Carbon dioxide is at 400 parts per million!

On Saturday, while doing something important, I heard an ABC news broadcast go on and on about CO2 having passed 400 parts per million. I kept yelling out as each of a series of loaded statements came out, until my wife asked was I having a seizure. ‘Scientists say…’ When will the ABC learn to prefix that noun with the adjective ‘some’ — or tell us which scientists these ones are? Such announcements come with what seem like the full force of the scientific workforce of the world. But in fact they are the result of one or two activists and an ABC mindset that is attuned to that kind of environmental doomsaying. I can’t extract that ABC news broadcast from the dustbin of history, but Bloomberg’s take on it was just as bad, so here’s my commentary on a summary of that.

First, the basis for the story: carbon dioxide levels as measured at the Mauna Loa monitoring station in Hawaii have passed 400 parts per million. Bob Ward, a well-known propagandist for the evils of ‘climate change’ told Bloomberg that we humans had no evolutionary experience of such a climate. The last time CO2 levels were so high was 3 million years ago. At that time, he told Bloomberg, ‘temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, the polar ice caps were much smaller, and sea levels were about 20 meters (66 feet) higher than today’. There you go — don’t you see how important CO2 is?

Well, hang on. None of those prehistoric conditions obtains today, so doesn’t that suggest that carbon dioxide levels are not the driver of climate? Such a thought apparently didn’t occur either to Bloomberg or the ABC. No matter, because for the orthodox, all this is a new sign that doom is on its way, and that ‘carbon emissions’ (how I hate this sloppy language) ‘must be reined in before they cause irreversible changes to weather, sea levels and Arctic ice cover’. But isn’t it the case that warming has stalled over the last 15 or so years? Well not really, say the orthodox, but even if it looks like it [and it does], there doesn’t have to be a linear relationship between the rise in carbon dioxide accumulations and temperature.  You see, when it is warming that is because of CO2, but when it’s not obviously warming, warming is still going on but is hidden by something else — natural variability, or Chinese aerosols, or something else. It’s good to be so sure.

‘The United Nations [actually, the IPCC] in 2007 said stabilizing the gas at 400 ppm to 440 ppm may lead to a temperature gain of as much as 2.8 degrees Celsius… That’s at odds with the goal set out by climate treaty negotiators from more than 190 nations, who have agreed to shoot for limiting the temperature increase to 2 degrees. The global average has already risen by about 0.8 of a degree since pre-industrial times.’

Just think about it. ‘Pre-industrial times’ means before the Industrial Revolution, for which 1780 is a useful mark, and we have gained 0.8 degree Celsius since then (all this is based on estimates and sparse thermometer readings). In that time food production and population have expanded enormously. The proposed temperature gain of 2.8 degrees Celsius assumes a large positive feedback from a doubling of CO2, but there is a wide range of estimates for such a consequence. And the ‘agreement’ to aim for a maximum of 2 degrees was based on nothing more than a the need for a simple number that looked OK. It has no scientific basis that I can find.

Bloomberg then worries away at the failure of our meeting the 2 degrees C target, and how such an increase could lead to a sea-level rise of 1.7 metres. ‘That would threaten coastal cities from New York to London and Bangkok’. But Bloomberg didn’t stop to think that no such increase has occurred or occurred in the recent past. Even at a 3mm a year increase, which may be the current trend, by 2100 the sea level may be around 30cm higher than it is today, which gives cities a long-term opportunity to do something about such a change.

The article tries to have it both ways. One paragraph tells us that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for years, and that  ‘levels now may cause warming for decades’. But in another  paragraph we learn that ‘Unless swift action is taken to reduce CO2 emissions, the planet will warm by more than 2 degrees.’

The Bloomberg piece nods briefly twice to more sceptical positions, which is two more than appeared on the ABC. But the piece finishes with the kind of statement that has become part and parcel of the AGW scare, and this one from a science lobby group: ‘This needs to be a wake-up call. Reaching 400 parts per million represents a dire experiment with the climate system. As long as humans have walked the Earth, we’ve never seen carbon dioxide levels this high.’

