Four graphs that matter in the climate emergency: bonus edition

This is an updated version earlier post, slightly shorter, where I have deleted some material in favour of new material, especially towards the end, and sharpening some points along the way.

First graph

Greta Thunberg, the girl who can’t quit, said:

    The emissions are increasing and that is the only thing that matters.

This is what was shown for July 01, 2019 at Mauna Loa:

[Update: For current data see NOAA’s Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide]

For longer time perspective, this one from 2017 shows what has happened since 1700:

This one shows the ice core record, going back 800,000 years:

What we’ve got now is outside human experience. It’s also a worry that during the last interglacial, the Eemian, sea levels were 6-9 metres higher than now with only 300 ppm.

You can check out Cape Grim, or NASA, the story is the same.

As any primer on climate change will tell, the sun’s radiation comes in via a strong short wave, which punches through the atmosphere, but heat is emitted, mostly overnight, via a weaker long wave, which is more likely to be captured by CO2 molecules. They re-radiate the heat 360 degrees, so some of it is radiated back to the earth. Over 90 per cent of the heat ends up in the ocean:

James Hansen tells us in Climate Change in a Nutshell that the earth’s energy imbalance was measured as 0.75 ± 0.25 W/m2 from 2006-2016. That is less than a Christmas light bulb per square metre over the entire planet’s surface. However, Hansen does the maths, and it is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year.

Second graph

The second graph to watch is how energy is accumulating in the ocean. I don’t know of a constantly updated source, but this one shows what has happened in the upper 700 metres of the ocean in the last few decades, against a baseline of the average of 1955-2006:

A few of the bars of the mid-1980’s have been cut off a little, but the message is clear. Here’s one from Dana Nuccitelli from a few years ago:

Third graph

As heat is distributed and the Earth system reaches equilibrium, some of the heat from the ocean will travel to the depths, but some will emerge to warm the atmosphere. So the third graph to watch is global surface temperature. NASA has an annually updated version. Here’s a screenshot:

I prefer this one from Hansen et al Global Temperature in 2018 and Beyond:

As the surface temperature warms, other effects manifest themselves, such as from the CSIRO/BOM State of the Climate 2018 report, an increase in extreme heat events:

changes in rainfall:

changes in ocean acidity:

and changes in sea level rise:

Given that the effects play out over centuries, indeed millennia, we need to go back to the paleoclimate record and look at analogues to get some idea of the longer term implications of current emission levels. It is common now to say, as this NASA site does, that today’s levels of CO2 are similar to the Pliocene, when the global surface temperature was roughly 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than today and the sea 5 to 40 metres higher.

In my 2013 post CO2 hits 400 ppm I noted that Michael Mann and Aradhna Tripati said we were getting back to the mid-Miocene, 10-15 million years ago. Tripati et al gave us this graph:

The point is that we are entering the zone where both Greenland and Antarctica are in play. Attenborough told us in his documentary that Greenland was now losing ice 5 times faster than 20 years ago, Antarctica three times. Stabilisation of ice sheets in the past has taken 1-4 millennia, according to Hansen. We have a couple of decades of data. It is salutary to realise that in the 2007 IPPC report they advised us that there was no worry about ice sheets because as the weather warms precipitation of snow would increase. Antarctica was expected to grow in the near term.

If you do the maths, two decades compared to 2 million years is the equivalent of five minutes in a year. We need to look more to paleoscience data, but there we have to remember that the disposition of the continents was different, as were the major ocean currents (the Panama Isthmus closed just over 3 million years ago.) In all probability the shape of the ocean basins was different. Finally we are now forcing the climate around 1000 times harder than it was changing naturally in the mid-Miocene.

The bottom line is that scientist don’t know how rapidly matters will proceed in the next century or three, but on sea level rise they are saying a 5 per cent chance of up to 2.5 metres by 2100, whereas the fifth IPCC from 2014, used by Attenborough, maxed out at 98cm.

Given that 3 degrees when added to current warming makes 4 degrees, which is held to be the point where civilisation as we know it is threatened, the implications are ugly, but we are some way from fully understanding them.

It may not end there. Stories such as Antarctic Sea Ice Declining ‘Precipitously’ Since 2014, Study Finds and Antarctica’s Ice Is Melting 5 Times Faster Than in the 90s are not what we want to hear. The last thing we need for a safe climate is ice sheets in play. Yet that is what we appear to have (from the NASA site). Greenland:


The Greenland ice sheet is worth 6-7 m in sea level rise, West Antarctica 5-7 m, and East Antarctica 59 m. With land glaciers and ice caps elsewhere at 0.5 m and thermal expansion the total is in the region of 75-80 metres.

