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back to article Pollution-gobbling molecules in global warming SMACKDOWN

Elusive pollution-busting molecules are scrubbing our planet's atmosphere at a much faster rate than first imagined, according to gas-bothering boffins. Reactions by the cleaning agents, known as Criegee intermediates, are also emitting a by-product that forms solar radiation-reflecting clouds that could help cool Earth and …

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Next up in the trademark library...

bang! and the pollution is gone!

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Looks like those climate models will need *more* revising.

I'll note that in the 1940's and 1950s molecular biologists realized they had equally big holes in their understanding of cell metabolism.

The various research centres got together and *divided* the work up targeting different cycles. By the 1960s most of the major cycles were starting to be understood. Astronomers do something similar every decade.

This just does not seem to *happen* in climate modelling. The modellers just *seem* to say "With our current models we're all *doomed*" Rather than issuing a list of gaps that specialist groups could follow up on.

And it's not like those gaps are about the last decimal point in accuracy either. As any chemist know it's not just that a reaction *happens* its how fast and in what proportions.

Excellent work by all teams involved. But once again *boy* has it taken a long time to prioritise it.

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g e
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Poor buggers

They haven't got back to the Drawing Board yet from the last 'oh hang on' discovery some real scientists made...

Hanging onto that 'man made' label in the global warming ecopocalypse (as opposed to it being a natural cycle of the planet) is getting trickier every month... I truly feel for the Quango's and their funding. Not.

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Anonymous Coward

Is the 'man made' part the least bit important? Is anyone really claiming that it is important?

If there is something going on that we would rather wasn't and if we can do something to mitigate it then that's all we need to know, surely?

Or if we're not the cause does that mean we don't have to (try to ) do something to reduce the effect?

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Anonymous Coward

Yep, the "Man made" bit is the entire justification

Every single politcal and lobbyist action on "Climate Change" to date has been based on the premise that human action is the major factor.

In some cases (Ozone layer depletion) this was backed by genuine evidence.

Since then, it's based on unsupportable projections. Yes, unsupportable.

"2 deg C rise by X, 4 deg C rise by Y unless we change our habits." That's been the political and lobbyist message for the last decade or so, and it's bollocks, because we simply don't know.

We have no idea whatsoever what the "with action/without action" results will be, so we're chasing dragons.

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I haven't read every single political and lobbyist action so I'll have to take your word on that but even if they are wrong about the cause if they are right about the problem and right about what to do about it it doesn't make any difference, does it? So the latter two are the things to concentrate on.

I've got no idea if there is a problem (coral bleaching blah daffodils out already blah) and no idea if there's any change to our behaviour that would work to help with any such problem.

But if someone has got the debate stuck at the playground level of who started it then something potentially important has been sabotaged or at least sidetracked.

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Anonymous Coward

"but even if they are wrong about the cause if they are right about the problem and right about what to do about it it doesn't make any difference, does it? So the latter two are the things to concentrate on."

Probability of this is something indistinguishable fro zero

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Anonymous Coward

@Audrey - Incorrect.

If you do not know the causes and their relative magnitudes, then by definition you cannot know the correct actions to take.

What if human emissions of CO2 are actually preventing an ice age that will Kill Us All?

- Stopping emissions would be exactly the wrong thing!

What if the global temps will change at the same rate regardless of what we do?

- In this case, radically damaging our various industries to reduce CO2 emissions may mean we don't have the resources to cope once temps get out of our current comfort band.

- This also implies we should be reducing our burning of valuable hydrocarbons and stockpiling them as we will need them later to cope with the changes.

We simply dont know. The current climate models are both too simplistic and too biased - almost every climate researcher is being paid by someone who already knows the result they want, and as every model needs a set of "fudge factors" anyway, it's not hard to see the tremendous pressure they are under to give the "right" result and the simple methods they can use.

Even the "historical" temperature records are rather imprecise and the assumptions used to make the various sections are generally ignored by the users of the data. (In both directions). Oddly, some of these ignore known historical events.

