect does not violate the laws of thermodynamics, because instead of creating energy from nothing, greenhouse gases simply retain energy within our atmosphere that originated from the sun. The claim that CO2 actually cools our planet is based upon a misrepresentation of NASA findings on what takes place in the outer—and not the inner—atmosphere. Direct measurements of the radiance of greenhouse gases makes clear that the greenhouse effect is a very real phenomenon.

Many climate change deniers will assert that contrary to the cries of alarmists, carbon dioxide is not dangerous. Courtney Kirchoff makes this argument in a LouderWithCrowder article entitled "Top 5 'Climate Change' Myths Debunked."

Louder With Crowder? Thank God for the mute button! I think what we need are more YouTube channels that provide the leftist counter-argument to channels like his. While we're at it, why not give them catchy names, too? How about: ShutYourFuckin'PieholeWithDybal? That one right there has a lot of potential.

Kirchoff writes the following:

 

"MYTH: Rise in CO2 is dangerous . . .

TRUTH: CO2 isn't a pollutant."

 

Courtney's counter-argument is a textbook example of a red herring, which Bo Bennett describes as "attempting to redirect the argument to another issue to which the person doing the redirecting can better respond." What she writes isn't a refutation of this so-called climate change myth; it's simply a dodge where Courtney changes the topic of discussion to a much more narrow one.

When people talk about the harms of rising CO2 levels, they're talking about many different things. We're talking about increasing ocean acidity causing worldwide coral bleaching and ultimately a massive decline in oceanic biodiversity. We're talking about temperatures increasing so rapidly that many species can't adapt quickly enough, causing them to go extinct. We're talking about pathogenic organisms expanding their range as the planet warms. We're talking about more floods, droughts, water shortages, and forest fires.

We're talking about all of those things, and more, considered collectively—and the climate change denier's response is to say: "Oh yeah? Well the literal act of inhaling more CO2 itself won't cause direct bodily harm to humans, so therefore there's nothing to worry about!"

To respond in this way is to intentionally play stupid. Just because inhaling or otherwise coming into contact with CO2 doesn't cause direct physical harm doesn't mean rising CO2 levels won't cause harm in other ways.

You could argue that water is not a pollutant. Ok? And if I boil a pot of it and splash it in your face, it's gonna severely burn you. People drown in water. Water can form massive waves that destroy your city and kill thousands. Whether a certain molecule is technically classified as a "pollutant" is a completely separate question from whether that molecule can cause harm or not.

It's like I strangle someone to death and say: "Well technically the rope was hypoallergenic."

By the way, I should also point out that the video version of this article has since been deleted. Part of me wants to believe that that's because it was so littered with obvious falsehoods that Crowder deleted it to save face—but if that's the case, why are any of his other videos still on YouTube?

Something else you'll hear argued is that because CO2 is present in such small quantities in the atmosphere, it couldn't possibly warm the planet in any significant way. Here's what the Reddit user "SftwEngr" has to say about the subject:

 

"CO2 is 0.04% of the atmosphere, a trace gas. What more needs to be said? CO2 isn't made of magic pixie dust, that can change entire planetary climates at 400 ppm."

 

Here's what this same guy had to say about my previous video on climate change:

 

"another Millennial who likely was repeatedly told how clever they are by his parents"

 

Wow, I'm gonna go run home to my mommy now, because you just owned me. I've been humiliated!

Look, just because CO2 is only a small percentage of the atmosphere doesn't mean it can't impact the climate. The often-cited counter-example is that of poison in your body: If 400 ppm of something is no big deal, why not introduce 400 ppm cyanide into your coffee or 400 ppm lead into the bloodstream of your newborn child? (He's like "That's what my parents did"; I'm like "Ah, it's all making sense now.")

If you just spell out the logic of his argument in plain English, it becomes immediately apparent how flawed it is: Small quantities of a certain molecule can't have large effects. Dan Miller, on his YouTube channel, performs a demonstration using ink and water that shows just how silly this argument is. As we can see, at 0 ppm, the water is obviously clear; at 280 ppm, it's a light gray color, and at 560 ppm, it's solid black.

