Field of Science

Climate Change Skeptics

Paul Krugman has a piece on climate change on his blog at the NY Times. One commenter responds:

"One thing they are "gong" [sic] to do is point out that if the ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 is solely due to man-made combustion of fossil fuels, laws of chemistry and physics have been violated. For every molecule of carbon, two molecules of oxygen are consumed. Therefore, if the rise in CO2 is due to such combustion, then we should observe a decrease in atmospheric O2 by a factor twice as great. I have seen no evidence to suggest that global O2 is decreasing at all." (H. Muhlphart )

Ouch! My response:

No law of chemistry and physics has been violated by assuming that the increasing CO2 comes from combustion of fossil fuels. The reason no decrease in O2 is "noticed" is because the loss due to the formation of carbon dioxide is very small compared to the total amount of oxygen. If you increase the amount of CO2 by 100 ppm (more or less what's predicted in the next 50 years), the decrease in O2 is from 209,460 ppm to 209,360 ppm. That's the equivalent of being at the top of less than a 30 foot hill. You certainly don't notice any change in the oxygen levels between the basement and second floor of a house, do you?

And I didn't even bother with the notion that carbon dioxide "eats" two oxygen atoms no matter what carbon source you make it from - fossil fuel or respiration. Or that it's one carbon atom to one oxygen molecule. At this level of understanding of the basic science, you are not simply not entitled to an opinion on the matter.


  1. Nice response. I wonder if the recipient absorbed it?!

    More scientists - in fact everyone with a grasp of science - should be posting regularly on these public forums to try and stem the flow of disinformation and idiocy that is posted.

    > At this level of understanding of the basic science, you are not simply not entitled to an opinion on the matter.

    Unfortunately, they are entitled to a vote.

    P.S. typo:

    > ...I didn't even **both** with the notion...

  2. Thanks! (And I fixed the typo...)

    I think it's important to respond, and given that 1/3 of adults in the US do not know that carbon dioxide is the gas associated with the greenhouse effect, basic education is key.

  3. That was a good question and a good response. That's the kind of discussion that is truly needed.

    So you're saying that one out of three people don't realise that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? That's 100 million people. You sure about this claim? If this is true, then why are we trying to jam CO2 Cap&Trade legislation through congress when that many people don't understand what it's about? No wonder it's failing. Basic education is the key, and if we took the 1 month of time required to teach 100 million people about CO2 and the greenhouse effect, I think Cap&Trade legislation would pass through congress like a hot knife through butter. Let's get going on this!

  4. The data about science knowledge comes from the Pew Survey (towards the end, under Science Knowledge, at this link).

  5. So what happens when they ask, well if a 100ppm change in 02 doesn't matter, why does a 100ppm change in CO2 matter?

  6. There is a serious problem with the current climate model in that it has essentially failed to predict the stasis in global temperatures over the past 15 years. Stasis of this duration occurred only once in 700 years of repeat simulations, and these were done only after 10 years worth of stasis had come to light.

    For details, see the current post on Chemiotics II, and if you can shoot holes in the arguments there, please do so (politely please, the whole field has far too much hyperbole and polemics).


  7. Bravo Doctor!

    Not to mention that an increase of let's say 100 ppm molar/volume CO2 would lower a static concentration of Oxygen by about 50 ppm molar/volume...therefore, the change in the concentration of the oxygen in the earth's atmosphere (barring any new O2 generation from fission of heavier elements or the release of O2 from the oceans re-establishing an equilibrium with the atmosphere) would be approximately 0.005% absolute. Therefore, the concentration of atmospheric O2 would go from roughly 20.9% O2 to 20.85% O2 a level of precision that is outside of most paramagnetic detectors as well as Thermal Conductivity Detectors and completely reliant upon good analytical technique.


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