Reducing CO2 Emissions to Reverse Global Warming

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Reducing CO2 Emissions to Reverse Global Warming

We know that Global Warming can be reduced during the years of the century ahead of us if we — our civilization — steadily reduces its emissions of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) into the atmosphere.

Given a specific rate for the reduction of anthropogenic (our CO2) emissions:

— how long will it take to return Earth’s average temperature to its unperturbed pre-industrial level?, and

— how much higher will Global Warming (Earth’s temperature) become before it begins to decrease?

Answering these questions is the subject of my recent study. This work is based on a Carbon Balance Model, which I described in an earlier report. [1]

That model has been further refined in order to address these questions, and the details of that refinement are described in a technical report. [2]

Prior to the buildup of anthropogenic CO2 emissions in the air, the fluxes of CO2 released by the respiration of Life-on-Earth; and the fluxes of CO2 absorbed from the air by photosynthesis, the surface waters of the oceans, and rock weathering chemical reactions; were in balance. That balance is known as the Carbon Cycle.

As the rate and buildup of anthropogenic emissions increased (after ~1750, but particularly from the mid-20th century), the Carbon Cycle was perturbed out of balance, and the magnitude of that imbalance is determined by the difference between two effects: Anthropogenic Sources, and Stimulated Sinks.

The Anthropogenic Sources are:

— the CO2 emissions by the human activities of fossil-fueled energy generation and industry, and

— the CO2 emissions from land use changes (deforestation and its attendant increase of wildfires).

The Stimulated Sinks are the additional absorption of CO2 by photosynthesis and the surface waters of the oceans, because of higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2. At a sufficiently high level of atmospheric CO2 concentration, both these sinks will saturate — stop absorbing CO2. What that “sufficiently high level” is remains uncertain.

The work summarized here includes more realistic (more complicated) models of these source and sink terms in the rate equation for the change of the Carbon Balance over time.

Now I am able to quantitatively link specific rates of the reduction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, to consequent projected histories of the slowing and then reversal of Global Warming.

Such quantitative linkages have long been featured in the super-computer models of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, by the major Climate Science institutes; but now I have my own quantitative version of this correlation, which is analytical (expressed as math formulas, and enumerated with a hand calculator and basic home computer).

Anthropogenic CO2 emissions in year 2020 are 42.2GtCO2/y (42.2 giga-metric-tons of CO2 per year = 42.2*10^+12 kilograms/year). This magnitude of total anthropogenic emissions, E, is the addition of our fossil-fueled and land use emissions.

I considered three cases of the intentional steady reduction of annual human-caused CO2 emissions, which are defined to decrease exponentially. The characteristic decay time of each case is: 40 years (CASE 1, a 2.5% annual reduction), 100 years (CASE 2, a 1% annual reduction), and 200 years (CASE 3, a 0.5% annual reduction).

Emissions would be reduced to half their initial rate in 28 years for CASE 1; in 69 years for CASE 2; and in 139 years for CASE 3.

If each of these reduction plans were alternatively initiated in the year 2020, then:

CASE #1, ∆t=40y:

This trend reaches a peak of 449ppm and +1.32°C in year 2048 (in 28 years); it remains above 440ppm and +1.25°C over the years 2032 to 2064 (between 12 to 44 years from now); then descends to 350ppm and +0.56°C in year 2120 (in 100 years); and 300ppm and +0.18°C in year 2140 (in 120 years).

CASE #2, ∆t=100y:

This trend reaches a peak plateau of 485ppm and +1.6°C over the years 2078 to 2088 (between 58 and 68 years from now); it remains above 480ppm and +1.56°C during years 2066 to 2100 (between 46 and 80 years from now); it descends to 350ppm and +0.56°C in year 2202 (in 182 years); and 300ppm and +0.18°C in year 2225 (in 205 years).

CASE #3, ∆t=200y:

This trend reaches a peak plateau of 524ppm and +1.9°C over the years 2125 to 2135 (between 105 and 115 years from now); it remains above 500ppm and +1.72°C between years 2075 and 2190 (between 55 and 170 years from now); and descends down to 360ppm and +0.64°C in year 2300 (in 280 years).

