Words on Weather & Climate — March 11, 2010

Your Carbon Footprint


There are many places you can go online to calculate what is called your “carbon footprint,” or how much carbon dioxide your daily activities release into the atmosphere. A Google search of “CO2 calculator” brought up over 700,000 hits in .36 seconds. I’ve even seen carbon dioxide emissions included on new automobile stickers lately.

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

The goal of these calculators, of course, is to encourage you to cut back on CO2 emissions to “save the planet.” The numbers are usually presented in tons of CO2, so they sound quite impressive. If you really feel guilty about driving that SUV, you can send money to several companies (such as NativeEnergy), and they will take that money and invest in wind and methane power to offset the amount of CO2 you have produced, in case you actually don’t want to give up your SUV.

However, wouldn’t it be helpful to know just how much impact our reduction of CO2 will actually have on the climate? How much human-induced climate change is being prevented by changing your light bulbs, from biking to work, or from slashing national carbon dioxide emissions in whatever ways possible? Isn’t this the number we really need to know? Unfortunately, this is the number the calculators don’t tell you.

Since climate model projections of the future climate are what are being used to attempt to scare us into action, climate models should very well be used to tell us how much of the scary future we are going to avoid by taking the suggested/legislated/regulated actions. I’ve never seen that number published anywhere.

But even though you and I don’t have access to the global climate models, there is a fairly simple way, with the use of a handheld calculator, we can determine how many tons of CO2 emissions are required to change the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by one part per million (ppm). Then we can figure out how many ppm of CO2 it takes to raise the global temperature one degree Celsius (1°C).

There is a little math involved here, so if you don’t want to follow along, you can jump ahead to the answer, but it won’t be nearly as much fun that way. I will keep this quite simple, but if you want to see more detail, including any assumptions that are involved, you can go to this web site: www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2009/04/30/what-you-cant-do-about-global-warming/.

Over the past 150 years or so, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased about 100 ppm, from approximately 280ppm to 380ppm, and global temperatures have risen about 0.8ºC over the same time. That, of course, is if you believe the way the temperature observations have been manipulated. If you’ve read my earlier articles, you already know why I think the 0.8°C warming is fantasy, but let’s play in that ballpark for now and go with this number.

Dividing the concentration change by the temperature change (100ppm/0.8ºC) produces the answer: it takes 125 ppm to raise the global temperature 1ºC.

I’ll spare you all the details, but using numbers from the Carbon Dioxide Information Center and the World Climate Report article I cited above, we can know that it takes about 14,138 million metric tons (mmt) of CO2 to raise the atmospheric CO2 concentration by approximately 1 ppm. Since it takes 125 ppm to raise the global temperature by 1°C, we can multiply 14,138 mmt by 125 ppm and find that it takes approximately 1,767,250 mmt of CO2 to raise the global temperature by 1°C.

We are almost to the answer we need, and I think you’ll see this calculation is worth the effort. The goal of many climate alarmists, including the Waxman-Markey Bill in Congress, is to reduce the CO2 emissions in this country by 83% between 2005 and 2050. In 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States’ CO2 emissions were about 6,000 mmt, so 83% below that would be 1,020 mmt, or a reduction of 4,980 mmt CO2. If we divide 4,980 mmt of CO2 by 1,767,250 mmt of CO2 needed to raise the temperature by 1°C, we get 0.0028ºC!

This is the answer! If the entire United States—just barely behind China in the production of CO2 emissions—reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 83% below current levels, it would only amount to a reduction of global warming of less than three-thousandths of a degree Celsius.

I strongly support energy conservation and the development of new energy sources, but please don’t ask me to believe that reducing my carbon footprint has anything to do with reducing global warming.

Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

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