25 October 2007

Carbon Emissions

In all the debate about "global warming" and the degree humans may have contributed to it through carbon emissions, there is seldom much discussion about the amount of carbon that nature herself puts into the atmosphere. And I think that's because we so seldom see images like the one below --- and, when we do, we usually don't think of them as "carbon emitting events." And we forget that fires like these burn all over the globe, every year. If anyone has come across a rigorous scientific estimate of how much carbon was released into the atmosphere by these California wildfires, and how many automobile engines (or whatever) this translates into, I'd be interested in seeing it.

Given the enormity of such natural contributions to global warming (not only through carbon emissions such as volcanoes and forest fires, but also by increased solar activity), I remain deeply skeptical about the human race's ability to affect climate much beyond the margins. But let's stipulate for a moment that man's carbon emissions do have some impact on climate, and let's even stipulate that this impact is more bad than good. But in making our grand calculations of "our share," let's remember something else: human beings extinguished those California fires and thus prevented a great amount of additional carbon emissions. Imagine how much more carbon would've been released without our efforts; indeed, before human settlement, imagine how much more of those forests burned every year when the Santa Ana winds blew in.

How much of a "carbon offset credit" does the human race get for that?


Laurie said...

Bingo. I am a skeptic -- not necessarily of global warming (although I think it ought to be presented with a footnote reading *Brought to you by the people who brought you The Coming Ice Age in the 70s) but of man's ability to affect such changes. Maybe. It may all be true, but it is definitely a Chicken Little story unfolding right here, true or not. Americans especially get ourselves all adither over concepts we really don't understand, and we'll buy into anything if it's packaged along with sufficient amounts of White Guilt and gloomy predictions.

Zach said...


Also, see the Wikipedia base article on carbon dioxide.

Referenced USGS numbers estimate that the amount of fossil fuel-generated carbon emmissions averages 4-5 times that from volcanic sources.

There's also a quite measurable increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the last several decades.

So, while it's always wise to reserve a grain of salt regarding the latest scientific consensus, it's not as if these questions haven't been asked (and answered) in the open scientific literature.