Carbon Emissions and Percentage of Atmosphere


The following information is derived from the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

In 2003 Malaysia was the 27th largest emitter of carbon from fossil-fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring. We released 42 million metric tons of carbon (not carbon dioxide gas mind you, just the mass of carbon without the attached oxygen or other elements). To clarify, 1 metric ton = 1000 kilogrammes. 1 million = 1,000,000.

This is can be compared to the top 5 emitters: USA (1st at 1,580 million metric tons), Mainland China (1,131 million), Russia (a sharp drop down to 408 million), India (348 million), and Japan (336 million). Tiny Singapore is 58th at 13 million metric tons.

However, Malaysia was only 61st largest emitter per capita. When averaged out, each Malaysian only emitted 1.74 metric tons of carbon (not CO2). This can be compared to the USA (11th at 5.43), Mainland China (101st at 0.86, thanks to their 1.3 billion population), and Singapore (25th at 2.99, which means quite a bit of carbon release for their mere 4.5 million population).

To get an idea of how much carbon that really is, this site gives the figure that the total mass of Earth’s entire atmosphere is about 5.3 million, million, million kilogrammes or 5,300 million, million metric tons.

Now, taking the relative atomic mass of carbon as 12 and that of oxygen as 16, carbon dioxide (1 carbon and 2 oxygen) would have a relative atomic mass of 44. A molecule of CO2 has 3.667 times more mass than an atom of carbon.

Therefore, we can assume that 1 metric ton of carbon produces about 3.667 metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, assuming all the carbon is released in the form of carbon dioxide.

Comparing the carbon emissions with the amount of total atmosphere, we find that in 2003 the USA’s carbon dioxide emissions amounted to a miniscule 0.0001093% of the entire atmosphere.

Taken together, the top 20 carbon emitters for 2003 released 5,508 million metric tons of carbon, which would amount to 20,198 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That is 0.0003809% of the atmosphere.

Compare this to my calculation from this post that carbon dioxided makes up 0.0383% of the atmosphere.

In conclusion, both emissions of carbon dioxide by humans and total carbon dioxide make up a tiny, tiny portion of the atmosphere.

This is one reason why I am skeptical that CO2 emissions really have such a big impact on global temperature rise as some global warming proponents assert.

On the other hand, I have heard of research that says CO2 abosorbs a particular wavelength of infrared radiation (heat rays) that is not absorbed by other gases, and that this band of IR only takes a tiny amount of CO2 to absorb it.

But in refutation of that theory, once that miniscule amount of infrared wavelength has been absorbed, there will be nothing more for CO2 to catch – so adding even huge amounts of extra CO2 won’t make a difference!


12 Responses to “Carbon Emissions and Percentage of Atmosphere”

  1. dynamite Says:

    hello,

    love the website…keep up the good work!

  2. dynamite Says:

    very informative

  3. collins Says:

    Hi,woderful site you know,keep up!We need this information to know where the world is moving as we cry fowl of climate change and many more,God bless you.

  4. Efros Says:

    Atomic weight of carbon is 12, carbon 14 is an isotope of carbon that has about 1 part per billion presence in the total carbon.

  5. Scott Thong Says:

    Doh, how did I miss that? I’m lazy to recalculate my numbers, but it should end up almost the same. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Biff Says:

    Oh boy, you have no clue about science based on the last two paragraphs of your post. “there will be nothing more for CO2 to catch” ??? You had better go read an introductory textbook before making such a silly statement. Very embarrassing. Another stooopid American.

  7. Scott Thong Says:

    Seeing as that you didn’t even catch the fact that I’m not an American (as clearly stated on the top of every page of this blog), and your refusal to/inability to elaborate on how said introductory textbook does not agree with my statements, I shall simply ignore your knee-jerk comment.

  8. Stu Says:

    Scott, here’s a nice non knee-jerk comment; CO2 absorbs and then re-emits the infrared in all directions. Some goes up, some goes down. If it goes down, it warms the atmosphere and ground below it. If it goes up, it might escape to space, or it might be re-absorbed by more greenhouse gases. The more greenhouse gases there are, the more absorptions and re-emissions happen on average before the energy is ejected from the Earth system and into space.

    It is in fact correct that the effect of adding more CO2 decreases at higher concentrations. In fact, it’s a logarithmic relationship. This is why you often hear of figures for a ‘doubling of carbon dioxide’, because these are the same regardless of the

  9. Stu Says:

    Scott, here’s a nice non knee-jerk comment; CO2 absorbs and then re-emits the infrared in all directions. Some goes up, some goes down. If it goes down, it warms the atmosphere and ground below it. If it goes up, it might escape to space, or it might be re-absorbed by more greenhouse gases. The more greenhouse gases there are, the more absorptions and re-emissions happen on average before the energy is ejected from the Earth system and into space.

    It is in fact correct that the effect of adding more CO2 decreases at higher concentrations. In fact, it’s a logarithmic relationship. This is why you often hear of figures for a ‘doubling of carbon dioxide’, because these are the same regardless of the starting concentrations (except at very low concentrations). So, doubling CO2 from 250 to 500ppm has the same effect as doubling it from 500ppm to 1000ppm. Still, this doesn’t mean the warming effect from increasing CO2 can be safely ignored.

    And as a parting note – I’m pleased you’re a genuine skeptic and have taken the time to consider the infrared spectrum, and absorption of IR, which aren’t easy topics to get your head around. If you doubt that such a small concentration can have such a large effect, just consider ozone, which has peak concentrations of 2-8ppm in the ozone layer. However, this is enough to absorb very nearly 100% of the ultraviolet entering the atmosphere. Just a little bit at longer wavelengths gets through. So a gas with concentration 380ppm could do plenty of absorbing – if it has the right chemical properties.

  10. Scott Thong Says:

    That’s an interesting angle on CO2’s effect on IR, Stu. I’ll have to look into that some more.

    What do you think of the current world climate events – 2008’s record cold weather in places, 2009’s Arctic ice back to 2005 levels, record levels of Antartic ice, lower temperature since 2006 – despite the ever-increasing amount of atmospheric CO2?

    http://globalwarmingisunfactual.wordpress.com/

  11. Stu Says:

    I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of graphs of global temperature, so I wont link to one. I’ll just say that global temperature has had plenty of dips and wiggles as the climate changes naturally, and we just happen to be on a downward wiggle. It’s naive to think that we’d pretty much see every year being warmer than the last, although it’s unfortunate that this is the impression given by some media outlets.

    All the wiggles in the climate system have a reason behind them, so here’s a few reasons why I think the warming seems to have slowed/stopped recently: we had a strong La Nina in 07/08, which is associated with cooler global temperatures (just as El Nino is associated with warmer temps). The current solar minimum is unusually long and deep. Various ocean cycles are heading more towards cool phases (particularly the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation). All of these could be expected to have a cooling effect.

    We can’t know for certain, but I do wonder what the climate would be doing under these various influences if there was no anthropogenic global warming… would it be getting even colder, as some of these signals seem to be suggesting, or would it be about the same?

    NB because global temperature tends to wiggle up and down on a timescale of a few years to a decade, there’s every chance that global temperatures will rise again soon. This wont be proof of global warming, and I don’t think I’ll be satisfied that the scenarios that climate models suggest may be accurate until the temperature is 0.7-0.8C above the 1961-90 average on a regular basis. It’s currently hovering around 0.4C above.

  12. maureen Says:

    thank you for the answer!

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