CO2 Emissions: still a BIG and GROWING problem

CO2 emissions remaining constant is the equivalent having stopped accelerating towards the 'chasm of doom'

CO2 emissions remaining constant is analogous to  having stopped accelerating towards the ‘chasm of doom’. We are still driving there at high speed!

The global elite who read this blog – you, dear reader – will not have been fooled by the vaguely positive news reports about carbon dioxide emissions in 2014.

BBC: Global CO2 emissions ‘stalled’ in 2014

But just in case you have friends who lack your special qualities, please remind them that this is still a DISASTER!

Emissions staying constant is analogous to driving rapidly towards a cliff but not actually accelerating.

It does not correspond to applying the brakes, slowing down, stopping  or changing direction.

Annual Carbon Dioxide emission in billions of tonnes since 1750. The right hand axis shows this amount as a percentage of teh amount of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere in 1750.

Annual Carbon Dioxide emission in billions of tonnes since 1750. The right-hand axis shows this amount as a percentage of the amount of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere in 1750. The ‘news’ stories point out the last two data points are equal. The red data points are from CDIAC and the blue points from the IEA – links at teh end of the article. Click for a larger figure.

The real story

Back in 1750, Earth’s atmosphere contained about 2200 billion tonnes of CO2.

Since then we have added about 1350 Gt CO2 – that’s about 60% of the amount that was originally there.

Some of our emissions have dissolved in the oceans, and some have contributed to increased growth of plants and trees.

But a little over half is still in the atmosphere giving rise to increased warming.

If anyone really believed that the graph above would now plummet, then thsi might be the start of a season of good news.

However no one really believes we have yet reached ‘peak emissions’. And that means the ongoing disaster is still getting worse.

Total Carbon Dioxide emission in billions of tonnes since 1750. The right-hand axis shows this amount as a percentage of the amount of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere in 1750. The 'news' stories point out the last two data points are equal. The red data points are from CDIAC and the blue points from the IEA - links at teh end of the article. Click for a larger figure.

Total Carbon Dioxide emission in billions of tonnes since 1750. The right-hand axis shows this amount as a percentage of the amount of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere in 1750. The ‘news’ stories point out the slope of the curve did not increase last year. Click for a larger figure.

How did I work out these numbers? 

(This bit is technical: sorry)

I looked up historical data at the Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Centre (CDIAC) and got the latest data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Their pdf ‘newsletter ‘ is here and the data can be found as a (rather confusing) Excel spreadsheet here

I looked up the mass of the  atmosphere on Wikipedia: It said it was

  • 5.1480×1018 kg

The average mass of a mole of air is 28.8 ×10-3 kg and so the number of moles of air in the atmosphere must be

  • 5.1480×1018 kg/28.8 ×10-3 kg = 178.8 ×1020 moles

In 1750 we think that carbon dioxide was about 280 parts per million of the atmosphere and so the number of moles of carbon dioxide must have been:

  • 178.8 ×1020 moles  × 280 / 106 = 5.00 ×1016 moles

And 1 mole of carbon dioxide has a mass of 44.0 ×10-3 kg per mole, so the mass in the atmosphere in 1750 must have been:

  • 5.00 ×1016 moles  × 44.0 ×10-3 kg per mole = 2.20 ×1015 kg
  • 2.20 ×1012 tonnes
  • 2.20 ×103 billion tonnes
  • 2200 billion tonnes
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