Really strangely, I have never seen a model showing the results of runs "With human input" compared to "Without human inputs", which would actually give an indication as to whether the models can claim we could have any effect.

Regardless of the above, some things do make sense anyway.

Reducing our usage of oil makes sense because oil is going to run out soon, and will become a lot more expensive long before that.

Coal is still very plentiful, but does release various nasties into the air (radioactive substances, soot, monoxides) so we should be capturing those nasties.

Nuclear Fission on the other hand has fuels that are considerably more plentiful than coal and releases much less nasties. Even allowing for the radioactive substance releases that have occurred, they have released less radioactive material than coal-fired plant, and practically nothing else at all.

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Mushroom

Yes it is man made. You are all idiots.

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Anonymous Coward

just because the ipcc guys and the rest of the climate researchers do not come to your house and nail their list of uncertainties to your forehead (printed in reverse, so you could read it in the mirror) does not mean that everyone else who has the interest, the capacity, and the discipline to do the homework does not know what they are, and how big they are; pretty much like every other area of science. Of course, it might be extra difficult in your case, as it seems from your posting that your bias makes your skull somewhat thick.

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Anonymous Coward

"What if human emissions of CO2 are actually preventing an ice age that will Kill Us All?"

Might be the case, if your into sci fi, Read Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn, a great read and makes you wonder if it might just be true...

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@AC 08:51

Would you care to point us towards said data then, instead of engaging in ad hominems?

Insults from one camp to the other merely reinforce each view that the other side are moronic Eloi who couldn't recognise evidence if it danced the cha-cha shouting "I'm evidence"!

It doesn't help those who are undecided and is actively hostile to science.

To be honest, seeing that the sceptical posts did not insult anybody, yet those agreeing with AGW immediately rained insults back instead of data implies that the data is really rather scarce and the "popular" view of AGW is verging on a religious rather than a scientific basis.

I'll assume you aren't a scientist, as I would hope they would not be AC or engage in ad hominems.

I still find it odd* that while I have seen many variants of an "If we do nothing" curve, I for one have never, ever seen a graph of predictions showing temperatures "With Kyoto Accord emissions limits acheived"** against "At current rate of emissions/expected rate of emissions increase".

Perhaps it is only the media and politicians who refuse to show the data.

*Extremely concerning

**Or some other arbitrarily timed limit or reduction in emissions.

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Tax

Awesome. Now the government can remove all the green taxes from fuel as the atmosphere is now being cleaned. They'll do that, right?

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@TechnicianJack

Sure, we can then go back to squandering finite resources at our usual profligate rate instead of considering how we might use energy more efficiently which will have long-term benefits for everyone...

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jai
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Just goes to show, there's very little that we can do to the earth that it hasn't already thought of and got a back up plan for. It's quite massive egotism to think that we could so easily disrupt an ecosystem that's been around for so much longer than we have.

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Nothing compared to the monumental egotism involved in the assumption that we can make it do what we want if we all put our minds to it.

If there is a warming trend (and it looks like there probably is) we need to invest our efforts in working out how to live with it, rather than in arguing about how to change it.

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Egotism?

500 years of industry spewing out wood/coal smoke

100 years of oil

50 years of nuclear, and a lot of that time with enough bombs to destroy every living thing except maybe a few cockroaches.

I'd say any egotism is this bizarre faith-based notion that we can do whatever we want, and somehow the great god Gaia will indefinitely balance it out and take care of us.

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Anonymous Coward

You ignore the point that, according to the scientific concensus, the warming trend is generated by the CO2 that we deliberately put into the atmosphere. We can control this emission if we decide it matters enough. To shrug our shoulders and deny responsibility just isn't helpful.

Pragmatically yes we obviously have to work out how to cope with what is to come. (as advised by the same scientists who we choose to ignore or discredit as it suits us)

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Re: Egotism

"50 years of nuclear, and a lot of that time with enough bombs to destroy every living thing except maybe a few cockroaches."