I ought to be used to this kind of scaremongering, but I’m not. I have to say to myself that (i) bad news is the basis of nearly all news reports, and (ii) if the current pause in warming continues the mindset in the media will change, and (iii) governments have already backed off anyway. I just have to put up with it. I saw somewhere that Labor was being urged to fight the coming election on the issue of climate change, and thought that it couldn’t do much worse if it did. The ABC asked Minister Combet was asked for his opinion on the new CO2 level, and he answered funereally that it was sign that the Government was right, or something like that. Alas, whatever he says seems to come out in a mournful way. You wouldn’t pick him to advertise a new product.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Malcolm Miller says:

    It was a clear display of ABC bias towards AGW, and disgusting. I also shouted with anger. Whey thety say”scientists say’ instead of ‘a few scientists say’ I know they are doing partisan propaganda using weaselly language.

  • Steerpike says:

    It is quite obvious why the statement “Scientists say…” is used. There is a significant consensus among climate scientists, estimated at 94-97% that accepts climate change. There is NO international scientific body that comes out against this consensus, just a bunch of pseudo scientists, mostly conservatives with a poor understanding of how climate scientists work. It’s the same kind of strong consensus that has accepted the benefits of immunisation, ascribed HIV as a the causative agent of AIDS, determined smoking is bad for your health and that evolution exists as a identifiable process.

    You say, ” isn’t it the case that warming has stalled over the last 15 or so years?” Well no actually. Atmospherically we have seen a slowing but in the oceans – where up to 95% of all the heat goes – the warming has continued unabated. On top of that, atmospherically 2005 and 2010 are now regarded as the two hottest years on record.

    In addition, if you knew the science you would know that the relation between CO2 and temperature is logarithmic not linear.

    You also say, “One paragraph tells us that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere
    for years, and that ’levels now may cause warming for decades’. But in
    another paragraph we learn that ‘Unless swift action is taken to reduce
    CO2 emissions, the planet will warm by more than 2 degrees”.

    There is a reasons for this. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for decades to hundreds of years. As long as it stays in the atmosphere warming will increase until it reaches equilibrium. Because of this CO2 has impacts that continue well into the future. So, even if we stopped all emissions today, we still have continued warming factored in to the atmosphere.

    That is why we must stop emissions today to slow it into the future. Stopping global warming is like turning a massive ocean going tanker. You can turn the wheel now, but the tanker will keep going straight ahead for a hell of a long way before the turn comes into effect. CO2 has the same kind of atmospheric momentum.

    All that said, I’m sure you won’t be looking to climate scientists for your information but will continue to refer to grumpy grey conservatives who believe that just by saying something that it makes it so. Sadly, ignoring global warming or indulging in magical thinking won’t make it go away.

  • Tim Florin says:

    I presume that when Steerpike talks of consensus that he is talking about consensus about Anthropogenic climate change (ACC), not
    climate change. In addition to my presumption that Steerpike is a he, I will
    also make the assumption that he is not simply trying to stir Don Aitkin into having that seizure mentioned in Don Aitkin’s opening paragraph.

    I assume that Steerpike is deeply concerned about the unsustainably heavy human footprint on the environment, our relentless exploitation of limited resources for agriculture and settlement, and mining for energy and materials. I presume, I am sure correctly, that these same concerns motivate to greater or lesser extent many people, and that this is one cogent reason why Steerpike and others agitate for international research action on ACC.

    However, one does not need a higher degree in science to see that the IPCC-predicted relationship between CO2 and temperature has not been confirmed empirically. CO2 is increasing inexorably but not atmospheric temperature. Steerpike counters that the heat is going into the oceans, but this
    is not the case according to the National (USA government) Oceanic and
    Atmospheric Administration (
    Some consensuses prove to be true, others don’t. It is a logical fallacy to argue by analogy that “the same kind of strong consensus has accepted the benefits of immunisation, ascribed HIV as a the causative agent of AIDS, or determined that smoking is bad.”