The reason I like this demonstration is because here we're also dealing with the absorption of electromagnetic radiation. In this case, we're talking about visible light rather than infrared, but the point is clear: Very small quantities of certain molecules can radically alter the degree to which electromagnetic radiation is absorbed.

I also think that when deniers point out that CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, the assumption seems to be that it could only therefore impact temperatures to a similarly small degree. So since CO2 has increased from being 0.03% to 0.04% of the atmosphere since the 1800s, one might be tempted to conclude that it could've only therefore increased global temperatures by around 0.01%.

Scientists actually have several ways of determining what impact a doubling of CO2 levels would have on worldwide temperatures. As Rebecca Lindsey writes for Climate.gov,

 

"Scientists say that doubling pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels will likely cause global average surface temperature to rise between 1.5° and 4.5° Celsius (2.7° to 8.1° Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial temperatures. (Current concentrations are about 1.4 times pre-industrial levels.)

. . . Broadly speaking, climate scientists infer sensitivity by looking at the correlation between global concentrations of carbon dioxide and global average surface temperature.  They look at the correlation using modern observations, paleoclimate records like ice cores, and computer model experiments."

 

Another problem with this line of thinking is that molecules differ in the degree to which they contribute to global warming. The University of Michigan's Center For Sustainable Systems shows us the global warming potential that different molecules have, with global warming potential being defined as "the relative effectiveness of GHGs in trapping the Earth's heat over a certain time horizon."

CO2 is typically used as the baseline and therefore has a global warming potential of 1. The global warming potentials of other greenhouse gases are much more pronounced: methane, 25; nitrous oxide, 298; CHF3, 14,800; and sulfur hexafluoride, 22,800.

So the point is, it's not just the concentration of molecules that matters; we also need to take into consideration the properties and effects of these molecules. Simply saying that 400ppm is a small number proves absolutely nothing.

Deniers will also sometimes point out that water vapor itself is a greenhouse gas, and because it's present in such large quantities in the atmosphere, this somehow calls into question the idea that CO2 and other greenhouse gases can have any significant impact. Here's what they write on FriendsOfScience.org. "Friends of Science," yes, that's exactly the description that comes to mind when I envision climate change deniers.

 

"Greenhouse gases form about 3% of the atmosphere by volume. They consist of varying amounts, (about 97%) of water vapour and clouds, with the remainder being gases like CO2, CH4, Ozone and N2O . . . While the minor gases are more effective as 'greenhouse agents' than water vapour and clouds, the latter are overwhelming the effect by their sheer volume and – in the end – are thought to be responsible for 75% of the 'Greenhouse effect'."

 

This argument has always struck me as a bit weird: "You say we should worry about manmade greenhouse gas emissions, but water vapor is, by far, the most abundant greenhouse gas!" Ok? Well it's not like we're intentionally bringing comets from outer space into our atmosphere and vaporizing them, thus directly increasing the concentration of water vapor, so what relevance does that even have? It's these other greenhouse gases that we're emitting into the atmosphere through our actions—so since they're the ones whose concentrations are increasing, they're the ones that are going to be increasing the temperature of the planet.

Not only that, but when you warm the planet by emitting these other greenhouse gases, you also ultimately do end up increasing the atmospheric concentration of water vapor. As The Union Of Concerned Scientists writes,

 

". . . a vicious cycle exists with water vapor, in which as more CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere and the Earth's temperature rises, more water evaporates into the Earth's atmosphere, which increases the temperature of the planet. The higher temperature atmosphere can then hold more water vapor than before."

 

I'm still waiting for a group of deniers to form The Union Of Unconcerned Scientists:

"My God, the planet is warming!"

They're like: "Oh, whatever man. I'm sure it'll be fine."

...They tell us that water vapor is the greenhouse gas that's seriously driving the greenhouse effect. Ok, well even using your logic, we are increasing the concentration of water vapor, so now what?

Let's look at some numbers on this question. Citing data from Held 2000, Skeptical Science writes the following:

 

"How much does water vapour amplify CO2 warming? Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 would warm the globe around 1°C. Taken on its own, water vapour feedback roughly doubles the amount of CO2 warming. When other feedbacks are included (eg - loss of albedo due to melting ice), the total warming from a doubling of CO2 is around 3°C (Held 2000)."

