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Climate Colab

Oct 4, 2010


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This thread is where Climate CoLab members are invited to talk about general issues related to climate change. The community asks that you abide by the site's philosophy and policies.

George Mokray

Nov 18, 2010


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Looking at the proposals of the finalists, I find that I can not support any of them. They all are too little too late with levels of atmospheric carbon that I feel would be disastrous. We need to get down to 350 ppm if not the pre-industrial level of around 270 ppm. None of these proposals gets even close to that level. From looking at the earlier proposals, the only one which came close was zero emissions. It leads me to believe that zero emissions (and I would like to see a blanket zero emissions policy that goes beyond greenhouse gases to all industrial effluents) is the only way we will get to the lower levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that we need.

Yang Ruan

Jan 9, 2011


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There is a recent post in the New York Times green blog about a "Planetary Simulator" project called FuturICT in Europe. It sounds like a very large integrated assessment model that uses real-time data streams. I am interested in what it can offer in comparison to existing simulations and what people think about it.

David Haaren

May 26, 2011


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Don't we have to develop economies or lifestyles or cultures that function without burning fossil fuels? I think that we need to become educated to the fact that extracting fossil fuels from their safe hibernations may now (in some sense) be a criminal activity. I wonder if those working in the fossil fuel extraction industries are not as well aware of this as anyone. Maybe they are looking forward to the day when the global society asks them to "step away from the fossil fuels". Is it even possible, when and if our crisis becomes more apparent, to re-frame the issue in this way? In other words, how different is extracting fossil fuels as a business activity from poisoning the global water supply? Have commercial interests infiltrated our governments to such an extent that we no longer have any control over what corporations do? Maybe any attempt to use economic incentives to encourage change will be inadequate greenwashing. See Jim Hansen's (et al) recent post. In it they liken the "fact" that 'as long as fossil fuels are cheapest they will be burned' to the law of gravity. This is part of an argument for a Carbon Tax, but when you take it out of context it seems to discount even the possibility of any other approach, which led me to think that maybe we could criminalize the activity, someday, slowly, fairly and sensibly.

Rob Laubacher

May 26, 2011


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Dave provides a very interesting perspective, quite similar to one put forward by Andy Hoffman of University of Michigan, see .

David Haaren

May 26, 2011


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The post from Jim Hansen et al that I refer to can be found at From there you can download the PDF file "The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future". At the top of page 22 they talk about cheap fossil fuels and the law of gravity. (Is there a way to link directly to that PDF file?) I liked what Andy Hoffman wrote about cultural shift. A recent sign of shifting for me was the EPA's "Finding of Endangerment" back in 2009. The EPA acknowledges that the burning of fossil fuels is Endangering future generations. See the EPA website.

James Greyson

May 27, 2011


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Hi George, thanks for raising the question of how ambitious we should be about the climate. Your proposal about a 'zero emissions' economy has much potential and can still be seen at It seems that targets for GHG concentrations and emissions reductions are set politically, according to what is thought to be practical or realistic, rather than in accordance with evidence that GHG concentrations are already too high. See for example It would be good to hear what climate and political experts think about this. George, did you see the two proposals in last year's (2010) contest which shared your ambition? One of them even looks beyond 'zero emissions' since an effort to lower GHG concentrations means net-negative emissions. How could this be made practical and realistic? Dave and Rob, very interesting thoughts about how to get a cultural shift where we could in future look back and think that current practices were ridiculous. Andy Hoffman suggests working through organisational cultures, though I'm not sure how organisations can focus within their internal systems but generate radical in external global systems. Isn't this what CSR has tried? Criminalising fossil fuels certainly looks attractive from the perspective of future generations. The difficulty might be in getting the current generation to go for it. Fossil fuels are systemically pickled throughout our lives so almost everyone would be complicit (and hence have an incentive to avoid criminalising). Modern societies are so highly energy dependent that even the existing mild rules about fuel extraction are often overlooked. A related option would be for a cultural shift and economic shift could emerge together. "We have a different view of our place in the world so we're going to run a different kind of economy" and "We're starting a different kind of economy which give us a different view of our place in the world". This would go beyond carbon pricing and ask how to handle externalities generally? Thoughts welcome from all. James

Dennis Peterson

May 30, 2011


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gmoke: Due to limitations in the model, the "carbon rights" proposal has a high target that doesn't take into account the carbon absorption it mainly relies on. It attempts to reach zero net emissions as quickly as possible.

Abuanthony Alim

Jul 20, 2016


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Nicholas Heltzel

Apr 11, 2017


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I believe if the majority of individuals on this planet, are going to be enslaved by the current global economy's reliance upon fossil fuels to drive it, then every able bodied individual should be required to perform mandated civil service, in order to offset development costs on projects, that really would reduce atmospheric carbon levels and reverse climate change.

I know some may not agree with this, but at the same time, most people spend a noteworthy and comparable amount of time over the course of a year, at the pump.

I have my own grandiose ideas, on how to revolutionize transportation, the global economy, life, and how to really reverse climate change.  

I have a simple idea, that is not necessarily anything new, but really should be looked at whole heartedly, as a real chance to change the future, from the direction we are heading.

you are more than welcome to chime in on my thread.

I'm new here, send me a message if you wish as well, I am most personable.

David Haaren

Sep 9, 2017


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To review, I think we know that greenhouse gas (GHG) molecules are polarized and act like tiny antennae that intercept outgoing radiation, i.e. the heat of the earth headed out into space at night. Most air is N2 or O2 which are spherically electo-symmetrical, i.e. non-polarized and so without antenna like behavior at all. Water is the most significant GHG, but it constantly condenses out as rain. CO2 and other lesser GHGs do not condense out and so are the drivers of long term climate. Is this arguable? Can water vapor and CO2 actually be called "pollutants"?

