Here’s a practical way to understand the CO2 problem.
How much CO2 is created by human activity? Imagine 1000 metres (1 km or well over 1/2 mile) of atmosphere laid out in a line on the ground. with all the gases separated out. ( I know the gas laws will not let it happen but just imagine they do)
Let’s go for a walk along it.
- The first 770 metres is Nitrogen.
- The next 210 metres is Oxygen. That’s 980 metres of the 1000 metres. 20 metres (66 feet) to go.
- The next 10 metres are water vapour. 10 metres (33 feet) left. 9 metres is argon. Just 1 more metre (3 feet). A few other gases, ozone, neon etc, make up 620mm of that last metre.
- The last 380mm is carbon dioxide. 96% of that is produced by Mother Nature. (fermentation, bush fires and volcanoes, much of it underwater). The recent Icelandic Volcano negated all the UK efforts made by us to reduce CO2.
- Of our journey of 1000 metres just 15 millimetres are left – about half an inch. That’s the amount of carbon dioxide human activity puts into the air. Of those 15 millimetres the UK contributes about 4% or 0.6mm of the 15 milimetres. The thickness of a credit card.
or another 10 people in the 90 000 crowd at a Rugby match at Twickenham.
What is the effect of higher CO2 levels in the air?
At the start of the Carboniferous Era – some 350 million years ago – the CO2 in the air was about 12 times more than now (4200mm of the 1km). Despite this ‘dangerously’ high level of CO2 the world did not boil over. Instead there was an almost explosive growth of vast forests. For 50 million years the trees steadily grew and fell down to be covered up, crushed and eventually transformed into the extensive coal seams around the world. Vast quantities were absorbed into marine organisms to form chalk and limestone rock. The fungi that rots dead wood had not evolved then so the trees lay as wood. By the end of this era – some 300million years ago – the CO2 level was about the same as now.
So where did all the CO2 come from and go?
Controlled burns of forest land and agricultural stubble are an additional anthropogenic contribution. Probably wildfires started by arsonists should be considered anthropogenic sources of CO2 also! Maybe we should also consider the CO2 resulting from smoking tobacco and marijuana for a thorough accounting!
Burning biomass merely accelerates the CO2 release. Burning a forest releases CO2 immediately rather than waiting for the trees to rot naturally. So the only differentiator between anthropogenic and natural is a few years. Then the regenerating forest sequesters CO2 for another cycle.
The trees in the almost limitless forests that flourished then had absorbed it to become stored underground in coal. Even more was deposited as chalk and limestone. How come?
Well let’s look at Wheat. To grow wheat five conditions are required.
- A grain of wheat,
- Fertile soil,
- Rain water,
- Carbon Dioxide,
The DNA in the grain of wheat contains the instructions for the energy from the sunshine to combine the rainwater and CO2 by photosynthesise into carbohydrate as new ears of corn plus oxygen gas released into the atmosphere.
i.e. more wheat. A similar process occurs in trees to make more wood.
- Any increase of the CO2 level in the atmosphere will increase the yield of wheat per acre .
- As a rough example the CO2 from one ton of jet engine exhaust could become an extra 1,500 loaves of bread.
- Reducing the CO2 level will give a lower yield of food per acre. Halve the CO2 level that we have now and it is estimated to just about extinguish most of the life on earth.
As more information leaks out it has now become known that the warming effect of CO2 only was considered. All other gasses were ignored.