Fourth graph

A fundamental problem is our habit of burning fossil fuels. Here’s the fourth graph from Makiko Sato and James Hansen (see Nutshell p. 49):

Kenneth Rogoff tells us that while the average age of coal-fired power plants is 42 years in advanced economies, in Asia the average is only 11 years, and a new one is being built every week.

Moreover, gas, which hasn’t been mentioned above, is much touted as a climate-friendly transition fuel, which is essentially a scam. For starters greenhouse accounting typically counts methane as around 23 times more potent than CO2. In fact that is after 100 years. In the first year methane is around 100 more times as potent. The reference I’ve always used is Dessus et al 2008, where we find this graph:

An argument could be mounted that if our concern is the next 60 to 80 years a much higher ratio should be used.

Declarations of ‘climate emergency’ notwithstanding, there appears to be an attitude that we can do climate mitigation without disruption.

Bonus graphs

For a safe climate we need need to dial down greenhouse gases urgently, which will be disruptive and involve stranded assets.

This graph shows the ‘Scope 3’ emissions from our existing and projected fossil fuel exports, emissions that are counted in the countries where the fuels are burnt:

Future climate policy will need to take account of the fact that such emissions must largely cease if the planet is to have a decent future. Leaving aside ethical concerns, the economic risk of stranded assets is immense.

Stephen Rahmstorf’s recent article makes the point that delay in emissions reduction has a cost. Using a scenario where zero net emissions are to be achieved in 2045 from a peak in 2020. If we delay the start of emissions reduction to 2030 the target completion date needs to be brought forward to 2035:

Many scientists are stressing that emissions must peak by 2020 if the whole exercise is not to spin out of control.

See also Gavin Schmidt’s response to the IPCC Special Report on 1.5ºC, where he says, inter alia:

    near-term reductions in carbon emissions by ~70% are required to even stabilize CO2, and to stabilize temperature, even further (net) reductions are required. And worse still to stabilize sea level, eventual temperature drops would be required.


    The best time to start [reducing emissions] was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.

When the situation looks hopeless we must take the first step.

See also:

Gas has got to go

Can we get to 350 ppm?


NOAA has a graph on methane trends:

Its Mauna Loa CO2 graph also shows the monthly seasonal variations.

They also have an Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI). This graph shows the annual GHG forcing:

Forcing if 2018 was 1.43 times 1990 levels. The CO2e in 2018 was calculated as 496. I would question whether methane is adequately represented.

Update 2 (29/9/19):

Tamino at Open Mind has a post on methane acceleration. having been steady from 1999 to 2007 it started rising. Then in 2014 it began to rise even faster. The following is a huge worry:

    Nisbet et al. identify the increased rate of rise in those four years, and consider the implication for the Paris climate agreement. The stated goal is to keep global temperature rise “well below 2°C.” So far, all our plans, our computer models, our strategies that have a decent chance of accomplishing that goal have relied on no increase in CH4, some even rely on decreasing CH4 in the air. The fact that it’s going the wrong way, at increasing speed, is a genuine threat to our chances of success. (Emphasis added)

Update 3 (8/11/2020):

Here’s the CO2 measured at Cape Grim in September 2020, and here’s why it didn’t go down due to Covid-19):

38 thoughts on “Four graphs that matter in the climate emergency: bonus edition”

  1. Note to whomever is Greta’s ventriloquist, show your bravery by demanding the Han dynasty reduce emissions, the US already are.

    ( I’m assuming her handlers have the ability to prioritise and do math. It’s a stretch, I know. )

  2. Nobody here of course, we’re far too conciliatory and stoush-averse, but I have noticed there are those who appear to feel threatened by intelligent young people (particularly those of the female persuasion).

  3. Jumpy:

    Note to whomever is Greta’s ventriloquist

    Sounds a bit arrogant in its dismissal of an impressive 16 yr old woman who has the hide to challenge your world view.

  4. John

    Sounds a bit arrogant in its dismissal of an impressive 16 yr old woman who has the hide to challenge your world view.

    Sounds a bit arrogant when you pretend to know my world view.

    But in Greta I see a poor little girl with diagnosed conditions, that if she were Australian would qualify for NDIS, being frightening half to death by C grade actor parents in the hope that pushing her into a child actor spotlight will enhance their own exposure ( and income ).

    But that’s just my take after reading their bios and making arrogant assumptions.

  5. Classic narcissistic deflection tactic, Jumpy.

    “Don’t look here look over there”.

    We know them by their words and deeds.

