Friday, July 27, 2018

Oregon's Lead Climate Denier Gets Respiration Wrong

Here's a hoot: Oregon's leading climate change denier, Gordon Fulks, thinks the CO2 from human respiration contributes to climate change.

Here's Fulks' comment on a 7/26 article at Capital Press -- "The West's Ag Weekly Since 1928," titled "Editorial: Avoiding Portland traffic at all costs."

Note the highlighted portion. Fulks thinks human respiration is a sizable portion of human emissions.

Let's just cut to the chase: respiration is carbon neutral. Our bodies don't create carbon atoms, they just recycle them. The CO2 we exhale comes from (1) the CO2 we inhale, (2) the C-O2 joining of molecules where the carbon atom comes from the plants we eat, who themselves inhale carbon, and (3) from the carbon atoms in the meat we eat, which come from the plants eaten by cows, chickens, and pigs (etc), who inhaled CO2.

Respiration -- of ALL living things -- doesn't create carbon or CO2. We just recycle it.

If we (and the other breathing animals going back to 200 Myrs ago or before -- did create CO2, it would have been, with trillions of animals breathing (if not more), building up in the atmosphere and ocean at this time.

Of course, it was not.

It's hard to understand why anyone, denier or not, could get this so wrong.

Especially Fulks, who always makes a point of signing his name with his PhD, and who has more than once pointed out that he has the same education from the same alma mater (U Chicago) as James Hansen -- as if that gives him the same right to an opinion.


But let's play along a little bit. Global CO2 emissions in 2015 were about 38 Gt CO2 -- about 34 Gt CO2 from burning fossil fuels, and the rest from changes in land use.

Oregon's 2015 CO2 emissions, at least from burning fossil fuels, was 38 Mt CO2. That is indeed about 0.1% of global emissions.

Gordon thinks human respiration emits 60 times that, or about 2.3 Gt CO2. Divided by 7 billion people, that's 325 kg CO2/person/yr, or 0.9 kg CO2/person/day.

Which is indeed what I've seen referenced before.

Except none of it is new CO2. It's just recycled carbon atoms attaching to, when they get the chance, oxygen atoms.

It's not fossil carbon, buried for a few hundred million years.

It's carbon already in the atmosphere-land-ocean system, cycling around as carbo does. That's all.

Fulks is flat out wrong.

I wonder if the denier groups he's "affiliated" with -- once the Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon, and, still it appears, and the Heartland Institute -- care that one of their people is making freshman-level errors.

OR maybe they're used to it.


Victor Venema said...

Human biomass is increasing.

Thus we are even a carbon sink.

David Appell said...

Good point, Victor :-)

Anonymous said...

Unless I am reading it wrong, you are in error. I am not ready to comment on the relative numbers quoted in the article or their effect on the atmosphere but our ecosystem is carbon neutral but it is not CO2 neutral (isn't that the whole argument over climate change?)
Respiration is the burning of hydrocarbons, from as you say animal and plant sources, to produce energy with CO2 as a by product. In other words we convert hydrocarbons to CO2 - respiration is carbon neutral but CO2 producing in the sense that carbon is preserved but more CO2, less hydrocarbons. We breathe that new CO2 out into the atmosphere, a small amount of our CO2 being simply recycled by what we breathe in. (Fossil fuel burning is essentially the same process, burning hydrocarbons, and initially carbon neutral except that the carbon as CO2 ultimately leaves our immediate ecosystem).

Photosynthesis is basically the opposite using CO2 to produce hydrocarbons - carbon neutral but CO2 diminishing because it produces more hydrocarbons.
By your argument plants and trees should not mitigate CO2 production - but they do, however much or little the scientists measure.
While the amount of carbon in our world is ultimately unchanged - neutral - (until it leaves the atmosphere) it is the balance between hydrocarbon formation and CO2 production (from obtaining energy by hydrocarbon burning) that determines our CO2 balance. Animal respiration, however small its effect, is part of that.

David Appell said...


You're wrong.

(And have the guts to comment under your real name. Be a man.)

Living bodies do not create carbon atoms. Obviously. They do not create atoms of any sort.


Hence they are just recycling atoms. Plants take up CO2. Animals eat them, taking in that carbon. Humans eat them, taking in that carbon. Humans eat animals, who already took in that carbon. No carbon was created in this process that wasn't in the atmosphere to begin with.