    Taken together with the knowledge that our Earth has often been hotter when CO2 was lower, or cooler when CO2 was higher and one can deduce that it is all a bit more complicated. On this point, even James Hansen the father of anthropogenic climate warming alarm admits that temperature goes
    up before atmospheric carbon dioxide rises. Any causality is back-to-front!

    Repetition of the oft-made nonsense assertion that there is scientific consensus about the cause of global warming, does not make the hypothesis true, which is why the direction of environmental research and action should be altered.

    • Steerpike says:

      Tim, I find it fascinating that you direct us to NOAA, where sea temps clearly show a steady rise with some natural variation (as expected) and then claim that there is no consistency with CO2 rises. As I mentioned previously, the link is not linear but logarithmic. Your link validates this point.

      Yes indeed the Earth has been hotter and cooler with similar and less amounts of CO2 but there have also been variations in the sun and the Earth’s tilt that climate scientists have acknowledged and factored into their research. No climate scientist says CO2 by itself is responsible for all the changes. Milankovitch cycles, solar output and a variety of other recognised natural variations account for the changes.

      Of course CO2 lags temperature when we are coming out of ice ages – again as expected. We go into ice ages on a regular basis because of the aforementioned Milankovitch cycles and the tilt of our axis. During an ice age, most of the CO2 gets trapped in the ice and oceans. When we return to the warming phase of the cycle, that CO2 is released from the ice and then it accelerates the warming through the greenhouse effect. We would never leave snowball Earth without that CO2 amplification.

      The fact is, until the last 150 years, global temperatures were trending downwards as we passed the peak of the interglacial and were heading towards the next ice age, many thousands of years hence. No natural variation explains what has happened in the past century-and-a-bit but increasing carbon dioxide does – and very accurately too.

      The consensus of all national scientific bodies around the world tells us how strong the evidence is for AGW. It is only a very few outliers and non climate scientists who believe any differently, with their voices magnified by vested well-monied interests.

      It is not logical fallacy to make comparisons when similar numbers of experts in their fields accept positions around evolution, AIDS and smoking (despite strange science outliers). But when those same numbers of scientists come to a conclusion about climate science there is bizarre resistance to such a consensus. It is simply an illustration of the contradiction that the scientific community can form the same strong judgements around what were once seen as controversial areas of science yet all but climate change is considered settled in the views of those who call themselves AGW sceptics.

      At the same time, none of these sceptics have come up with a verified counter theory that explains why temperatures have increased so dramatically in the past 150 years.

  • Don Aitkin says:


    It seems to me that like many, you see as certain a whole of lot of things that to others are possibilities. And you push together bits that need expansion. The 97% of climate scientists you refer to was 77 of 79 people! Re the warming of the seas — we don’t know how much it is has been warming, and the data are various and not consistent. Likewise the air temperature, but if we use the same measurements there is no doubt that SST and land temps have not gone on rising. All this stuff is conjectural. You may see it as certain, but many don’t, and they’re not obliged to. We still don’t know how long CO2 stays in the atmosphere, nor how much of what is there comes from human activities. Yes, there are estimates, but there are disagreements about them too. And so on.

    No sceptic is obliged to have his or her own theory to explain anything. The notion that climate scientists know all there is to know about climate is surely fatuous. All sceptics do is to point to the errors, inconsistencies and observation/theory weaknesses in AGW, and that is all they are obliged to do.,

  • PeterE says:

    I read this and the comments. I, too, had noticed the ABC slant, which is what one has come to expect. Likewise, the Bloomberg nod to the Al Gore school smacked too much of the orthodoxy. Steerpike’s view was at least an attempt to put the case for CAGW. Taking it all into account, though, I see it as Don 1, Steerpike 0.

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