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Re: "INSIGHTS | What penance does Colorado pay for the sins of a globe?" June 21.

The sins impugned in the title of the piece are mankind’s supposed sins against the planet, among which are human-created carbon dioxide (CO2), and human- and ruminant-created methane (CH4). The real sins are against the trusting people of Colorado, America and the world. Let me explain.

The author of the Sunday article writes from a political perspective yet makes erroneous scientific statements. “Methane is rocket fuel for climate change, blah, blah, blah …” No. Our atmosphere is ~78.1% nitrogen, ~20.9% oxygen, ~0.93% argon with the remainder being trace gases. So, at least 99.93% of the atmosphere is N, O2 and Ar, with 0.07% or less greenhouse gas. I repeat, less than one tenth of 1% is greenhouse gas. This is why greenhouse gases are called trace gases. Of this less than 0.1% of trace gases, the most prevalent by far is water vapor (H2O in the gaseous form). The LA Times reported in Nov. 2011, “Several readers pointed out an omission in last week's post about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s release of its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which showed that man-made gases that contribute to global warming continued a steady rise. The post — and the AGGI — mentioned carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases, but failed to mention the biggest contributor to global warming: plain old water vapor.” I wonder why NOAA failed to omit the gas that accounts for the vast majority of greenhouse warming? Think about this: without water vapor in the atmosphere, earth would freeze, and life would cease. But NOAA left it out of their report.

The other critically important atmospheric trace gas is CO2. Without it, life would not exist. Humans and mammals must have oxygen (O2) to survive. O2 comes from plants which consume CO2 via photosynthesis. The plants want the carbon and hydrogen and release O2 as a by-product. The planet is getting greener due to the increase in CO2. As it gets greener, more oxygen is available for mammalian life. In 1950 CO2 was approximately 280 part per million by volume (ppmv) and now is a little over 400 ppmv (0.04%). Humans contributed to this increase, but 95% of atmospheric CO2 is from natural sources: warming oceans, decaying organic matter and volcanoes. Anthropogenic (human caused) CO2 is a very minor contributor to atmospheric warming. Humans eat carbohydrates (i.e., molecules built from carbon and water) to get energy and get carbon as a structural building block. Plants consume CO2 via photosynthesis to get carbon for production of sugars & cellulose. Ice core data has proven the earth has had atmospheric CO2 at much higher levels than we are currently experiencing and life flourished. Research has proven that CO2 enrichment of greenhouse crops to 1,000 ppmv or more will, in some cases, increase in yields by 50%.

So, let’s review. Water vapor accounts for the majority of earth’s greenhouse warming. The remaining greenhouse effect comes from CO2 and CH4 (methane). Remember, all trace gases account for less than 0.1% of atmospheric gas; most of that being water vapor. CO2 is 400 ppmv or 0.04% and CH4 is 1.8ppmv or 0.00018%.

Just over 1,000 years ago Eric the Red established a new settlement he called Greenland and viticulture thrived in Great Britain. This was known as the Medieval Warm Period. There were lots of ruminant animals in those days and no fossil-fueled cars or industry.

Roy Johnston


The author holds a Ph.D. in plant science and genetics.

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