Otherwise you have to explain why the atmospheric CO2 concentration was essentially unchanged over the Holocene at 280 ppmv despite trillions (if not more) of living bodies breathing in and exhaling.

Anonymous said...

You may know about physics and statistics but your knowledge of elementary chemistry is rather lacking.
You are right. Living bodies do not create atoms. Carbon neutral means they do not create carbon. Carbon is an atom.
Inconvenient little fact: CO2 is not an atom. It is a molecule. You don't seem to realize that.
And while living things do not create atoms they do create molecules from atoms. All the time. The concentrations of molecules change all the time. And that changes local concentrations of CO2. One reason the Arizona biosphere failed. A big problem for the Apollo astronauts.
It's actually freshman chemistry.
It's really surprising that as a climate expert you make the mistake of confusing carbon (atom) with CO2 (molecule).
And your question belies more misunderstanding. If living things' expiration of CO2 was the major determinant of atmospheric CO2 the guy you were railing on might have a very good point.
Of course plants metabolizing CO2 is an important variable as well (read today's NY Times if you doubt it)
Atmospheric CO2 is a function of a number of things (fossil fuel burning obviously being an important one). Human biomass is probably not an important one.

Put simply: Plants, animals and microorganisms do not create or destroy carbon. But they refashion it as molecules, CO2 being an important one. And concentrations of CO2 change all the time. It's called the carbon cycle. look it up.

A real man

David Appell said...

"And concentrations of CO2 change all the time."

So why didn't atmospheric CO2 concentrations change during the Holocene, with trillions (more?) of mammals exhaling CO2 into the atmosphere?

Anonymous said...

Yes, into the long-ago atmosphere of trillions of plants, that turned them into the hydrocarbons that are being burned today.
To produce new molecules of CO2, whose special chemical structure as a molecule, not an atom, retards the escape of heat from the atmosphere today. A Holocene equillibrium that is being upset today because the concentration of molecules, unlike atoms, changes. That's the whole point.

I'm withdrawing now, but let me give you a little advice. Don't double down on what you are saying.
Carbon is an atom, neither created or destroyed.
Carbon dioxide is a molecule, created and destroyed all the time.
Elementary chemistry.
By doubling down, you are simply destroying your credibility in areas where you may have an especial knowledge.

David Appell said...

You avoided the most important question.

Why did atmospheric CO2 levels say essentially constant throughout the Holocene, despite trillions (if not more) of animals breathing?


Figures you'd drop out now. How very typical of a denier.

Anonymous said...

I will leave a last comment because you seem to be disregarding some good advice.
1. I answered your question. The atmospheric CO2 stayed constant in the Holocene as I said because plants and animals were in a relative equilibrium between photosynthesis and respiration. I'm sure it is more complicated than that but unlike you I'm not going to go outside my area of knowledge.
2. In this case the most important question is what is the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide. One if an atom, neither created or destroyed. The other is a molecule, whose concentrations are constantly changing, I believe that statement is irrefutable and contrary to what you have been asserting.
3. You will notice I have made no statement about anthropogenic climate change- pro or con. I am certain you don't have the faintest idea of my position, which is basically only tangentially relevant to the subject at hand. I challenge you to cite one thing I've said that you can disprove.
4. Denier - I'm not even going to go there. Other than to say, it sure looks like when the facts don't support your assertions you revert to name-calling.
5. at 1:05

David Appell said...

That's exactly what I've been saying -- plants and animals were in equilibrium during the Holocene.

David Appell said...

Re #2: it's carbon that is the relevant atom here -- hence it's called the "carbon cycle."

Carbon atoms cycle around between atmo, plants, soil and ocean, attaching to various things along the way, depending on where they are.

You still haven't proved that respiration creates CO2. Or given any evidence of that.

PS: If you're Gordon F, be a real scientist and sign your name to your science.

David Appell said...

Re #4: I thought you said you were scampering off....

Anonymous said...

Your blog. You get the last word.
But I would fail a seventh grader who wrote this:

"You still haven't proved that respiration creates CO2. Or given any evidence of that."

David Appell said...

And you STILL haven't proven it.

Deniers never do.

Run away now.