We measure CO2 in parts per million by volume (ppm-v) which is equivalent to counting molecules because gases occupy the same volume regardless of their molecular weight (MW generally measured in grams per mole). CO2 measuring equipment (like that in Hawaii creating the Keeling curve) gives data in ppm-v. To consider amounts by weight (pounds, kilograms or tonnage) we need to convert to weight from volume (molecular count) using MWs (air = 29 g/m, CO2 = 44 g/m).

All this can be ridiculously and incredibly confusing. Not only do we have two systems of units here in the US where feet and pounds are still popular. We also have measurements in ppm-v that might need conversion into weights. Also there is a tradition in science to talk about CO2 in the air in terms of units of Carbon needing yet another conversion using MWs (CO2 = 44 g/m and C = 12 g/m). Talking about CO2 as CO2 is now popular, making some numbers 3.67 times larger. There are so many ways to get confused, not to mention the issue of accuracy, and not to mention how tedious it can all seem. Paying attention and double checking each other when we talk about these things is important.

In order to know how much total CO2 is in the air (by weight) causing all this concern we need to be able to at least estimate the total weight of all the air. Multiplying atmospheric pressure by the surface area of the earth should give a result of about 5 x 10^15 tons (metric) of air. This is about .66 million tons of air per person.

So how much total CO2 is there up in the air? (ball-parking on the back of an envelope)

5 x 10^15 (tons of air) x 400/10^6 (CO2 ppm) x 44/29 (MW factor) = 3034 total tons of CO2 (tiny antennae)

This is 3034/(44/12 MW factor) = 3034 / 3.67 = 827 tons of CO2 as C (same amount of tiny antennae)

Reputable sources say that all us earthlings together are emitting about 28 x 10^9 tons (Giga tons or g-tons) per year by burning fossil fuels. Even if we don't burn fossil fuels we do breath. How much CO2 is that?

If we assume we eat about 2 pounds (say one kilogram) of food per day (maybe less), and that is mostly Carbon (C) which gets mostly converted into CO2, we can calculate:

1 kg x 3.67 (MW factor)  x 300 days (shorten year because maybe less than one full kg/day) = 1101 kg of CO2 (about 1.1 metric tons or 2422 pounds). If there are 7.5 billion earthlings we have 1.1 x 7.5 x 10^9 = 8.2 giga-tons of CO2 per year emitted by people breathing.

The 8 giga-tons (approx) from people breathing is part of a natural loading of CO2 into the atmosphere. The 28 giga-tons from burning fossil fuels is something relatively new. (But is it "natural"?) If this GHG effect is as real as it seems to be, we must ask: what can we do? Hence projects like the Climate Colab, and I thank them for the opportunity to expound on this publicly.

How can we pull CO2 out of the air? (Biochar?, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate?, Stuart Licht's work and carbon fiber for sail and bicycle transport?) How can we reduce fossil fuel emissions? (PVs & windmills and energy storage? Daniel Nocera's work? stop hydrofracking?-maybe cheap energy is a problem, not a solution.)

The details of the carbon cycle involve huge reservoirs and fluxes, but even a quick glance at the Keeling curve shows an annual cycle or change of about 6 ppm-v as the seasons change. Every summer the Net Primary Productivity (NPP), which is the photosynthetic creation of reduced carbon from CO2 from the air, pulls the ppm-v down. Every winter, in the absence of all that photosynthetic activity, the ppm-v climbs about 6 ppm-v. That is about 44 giga-tons of CO2 going up and down each year as the total amount of CO2 steadily climbs year after year. The magnitude of this annual variation is showing us that much more photosynthesis occurs in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere.

The details of this GHG "antenna effect" involve difficult science. It seems amazing that simple life forms from microbes to humans are able to manufacture and emit these molecular antennae. And photosynthesis is able to recycle them into carbohydrates. A smart phone antenna may be a technological achievement, but so is a GHG molecule. Instead of sending and receiving huge amounts of complexly encoded information, GHG molecules simply soak up the very low energy radiation emitted by the earth as low infrared heat. Each type of GHG molecule "tunes" to different parts of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. The GHGs do not really behave exactly like a black-body. I think it is more complex than that.

The CO2 in the air is eventually soaked up by a plant or (more permanently) by minerals. The constant flux with the oceans makes oceans just another part of the atmosphere, in a sense. The rising acidity is, of course, another problem.

Someone famously said (something like): "What a shame, nature talks and mankind does not listen"

Please feel free to correct, use and improve on this review. Better understanding = better conversations.

Thanks for reading.


Enrique Posada

Sep 11, 2017


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I think you are missing a giga factor in the total CO2 

Air in the atmosphere  (kg) =       5,15E+18

Molecular weight of air  (kg/Mol) =     28,9

Air Mols  =    1,782E+17

CO2   in atmosphere (ppm) =    400

CO2    mols =  7,128E+13

Molecular weight of CO2  (kg/Mol) =        44

CO2 in the atmosphere  (kg) =        3,136E+15

CO2 in the atmosphere   (tons) =          3,136E+12

CO2 in the atmosphere  (gigatons) =      3136

Annual human contribution to CO2 (gigatons) = 35

Annual human contribution to CO2 (% total CO2 in atmosphere) = 1,12

David Haaren

Sep 12, 2017


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Thanks to Enrique for catching the giga-error in my review.


Ron Hardy

Dec 17, 2018


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Mods please erase the spam on the discussions.Thanks

Annalyn Bachmann

Jan 3, 2019


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Hello Ron, 

Thank you so much for your message. We're working on deleting the spam. 



Jim Moss

Feb 28, 2019


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Thank you for these posts and links, I hope this will come in handy.