The Climate Show #34: four Hiroshima bombs a second

It’s been almost half a year since Glenn, Gareth and John last met over the intertubes to discuss climate news — but we’re 97% sure we’re back, catching up on all the recent climate news. John discusses the recent Cook et al (where al is the Skeptical Science team) paper on the 97% consensus on climate science and the accompanying Consensus Project web site, “sticky” facts like using Hiroshima bombs as a unit of warming. Plus all the news on recent weather extremes — flooding in India, Canada, and Europe, climate impacts on the wine business, and Gareth’s recent interview with Bill McKibben. Show notes below the fold…

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The Climate Show

Show notes


Floods in India, Canada, and last month in Europe:

Drone footage of Czech floods

Weather experts to discuss unusual UK seasons

Colorado battles the most destructive wildfires in the US state’s history

US puts $110 billion cost on last year’s extreme weather

After the German floods, hailstorm devastates Loire vines

New Aussie climate report says 80% of world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground

Report here:

Greenland’s 2012 melt tied to jetstream changes

Climate change drops off G8 summit agenda

The Consensus Project

Peer-reviewed paper:


Graphics available at:

Obama’s climate announcement:

21 thoughts on “The Climate Show #34: four Hiroshima bombs a second”

  1. Thanks for the show, folks!

    ‘4 hiroshima bombs a second’ worked a treat at work. It really is sticky!

    The dawning awareness of the overall heat imbalance issue, rather than just following the GAT curve wobbles, has been interesting to watch. This hasn’t been the only evolutionary awareness in the AGW debate – for a while there I recall that hotter was supposed to mean ‘drought only’ – rain was regarded as a disproof of AGW, despite the obvious physics of heated air.

    That seems to have been settled – people appear to have accepted ‘intensification of the hydrological cycle’ – but a related furphy that still persists is the notion that increased atmospheric water content is only ever indicated by increased rainfall – snow, you see, is only ever proof that it’s getting colder, if not of an impending ice age! Because average temperatures can only increase above zero degrees C, or something… 😉

    1. [Random thought mode] The winter storm that delivered all that snow to Mt Hutt was very well forecast – except in one respect. We were promised heavy snow down to sea level, even in Christchurch. That didn’t happen in ChCh or our bit of North Canterbury – further south and further inland, yes, but not here. We just got the heavy rain. Did this have anything to do with warm sea temps around NZ at the moment? Quite possibly…

      1. Just adding to that – last weekend in the BoP Coromandel was surprisingly balmy – beautiful cloudless skies on Sat. and a cool but not unpleasantly cold southerly breeze. I was installing a rain water drain to my new tank at the beach and was down to shirt sleeves. We never experienced any of the rough stuff at all.

    1. It is now. From time to time the offline editor I use to prepare HT posts neglects to set the category flags properly, so WP stores it as “uncategorized”, and the comments thingy doesn’t pick it up. Nor will Sciblogs. Fixed.

    1. 67 TJ (as in Terra Joule) was the energy of the Hiroshima bomb.

      I am remembering a back of the envelope calculation I made a while ago:

      Earth Ocean Surface area: 3.610E+14 m2
      AGW Forcing: 0.8 W/m2
      Total Ocean area forcing: 2.89E+14 Js-1 or W
      Hiroshima Bomb: 6.7E+13 J
      Bombs per second: 4.3

      1. I wondered how many 67TJ Hiroshima bombs of energy are trapped by the CO2 generated by a US gallon of gasoline over its atmospheric lifetime. If I’ve worked it out properly and not mislaid decimal points (I’m by no means sure), the answer approximates to 6.25 bombs.

        This is based on the following numbers, adapted slightly to an argument I was making to the Campaign for Dark skies (CFDS), from a calculation by David Archer:

        “When it is burned it yeilds about 2500 kilocalories of energy,
        but this is just the beginning. Its carbon is released as CO2
        to the atmosphere, trapping earth’s radiant energy by absorbing
        infrared radiation. About three quarters of the CO2 will go
        away in a few centuries, but the rest will remain in the
        atmosphere for thousands of years.

