Letter: Facts show action on climate change needed

From: Doug Logan


A recent letter-to-the-editor writer repeated a couple of talking points that he apparently acquired from a television network that has been dubbed “Fox Noise.” Just to set the record straight about volcano emissions of carbon dioxide, here is a quote from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (read it on the Web yourself at: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/archive/2007/07_02_15.html):

“Gas studies at volcanoes worldwide have helped volcanologists tally up a global volcanic CO2 budget in the same way that nations around the globe have cooperated to determine how much CO2 is released by human activity through the burning of fossil fuels. Our studies show that globally, volcanoes on land and under the sea release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually.

“This seems like a huge amount of CO2, but a visit to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) website helps anyone armed with a handheld calculator and a high school chemistry text put the volcanic CO2 tally into perspective. Because while 200 million tonnes of CO2 is large, the global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes. Thus, not only does volcanic CO2 not dwarf that of human activity, it actually comprises less than 1 percent of that value.”

Actually, the 2014 Global Carbon Budget from CDIAC gives the 2003 carbon emissions as 7,416 million tonnes (one tonne, a metric ton, by the way, is 1,000 kg, or 2,200 pounds for those, like my mother, who think the world should just do it our way). Multiplying by the molecular weight of carbon dioxide (44) and dividing by the atomic weight of carbon (12, for an overall multiplier of 3.67) means that the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuel in 2003 alone were 27.2 billion metric tonnes, over 100 times the amount of CO2 from volcanoes.

Common sense, without the high school science in the previous paragraph, lets us dismiss the other ridiculous claim from our would-be debunker. He wrote that plants will just use the carbon dioxide to grow. Well, duh, if plants were using the CO2, it wouldn’t be increasing in the atmosphere, would it? Slashing and burning tropical rainforests don’t help either, but that’s a topic for another letter.

From what I see in the general-interest science press, scientists who study climate agree that human activity — mainly burning stuff that has been buried for tens of millions of years — is increasing the global temperature. They may not agree on trends, or whether we can stop or reverse the process, but that is beside the point. We need to take action.

That means more miles per gallon. That means burning, if we have to burn anything, natural gas instead of coal because it produces more usable energy for the same amount of CO2. That means, ignore the “drill, baby, drill” soundbites. Most of all, it means not covering your ears and singing, “La-la-la.”