Dunno what *that's* based on. The scenarios I've read never even managed to extinguish us, let alone any other part of the ecosystem. I did once read what might be required to accomplish what you claim. It seemed to require many orders of magnitude more bombs than we were ever likely to have, *and* some sort of mechanism to repeat the exercise every few million years.

Of course, if your sole objective is to screw *humanity*, you are better off weaponising something like ebola. Bio-weapons are *much* scarier than big bombs.

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Agreed. Nukes? Hardly enough to wipe ourselves out. Seriously inconvenience the large population centres and reduce life expectancy (increased cancer rates) but not much more.

I read a stat somewhere that went along the line that in a few minutes a single hurricane / tornado weather system puts out more energy than the entire world's nuclear stockpile.

The only way man could wipe out all life on the planet is to find a way of pushing the planet into the sun - and detonating all the world's nuclear weapons on one spot of the planet would just produce a shed load of earthquakes, no orbital change worth considering.

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@Ken Hagan

Nuclear winter?

Anyway, right or wrong, the notion that we can't easily destroy the place one way or another seems anachronistic. Nuke a few volcanoes, they'll spew out enough smoke to block the sun til we've died off. Or bio-weapons as you suggest. Or release chemicals that make the wrapping on our 'X-Factor easter eggs' nicer to the touch, but also happen to make everything infertile. Accidents happen too.

My point wasn't AGW, it was regarding our power to effect the ecosystem which has advance at an exponential pace and carries on forth. Hubris about our limitations could play a role in our demise.

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CO2?

I thought it had been shown that CO2 *lagged* warming, that it was a byproduct of warming. Has there been other hard proof of this while I was out having a life, or has causality been disregarded by ecomentalist pressmongers?

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Water vapour, not C02..

Actually water vapour is what causes the vast majority of warming in the atmosphere, but you don't hear people shouting about that because most people would not take it seriously because clouds have been around forever and aren't a problem right....

Why don't we have a bunch of scientists trying to trap all the water vapour we release rather than letting it go up into the sky (most things that result in a CO2 release also result in a water vapour release)? Oh because the media is only interested in CO2 hence that's where government funding goes... Cynical, me?

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CO2 lags *natural* warming

@Armando123 - in the natural cycle, CO2 lags warming because "warming" takes us from huge-glaciers to not-huge-glaciers; more land is exposed, and CO2 is converted to plants. In addition, the warming ocean can hold less CO2. That's the natural cycle. All that CO2 also warms the planet, which drives further warming and further CO2 release.

We're in a different situation now. We're not at a particularly interesting place in the Milankovitch cycle, and we're not covered in glaciers. We ARE dumping a mess of CO2 in the atmosphere, and a good fraction of that mess is accumulating in the atmosphere (some is dissolving in the ocean, driving down the pH). That excess CO2 is generally warming the planet and apparently making the weather more "interesting" (though we cannot link any particular drought or hurricane to global warming). Most glaciers are shrinking; the arctic ice cap is shrinking (especially in volume); the globally measured temperature is slowly rising; plant zones are drifting north (in the northern hemisphere); more all-time highs than all-time lows are being set.

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Aaaargh

Complacent perhaps? Are you going to sit there looking smug as the Great Barrier Reef succumbs to bleaching, as the last bit of Amazonia is felled? Presumably you think the near extinction of Newfoundland cod, the passenger pigeon, the North American buffalo were all tiny glitches and the Pacific Trash Vortex is trivial.

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And humans are causal in which bit of this?

... got it, thanks

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@OP

I guess the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island was thinking this too?

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@Mark 8

Water vapour is a significant greenhouse gas but the point that you are obviously missing is that it quickly becomes saturated and then it precipitates out (you know, that stuff called rain?). CO2 on the other hand goes on rising.