 

YaleClimateConnections elaborates on this subject:

 

"Claims that water vapor is the 'dominant' driver of recently observed climate change are spurious at best. While uncertainties in the magnitude of water vapor feedbacks are one of the key areas concerning climate change, none of this research casts any doubt on the role of carbon dioxide and other anthropogenic greenhouse gases as the initial forcings behind our current climate perturbation."

 

Deniers have other ways of arguing that the greenhouse effect of CO2 is no big deal. A good example of this comes from a Daily Wire article written by Mike Van Biezen:

 

"The CO2 cannot, from a scientific perspective, be the cause of significant global temperature changes:

The CO2 molecule is a linear molecule and thus only has limited natural vibrational frequencies, which in turn give this molecule only limited capability of absorbing radiation that is radiated from the Earth’s surface. The three main wavelengths that can be absorbed by CO2 are 4.26 micrometers, 7.2 micrometers, and 15.0 micrometers. Of those 3, only the 15-micrometer is significant because it falls right in range of the infrared frequencies emitted by Earth. However, the H2O molecule which is much more prevalent in the Earth’s atmosphere, and which is a bend molecule, thus having many more vibrational modes, absorbs many more frequencies emitted by the Earth, including to some extent the radiation absorbed by CO2.

It turns out that between water vapor and CO2, nearly all of the radiation that can be absorbed by CO2 is already being absorbed. Thus increasing the CO2 levels should have very minimal impact on the atmosphere’s ability to retain heat radiated from the Earth."

 

This is one of those arguments that might seem convincing and intimidating on first glance because it's replete with scientific terminology and appears to have been written by someone who knows what he's talking about, but if you carefully break down and think about what being said here, it really makes no sense.

By the way, in the article, Van Biezen is quick to describe himself as a "data analysis expert." If there's one thing climate change deniers love, it's finding a person with scientific credentials who agrees with them. They will give that guy a megaphone, publish his articles—I've even heard that Dennis Prager will personally give him a back massage.

Sure, you can find deniers with a scientific background, but I never find myself feeling impressed by this. I'm like: "Oh, I see you're an earth science professor and you're wrong. Cool, now I know two things about you."

 

"It turns out that between water vapor and CO2, nearly all of the radiation that can be absorbed by CO2 is already being absorbed. Thus increasing the CO2 levels should have very minimal impact on the atmosphere’s ability to retain heat radiated from the Earth."

 

I'm no atmospheric scientist, but this seems like complete nonsense to me. If there are more molecules of CO2 being added into the atmosphere, this is going to increase the amount of radiation that's absorbed and re-emitted because there are more CO2 molecules capable of doing the absorption and re-emission. His argument here would be analogous to saying that having more soccer goalies defending a goal would have a very minimal impact on one's ability to kick the ball past them.

Van Biezen seems to be arguing that there's some sort of arbitrary cap on the amount of heat energy that CO2 molecules in the atmosphere collectively can interact with. The CO2 molecules are like: "Alright boys, looks like we've hit our quota for the day! That's all the energy absorption the boss says we can do for now, so it's time to pack it in." He'd might as well be arguing that adding more water to a pot on the stove won't alter the time that it takes to bring that water to a boil.

It's ridiculous, because if you introduce more molecules that do a certain thing, it necessarily follows that more of that thing will be done. This is such a simple concept that I feel silly even explaining it. Tune into my next video where I'll be arguing that 2+2=4!

 

"The CO2 molecule is a linear molecule and thus only has limited natural vibrational frequencies, which in turn give this molecule only limited capability of absorbing radiation that is radiated from the Earth’s surface. The three main wavelengths that can be absorbed by CO2 are 4.26 micrometers, 7.2 micrometers, and 15.0 micrometers. Of those 3, only the 15-micrometer is significant because it falls right in range of the infrared frequencies emitted by Earth."

 

CO2 only has a limited capability of absorbing radiation, he says. Here I think he's just misusing the term "limited," and his own words seem to undermine the point he's trying to make: ". . . only the 15-micrometer [wavelength that CO2 absorbs] is significant because it falls right in range of the infrared frequencies emitted by Earth."

