But Volcanoes

Andy Lacis provides an interesting framework for a response to the common But volcanoes:

The several hundred million tons of CO2 that volcanic eruptions may be injecting into the atmosphere is indeed a large number – probably more than what the entire fleet of trucks in the UK could handle. But this is scarcely a drop in the bucket when compared to what humans are contributing to the level of atmospheric CO2.

Examine the numbers that the fossil fuel companies are publishing. The fossil fuel companies like to keep track of who is the top producer producing what, and how much. Their recent figures show that the current extraction of coal, gas, and oil is about 10 gigatons of carbon equivalent per year.

Few people bother to estimate what a gigaton of coal might look like, or how many trips might be needed to haul a gigaton with their pickup truck. A cubic meter of water weighs one ton, and coal is not that much denser than water. So, a gigaton of coal (being one billion tons) would constitute a cube of coal 1 km on a side. For perspective, that is 10 football fields to the left, 10 football fields to straight ahead, and 10 football fields straight up in the air. The fossil fuel companies are extracting 10 such cubes of carbon from the Earth each year. And, the humans burn up every bit of those 10 cubic km of carbon to keep their civilization going.

When carbon burns, one molecule of oxygen is replaced by one molecule of CO2. The atmosphere contains about 200,000 ppm of oxygen. Burning the 10 cubic km of carbon converts about 5 ppm of oxygen into 5 ppm of CO2.

Within a few decades, about half of the 5 ppm of CO2 that is being added to the atmosphere each year gets absorbed by the ocean and the biosphere, leaving an increment of about 2.5 ppm that the atmospheric CO2 is observed to be rising by.

Keep in mind that the Earth is finite in all respects. Fossil fuel extraction at the rate of 10 cubic km/year cannot continue indefinitely. Nor would you want the Earth’s oxygen level to keep going south at the rate of 5 ppm/year.

Source: Judy’s

Preparing for the next ClimateBall ™ episode can be done one canned response at a time.

If someone could distill that response in 140 characters, that would be nice.


  1. This does feed into the mistaken if understandable belief that burning carbon materially reduces the amount of oxygen available in a practical sense.

    Even multiplying the CO2 thirty-fold, which is enough to start having direct health effects ("close the window, it's getting stuffy in here") would reduce O2 in the atmosphere by an amount comparable to the different oxygen partial pressure at the top and bottom of a tall elevator.

  2. One may say that one canned answer at a time is what SkS does. I had hoped climateball could go a bit deeper. In any case, I think the answer can be improved upon.

    140 chars? Hmm. That's harder .

    "New evidence suggests preindustrial CO2 was in balance w/ twice volcanic input as previously thought. Human input remains 100% additional."

  3. > I had hoped climateball could go a bit deeper.

    Of course it can. Depends if we speak strategies, tactics, or moves. For an example of a tactical explanation, let me remind us of facing ridiculous claims.

    Climateball is as deep or shallow as Climateball players choose. This is just a move that can come handy. Also, don't forget modularity: think inside the box.

    As for the "but SkS already does it," Bach already composed enough for a lifetime of listening, Andy already writes about climate, Josh already draws cartoons, etc.

    How many "But" pages would you need to prepare to have a decent playbook?

  4. First try:

    > Andy Lacis: Extracting 10 cubic km of carbon and adding 5 ppm of CO2 per year cannot continue indefinitely - http://planet3.org/2014/07/06/but-volcanoes Tagline?


    I have 8 chars left for a call to action. Any ideas?

  5. How many "But" pages would you need to prepare to have a decent playbook?

    One hundred and seventy-six. Enough to make a novella-length playbook.


    But that's only the Buts. The Ifs, Ands & Yabuts are sufficient to expand the scope of the playbook to Biblical proportions.

  6. Get rid of "Andy Lacis: " and "indefinitely" and add the hashtag


    But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.

    Keynes http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes

    Extracting 10 cubic km of carbon and adding 5 ppm of CO2/yr cannot continue indefinitely #inthelongrunwearealldead http://t.co/XPny5ThQaD— Andy Skuce (@andyskuce) July 8, 2014

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