Volcanoes? A good reason to ignore climate change?

I love urban myths. Here’s a doozy. Volcanoes put out more C02 than humans. In fact, I even heard one that said, Volcanoes put out more C02 in a day than humans do in a year. Well, just in case you check the paper every morning to look at current eruptions to decide whether you’ll drive your vehicle into work in the morning or take public transportation—take the public.

This is silly at oh so many levels. First, yes, volcanoes have played a huge role in putting C02 in our atmosphere—on geologic time scales. Second, volcanoes are usually associated with global cooling through sulphur emissions. Things like Tambora (1815) are even implicated in the cooling that caused some of the cropping hardships for Joseph Smith’s family when he was a child! Thirdly, the recent drastic increases in atmospheric carbon have occurred over the last 200 or so years (much more dramatic lately). Volcanoes existed before the current rise in concentrations and were dumping at the about same rates as now.

Lastly, Volcanoes do put out about a huge amount of carbon dioxide. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaii Volcano Observatory estimate that volcanoes (both land and underwater) dump about 200 million tons of C02 into the atmosphere annually. Humans, they arugue further, through the burning of fossil fuel dump about—drum roll please—26 Billion tons per annum. So using real math we can see that volcanoes are dumping around a measly 0.7%, less than a single percent of what humans are doing.

(Now to be fair. I don’t think the semi-scientifically-minded climate change doubters are seriously making this argument, or at least I haven’t run across it, so this really does seem to be something that is going around as an urban myth and a talkradio broadside.)

Next time you are at a Ward Party and someone says, “How about those volcanoes dumping C02 into the atmosphere—stupid global warming people telling us it was us humans.” You can answer, “Hey did I ever tell you about the time I picked up the three Nephites hitchhiking just outside of Panguitch?”

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8 comments to Volcanoes? A good reason to ignore climate change?

  • Tim

    Steve,
    Thanks for looking that up.
    You know global-warming doubters, though. You answer one of their claims and they move right on to the next one. Not too different from the Gish-gallop.
    Still, some good info there, and since many people listen to talk radio, it’s good to counter the false claims made there.

  • What is it about Panguich, Panguich and Gallup. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about picking up those hitchhikers (then I remember that global warming is a myth and that they should just get cars of their own (i.e. what’s going to compel them to do that if I stop and give them an excuse not to get a car)).

  • FWH

    What about forest fires? A large chunk of the La Sal mountains (near my home in Moab) burned yesterday and if the smoke plume is any indication it let off a lot of CO2. Still, I rode my bike to work.

    Also, my late grandmother often told a great story of how the three Nephites helped her out of a pickle one time. It was a touching story, if hard to believe.

    I’m always looking for the line when believing in a false myth (that is very comforting, or faith promoting) becomes more harmful than beneficial? That seems to be one of the central tensions in the Mormon faith: the importance of promoting faith (in spite of, or in contradiction to scientific or historical ‘truth’), Versus the importance of declaring truth (at the risk of stunting or destroying faith). An intractable problem indeed.

  • Even if it were true, it would not necessarily be relevant. CO2 is both added and removed from the atmosphere by natural processes. The problem is net gain added by human activities, not amount released by any one process.

  • steve

    FWH
    The La Sal’s are burning? Dang. That’s one of my favorite places. I have a friend building a cabin there. He doesn’t know it but I’m going to move into it when he’s finished.

    I think those tensions you identify are some of the deepest and most difficult things we encounter. Sorting out truth, myth, and how that goes into living a virtuous (in the Greek and Mormon sense) is one our greatest challenges.

    Tim and Jared
    I’ve notice that too. The detractors ever try and attack you one piece at a time and when you refute one thing the move on to something else. The positive case for climate change is made by multiple pieces of evidence making a coherent and data-based explanation on the complete set of what information is available. No attempt is ever made by detractors in climate change (or evolution for that matter) to build a new story that incorporates all the data. They attack one piece at a time and never offer a complete counter-story that makes use of all the information. When that one piece is explained they move on to the next piece. They are like people thinking that if they remove a single strand from a large rope, that the rope will break. Sure if you remove enough, but that’s not what they do. They dance and sing, ‘We cut a string, We cut a string.’ And seem to think the whole rope is now cut (and usually they haven’t cut the string, they just misunderstand it’s role in the rope). And they never offer another rope to replace the weight of evidence that has accumulated. Sorry my metaphor is breaking down but you get the point.

    David,
    Don’t ever pick up hitchhikers. They are rarely the three Nephites (Although I did pick up John once) and almost always they will kill you, assume your identity with cleaver plastic surgery, and go on to live the life you were meant to live.

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