Message to the Humans

The singular challenge for the progressive political and social elements of our civilization is to awaken the rest of the world — and particularly the “developed” and “developing” high-emissions nations — to a full commitment (demonstrated by action) to steadily and significantly reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions for the rest of human history.

The sooner such reduction programs are initiated, and the greater the vigor with which they are implemented, the sooner we will begin slowing the advance of Global Warming and its continuing erosion of the habitability of Planet Earth, which humans have enjoyed for over 2 million years, and particularly since the end of the Ice Ages (~11,000 year ago).

With decades to a century of discipline applied to this purpose, we can even reverse Global Warming. The longer we wait to do this, the worse the consequences we will have to suffer through, and the longer it would take to extricate our species — and so many other wonderful forms of Life-on-Earth — from the Hell-on-Earth we are creating by our willful and destructive ignorance.

I can only imagine such major programs of CO2 emissions reductions being synonymous with the economic, political and social uplift of the vast majority of people, because Global Warming is directly caused by the unbounded economic, political and social exploitation of the many by the few.

The fact is that we all live on the same planet, and whatever happens to it — whether worsening conflagration and flooding in the now, or eventual cooling and restoration by human commitment — will affect everybody. There is no guaranteed escape.

The CO2 accumulation model that I have described here is just this old scientist’s way of saying: We can do so much better for ourselves, and our children deserve that we try.

NOTES

[1] A Carbon Balance Model of Atmospheric CO2
11 September 2020, [PDF file]
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/a-carbon-balance-model-of-atmospheric-co2.pdf

[2] Trends for Reducing Global Warming
15 September 2020, [PDF file]
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/trends-for-reducing-global-warming.pdf

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

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Anthropogenic CO2 Emissions Are Fate

I developed a model of Global Warming based on the anthropogenic perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. The essence of this model is a rate equation for the evolution of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere.

The interesting results from this model are projected trends for the CO2 concentration and the average global temperature during the next century. The character of those trends — whether rapid rises, shallow plateaus, or diminishment into the future — depend crucially on the magnitude of our civilization’s emissions of CO2, and whether those anthropogenic emissions increase or decrease with time. In the real world at present, they are increasing.

I have now been able to include the effect of linearly increasing or decreasing anthropogenic emissions into my Carbon Balance Model, which has been significantly improved.

This model also includes the effect of the increase in the rate at which atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by photosynthesis and the surface waters of the oceans, because those absorption rates are increasingly stimulated by the higher levels of CO2 in the air. This process of absorption-enhancement cannot continue indefinitely as the atmospheric CO2 concentration increases, but at what point of elevated CO2 concentration it saturates and then absorption largely shuts down, is unknown.

The third process included in the model is that of the slow absorption of atmospheric CO2 by the chemical reactions of weathering on the surfaces of rocks and soils. CO2 not “quickly” scavenged from the air by photosynthesis or the surface waters of the oceans will stay airborne for 12,000 to 14,000 years. The ~2,500ppm spike of atmospheric CO2 that occurred 55.5 million years ago took 200,000 years to clear away. That geological episode is known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). At that time there was no ice at the poles, instead they were jungles and swamps with crocodiles. The global temperature at the peak of the PETM was as much as +12°C to +18°C warmer than in our pre-industrial 18th century.

I made three case studies from this model, called E-growth, E-flat, and E-fall.

E-growth

The E-growth case is driven by a relentlessly steady rise of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, based on the average upward trend of those emissions between years 1960 and 2020.

This trend arrives at 470ppm of atmospheric CO2, and a warming of +1.5°C (above pre-industrialization), in the year 2038 (in 18 years). It arrives 540ppm and +2°C in year 2055 (in 35 years); and it arrives at 800ppm and +4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-flat

The E-flat case is driven by a constant annual rate of 42.2GtCO2/y of anthropogenic emissions (42.2 giga-metric-tons of CO2 emissions per year), which is the rate in year 2020.

