Secrets and fact of CO2

Let’s deal with something simple; basic science, nothing complicated. A 6 year old can handle this measurement (meaning: if anyone denies this level of science, discard them as unreliable or silly): Air gets trapped in ice. Go to your freezer, take out an ice cube and look. You’ll see air bubbles. Those air bubbles may be compressed, they may be large or small. What each air bubble is, is a perfect proportion of the air surrounding the ice as it formed. It cannot change the air around it when formed. Period. Basic 1st grade physics. Don’t understand that? Stop reading, go back to school.

All over the planet there is ice, ice floes, ice glaciers, floating sea-ice, ice in caves. All that ice has bubbles. In some places, the ice is laid down in layers, each calendar year, as snow or rain turns to ice. The layers — like the rings of a tree — give you perfectly accurate measurement of time. Take an ice core in Greenland and you can go back 200,000 years. In Antarctica, go back even further. Now, test the air bubbles and — this should not come as a surprise — even at opposite ends of the Earth, the proportions of nitrogen, oxygen, and CO2 match, year on year. Got that? They match no matter where you take the air sample; Russia, Antarctica, the Andes, Greenland, Alaska or the Himalayas.


OK, now let’s look at something constant on this planet: Volcanoes. Again, ice coring shows the ash and sulphur dioxide put out by active volcanoes. With a variance of 10% plus or minus each year (and yes, some years there are spikes, but over a decade it pretty much never varies) volcanoes produce loads of gases. Scientists measure the volcanic CO2 emission of about 250 megatonnes of CO2 every year. That’s 275 million tons or 550 billion pounds of CO2 every year released by volcanoes.

Human activities, this year, will produce 35 gigatonnes of CO2. That’s 38,500, million tons or 77 trillion pounds of CO2. This measurement has been taken by three independent agencies across the planet simply adding up emissions figures. 

Where is this production? Fifty percent by electricity and heat generation, 20% from transportation, 20% from manufacturing and construction, 8% from buildings and public services and 2% from other sources.


It is worth remembering that, compared to other gasses in the atmosphere, CO2 only represents a small portion. Measuring the most ancient ice cores (up until the Industrial Revolution began) the atmosphere was 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and about 0.04% CO2. Without CO2, however, the Earth would be cold (it’s a thermal blanket absorbing the sun’s heat) and plant synthesis would not exist.

But think about that for a moment. At only 0.04% of the atmosphere, CO2 is a finely balanced gas vital to all life on Earth. Less would be a catastrophe. More (like anything in excess) would prove a similar disaster.

The Industrial Revolution (1760) began an expansion of man’s impact on the planet, producing more CO2 than ever before. At first, the increase of CO2 produced by burning coal was negligible. Measurable, yes, but negligible. 

But 1860 the measurement of CO2 climbed to 550,000,000 tons and has risen steadily to the 38,500 million tons of today. That’s 70 times more CO2 production each year by human activity since 1860. And the proportion of the atmosphere that CO2 now represents? Over 2% from 0.04%.

So, that’s the simple, basic science here. You measure twice, three times, a hundred times ... and if the answer always comes out the same, you cannot (unless you’re a dope) deny the facts. What the impact will be is partially theoretical, partly more involved, learned, science. 

But when you hear anyone saying that CO2 levels are not important, educate them on the basic science. Then, maybe, we can find a way out of this mess.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.