        “If we add up the total amount of energy trapped by CO2 from
        the gallon of gas over its atmospheric lifetime, we find that
        our gallon of gas ultimately traps 100 billion (100,000,000,000)
        of useless and unwanted greenhouse heat. The bad
        energy from burning that gallon ultimately outweighs the good
        energy by a factor of about 40 million.”

        1. My back of the envelope calculation comes to a still staggering, if you think about it, 0.0001 Bomb equivalents per one gallon of CO2 released over the lifetime of that CO2, which I set at an average of 300 years. The initial heat released through burning is not significant in this calculation at all.
          But this was a 5 minute calculation without much care… 😉

          1. 300 years contains the initial spike but the area under it is small compared to the fat tail of the next millenium or so. David Archer is the exponent of the long view but he did not display the curve he was using in relation to his US gallon I quoted. The same book contains a 40,000 year curve and a 100,000 year curve relative to a large release of CO2, but I do recall him saying somewhere that 10% of any CO2 release would still be trapping heat 5000 years in the future. One would want a handy curve to support a 6.25. Hiroshima nuclear bomb claim.

  2. Thomas: You nomenclature is unclear. How much CO2 does an American gallon of petrol generate when burned? I looked up an online equivalence calculator which got 8.92 × 10 -3 metric tons CO2/gallon of gasoline

    Was that what you used?

    1. Very roughly (this is back of the envelope stuff, really only for getting an idea of where this might end up as a simile)

      Just pasted this from my excel sheet. Hope its self explanatory
      kg CO2/gal 2.79
      CO2 GGT/ppm 7.76
      CO2 kg/ppm 7.76E+12
      gallons/ppm 2.78136E+12
      forcing bombs/sec 4
      ppm added 120
      gallons 3.33763E+14
      bombs/year 1.26E+08
      years 300
      bombs/life 3.78E+10 (for all CO2 added so far)
      bombs/gallon 0.000113383

      The 300 years are also just put in as a number to start. Take another number as you wish. All I wanted to do is to get an idea of the order of magnitude of the outcome.

  3. On longevity of a CO2 release in the atmosphere I asked a question on RC and got this link:

    The conclusions:

    “The models presented here give a broadly coherent picture of the fate of fossil fuel CO2 released into the atmosphere. Equilibration with the ocean will absorb most of it on a timescale of 2 to 20 centuries. Even if this equilibration were allowed to run to completion, a substantial fraction of the CO2 , 20-40%, would remain in the atmosphere awaiting slower chemical reactions with CaCO3 and igneous rocks. The remaining CO2 is abundant enough to continue to have a substantial impact on climate for thousands of years. The changes in climate amplify themselves somewhat by driving CO2 out of the warmer ocean. The CO2 invasion has acidified the ocean, the pH of which is largely restored by excess dissolution of CaCO3 from the sea floor and on land and, ultimately, by silicate weathering on land. The recovery of ocean pH restores the oceans buffer capacity to absorb CO2 , tending to pull CO2 toward lower concentrations over the next 10,000 years. The land biosphere has its greatest impact within the first few centuries, which is when CO2 peaks. Nowhere in these model results or in the published literature is there any reason to conclude that the effects of CO2 release will be substantially confined to just a few centuries. In contrast, generally accepted modern understanding of the global carbon cycle indicates that climate effects of CO2 releases to the atmosphere will persist for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years into the future.”

  4. Its great to hear the show again.

    Congratulations to John Cook. A number of the speakers on the recorded presentations from the AGU Chapman conference on Communicating Climate Science refer to what John Cook said there. And obviously, if the White House thinks the latest Cook finding is significant enough that the 31 million Obama Twitter followers need to hear about it, the idea was worth researching and writing up.

    Re: “seepage”. As I understand what Lewandowsky is talking about it is a detectable effect that is not acknowledged by those affected. In his AGU Chapman conference on Climate Science Communication presentation he said its something beyond what Oreskes is writing about i.e. beyond “erring on the side of least drama”. I gather is he is asking climate scientists, are you sure you are telling it like it is?