It arrives at 470ppm and +1.5°C in year 2041 (in 21 years); and 540ppm and +2°C in year 2070 (in 50 years); and 600ppm and +2.5°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

E-fall

The E-fall case is driven by a steady linear reduction of anthropogenic emissions over 40 years: from 42.2GtCO2/y in 2020, to 0GtCO2/y in 2060; a reduction of 1.05GtCO2 every year for 40 years. This amount of annual reduction is 2.5% of the total anthropogenic emissions in year 2020. In this scenario, after year 2060 we would continue our civilization with zero CO2 emissions from our human activities.

This trend rises to 437ppm and +1.23°C during years 2035 to 2040 (from 15 to 20 years in the future) after which both fall. It arrives back down to 407ppm and +1°C in year 2059 (in 39 years); and 320ppm and +0.4°C in year 2100 (in 80 years).

Finally

In this year of 2020, we are presently at 417ppm and +1.08°C.

The math and physics details of this new work, as well as graphs of the trends calculated from it, are shown in the report (PDF file) linked at

A Carbon Balance Model of Atmospheric CO2
11 September 2020

Click to access a-carbon-balance-model-of-atmospheric-co2.pdf

 

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Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Oakland, California, 10:15 AM, 9 September 2020, “Burning Land Eclipse”

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Possible Future Trends of CO2 Concentration and Global Temperature

Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution (~1750), because increasingly voluminous fluxes of that gas have been exhausted from the lands and the oceans, and are beyond the capacity of natural CO2 sinks to absorb completely.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon would cycle through a variety of processes that sustained the continuation of life, death, evolution and rebirth, and that all meshed into one grand balance. That balance is called the Carbon Cycle.

The explosive growth of human activity, numbers, exosomatic power, economic wealth, military overkill, and hubristic political pretensions, all spring from the access to and profligate use of heat-energy liberated from fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the exhaust fume from our Promethean exertions for greater conquests — and wealth.

The carbon dioxide exhausted by our civilization’s generation of heat-energy, and from our massive exploitation of once virgin land areas, is an increasingly destabilizing perturbation of the Carbon Cycle. This perturbation is called Anthropogenic Emissions.

The imbalance of the Carbon Cycle reverberates through the natural world in many ways that are increasingly harmful and dangerous to Planet Earth’s habitability for ourselves and for many other animal and plant species. The central reality of this complex of growing threats to the viability of the Biosphere is called Global Warming.

Carbon dioxide gas traps heat radiated towards space, as infrared radiation from the surface of Planet Earth, reducing our planet’s ability to regulate its temperature by cooling to compensate for the influx of solar light that is absorbed by the lands and the oceans, and stored by them as heat.

Because of the existential implications of runaway global warming — as well as the intrinsic fascination to curious minds of such a richly complex and grand human-entwined natural phenomenon — scientists have been studying global warming, and its impact on the biosphere, which is called Climate Change.

While scientists of all kinds are excited to share their findings on climate change and impress their colleagues with their new insights, members of the public are singularly interested to know how climate change will affect their personal futures. Can science offer them clear and reliable answers to their questions — and fears — and provide practical remedies and technological inoculations to ward off the threats by climate change to our existing ways of life?

Science does what it can to offer practical insights and helpful recommendations, and humanity does what it usually does when faced with a collective existential crisis: it hides from the inconvenience of drastically changing its personal attitudes and societal structures, which is in fact the only way it would be able to navigate the majority of Earth’s people through the transition to a new social paradigm; a new, sustainable and harmonious relationship between human life and Planet Earth.

While I am grateful to all the professional climate scientists — and their related life scientists who study many aspects of this complex of geophysical processes and biological organisms and systems — for making known so much of the workings of the globally warming biosphere, I am nevertheless curious to gain a quantitative understanding of it all for myself. To that end, I have devised my own phenomenological thermodynamic “toy models” of global warming. The sequence of my reports charting the evolution of my quantitative understanding of global warming, are listed at [1].

My newest report describes a rate equation for the accumulation or loss of atmospheric CO2 over the course of future time. This equation is derived from considerations of recent data on the Carbon Cycle (from the Global Climate Project), along with some mathematical assumptions about the relationships used to quantify “carbon dioxide sweepers,” the processes that scavenge atmospheric CO2.

