Your Carbon Footprint Doesn’t Matter

We have all heard scary scenarios about global warming. We therefore propose to limit our carbon dioxide emissions, assuming that they are responsible for the warming. So, the central question is: How much carbon dioxide does it take to theoretically raise global temperatures by 1 degree C?

That number can be gleaned from global emissions reports and IPCC scenarios.

Based on data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (DOE) we see that it takes about 15,700 million metric tonnes (mmt) of CO2 to raise atmospheric concentration by 1 part per million by volume (ppmv).

In 2000, mean atmospheric CO2 concentration was 368 ppmv (NOAA global index).

The “let’s do nothing” scenario of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) predicts CO2 concentration will rise to 836 ppmv by 2100– a 468 ppmv rise. In the same scenario, the IPCC predicts a temperature rise of 3.4 degrees C. Therefore, under that assumption, to get a 1 degree C temperature rise requires a 140 ppmv rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration (468/3.4 =140).

So, simple arithmetic shows that to get a 1 degree C temperature rise requires carbon dioxide emissions of 2,198,000 mmt. (15,700 mmt/ppmv x 140 ppmv/ C = 2,198,000 mmt of CO2 ). That’s 2 million million tonnes of CO2.

According to the EPA, total human CO2 emissions in the U.S., from all sources, including power plants, industry, automobiles etc. were 6,103 million metric tonnes in 2007. If we stopped all U.S. emissions it could theoretically prevent a temperature rise of 0.003 C. (6,103/2,000,000 = 0.003 C.)

You can do your part; just stop driving your car. The average family car puts out 5.5 tons of CO2 annually and is theoretically responsible for a temperature rise of 0.00000000000311ºC, three one-hundred-billionths of a degree. You can be so proud.

The calculation above ignores the fact that 98.5% of all carbon dioxide emissions are reabsorbed. So that actual emissions would have to be 146 million million tonnes to get a 1 C temperature rise, i.e., if we stopped all U.S. emissions it would really prevent a temperature rise of just 0.00004 C. But it will take even more than that because the effect of CO2 concentration is logarithmic, not linear as assumed above.

Now do you see how stupid Cap & Trades schemes are? Why are we proposing to spend billions or even trillions of dollars on a temperature change we can’t even measure?

Bottom Line:

Human carbon dioxide emissions do not produce a significant change in temperature. We should not be wasting resources trying to control them. If you think differently, then provide some physical evidence to the contrary. IPCC climate models don’t count because they are just speculative computer games.


See similar calculations from Paul Knappenberger of CATO:


  1. How dare you confuse the global warming issue with mathematics! Next you’ll want to bring science into the picture. Haven’t you heard that in the new Administration there is a ban on science and a reliance on the religion of environmentalism? Oh, wait! Maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever! Just don’t mess with all our preconceived notions that make celebrities into think tanks. What else do we have to cling to during this recession?

    1. But wait, there’s more! The calculations in this blog post do not take into account any absorbtion of CO2. That means it actually takes MORE CO2 emissions to reach thi theoretical number than are accounted for by the math presented. Bottom line, it matters even less how much carbon is in your footprint!

      1. My footprint is a smelly 9 1/2. 😛

        Shoe size. If the shoe fits…

        It takes a planetary level event to affect a planet. Let’s see what could possibly cause a planetary level event: Silly little humans on the surface of the crust of the planet OR that object in the sky called the moon that causes proven tidal breaking, thus slowing the earth’s rotational speed? Sure pollution is bad, but it isn’t the cause of global warming. We like “pollution” because it is a problem we can solve. We don’t like “tidal breaking” because it is a problem we can’t solve.

  2. Of course, the key statement in your opening paragraph is, “…assuming that they [humans] are responsible for the warming.”

    That little tidbit is certainly the most maddening aspect of the entire global warming phenomenon. The monstrous, all-controlling, all-regulating Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill relies solely on that assumption, supposedly backed by the infallibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

    Al Gore and the IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri say the debate on global warming is over. ‘Nuff said, move along, nothing to see here, don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

    Must be true, the mainstream media also says the debate is over, so does the President of the United States……………………… except, wait…. What if someone asks, “are there scientific findings that contradict the IPCC reports?”

    The answer virtually anywhere you look is, “the debate is settled, and any critic is a denier, paid by big oil, a GOP hack, besides, what’s wrong with green living and energy independence?”