Now, the higher the temperature, the more water vapour the atmosphere can hold before it becomes saturated. CO2 is the driver for the higher temperature, which allows an increase in water vapour which then amplifies the warming effect of CO2. So in fact the role of water vapour is key to the basic model of how CO2 leads to global warming. Nobody disputes this!

The above is a first-order explanation. Obviously it is a bit more complicated than that because we don't see a runaway feedback from increased water vapour. If you are interested, it is not difficult to find the technical details.

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Anonymous Coward

In a similar vein, I've noticed that neighbors of mine who have bought chickens, find that possession of eggs lags possession of hens, therefore refuting the silly theory that eggs produce chickens.

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Anonymous Coward

Not familiar with the concept of a driving variable, an intermediary variable, and an outcome variable, I take it.

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Re: Nuclear winter?

Pure speculation, not least since (as already noted) various natural processes release far more energy and the Earth has been getting large lumps of rock thrown at it for millions of years without serious consequences.

When Alvarez wanted to turn the idea of nuclear winter into a serious theory of mass extinction, he had to posit a lump of rock that would release *far* more energy than the world's nuclear arsenals.

And even that (or mass volcanism, or whatever) didn't leave just cockroaches.

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@Jack

If plants are helping to generate these molecules and we keep hacking away at the plants then we're still in trouble. Plus you're assuming that the plants we have can cope with the amount of polution humanity is creating.

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@James 51

"you're assuming that the plants we have can cope with the amount of polution humanity is creating"

I know CO2 is not the only pollutant we are creating, but it is the most talked about, and plants like higher CO2 concentrations (in general).

Therefore by putting out CO2 we are probably helping the plants which will, eventually, remove it from the atmosphere and restore balance.

This doesn't stop your point about "hacking away at the plants" being true.

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Anonymous Coward

mmm

Just because there is more C02 in the air doesn't mean it'll all get gobbled up.

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It is also that most other greenhouse gasses are factored in at CO2 equivelencies , so when talking of CO2, it is common for many people untutored in how to read scientific papers (read el reg journalists) to make a big boob by stupid sensationalist headlines..

Glancing at the paper myself, I feel that it could account in part for the lag seen in the cause and effect of climate change, rather than a 'SMACKDOWN'

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Anonymous Coward

Moron. CO2 != Pollutant

CO2 is a trace gas necessary for the existence of life. The earth can, provably, endure, in fact thrive, on significantly higher levels of CO2 than those currently measured downwind from China and active Hawaiian volcanos!

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Anonymous Coward

and who said it couldn't? i believe the question is whether or not the CO2 is going to raise the energy content of the earth's atmosphere enough to seriously disrupt human society.

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Mushroom

Thanks, Jezza Clarkson

Ah, that'll be why the weather has been COMPLETELY NORMAL of late.

Oh, hang on a minute...

Clearly I need to move to lovely TOTALLY SAFE Fukushima, I hear it's lovely at this time of year.

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I'd join you

Seriously, I would totally move to Fukushima since I've always wanted an extended stay in Japan and it should be pretty cheap, but sadly hippies have insisted that the whole area is now Fallout3 and therefore I'm not allowed.

My backup plan of cheap sunny beautiful property in Libya is still a goer, though.

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Bullshit

The weather has been "COMPLETELY NORMAL of late." It just keeps changing in unexpected ways as it always has, since the atmosphere of earth first formed.

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Devil

A normal weather pattern is an anomoly. Then again, I live in the Midwest of North Americaland, and what we consider not unusual (like a REALLY hard spring rainstorm) would be considered apocolyptic in Englandland. So take the usual grain of salt or shot of bourbon.

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Anonymous Coward

On the other hand

how many of the Climate models predicted that it would be about 10C warmer than it was this time last year? None of them? Not even the most radical "we're all going to die" ones? huh... well, it must be Nature that's wrong then.

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In other news

Human inability to understand risk remains unchanged. Chaotic systems still hard to predict.