The results of this work are projections of possible future histories of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, as well as a projection of the most likely trend of rising average global temperature.

The complete report on the new work (of which this is just a brief summary) is available at [2].

As is true of all future-casts, we will just have to wait till then to see if they were accurate, assuming we don’t do anything beforehand — collectively — to avoid the worst possibilities.

Such is the dance with the chaos and nonlinearity of the approaching future.

From the general mathematical result of this model, three possible future trends of CO2 concentration history were calculated:

CASE #1, “business as usual,” anthropogenic emissions continue at today’s level indefinitely;

CASE #2, anthropogenic emissions are immediately reduced to the point of holding CO2 concentration constant at today’s level, indefinitely;

CASE #3, anthropogenic emissions are immediately reduced to a trickle, so as to reduce the excess of CO2 in the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

Also, the trend of rising global temperature that accompanies CASE #1 was calculated.

CASE #1 is a pure growth trend, from 407.4ppm to 851.8ppm over the course of about 3,000 years (ppm = parts per million of concentration in the atmosphere).

CASE #2 requires that the anthropogenic emission rate be ~50% of the current rate (or 21GtCO2/y instead of 41GtCO2/y; for the units GtCO2/y defined as giga-metric-tonnes of CO2 emission per year).

This reduced rate of anthropogenic emission would just keep the CO2 concentration at 407.4ppm (from the beginning of 2019) into the near distant future (~1,600 years, and beyond), during which time the excess heat-energy presently in the biosphere would continue to degrade our weather, climate, environments, biodiversity, and planetary habitability.

CASE #3 would clear away the current excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, and then continue to reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration to a very low level over the course of about 700 years. This would require that anthropogenic emissions be immediately reduced to about one-fifth (1/5) of their current levels, and maintained at or below that level indefinitely.

The implication is clear: if we wish to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere we have to reduce our anthropogenic emissions well below 50% of what they are today, maintain that discipline indefinitely, and wait centuries to millennia to achieve a significant reduction.

The global temperature excursion (above the average global temperature of the pre-industrial world) that accompanies CASE #1 rises steadily, though at a diminishing rate, from +1°C in 2019, to nearly +2.6°C in 2300 (~300 years). Along the way it passes +1.5°C in year 2065 (in ~40 years), and it passes +2°C in year 2120 (in ~100 years).

Global temperature would rise higher and sooner if the absorption rates of CO2 by photosynthesis and the oceans did not continue increasing — as they do today — in proportion to the increases in the atmospheric concentration of CO2. At present, increased CO2 concentration stimulates increased CO2 absorption. The model here assumes this is always true, but in reality this “sink growth” effect may saturate (be limited) at some higher level of CO2 concentration. Whether any such saturation limit on the absorption (sink) rate exists or not, is unknown.

If the +1.5°C and +2°C temperature rise milestones are truly to be avoided then it is imperative that anthropogenic emissions be drastically reduced immediately. As yet there is no sign that such reductions will occur.

The physics and mathematics of all this are fascinating, but the implications for civilization and life-on-Earth are stark.

NOTES

[1] One Year of Global Warming Reports by MG,Jr.
15 July 2020
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/07/15/one-year-of-global-warming-reports-by-mgjr/
Updated to 7 September 2020

[2] A Rate Equation for Accumulation or Loss of Atmospheric CO2
5 September 2020 (revised 9 September 2020)
[take a copy]
Rate Equation for Atmospheric CO2 (revised)

or view directly:

Click to access rate-equation-for-atmospheric-co2-revised.pdf

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The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere

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The Improbability of CO2 Removal from the Atmosphere

The concentration of carbon dioxide gas in today’s atmosphere is 417ppm (parts per million). There are 10^44 gas molecules in the entire atmosphere (78% diatomic nitrogen, 21% diatomic oxygen, 1% everything else), so 1ppm is equivalent to 10^38 gas particles. The 417ppm of CO2 represents a total of 4.17×10^40 molecules.

