Mass matters

Big things influence little things. Little things hardly at all influence big things.

Please bear this in mind when the topic of climate comes up. Let me elaborate.

In the fourth form, little boys do not push big fat boys around and taunt them with “who’s a mummy’s boy, then?” The big fat boys pick on the little boys instead. It just seems more natural.

Among animals, rats don’t eat live caribou, lizards leave lions alone and hamsters don’t munch bears.

Any animal meeting a tiger fears for tomorrow, and an animal near enough to a lion to distinguish its nose hairs wishes it couldn’t, unless it’s an elephant or cape buffalo.

You see which way this goes, don’t you? Little gives way to big. Big overpowers little. It’s a rule of nature. No way can the mouse clamp its ferocious jaws around the neck of the antelope.

Among organisations, the influence they wield is directly proportional to the amount of funding they receive. For example, the Pahiatua Lions Club is practically unknown. I don’t know their annual income, but I guess it’s in the low thousands of dollars from cake stalls and donations. By contrast, the Sierra Club reported net assets at December 2010 of $107 million and net annual income of nearly $50 million. They’re well known and have a large influence in the US.

The NZ Climate Science Coalition gets regular funding from nobody, and none of its officeholders or members is paid. Occasionally funds are donated to help with a special project, like covering part of the cost for people to attend a conference, amounting perhaps to a few thousand dollars.

Greenpeace NZ declared income in 2010 of over $9 million, and assets of $3,445,000. They’re quite well known. Globally, Greenpeace’s 2010 gross income was €226 million. Assets were €44.3 million plus €174 million in the bank. Nice! They’re very well known and have a strong influence on people and governments.

You see which way this goes, don’t you? The organisation with large funding becomes well-known and influential. The little organisation with no funding remains obscure with little influence.

There’s really no question about this, is there?

So now to climate science. Let’s look at the atmosphere and some of the influences on the heat it contains.

The mass of the total atmosphere is, according to Wikipedia, 5×1018 kg. That amounts to 5,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg, or 5 quintillion kg, or 5 quadrillion tonnes.

That air when dry contains roughly 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon and very small amounts of other gases — in fact, such small amounts that they were called “trace” amounts until we discovered global warming. At that point we called it the greatest challenge in human history and people began to exaggerate the influence of carbon dioxide.

To help us visualise its new importance, people stopped citing any actual numbers concerning carbon dioxide. Like how much little of it there is. So it quickly became easy to imagine that the atmosphere was heavy with carbon dioxide.

Let’s find out how much CO2 there is. We’re told that CO2 “dominates” global temperature, so there must be a whole heap of it up there.

However, Wikipedia informs us the proportion of carbon dioxide by volume is 390 parts per million, or 0.039%, which is 0.00039 of the atmosphere. It’s not even half of one thousandth of the atmosphere.

We’re told this “dominates” the climate, so it must be enough. But is it? The rule is that big things dominate little things. So far we haven’t been told about water vapour.

The US Geological Survey estimates that about 3,100 cubic miles of water is in the air at any time, mostly as water vapor, but also as clouds or precipitation. That’s 12,921 cubic kilometres at an astounding gigatonne per km3, roughly 12,900 gigatonnes, or 1.29 × 1013 tonnes.

How does it stay up there? Some of it doesn’t stay up, and it falls down as rain, snow and hail. But most of it is vapour, so it’s lighter than air, zooms up like a balloon, and stays up just fine. Until it cools, when it condenses and falls down as rain, snow or hail.

So water vapour, by volume, seems to take up on average about 2% or 3% of the atmosphere. That’s 1,000 times the volume of carbon dioxide, hardly insignificant. Yet the warmists don’t mention it. [Corrected the volume difference from 10,000 – sorry about that.]

But we never found out the mass of the atmospheric carbon dioxide. What is it? Wikipedia reports that atmospheric carbon dioxide has a mass of about 3.16 × 1015 kg, or about 3000 gigatonnes against 13,000 gigatonnes of water vapour.

So, by mass, there’s over four times more water vapour than carbon dioxide.