  6. As you just did BilB.
    Greta presumably was diagnosed by experts, of which you are not.

    I think you can work out where to shove your diagnosis without any assistance from me.

  7. Jumpy:

    Sounds a bit arrogant when you pretend to know my world view.

    We have been endlessly exposed to having your world view repeated for yonks….. repeated for yonks…repeated for yonks.
    OK perhaps not endless since that is impossible but it just seems to be endless.

  8. Jumpy, I think that is A-grade cynicism.

    From what I’ve read of her, Greta Thunberg makes a fair bit of sense. Other school kids who have spoken also impress as informed and intelligent, more so than most of our politicians.

  9. Brian it’s simply Jumpy’s usual tiresome trick of playing the man rather than the ball. He doesn’t counter Greta’s arguments, preferring to denigrate her character with unfounded accusations. Even his assumption that she is criticising the US and not China is a straw man – she is calling on everyone to make a change.
    tl:dr = our Mackay correspondent is intellectually bankrupt.

  10. The difference is Greta gets the science, old grumpy doesn’t. Even if one does not get the science, you would think that massive gamblers, such as Australians are, would get the relevance of odds and magnitude of the stake. Why else are they all queueing up at a jackpot?

    Grumpy is just a self-absorbed sociopath like all the the other wife and Greta bashers. Why else does he manage to derail just about every thread and make it about himself and his constipated view of the world? It absolutely fits his character, on permanent display here, that he loses his shit about a young female being outspoken and able to capture more audience than he himself manages to upset with his diatribe.

    Grumpy is a loser in every sense of the word, like all of his dwindling ilk. The world is changing faster and more profound than their fragile ego can cope, hence they need to lash out at the young and particularly females. Get used to it, the future belongs to the young and increasingly the female voice .

  11. Now let’s just back the truck up a bit please.

    Poor Greta, and her position, ( quote and link above) was first mentioned by Brian in the OP.

    I never ONCE criticised Greta, nor her opinion.

    I didn’t seek to make it about me. Others made it about me.

    I have been very careful not to attack other commenter personally.

    The above is a disgusting example of the far lefts increasing inability to hold civil discourse.

    Good luck with that.

  12. I never ONCE criticised Greta, nor her opinion.

    Hint: The following is criticism of both her and her opinion campaign

    Note to whomever is Greta’s ventriloquist, show your bravery by demanding the Han dynasty reduce emissions, the US already are.

    ( I’m assuming her handlers have the ability to prioritise and do math. It’s a stretch, I know. )

  13. No zoot, LITERALLY not a criticism of Greta or her views. Read it as written.

    Repeatedly telling an untruth doesn’t make it truth.

    How about you and I ignore each other’s comments, ( I already do if it’s not specifically directed at me ) and this blog will improve immeasurably for everyone.
    Just resist the impulse to create a dishonest pile on.

    Give it a whirl eh ?

  14. Bugger off jumpy, this bet will be called in not too distant future. The odds are in great favor that you and your ilk have to come to terms with being disgraceful oafs with egg all over your face. There is a way to discuss and debate human caused global warming and we had that discussion umteen times with you, for decades!. There is no tangible and rational arguments that you have ever brought forward in this context that is still standing. You have fed us with megabites of whattsup/cattlaxy/breitbart/etc. crap. We sniffed every Monckton fart, batted away every possible shock jock curveball, went down every drain the Murdoch/IPA sewer has to offer and and still no holy grail or Excalibur to slain the climate change ‘ideology’.

    All you and your ilk have left is to dump your bile on a young woman who happens to get the obvious risk to her future and acts accordingly responsible. You are a very sick puppy Mr jumpy.

    I’ll be there on Friday, with thousand of others, all over the world in many countries.

  15. So if I wrote

    Whoever is putting Jumpy up to this should get a clue and make sure his comments here make sense.
    It can’t be beyond his keepers.

    I would LITERALLY not be criticising Jumpy.

    Got it!

  16. Great. So who are the ventriloquists feeding you lines and why don’t they speak English?
    Note to other commenters here: we should all keep in mind Jumpy’s comments have no relevance to what he actually believes since he is just a dummy devoid of any autonomy or coherent thought.

