Friday, June 04, 2004

Fun With Numbers: Environmentalism

Some scientists have released a study that finds that an enormous eruption of deep-earth gasses for a mass exinction event about 55 million years ago.

Unfortunately, they have to make their discovery "relevant" by linking it to today's global warming by greenhouse gasses. The relevant passage:
Scientists say the pre-historic release from the deep could prove a dramatic analogue for what might happen if humans keep pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.

"The case is getting stronger that global warming is associated with large hydrocarbon releases, and here's an example where it seems to have happened in the past," says Dr. Roy Hyndman, a senior scientist at the Pacific Geoscience Centre of the Geological Survey of Canada.

"If you put a lot of methane or other hydrocarbon into the atmosphere you can get abrupt and very large global warming and that's what we're doing now," says Hyndman. "The amount we are putting in now is huge in the geological context, very large."

Scientists estimate at least 1,500 gigatonnes of carbon was pumped into the atmosphere at the time of the prehistoric warming, less than the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 gigatonnes humans are expected to release over coming centuries. Man-made emissions of carbon are now released into the atmosphere at a rate of close to 6.5 gigatonnes a year.
For starters, there's the "estimated 3,000 to 4,000 gigatonnes humans are expected to release over coming centuries" hypothesis. Where did this number come from and how was it derived? Does it take into account possible changes in the future, when we might derive our power from fusion or some unforeseen power source? Remember, just a few centuries back, it wasn't even conceivable to have nuclear power, much less combustion engines small enough for automobiles.

But the fun bit is the 6.5 gigatonnes. It would take 231 years to equal the single event from prehistory, which was likely done in just a few years at most.

Always go armed into articles written by scientific illiterates. That way you don't get injured by stupidity.

[Note: Link fixed from posting on Friday.]

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