How, exactly, does this observation support your position that "CO2 cannot, from a scientific perspective, be the cause of significant global temperature changes"?

This is basically his argument: "CO2 can't possibly be contributing to the increasing global temperatures because it can only absorb radiation at three wavelengths, only one of which is exactly the wavelength necessary to contribute to the greenhouse effect!"

It'd be like saying: "There's no way my gamma-ray cannon is what killed that guy, because it can only fire pulses of gamma-rays at three different wavelengths, only one of which is perfectly capable of killing humans in exactly the way that this guy died!"

I'm sorry, but if the gamma-ray cannon was switched onto that wavelength, pointed directly at the guy and fired, there's no sensible way you can argue that it wasn't responsible for killing him—and it's pure, irrelevant obfuscation to point out that there are other wavelengths that the cannon is capable of firing at. All Van Biezen is doing here is muddying the waters.

Some deniers go so far as to argue that the greenhouse effect itself is impossible because it violates the laws of physics. Here's what they write on iLoveMyCarbonDioxide.com:

 

"In essence, the widely accepted 'greenhouse forcing' CREATES ENERGY FROM NOTHING. Greenhouse forcing effectively states that carbon dioxide and other trace gases re-emit IR radiation, one tiny step after another, all the time increasing Earth's atmospheric temperature. This effect has never been proven - because it DOES NOT EXIST, CAN NOT EXIST. Back-radiation cannot add heat to the earth's surface - otherwise the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics are meaningless."

 

Ah yes, typing in all caps: the tell-tale sign of a mentally stable person making factually correct statements.

Here they seem to be simply misunderstanding the greenhouse effect. The way it works is that instead of escaping back to space, some of the infrared radiation that originally came from the sun bounces around and stays within our atmosphere or is sent back down to the surface of the earth due to the absorption and re-emission of this energy by greenhouse gases.

What they argue here is that heat energy is being created from nothing. The way it actually works is that energy which originated from the sun is simply being contained within the atmosphere due to the presence of molecules that do the containing. Greenhouse gases aren't creating heat; they're retaining heat. If greenhouse gases violate the laws of physics by trapping heat, then so does your thermos when it keeps your coffee warm. I wish it was that easy to violate the laws of physics because that way I could travel back in time and slap you before you made this stupid argument!

They go on to reference a scientific paper by Gerlich and Tscheuschner which they claim falsifies the greenhouse effect of CO2. Here's what Joshua Halpern et al had to say in response to this paper:

 

"In this journal, Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner claim to have falsified the existence of an atmospheric greenhouse effect. Here, we show that their methods, logic, and conclusions are in error. . . . They claim that radiative heat transfer from a colder atmosphere to a warmer surface is forbidden, ignoring the larger transfer in the other direction which makes the complete process allowed."

 

They also write on iLoveMyCarbonDioxide that "[the greenhouse effect] has never been proven."

Really? What about studies like this one by W. F. J. Evans et al which directly measures the radiance of many different greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and CFC11 & 12? If this doesn't qualify as proof, I'd love to know what would?

As they write in the paper,

 

"These measurements show that the greenhouse effect from trace gases in the atmosphere is real and adds significantly to the radiative burden of the atmosphere."

 

Peak denialism is reached when deniers claim not only that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas, but it actually has the net effect of cooling the planet. Here they're not only denying reality, but they're completely turning it on its head. In a ColdClimateChange.com article, they call into question:

 

". . . the assumption that carbon is a warming gas that is heating the planet. Every Democrat would bet their political lives on this. Unfortunately for them, and all the rest of us, is we are living on a cooling world not a warming one. They get it wrong on all points of the compass when it comes to climate change even with CO2 being a warming gas when the truth is that it helps cool the stratosphere by helping reradiate solar energy back into space."