Some people hope for new technology to remove carbon dioxide gas from Earth’s atmosphere, and then forestall the advance of global warming, or even completely eliminate it. I see this as improbable because I think any such technology would be extremely inefficient at CO2 removal, and be energy intensive as well. The process of gaseous diffusion, as with the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, requires no energy; the gases just mix, spread and dilute, and the entropy of the atmosphere increases. It is an “irreversible process” in the parlance of chemical thermodynamics. This means that the spontaneous un-mixing of gases and their re-concentration into separate volumes has never been observed. Energy must be invested to effect any such desired separation of component gases in a mixture. To explore the possibility of CO2 removal, I have quantified my sense of improbability about it, and describe that here.

Consider a hypothetical CO2 removal machine that is a tube with a filter box in the middle. Air is fanned into the tube, flows into the filter box where some of its CO2 is removed, and then flows out of the tube to rejoin the atmosphere and to slightly reduce the global average concentration of CO2. Energy is supplied to entrain air into the device, and energy is supplied to power the unspecified process that effects the CO2 removal within the filter box. The machine would operate continuously so that over time all the atmosphere would be filtered and de-carbonized.

This would be a very large machine, and most likely be a large array of identical or similar units all over the world that would comprise a composite machine. I will describe this composite as if it were a single tube. [1]

Machine #1

This machine has a filter cross-sectional area of 10,000 km^2 (10^10 m^2) into which air is fanned through at 1meter/second (2.24mph). Producing that continuous mass flow from still air requires 16GW of power, assuming an efficiency of 40% (from raw power into moving air). The filtration process is assumed to consume 40GW (1% of the power used by the United States) and be 1% effective at CO2 removal. The anthropogenic emission of CO2, at its current rate of 35.5GT/year (giga metric tons per year), is assumed to continue indefinitely (the economy!), with the oceans absorbing 29% of those emissions (10.4GT/y).

At the end of 10 years of continuous operation Machine #1 would have cleared 3.26ppm of CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere, at a cost of 1.77×10^19 Joules of energy (4.92×10^12 kilowatt-hours). Reducing the CO2 concentration to the pre-industrial level of 280ppm would require 507.6 years.

Machine #2

Clearly, improvements are required for Machine #1. So, we assume that 10% efficiency of CO2 removal can be effected by investing 400GW (10% of the power used by the United States) into the filter box. Now, the power consumption is 416GW for Machine #2. After 10 years of continuous operation 31.5ppm of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere (bringing the concentration down to 386ppm), at an energy cost of 1.31×10^20 Joules (3.64×10^13kWh). Reducing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 back to 280ppm would require 51 years. This might seem promising except for the fact that the assumed 10% efficiency is pure fantasy.

Machine #3, All Earth’s Lands

To regain a sense of reality, consider the actual performance of the entire land surface of the Earth (1.489×10^14 m^2) acting as a CO2 removal filter. This was the case in the clearing of 2500ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere over the course of 200,000 years during the geologically brief episode of explosive global warming 55.5 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). I described the PETM and cited numerous public-access scientific references to it in [2].

Using the same rate of CO2 removal (the e-folding time) as occurred during the PETM, in my formulation of CO2 removal machines, it transpires that the efficiency of removal by the Earth-filter (rock weathering reactions in the long term) is 8.6×10^-8 (0.0000086%). After 10 years, this Earth-machine would clear 0.42ppm of the atmospheric CO2 (bringing the level down from 417ppm to 416.6ppm). That level would be reduced to 280ppm in 3,984 years.

Machine #4

Hope in technology springs eternal for some, so maybe our Machine #2 even with a realistic efficiency can better the clearing-time set by the Earth, natural Machine #3. We accept an efficiency of 1.474×10^-7 (0.00001474%), invest 1.31×10^19 Joules of energy every year at a rate of 416GW of continuous power, and after 10 years find 0ppm of CO2 removal! In fact however long we run this machine there will always be 0ppm of CO2 removal, because the rate of technological removal is equalled by the rate of anthropogenic emissions. Reaching 280ppm is literally infinitely far away.

