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Are we getting confused?

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Message Bob Williamson

Are we getting confused?


When we talk of the global warming impact of CO2 and or CO2-e are we getting confused?


When comparing or talking about distance, area, volume, weight and temperature, we compare same with same.

In length 1 metres = 3.28 feet

In distance 1 mile = 1.61 kilometres

In area 1 square mile = 2.59 square kilometres

In volume 1 gallon = 4.55 litres

In weight 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds

In temperature Celsius (C) to Fahrenheit (F) multiply by 9, divide by 6, add 32 freezing point 0 degrees C, boiling point 100 degrees C.


We compare like with like; and wether we are using metric or imperial measurements we are clear of the reference. Each can be referred to as the same.


Unfortunately, this is not the same when referring to CO2 and CO2-e. This dual reference in many widely circulated scientific reports, reference documents, news items and indeed policy papers, is however very confusing for the lay person. It may have the effect for many in distracting us from the main issues of concern when talking about the warming of our world, from both man made and natural systems emissions and their warming impact and potential for the future. Referred to as global warming potential (GWP).


At the beginning of 2009 we are presently at what they term 385ppm (parts per million) in CO2 (carbon dioxide) related terms in atmospheric concentrations. Prior to the onslaught of the Industrial revolution when we commenced our release of carbon from the burning of fossil fuels, we were at 280ppm. We have added 105ppm CO2 and are increasing that total concentration by around 3ppm, per year. We presently release around 2 billion tonnes of additional carbon monthly.

The calculation is that the world’s atmosphere weighs 5.15 quadrillion tonnes (1 tonne = 1,000 kilograms) One one-millionth (ppm) therefore weighs in at 5.15 billion tonnes (a billion = 1,000,000,000 or a thousand million). However as carbon dioxide (CO2—greenhouse gas) is around 1½ times heavier as a gas than the oxygen or nitrogen that make up the atmosphere, 1ppm weighs in at approximately 7.77 billion tonnes (1ppm = 7.77 billion tonnes of CO2). Reports are that total global emissions of CO2 are rising by around 3% annually.


It is easily seen that by 2030 in just a mere 21 years we will be at 448-450ppm in CO2 concentrations under the business as usual model. By that time we will have put up since the industrial revolution and additional 1,320 billion tonnes of CO2 from the burning and release of earths stored carbon.

Clearly we should not let this happen.


In 2007 the prominent climate scientist James Hansen of NASA suggested that 450ppm was by him considered the level that would tip the world into catastrophic and run away global warming. Since that time as with many other reviewed predictions and opinions, he has suggested that he considers we now need to return the planet to a safe level of CO2 by getting back to 350ppm (take out 35ppm or get back 272 billion tonnes already up there) and clearly this would mean ZERO emissions now and forever. Not a very likely scenario is it? And that is even more concerning, when considered that Jim is talking in terms of CO2 only, as you will see below.

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Founder and Chair of the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation
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