 

The key point he's trying to make in that semi-coherent, poorly-edited paragraph is that CO2 actually cools our planet by re-radiating solar energy. He goes on to claim that his conclusions are based upon NASA findings:

 

"NASA says that CO2 is a coolant not a warming gas. One part of NASA is now in conflict with its climatologists after new NASA measurements prove that carbon dioxide acts as a coolant in Earth's atmosphere. NASA's Langley Research Center has collated data proving that 'greenhouse gases' actually block up to 95 percent of harmful solar rays from reaching our planet, thus reducing the heating impact of the sun. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO) are two substances playing a key role in the energy balance of air above our planet's surface tending to cool not heat."

 

I see. So I guess the solution to our global warming trend, then, is to even further accelerate our CO2 emissions.

Maybe this is what climate scientists have been trying to tell us the whole time? They're like: "The greenhouse effect! You know, a very cold greenhouse, with the AC turned all the way up, in the middle of winter, with several panels busted out."

To his credit, he doesn't get everything wrong here. The NASA publication that he references does tell us that:

 

"For the three day period, March 8th through 10th, the thermosphere absorbed 26 billion kWh of energy.  Infrared radiation from CO2 and NO, the two most efficient coolants in the thermosphere, re-radiated 95% of that total back into space."

 

"Pfft, yeah right, like I'm gonna trust those fraudsters over at NASA. Wait, what's that? I can spin their data to support my views? Yeah man, really good stuff from the people over at NASA."

Here's the thing: NASA is talking here about what's going on in the thermosphere, one of the outermost layers of the atmosphere. When we talk about the greenhouse effect, we're talking about what goes on in the troposphere, the innermost layer of the atmosphere. So this guy's confusing one process in one section of the atmosphere with another process in another section of the atmosphere.

Even Anthony fucking Watts of WattsUpWithThat.com—a notorious hub of online climate-change denialism—wrote a scathing article debunking these assertions about CO2 being a coolant:

 

". . . some really bad mangling of the intent of a NASA press release . . . is getting some traction. They have completely misread the NASA study and reinterpreted it for their purpose, claiming in a story titled 'New Discovery: NASA Study Proves Carbon Dioxide Cools Atmosphere'

. . . Yes, of course the upper atmosphere is going to deflect and re-radiate the energy of solar storms, that’s why we don’t burn to a cinder when they happen. There’s nothing new here, this is what the upper atmosphere (thermosphere) does. CO2 (and other greenhouse gases – GHG’s) in the lower atmosphere also re-radiates long wave infrared energy (LWIR) as backradiation coming up from the surface of the Earth . . .

[This claim] is the worst form of science misinterpretation I’ve seen in a long time. . . . it is a twisting of the facts in a press release about solar flares and the thermosphere to make it look like the lower atmosphere works the same way. To some extent it does, but the direction of the source of [infrared] energy is reversed, and CO2 and other GHG’s impede the transfer of [infrared] energy to the top of the atmosphere where it is finally re-radiated into space. Without GHG’s, the lower atmosphere would be very cold.

. . . If there are any people in the AGW debate that deserve the label 'deniers' surely this advertised denial of the existence of the greenhouse effect must qualify."

 

In that ColdClimateChange article, they also write that:

 

". . . we are living on a cooling world not a warming one."

 

Apparently it's so cold that this guy's frozen fingers are unable to properly type commas into his sentences!

Where is he getting these ideas from?!? All of the global temperature data shows that temperatures have been clearly rising since the Industrial Revolution, and this guy's like: "Yup, looks like global cooling to me!" This guy literally must be living on a different planet than me. To say that our planet is cooling when all of the evidence indicates otherwise is pure delusion.

Whenever a climate change denier starts talking about carbon dioxide, there's a good chance that they're getting something wrong. The fact that CO2 technically isn't a pollutant doesn't mean it doesn't cause harm, and just because greenhouse gases are a small percentage of the atmosphere doesn't mean they can't have large effects.

There's no pre-set quota on the amount of energy that CO2 can trap, and the claim that the greenhouse effect violates the laws of physics is based upon a misunderstanding of how the effect works. The idea that CO2 actually cools our atmosphere depends upon a misrepresentation of NASA findings which focus on the outer atmosphere. The scientific evidence supports the conclusion that the greenhouse effect is real, that CO2 is a prime contributor to it, and that manmade emissions are causing present temperature increases.