Machine #5

Maybe by some technological breakthrough the efficiency can be raised by a factor of 100, to 1.474×10^-5 (0.001474%). Then in 100 years Machine #5 would have cleared 0.0478ppm of atmospheric CO2 (reducing the level from 417ppm to 416.95ppm) for an investment of 1.31×10^21 Joules (3.64×10^14kWh). Achieving 280ppm would require 348,577 years. It’s hard to beat the Earth at its own game.

Best Course of Action

It should be obvious by now that our best course of action is to apply our energy resources to the betterment of our many societies and the equalization of living standards worldwide, and to the transformation of our economic activities for minimal CO2 emissions. The current catch-phrase for this transformation is “degrowth.”

During this pandemic year of 2020, the U.S. GDP shrank by 33%, and the CO2 emissions by the United States also shrank by the same proportion. Worldwide CO2 emissions shrank by 17%. Zero emissions require zero GPD, as we now know it.

Global warming will advance and its consequences will add great stresses to many human, animal and plant populations. This geophysical process could be experienced as “the collapse of civilization,” or it could be taken as a collective challenge to advance human civilization by bonds of solidarity, and the restoration of its reverence for the natural world. If we put our energy into fashioning that imperfect utopia, we would live through global warming with a justifiable sense of pride, and even have fun.

Notes

[1] Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
8 August 2020
Stream Tube CO2 Removal Machine
or
https://manuelgarciajr.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/stream-tube-co2-removal-machine.pdf

[2] Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

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Our Globally Warming Civilization

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Our Globally Warming Civilization

The 150 years of the Industrial Revolution (~1770-1920), with its catastrophic and bloody termination in World War I (1914-1918), had no noticeable effect on the global average temperature, which had hovered around 14.7 degrees Centigrade (C) since antiquity. The human population had taken 200,000 years (more or less) to grow to one billion (1B), in 1804, within the natural and majestic evolution of global climates during those 2000 centuries, (1).

By 1927, the human population had increased to 2B. The 1920s were economic boom years in the Industrialized World (give or take some post WWI German misery, the Russian Revolution, and Chinese civil warfare) with the liquid petroleum replacing the solid coal as the fossil fuel of choice for transportation vehicles; and the explosion in the craving for, and manufacture and use of, internal combustion engines and the automobiles powered by them.

After 1927 the rate of population growth increased from what it had been on average during the previous 123 years (about 8 million per year, ~8M/yr) to an average rate of 29M/yr, to accumulate another 0.7B people in the 26 years up to 1953, when the population was 2.7B. Those 26 years between 1927 and 1953 spanned the crescendo of the Roaring ‘20s, the capitalist economic collapse of 1929, the Great Depression (1929-1942), World War II (1939-1945), the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and the Chinese Communist Revolution and Civil War (1946-1949).

I estimate that the cumulative amount of petroleum produced (pumped out and used up) by 1953 was 98.6 billion barrels (98.6 giga-barrels, 98.6Gb), (2). This implies that since about 1900, when civilization’s use of petroleum as a fuel began in earnest, it consumed 602 giga-GJ (602 x 10^18 Joules) of energy (equivalent to 168 mega-GWh = 168 x 10^9 MWh = 168 giga-mega-watt-hours) to power itself up to 1953, (3).

By 1960, the world’s human population had reached 3B, and the rate of population growth was accelerating (having been about 43M/year during the previous 7 years). From 1960 to the present day, the trend of cumulative production of petroleum, Q, has been proportional to the rising trend of human population, in the ratio of 272 barrels of oil per person (272 b/p).

Specifically, my approximating formula for Q, the accumulated production of oil in giga-barrels (Q, in Gb), given as a function of the population in billions (P, in B) for a given year within the interval 1960 to 2025 is:

Q(year) = [P(year) – 2.7B] x (272 b/p).

This approximation gives an accumulated production up to 2015 (with population 7.35B) of

Q(2015) = 1265Gb, (approximation).

By integrating the actual production rate-per-year curve (the “Hubbert curve” for world production, in GB/yr) given by Laherrere (2), I find the actual accumulated production up to 2015 to be:

Q(2015) = 1258Gb, (actual).