    And that’s where the the entire global warming phenomenon steered into the ditch years ago, but the general public was too busy with other things to notice the wreck. Trouble is, it’s getting more difficult to keep this disaster of a concept rolling down the road.

    If Watergate was a cancer on the Nixon presidency, the “settled debate mantra” is a cancer on administrations around the planet. The issue’s tipping point will not be any particular irreversible CO2 level, it will be when one too many average citizens ask the global warming believers, ” why smear your critics, why censor them, why shut down debate, why offer deflective answers……. why not simply prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that global warming is not a natural occurrence? Or are you incapable of doing this?”

  3. Red Star kind of wondered whether Gannett’s New Tucson Citizen would do what has already been done or is being done…blah, blah blah one-sided rants that mysteriously get spinned into Limbaughspeak.

    Fear not! If you have the intellectual and psychological maturity for it, here’s Climate Debate Daily, thanks to beloved Red Star:

    And yes, Lupita Murrrrrrrrrrilllllllllllllllllllllllo, there is a UA connection to Climate Debate Daily!

  4. Yeah, he is confusing the issue with math…bad math. Saying we would stop only .003 C of global warming is a rate PER YEAR. Over the course of 100 years (approximately the timescale over which the 3.4 C rise is expected) raises the US contribution to .3 degrees (funny how he was off a factor of about 100). Oh, and that is assuming NO increase in U.S C02 emissions. And that is not counting other factors such as the deceasing effectiveness of natural C02 sinks (which will raise the rate of increasing C02 levels even without an increase in human emissions) or any increased emissions from the developing world.

    And for the record, real climate models DO take natural C02 absorption into account (but not any human sequestration we may try).

  5. Neither theory is set in stone, yet worldwide changes are taking place. If it is not manmade, we should still try to do as much as possible to slow the process down. The last rapid warming event, about 3-4 million years ago during the Pliocene era, caused the sea level to rise approx. 30 meters, with approx. a 3.5 degree C. rise in mean temp. Devastating to todays coastal populace. Doomsday scenario #33092. Have a nice day. 🙂

  6. Thanks for fixing the math!
    It’s sad to see all the conspiracy theories and “scientists are idiots” being thrown around by fringes.  I just spent a few hours looking at various theories disputing human-caused CO2 warming similar to this, and *every one* made high-school level math errors.  And then they complain that scientists aren’t treating their theories as worthy of respect in the debates.  In every case, if you just fixed the math of the people who said global warming wasn’t happening, it came out that their numbers were pretty near Greenpeace.

  7. “Based on data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (DOE) we see that it takes about 15,700 million metric tonnes (mmt) of CO2 to raise atmospheric concentration by 1 part per million by volume (ppmv).”
    I tried to verify this. I couldn’t find the CDIAC number. But I did find this on Junk Science:
    A. Using 5.137 x 1018 kg as the mass of the atmosphere (Trenberth, 1981 JGR 86:5238-46), 1 ppmv of CO2 = 2.13 Gt of carbon.” [note: I believe they are using Gt (gigaton) for 1 billion metric tons here since their calculation begins with mass in kilograms.]

    And converting the carbon value to carbon dioxide: 2.13 * 44/12 = 7.81 billion metric tons carbon dioxide = 1 ppmv of the atmosphere.
    That was verified here:
    So according to that the human counterpart of CO2 emissions is even less by a factor or 1000 from what DuHamel calculated.
    So 7,810 mmt x 140 = 1,093,000 mmt
    6,103 / 1,093,000 = .0056/yr
    So if you believe in the IPCCs claim that temperature rise due to CO2 emissions is linear then that’s about 0.5/100 years.
    However, there are scientists who show that CO2’s effect on temperature is a decreasing logarithmic function.

    Since the CO2 ppm has risen about 35ppm in the last two decades and the temperature has shown a flattening and decline- UHA satellite data, I think the forcing effect of CO2 has been over emphasized by the IPCC climate models. NASA is predicting a strong comeback by 2012 but a weak sunspot number in cycle 24.
    Past records show weak sunspot activity correspond to cool and cold periods in the Earth’s past climate. So I don’t see the need for carbon sequestration until the warming event is better understood by real observations.

  8. Wow.   Having a degree in Chemistry and Mathematics, I can unequivocably say—-You sir, are an idiot.

    I could explain why, in detail.  However, I have learned over time that nothing can penetrate the skull of a wingnut.

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