A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The mystery of a massive 9Gt of CO2 that came and went — could it be phytoplankton?

There is a mystery peak in global CO2 levels in 1990. For some reason from 1989 suddenly global carbon levels jumped higher than they normal would and by 9,000 million tonnes (that’s equivalent to 2,500 mT of carbon)*. It’s only a little blip in an upward line, but as a deviation from the long steady norm, it’s a dramatic change (see the second graph below). Within a few years the excess disappeared and the reasonably straight line increase in CO2 resumed. The sudden jump is equivalent to nearly half of our total annual human fossil fuel emissions. Nothing about this peak fits with the timing of human induced fossil fuel emissions. These were not big years in our output (indeed it coincides with the collapse of the soviet block when inefficient Russian industry was shut down) .

The mystery of the massive CO2 bubble exposes how little we know about why CO2 levels rise and fall, and whether human emissions make much difference. The world is spending $4 billion dollars a day trying to change this global CO2 level of 0.04% (400ppm) but apparently other large forces are at work pushing up CO2, and then absorbing [...]

Factories in China produce four times as much CO2 as Western factories

China is making the world’s products, but in terms of carbon they are horribly inefficient compared to the West. Old factories and coal fired electricity mean the country is pouring out CO2 — not that that matters, but it rather puts the squeeze on anyone who thinks it’s good for the environment to shut down clean western factories and give that production to China.

Figure 2 | China’s emission exports and the top exporting provinces. a The emissions embodied in goods exported from China to the US, EU and Japan are shown, representing 58% of all emissions embodied in trade in 2007 (the largest flows are labelled in MtCO2 yr-1.

A new study came out by Lui et al. with headlines all over like “Goods manufactured in China not good for the environment, study finds”. But none of these media outlets put a number on it — how much more polluting were these Chinese factories? The answer was right there in table 1 of the paper. Lui et al compare 15 products made in China and the EU, and found that China produces 4.4 times the emissions of CO2 in order to produce the same product.

When Chinese workers [...]

North Korea — the ultimate low-carbon ideal

No nation has been more successful at reducing their carbon emissions than North Korea. Over the space of a few years, the carbon footprint of the entire nation was reduced by a massive two-thirds, thanks mostly to centralized planning with some help from famine, disease and the odd gulag. Anyone for Pine-bark cake? — Jo

Decarbonizing an economy – North Korea

Guest Post by Tom Quirk

The North Korean famine and general economic crisis from 1994 to 1998 is an extraordinary example of the failure of central planning and management. The results of what is called the Arduous March[1] are best illustrated by this image the Korean peninsula at night taken in 2014 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Night image of the Korean Peninsula in 2014 shows that North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China (source NASA).

The North Korean disaster led to the estimated death of between 220,000 and 2,000,000 people, 1% to 10% of the population. The famine, which continues to this day, has led to food rationing, black markets and a government keen to get foreign currency by any means — including drug smuggling and nuclear technology [...]

Where have those fossil fuel emissions gone?

Oh the paradox! Human emissions upset the delicate balance and drive up global CO2 levels by 2ppm a year, but lordy, at the same time, that delicate balance roils and rolls with the seasons by a far larger range. Get the feeling there is more to Life on Earth than humans?

There are places on Earth when CO2 swings every year by 16ppm or more – like Point Barrow. Then there are places like the South Pole, where it barely changes all year round — a bit like the level of greenery there which varies from white to white. And there’s a clue. The other part of the world where CO2 levels don’t swing is at the equator — where it’s 100% green all year long. The big changes in terrestrial CO2 occur in the zones where plant life ebbs and flows.

Tom Quirk tracks the seasonal shifts in CO2 and finds that the northern Boreal forests are probably drawing down something like 2 – 5 gigatons of CO2 every year, and because the seasonal amplitude is getting larger each year, it suggests there is no sign of saturation.  Those plants are not bored of extra CO2 yet. This fits [...]

Astounding discovery: World War II had low carbon footprint

USS Pennsylvania leads convoy to reduce Japanese carbon emissions

Tom Quirk sends me thought provoking news.

File this in the Semi-Satirical Times

Since 1920, ice cores from Law Dome show only one significant pause in an otherwise relentless rise in CO2. Ominously, that sole plateau occurs from 1940 to 1950. If human activity drives changes in global CO2, there is no mistaking that the pause was during the only decade that war went global.

The question has to be asked: Is war an alternative to wind-farms?

Who would have thought all the tanks, bullets and bombs, and all the men in green uniforms, could be so good for the planet? World War II must have been a low electricity use time.

Or was it the mass burials – a form of carbon sequestration? (Though, cremation, after all, undoes the benefits. Does anyone have stats on the ratio of burning versus burial? Can we get a grant?)

In World War 2, direct action against the evil large fossil fuel polluters took on a new meaning. Don’t just tax those factories, bomb them!

Ahem… (all [...]

Australian emissions reductions target is undone by one week in China

Here’s a graph showing something about Australian, Chinese and Indian emissions (thanks to Tom Quirk). At a glance you might think we are up there with the best of them (doing our bit to fertilize the flora of the planet, and to regreen the deserts). Alas, the Australian tally (the green triangles) represents the total emissions of Australia. The lines depicting Chinese and Indian emissions just show their annual increases.