The rate of oil production is now likely at its peak of between 25 Gb/yr to 35 Gb/yr during this 20 year interval between 2005 and 2025, (2),(4). Thereafter, it should drop rapidly since current oil fields have diminishing production, there have been no major oil field discoveries since the 1970s and the frequency of discovery has steadily diminished since then. That means that over half of Earth’s original total reserves, estimated at 2,200Gb (2), have already been extracted. The “end-of-oil” seems destined for the last two decades of the 21st century.

Assuming all that oil was burned, up to the year 2015 (115 years since 1900), civilization would have used 7,674GGJ, (7,674 x 10^18 Joules), equivalent to 2,139GMWh, (2,139 x 10^15 Watt-hours) of energy, derived from that 1258Gb of petroleum, to power itself.

That burning would have released 398,786Gkg (~4 x 10^14 kg = ~400 giga tonnes) of CO2, (5). At present (May 2019) there are about 3,250 giga tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere, with an average concentration of 415 parts per million by volume (415ppmv), (6). 1228 G tonnes of that CO2 is excess above the pre-industrial amount in the atmosphere. The ~400 G tonnes estimated here as the accumulated emissions from the prior burning of petroleum (up to about 2015) is only about one-third of the excess atmospheric CO2.

There are numerous other processes in our civilization, as well as in the natural world, that cause the emission of carbon-dioxide and its atmospheric retention in excess amounts. The main sources of CO2 emissions are the exhalations from aerobic respiration by all of Earth’s living heterotrophs, decaying plants, and volcanic eruptions. Other sources include: the burning of coal and natural gas, forest and vegetation fires caused naturally and by slash-and-burn agriculture, the bubbling out of CO2 from warming oceans no longer able to dissolve as much of that gas as before, and the massive amount of past and continuing forest clearing that has reduced Earth’s natural system of CO2 uptake — photosynthesis. The cement industry is one of the two largest producers of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, creating up to 5% of worldwide man-made emissions of this gas, of which 50% is from the chemical process and 40% from burning fuel, (7).

Methane (CH4) is a very potent greenhouse gas, being 30 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. “For each degree that Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands — the primary sources of the gas — will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide from these sources.” (8) Other sources of methane emissions are: rotting organic wastes, termite colonies, and bovine flatulence from industrialized agricultural sites. The globally warmed thawing Arctic tundra is now a region of major methane eruptions.

Up until 1974, when the human population had reached 4B, Earth’s climate system had yet to become feverish over the previous 200,000 years of collective human activity. However, at about that time the average global temperature began increasing at a historically unprecedented rate because of civilization’s heated and organic outgassing, a process which continues today as anthropogenic global warming, (9).

In fact, the date at which collective human activity began to affect and alter Earth’s climate system has now been pinpointed to somewhere between October to December 1965. That date marks the end of the Holocene Epoch of geologic history (which began 11,700 years previously, after the last Ice Age), and the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch — the epoch of human-affected climate, globally. The physical phenomenon marking this transition is that Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope released during open-air atomic and nuclear bomb explosions between 1945 and 1963, had finally dispersed uniformly around the globe, and become absorbed into tree tissues even in the remotest parts of the world, thus recording that uniformity (10).

Between 1960 and 2025, the three rising trends of: population (P), cumulative oil production (Q), and increase of average global temperature above baseline (T – 14.7C = delta-T), are all uniformly proportional to one another.

Specifically (for years between 1960 and 2025) T, P and Q are related to each other as follows:

[T(year) – 14.7C] = [P(year) – 2.7B]/3.3B = [Q(year)/(900 Gb)],

where the forms above are each equivalent to a temperature difference relative to the baseline of 14.7C (delta-T, in degrees C).

Notice that if T = 15.7C, and P = 6B, and Q = 900 Gb, then the equality above holds, with: 1 = 1 = 1. This particular condition actually occurred during 1999.

During this 65 year interval, a 1 degree C rise in temperature (above 14.7C) is coincident with a 3.3B increase in population (above its 1953 level of 2.7B), which in turn is coincident with a production (and use) of 900Gb of petroleum.

