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Thread: Fires and Carbon emissions

  1. #1 Fires and Carbon emissions 
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    As part of Australia's Conservative Right's effort to counter the view that there is any link between global warming and bushfires, leader of the National party (the coalition partners of the Liberal party) and acting leader of the Federal Opposition, Warren Truss alleged that the fires add more CO2 to the atmosphere than coal power plants.

    There was a bit of fact checking published at The Conversation that showed that fires so far this fire season in Australia have emitted about 2% of what coal power stations emitted emit annually. Whilst it's not over and it's possible more than 50 times as much area could yet go up in flames, it's probably a potent bit of misinformation - I thought Truss could actually be correct although I would not, like Truss, have neglected to consider what the the author also points out - that the burned areas will become CO2 absorbers as they regrow afterwards. The extent of bushfires in Australia is enormous so it's easy to imagine they dwarf the emissions from fossil fuels. What it's left me stunned at, is how much coal must be being burned.

    It's a bit like the 'volcanoes' produce more CO2 than fossil fuels argument - completely wrong, yet for those who don't know or don't want to know it sounds very plausible. I'm not aware of any mainstream media challenging Truss on his claim. If they fail to do so - and even if they do - that bit of misinformation gets added to all the rest these heels dug in political opponents of action on climate have promulgated.


    Last edited by Ken Fabos; January 10th, 2013 at 04:57 PM.
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    Balance is important. For example : volcanoes produce CO2 due to carbonate rocks subducting and releasing CO2 under heat. However, CO2 in the air is constantly, at a slow rate, converting to carbonates by reaction with certain minerals. Over a long period of time, those two processes are in balance, and the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are not increased by volcanoes. Not true for human sources.


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    Over a long period of time, those two processes are in balance, and the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are not increased by volcanoes.
    But that particular long period is calculated in geological numbers - hundreds of thousands of years. I think it's really important for people to keep in mind that there are two kinds of carbon cycle. Biological and geological.

    The obvious biological one is the seasonal effect we see in the CO2 concentration record since the fifties. At Mauna Loa in the Northern Hemisphere it's really obvious. CO2 is absorbed during spring and summer and released in autumn in tune with deciduous tree growth and leaf fall. Bush and forest fires may not show up in that record because they usually occur in mid to late summer but that cycle is only a few years - release from established trees then absorption by replacement vegetation.

    The geological volcano release and rock absorption process is similar to the fire example, both in the sudden release and gradual absorption. The absorption takes a very, very long time. The release is episodic. But that's on the hundreds of thousands to millions of years scale. The example given in one of Prof Iain Stewart's television series is that the oil we burn in a single year releases 3 million years' worth of sequestered carbon.

    (I have no idea what the equivalent numbers are for burning coal.)
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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    The cycle of fire and growth is years to decades. It's frustrating and dismaying that ignoring that it is a cycle is used fo promote the idea that the climat change we are undergoing is no more than a cycle. When this extent of willful ignorance is so pervasive at senior level of a mainstream political party it's hard to be optimistic that the political will to do the minimum necessary can be achieved.
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