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Global warming (Rev #31, changes)

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This page is an overview page for human-caused global warming due to carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.


In the later half of the 19th century scientists noticed that the Earth’s atmosphere kept it warm. In 1859, John Tyndall discovered that two major atmospheric gases H2O and CO2 could trap heat like the glass in a greenhouse. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius in Stockholm calculated that the burning of coal could increase the temperature of the Earth by 5-6°C if CO2 levels were doubled. At the rate of burning in 1896, this would have taken thousands of years. But rates quickly increased over the next few decades.

In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists started to gain more accurate measures of the increase in CO2 concentrations. CO2 is being added to the atmosphere at an exponential rate that doubles about every 35 years. The following graph shows the longest running measurements taken at the Mauna Loa observatory:

Mauna Loa CO2
Image source: Global Warming Art (click for data details)

So it was clear by the 1960s and 1970s that CO2 levels were rising, but there was still considerable debate over whether or not these rising CO2 represented a problem. This debate was prolonged because of the cooling effect of smog (aerosol pollution) which counteracted some of the warming effect of CO2. As the anti-pollution efforts of the 1960s and 1970s began to reduce smog levels, the cooling from aerosol pollution dropped off. So temperatures started rising again. This can be seen in the following graph showing rising temperatures. These leveled off just after World War II—when Europe’s economies were still rebuilding and high smog levels masked the green house effect—and then started rising again in the mid-1970s as air became clearer:

GISTEMP temperature data
Image source: NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (click for data details)

By the end of the 1970s, the debate had shifted to a consensus that rising CO2 levels would cause global warming. So the question shifted from whether or not global warming would occur to how much warming there might be and what the effects of the warming might be.

Ice core samples taken during the 1980s showed a very strong correlation between the level of CO2 and glacial cycles, as the following graph of CO2 concentrations and glacial cycles over the last 400,000 years shows:

Image source: Global Warming Art (click for data details)

So Note by also the late 1980s, there was a consensus among climate scientists that greenhouse gas-induced global warming was a real threat to the Earth recent for the 21st century, and that human burning of fossil fuels resulting in increased CO2 levels in greatly exceed the atmosphere levels was corresponding with the major end contributor. of historical ice-age periods.

The With following graph shows estimates of the ranges ice-core of data potential and increases rising in global temperature temperatures, and improved science modeling, by the late 1980s, there was a consensus among climate scientists that greenhouse gas-induced global warming was a real threat to the Earth for various the stable 21st concentrations century. The consensus also held that human burning of CO carbon-based fossil fuels was the major contributor to this threat.2:

Recent confirmation of this warming includes the decline in Arctic sea ice:

So how warm might it get? The following graph shows estimates of the ranges of potential increases in temperature for various stable concentrations of CO2:

CO2-temperature relation
Image source: BASC Climate Stabilization Targets (click for data details)

Possible Where effects we end up will largely be a function of various our CO future response to the global warming threat. Extrapolations from current trends indicate warming on the upper end of the spectrum of possibilities. If we take global action soon, we may end up with less effect.2e concentrations Carbon dioxide equivalent:

What will the warming mean for the Earth? Possible effects of various CO2e concentrations Carbon dioxide equivalent are shown here:

For a quick overview, here are some graphs and charts. Click on them for the sources and more information.

Estimates of the relation between CO2e concentrations and temperatures:

The decline in Arctic sea ice:

Some other relevant Azimuth Library links for global warming:

  • Reports and assessments - a list of reports and assessments on global warming, and
  • Plans of action - a list of detailed plans for dealing with global warming, and critiques of these plans.


From Carbon in the Geobiosphere:

Figure shows the growth of world population in 200 years, from 1800 to 2000, and the growth of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and land-use practices. In this period, the global population increased 6-fold, but the industrial and land emissions increased 20-fold. The logarithmic scale of the figure shows that the population growth rate became faster in 1900 and again in 1950, following the end of World War II. However, the CO 2CO_2 emissions were growing faster than the population even in the 19th century and their growth accelerated further in the 20th.

pop vs co2 levels


The greenhouse effect caused by CO 2CO_2 has been a topic of scientific discussions for 200 years now, beginning with Fourier in 1827. The following volume collects some relevant papers that have been published in the course of time:

  • David Archer (Editor), Ray Pierrehumbert (Editor): The Warming Papers, Wiley-Blackwell 2011.

The physicist and science historian Spencer Weart has compiled an online history of global warming, which has also been condensed in book form.

category: climate, carbon