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@crowley

'we can do whatever we want, and somehow the great god Gaia will indefinitely balance it out and take care of us'

I'm pretty sure that the Great God Gaia will certainly 'take care of us' if we manage to mess the place up too much.

Whether AGW is real or not and whether it will be a problem for future generations, I don't know.

What I do know is that dirty industries financed by global capital have been using it as an excuse to push Governments to increase increase taxes whilst all the time they have been polluting the planet with toxic substances and distracting everybody from the real problems.

Both sides of the AGW debate are financed by big business.

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yes

Lol, I like your spin on 'take care of us' very much!

I'm reckoning on our population increase thanks to oil/fertiliser dependence for food production leading us to ecological collapse and mass starvation.

I agree with your every point - my comment was regarding complacency/underestimating/immoderacy/naive faith that 'it'll all work out in the end', which I find desperately egotistic, rather than my holding any axe to grind over AGW.

We've gone far beyond the natural limits imposed upon other primates, and are sufficiently 'un-natural' in the historic flow of life on this planet that I think we should keep an eye on moderating our behaviour - like you say, if not on CO2, at least with regard to the utterly unnatural toxins we create and see fit to pollute the ecosystem with. (organophosphates screwing up fertility, and the like)

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@crowley

"I'm reckoning on our population increase thanks to oil/fertiliser dependence for food production leading us to ecological collapse and mass starvation."

And I'm reckoning that, in free markets, people find solutions (generally lucratie) to problems, particularly big ones. Notice how society collapsed because everything was made of steel and ran on coal-powered steam, except for the whale-oil lights that caused all the whales to go extinct? Oh, you didn't?

Try reading some of James Burke's earlier works. It's interesting how many crises were solved by some oddball who saw a path to riches via a solution.

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@Armando 123

Yeah, fair point, but what'll be the latency on a solution?

In the meantime, would there be a hard balance between using oil to fertilise/farm food, or to distribute? Will the the solution, when it comes, affordable by everyone? Mass producible?

We had a nice wood->coal->oil->nuclear progression, but will fusion work, will it come in time, will we be able to sufficiently scale manufacture of synthetic hydrocarbons quickly enough to replace all those parts of the world economy that depend on them? Will poor farmers be able to replace their ageing tractors with shiny new ones if not? Who'll subsidise that?

The historic trend still leaves plenty of room for gaps big enough that substantial numbers of people can fall through the gaps. Especially when greed appears to be your saviour!

Sounds interesting, I'll look him up - thanks.

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The bigger the gap the bigger the incentive

Given how petroleum prices have risen in the last 10-12 years (in 1998 I could get a gallon of premium unleaded here for $1.39 a gallon; now it's $3.89), that is a BIG incentive for people to reduce (which they've done for a while) reuse(not entirely applicable for fossil fuels) and recycle (ditto). This is why things like ethanol, biodiesel, etc, have become better known and somewhat more widespread. However, it does say something about how cheap fossil fuels are that 1) a good portion of the price of a gallon of gas is tax (particularly in Europe, and you'd be surprised at price differences across state border here in the states) and that 2) the government seems to go out of its way to subsidize alternatives, that fossil fuels are still a cheaper alternative. When you consider the price per BTU, they are hard to beat.

FWIW, I contracted at an ISO here in the states (they monitor the electric grids, among other things) in 2010 and was told that with government subsidies, wind costs -$.20 per kWH. What it cost without those subsidies was never said ... which I find rather telling.

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Anonymous Coward

Similarly, since I haven't died yet, these chicken littles who keep telling me I'm going to die someday, for the better part of a century, are just wrong. So far, I've found solutions for all the problems which have threatened my life, and I have faith in my ability to keep on doing so.

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Anonymous Coward

"I'm reckoning on our population increase thanks to oil/fertiliser dependence for food production leading us to ecological collapse and mass starvation."

The answer to mass starvation, Soylent Green.

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