  17. I’ll be there on Friday, with thousand of others, all over the world in many countries.

    Me too, even though I think Jumpy and his handlers have well and truly screwed the pooch with their delaying tactics.
    Let’s revisit some of Jumpy’s greatest hits:
    1 The Bureau of Meteorology is faking the data to make it look like the climate is getting warmer.
    2 It was hotter one day in 1895 in some god forsaken outback town with no reliable thermometer.
    3 When I stand on the beach I can see that the sea level hasn’t changed since I was a kid
    4 Global warming stopped in 1998
    5 The Thames used to freeze over (this one in particular amuses me) and they held fairs on it.
    6 What about the Medieval warm period?
    7 The climate has always changed and it was hotter before humans evolved. (doh!)
    et cetera, et bloody cetera

  18. No Mr jumpy, it is always about you. You always professes not to follow anyone and to cherish the freedom to ferment your on thoughts on your personal compost. Yet you are so predictable!

    Cheap and easy populism with big shot of negative emo, yet a massive void in critical thinking and self reflection. A wanna be bully really, like your idols who equally indulged in a dash of Greta bashing.

    And it is these sort of people who call us ideologues. They themselves are the postmodern version of useful idiots to the current hegemonists, who are adamant to smoke the last molecule of carbon out of the planet and burn it to a cinder in the process.

    Common Mr jumpy, have a good look at yourself, if you are capable to do so. Until you do so you are a hazzard to humanity. A sociopath really, who needs to be called out and dealt with like such.

  19. Here is (our) Roger Jones asking the question: Is What Thunberg and Her Fellow Climate Strikers Want So Extreme? He finishes with a striking observation which resonates with me.

    When the economist Joseph Schumpeter used the term “creative destruction” in 1942, he thought the economy would reach equilibrium and stagnate. We now know that when economies stagnate, they collapse under their own excess. Schumpeter suggested creative destruction through innovation and change as a way out of this.

    Under climate change, power structures will change whether we like it or not. The climate strikers know this and want a say in how they will change.

    The choice we have is to engage in the type of creative destruction that fuels transformation or wait for the chaotic destruction that kicks in when systems fail.

    I already have made every effort to divest from any unethical and fossil fuel supporting entity. Today when your vote at the ballot does not bring any change, you start to vote with your wallet. I am ready to go the next step and be an extinction disrupter despite my age. I am ready to enable and create creative disruption. When Nature, a conservative science journal, publishes an article saying Global warming will happen faster than we think, then you know the chances that the game is up are very high. What have I got to loose.

  20. Workers of the world, unite and fight! You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win!

    (Two dead, white males, circa 1848)

  21. I already have made every effort to divest from any unethical and fossil fuel supporting entity.

    Hahahaha….opps, sorry.
    Ahh, a few questions,
    What are your clothes made of ?
    What is your shelter made of ?
    What hardware and mechanisms enabled you to distribute publicly that crap ?
    Will you have enough unethical Big Pharma to get you though this creating a creative disruption creation ?

    ( I don’t expect honest answers to any of that, but one can only hope. )

    Anywho, good luck sweet brave Prince Ootz, may Gia be with you and not crush you for your sins.

  22. Ootz: Your links to Roger and Nature didn’t cheer me up. Boris is not the only world leader whose carers should take him to a safe place where they can do no more harm

  23. Now that Jumpy has returned to full denier mode, I too have a question (not that I expect a coherent answer, but one can only hope).
    If global warming paused in 1998 and global warming was due to the Bureau of Meteorology falsifying the temperature record, why did the meteorologists stop in 1998?
    Answers welcome from anyone, even those who can spell Gaia.

  24. While the jumpys in this world ‘battle it’ out on blokie online forums, such as here at C+, another tactic is clearly used by them with women. From The Conversation, Green with rage: Women climate change leaders face online attacks

    Women leaders who promote climate policies are therefore doubly threatening to those who hold misogynistic attitudes.

    First, simply by being women in a powerful position and, second, by espousing policies that directly challenge traditional norms of masculinity.
    “Green rage” directed at women climate leaders thus serves the function of safeguarding male dominance by punishing women who challenge the patriarchal social order. The result is a toxic brew of masculinity directed at women climate leaders by way of sexist attacks and threats of violence.

    From last month Misogyny, meet hypocrisy: Climate deniers go after AOC, Greta Thunberg with sexist attacks

    Climate skeptics don’t have science, morality or simple decency on their side — so they’re leaning into sexism.

    research shows that American men find environmentalism to be inherently feminine and therefore emasculating, and view being deliberately anti-environmental as a way to feel more masculine.

    There’s another reason that climate-change denialists so readily turn to sexism: They don’t really have anything else to work with.

    And there is this insightful contribution the Scientific American
    As Climate Scientists Speak Out, Sexist Attacks Are on the Rise

    Female researchers have faced everything from personal insults to death and rape threats

    The verbal and written attacks derive mostly from men. That’s probably not a coincidence. Studies show that climate skepticism is a male-dominated perspective. Men are less likely than women to accept scientific conclusions about people being responsible for rising temperatures. And they’re more likely to overestimate their knowledge of the issue.