The population is growing from 3B in 1960 to an expected 8B in 2028 during this 68 year interval, with an average population increase of +73.5M/yr. Within these 68 years, and especially during the 55 years from 1970 to 2025, the rising trends of (T – 14.7C), (P – 2.7B)/3.3B, and Q/(900Gb) are in lockstep. This period — with explosive population growth, depletion of over half of the Earth’s petroleum endowment, and with an unprecedented rate of global warming — began in the last year of the Eisenhower Administration, 1960, when John Kennedy was elected US President, and extends right up to the present (and beyond it).

The average global temperature will have climbed up from ~15C to ~16.2C during this interval, a relative rise of 1.4C, and a rise of ~1.5C (delta-T = ~1.5C) above the pre-industrial temperature, defined here as 14.7C (58.46 degrees Fahrenheit). That 1.5C (2.7F) warming above the pre-industrial temperature represents a tremendous amount of heat energy diffused throughout the biosphere, and the deleterious effects of that excess heat are self-evident to all: the altering of climate; the powering of violent weather; the heating and acidifying (with absorbed CO2) of the oceans, sterilizing them of marine life; the melting of glaciers and thawing of tundras; the causing of carbon dioxide and methane to bubble out of solution and frozen capture in the natural world (in a vicious feedback loop); the expansion of disease pathogens and tropical parasites; and the added stresses to both wild and farmed vegetation, and increased desertification, which result in human hunger and desperate migrations of impoverished refugees.

Now, our civilization is starting to suffocate in the lingering heat of its previous exhalations. The singular challenge to our species and to our political economies is what to do, collectively, about global warming. That challenge remains largely unanswered, and tragically denied by too many people .

Notes

1. World population is estimated to have reached one billion for the first time in 1804. It was another 123 years before it reached two billion in 1927, but it took only 33 years to reach three billion in 1960. The global population reached four billion in 1974 (14 years later), five billion in 1987 (13 years later), six billion in 1999 (12 years later), and seven billion in October 2011 (12 years later), according to the United Nations, or in March 2012 (13 years later), according to the United States Census Bureau.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

World population by year
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/

2. Jean Laherrere, World Crude Oil Production, (brown line), April 2015
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/World_crude_discovery_production_U-2200Gb_LaherrereMar2015.jpg

3. The energy released from combusting 1 barrel of oil is 6.1 giga-joules (6.1 GJ), which equals 1.7 MWh (1.7 mega-watt-hour).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_of_oil_equivalent

4. Worldwide, around 92.6 million barrels of oil were produced daily in 2017.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/265203/global-oil-production-since-in-barrels-per-day/
~73 million barrels/day in 1998, rising since.
73 Mb/day = 26.7 Gb/yr (1998)
93 Mb/day = 34.0 Gb/yr (2017)
During 20 years of production (1998-2017) the rate rose 20 Mb/day = +1 MB/day/year

5. Burning one barrel of petroleum can produce between 317kg (realistically) to 433kg (theoretically) of CO2:
Realistic
http://numero57.net/2008/03/20/carbon-dioxide-emissions-per-barrel-of-crude/
Theoretical
https://www.answers.com/Q/How_much_CO2_produced_by_burning_one_barrel_of_oil
Therefore, the CO2 emitted by combusting 1b = 317kg CO2.

6. As of January 2007, the earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentration is about 0.0383% by volume (383 ppmv) or 0.0582% by weight. This represents about 2.996×10^12 tonnes (1 tonne = 1000kg), and is estimated to be 105 ppm (37.77%) above the pre-industrial average (~278 ppmv).
https://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/math-how-much-co2-by-weight-in-the-atmosphere/

415 ppmv of atmospheric CO2, as of May 2019
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere

Therefore:
(415/383) x 3000 G tonnes = 3,250 G tonnes, (May 2019).

7. Environmental impact of concrete
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_concrete

8. Methane is roughly 30 times more potent than CO2 as a heat-trapping gas
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111724.htm

9. I first constructed the simplified plot of average global temperature in 2004, using data from public sources. Details about that construction and the data used are given at:
Population, Oil and Global Warming, 31 May 2019 (15 March 2004)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/05/31/population-oil-and-global-warming/

10. The Anthropocene Epoch began sometime between October and December 1965.
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/02/23/the-anthropocenes-birthday/

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