Since the greenhouse effect of water vapour is about 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide, it’s far more likely that water vapour dominates the temperature, not carbon dioxide.

Big things influence little things, not the other way around.

Water vapour (WV) is 1,000 times bigger than the carbon dioxide and 400 percent heavier, so there’s no way the CO2 out-performs it in keeping the heat in. [Corrected the WV volume difference from 10,000 – sorry about that.]

Carbon dioxide has an influence, it does raise the global temperature, but it can’t dominate it, any more than the mouse can get its jaws around the antelope’s neck.

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6 Thoughts on “Mass matters

  1. Gary Kerkin on 29/01/2012 at 7:53 am said:

    Is this a case, then, Richard, of “The Mouse That Roared”? I am sure Peter Sellers would have loved a screen play based on this!

    I guess it is, or should be, self-evident, but you omitted to specifically say that we are one of a group of carbon-based organisms and that carbon dioxide is an essential part of the cycle that controls our lives. Others have estimated that a doubling of CO2 will enable us to grow 35% more food i.e. to cope with a substantial increase in population. To set policies which reduce CO2, then, either assumes a miraculous reduction in population, or implies substantial starvation.

    The so-called Greenhouse Effect is based on an experiment in a greenhouse — not in the unconstrained atmosphere. The so-called climate sensitivity has been determined by climate models — not by experiment. It may be of interest to note a very recent report by the BBC — not exactly a supporter of sceptical views on AGW — about the UK Government report on climate impact ( in which David Shukman wrote:

    “The assessments rely on multiple scenarios based on computer modelling of the future climate.

    “The authors admit that there are large uncertainties leading to a wide range of possible results.”

    “Large uncertainties” begs a myriad of questions. It is a pity that these are not addressed by those in a position to set policies which affect us all.

  2. Yes, too true, Gary.

    I would implore some sympathetic funding agency to commission research into the attribution of global warming over the last 50 years (if they confirm any such warming). Because historically, engineers planned for the future by carefully measuring the past. By seeing that only a single flood in the last 100 years, for example, reached 2300mm up that retaining wall, that’s as far as we need to allow in our present work. That sort of thing.

    For all our planning now to be delegated to unverified models is unsatisfactory. If the models are claimed to be verified, then why do some scientists still claim they’re not? Let’s start talking to each other and sharing the data. The matter is too important to be left to any single group. Which also requires New Zealand to detach itself from the IPCC and do its own research and policy formulation.

  3. Richard C (NZ) on 29/01/2012 at 12:16 pm said:

    The Warmer World hot/dry junkies are hanging out for a big El Nino (for e.g. visit Hot Topic).

    Or, as Steven Goddard puts it:-

    Warmists Prefer Little Boys

    They get very upset when La Nina shows up.

    Hansen has been hoping for a big El Nino for years, and talks about La Nina as if it were something unnatural created by Exxon.

    For those that are not subscribed to CCG comments, see this ‘Australia’ thread for a tangled web of Warmer (and Drier) World contradictions.

    • Thanks for staying on top of this, RC.

    • Jim McK on 29/01/2012 at 8:48 pm said:


      You have water vapour 10000 times bigger than CO2 by volume and 400 times by mass.

      With the atomic mass of CO2 being about three times H2O this doesn’t seem right. What am I missing?

    • I was speaking of the gross volume and mass of each, but you raise a good point, and I have an apology to make.

      With respect to volume, CO2 occupies 0.00039 of the atmosphere and water vapour averages about 2% or 3%. I note that 2% or 3% is 0.02 or 0.03 of the atmosphere, which is about 1,000 times greater than 0.00039. Sorry! I mucked that up by calling it 10,000. (Corrected.)

      With respect to mass, I compared the 3000 gigatonnes of CO2 with 13,000 gigatonnes of water vapour, making about four times more water vapour than CO2.

      But we actually have more water vapour at 1,000 times greater by volume and 4 times greater by mass than CO2.

      But I didn’t concern myself with the atomic weights. What happens if we do that?

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