Chinese annual increases in emissions are larger than the entire Australian output. India is not too far behind.

UPDATE: TonyfromOz points out the Y-axis scale  is missing three zero’s. Data source: CDIAC (Thanks Anton).

It appears the new coal fired power stations and cars coming on line in the breakneck-evolution-of-China produced twice the emissions of the entire continent of Australia.

Remember our aim to reduce our national output by 5% or so by 2020. Thanks to the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Fund, the Remote Indigenous Energy Program, the Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, the Living Greener program, the Regional Natural Resource Management Planning, the Light Vehicle CO2 Emissions Standards, the Household Assistance Package, and not to mention another 36 programs I could have listed as well as [...]

Climate Aid: The $39 bn industry, mostly used to slow developing countries

Climate Analytics say that developed nations have paid $35.9 billion dollars into the UN Aid program called FastStart. This was the project rescued from the aftermath of the 2009 Copenhagen climate convention.  Somehow $3 billion of private finance has been tossed in as well, making it nearly $39 billion since late 2009.

As usual, when other-people’s-money is spent on the poorest of the poor, the poor seem to get no say, and not much use out of it either.

[Bloomberg] “Seventy-one percent of the total finance went to emission-reduction ventures rather than adaptation projects such as water conservation or flood defense, today’s report shows.”

Sooner or later, the aid-recipients are going to suffer through a flood or a drought (thanks to climate-sameness). But two thirds of this aid money won’t add up to a dime’s worth of protection. Seventy percent of the funds were used to stop emissions of a fertilizing trace gas instead of preparing people against the ravages of the weather. Indeed most of the money was spent reducing something that would be considered an asset if not for the decree of climate models that we already know are wrong.

Hey, but it’s only $27 billion or so [...]

Upgrade coal power and cut 15% of emissions. Where is the Green applause?

If the Greens cared about CO2 they’d be very interested in ways to reduce emissions. But their selective interest speaks volumes about their real priorities. Anton Lang shows how newer coal fired powers stations run hotter and at higher pressures, and use 15% less coal to produce the same amount of electricity. We could upgrade our power stations and cut a whopping 15% of their emissions — which is huge compared to the piddling small, often unmeasureable savings thanks to renewables. Even massive floods that stop industry don’t reduce our emissions as much as this would. Do the Greens hate the coal industry more than “carbon pollution”? — Jo


Ultra Super Critical Coal Fired Power gives a 15% CO2 Emissions Reduction

Guest Post: Anton Lang (aka TonyfromOz)

It all comes down to steam.

Assume (for a moment) that we have to reduce the emissions of CO2 by something like 20% between now and 2020.

Previously I showed we could achieve a reduction of 13% in CO2 emissions from the electrical power generating sector just by converting from the current 70’s technology coal fired power to the newest technology USC (UltraSuperCritical) coal fired technology. That 13% I quoted [...]

Australian floods show how cutting electricity use doesn’t reduce CO2

Coal power provides most of our electricity and despite widespread floods these plants have to keep working day in and day out to provide our baseload power.  | This one above is the old decommissioned “New Farm” Coal Power Station (1942)  |  Queensland State Library

Anton Lang cuts the numbers, and finds that while the Australian floods cut power consumption by 9% on the Eastern seaboard they only reduced CO2 emissions by 0.9%.

Even if cutting CO2 emissions was useful, it’s much much harder than most people realize. Electricity use is so pervasive that even though whole towns were off-the-grid due to floods, and real consumption fell, it didn’t make any difference to emissions. That’s because the baseload consumption is still so high, and is mostly still a coal powered load. Reducing the peak use of electricity by a whopping 9% hardly makes any difference to the total daily curve of electricity demand. The electricity for the peak load comes from natural gas, a bit from hydro, and some from intermittent unpredictable renewables. Coal can’t be switched up and down quickly, and it isn’t efficient to do so, even if it were possible to ramp up or change the [...]

CO2 emitted by the poor nations and absorbed by the rich. Oh the irony. (And this truth must not be spoken)

Kudos to John O’Sullivan for finding this story; see the note at the end about the extraordinary response his post on this received.


Who are the world’s worst “polluters”? According to a new high-spectral-resolution Japanese satellite — it’s developing countries.

Who knew detailed spectroscopic data on Earth’s atmosphere was available to figure out where the CO2 and other greenhouse gases are being produced and absorbed?

In January 2009, a Japanese group launched a satellite “IBUKI” to monitor CO2 and methane spectral bands around the world to establish exactly where the world’s biggest sources and sinks of greenhouse gases were. With climate change being the perilous threat to millions, this data would seem so essential you might wonder why didn’t someone do it before. As it happens, NASA tried — it launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory in Feb 2009, which was designed to do exactly the same thing, but it crashed on launch. Oddly, NASA don’t seem to be prioritizing the deadly climate threat, as it will take NASA four years to figure out why the Taurus XL rocket failed and relaunch it.

The results from from Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)  show that Industrialized nations appear to [...]