    Women and child bashing must be the knuckle dragging version of virtue signalling.

  25. Having lived and travelled all over the planet and gathered extremely profound life experiences, including living in civil war conditions, having come to terms with long term chronic illness, I find it a sick joke when jumped up characters urge me to calm down. These simple minds mistake me for their own foibles. My presence here today is a legacy of my calmness and steely determination in adversity. So jumpys in this world, take a leaf out of your own advice and come back to me when you stopped bashing women and children. Please attend to your own sick and disturbed character before handing out advise to others more mature.

    I don’t usually clamber the barricades and am in step lock with solidarity forever. Last march I attended, before the previous School strike in March, was a pro-gun control demonstration in Cairns after the Port Arthur massacre. Having grown up in a less divisive class system and better labour relations, I tried to stay clear of unions and have an extremely negative view on the professionalism of Australian management practices given my experiences. But I must say I am chuffed at the many unions and Australian businesses supporting and participating in the School Strike on Friday.

    I do admit though to be involved in online activism, from being an active member of the consumer organisation CHOICE to having been instrumental in “Destroy the Joint” campaign against Allan Jones and less so in the recent one where he nearly lost his job bar for an ex treasurer’s and Nine chair intervention. Thus I am spending more time now a days online on Facebook and Twitter. Not just campaigning but gathering intelligence and experiences to do so. Just to sort out the situation with banks and super was a major project. As I said if you can’t get any sensible change by your vote on the ballot then force it with the $ in your wallet. It is evident divestment is working.

    Brian I know I have asked you before and you declined, but I would be really interested to see your take on divestment in a post on it. You always do such a good job on any topic!

  26. Ootz @ 12:21 pm: I expect he’ll say he’s “only joking” but I always wonder about the psychology of a bloke who calls his partner “the Taipan”. It seems more than a little passive aggressive.

  27. Ootz I actually have no recall of the original incident declining to do disinvestment. I do remember the reminder.

    I do accept that it is increasingly important and effective. the reasons for doing a particular post are many, but in general the desire to share, especially if I think people should know and may have missed.

    A couple of years ago there was a steady trickle of information coming through the media. Now there is a flood. people are talking and writing about it all day.

    Sadly now the draft bin in the CP back engine room now amounts to 144, stuff started and not finished, mostly mine.

    But point taken. If a good article that summarises or has an insightful perspective, it would help.

    I’ve been to three ALP meetings since last Sunday (some very frank talking going on!)

  28. Brian: Renew Economy is arguing that Australia should be aiming for 200%, not 100%.

    Australia could be a global leader in climate mitigation and zero-carbon energy exports, and meet its domestic power demands “on the side,” according to a new energy transition scenario that would take us well beyond 100 per cent renewables, to a target of 200 per cent.
    The reasoning is relatively simple. By producing far more electricity than it needs – from mostly solar but also wind – Australia can become an exporting superpower of clean energy. And having excess capacity means fewer gaps in its domestic supply, and less need for back-up facilities and so lower costs.

    Bill Shorten understood this with his advocacy of producing and exporting liquid hydrogen. Do you think something as far thinking as this will survive the Labor policy review?

  29. John, you mean Why 200 per cent renewables would be better for Australia than 100 per cent?

    There is also ANU to explore renewable energy exports for Australia, with Taylor’s backing.

    And State planning commissioners reject proposed Bylong coal mine in Australia.

    I think some things will happen irrespective of who is in power in Canberra.

    I’m hoping the Labor will promise to follow the science, stay flexible and aspire to a safe climate. We’ll supply gas and coal to others if they continue to want it, but if we become decent and fair dinkum at home we can use our diplomacy to promote a transition to a livable planet where clean energy can be abundant to improve the lives of all.

  30. I’ve just added an update:

    Tamino at Open Mind has a post on methane acceleration. having been steady from 1999 to 2007 it started rising. Then in 2014 it began to rise even faster. The following is a huge worry:

      Nisbet et al. identify the increased rate of rise in those four years, and consider the implication for the Paris climate agreement. The stated goal is to keep global temperature rise “well below 2°C.” So far, all our plans, our computer models, our strategies that have a decent chance of accomplishing that goal have relied on no increase in CH4, some even rely on decreasing CH4 in the air. The fact that it’s going the wrong way, at increasing speed, is a genuine threat to our chances of success. (Emphasis added)

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