    Consider Gareth’s McKibben interview, where McKibben speaks about the 2 degree target: “not a very wise target. 1 degree has melted the Arctic. Scientists say … it’s already too high. But the only line we’ve got to hold the world’s governments to is 2 degrees”

    Hasn’t Hansen called the 2 degrees target [~450 ppm CO2] a “recipe for global disaster”?

    Wouldn’t a prime mission of a group naming itself be to call for 350 ppm, and to speak in terms that make it clear what is wrong with targets for stabilizing at levels of greenhouse gases higher than that? How can it be that the founder of is on a tour “doing the maths” where “a recipe for global disaster” is on one side of the equation and something worse, i.e. enough fossil fuel to create it many times over is on the other?

    It has become unreasonable to actually state that because there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere already, which is what 350 ppm means, no one needs to do any more math like this.

    Consider John Cook’s reaction to the Queensland Premier’s statement about how important he thinks coal is: “Queensland’s in the coal business, and that’s more important than the Great Barrier Reef”. What John said was: “that just broke my heart”.

    Schellnhuber (founder of PIK, climate advisor to Chancellor Merkel, he was also centrally involved in setting the 2 degree target for negotiations) said at the 4 degrees conference held in Australia that the 2 degrees target does not save the Great Barrier Reef. Garneau spoke clearly, repeating and agreeing with Schellnhuber’s assessment about this risk. What Schellnhuber said:

    “below 2 degrees probably the Great Barrier Reef will perish already. This is one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world. I guess Australians are fully aware of that. Not just because of warming but because of ocean acidification. The combined effect is devastating. Definitely…. But many other systems can survive, if you do not turn up the heat more than 2 degrees”.

    The Reef is as good as gone.

    What Schellnhuber’s concern is, now that things have gone this far, is that we are going to cast in stone an irretrievable situation for our descendants by the end of this decade, a planet committed to warming on its own no matter what is done to emission levels, etc.

    Queensland’s Premier can proclaim he’d throw the Great Barrier Reef under the bus to save his coal industry, and all he is demonstrating is that he hasn’t a clue what is at risk.

    John Cook reinforces the Premier’s lack of understanding as he talks as if 2 degrees, if achieved, could alter the reef’s fate.

    With all due respect to McKibben and Cook, and they deserve respect for finding a way to have an impact in these dark hours, are they demonstrating what Lewandowsky is talking about?

  5. Schellnhuber’s 4 Degrees conference in Australia, Session 1 “Strange Encounters behind the 2 degree C firewall” presentation contains a good description of why some promote the idea of putting what’s required into tonnes of CO2 that can be emitted, as opposed to percentage emission cuts by certain dates. What he said:

    “today, in spite of all the complexities of the climate system, we can calculate that the mean global temperature rise we will produce over the next forty or fifty years is just a very simple linear function of the cumulated emissions of CO2. So if you tell me how much emissions of CO2 will happen over the next “x” years, I can calculate what the global mean temperature rise will be, with an order of ten percent of error, something like that. Its good enough, definitely. If we want to hold the 2 degrees line I spoke about, which has been internationally confirmed, and so on, we have about 750 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide to spend up to the middle of the century. Every year we add more than 30 so you can calculate, it would only work for another twenty years and so on…. ”

    The problem with putting the solution into terms like we need to cut 90% of CO2 emissions by 2030 or something like that is, people like politicians who hear that allow themselves to think if its business as usual until the day before the deadline and then emissions are cut, things will still be fine. Obviously, they won’t be. Too much CO2 would have been emitted for any reductions by then to be meaningful.

    Schellnhuber talks about the “vicious integral” that sets in when you calculate the consequences of what happens if we allow things to slide until 2020 for instance before global emissions peak, because there is an absolute limit to the amount of CO2 that can be put into the atmosphere before dangerous change is cast in stone. Since we would have emitted so much of the tonnes allowed by then, and the overall emission system would have actually grown in size, really dramatic emission cuts per year would be required in order to have some chance of staying below 2 degrees, cuts that every analysis now would say are impossible.

    Of course this is the same insane calculation that assumes wiping out the Great Barrier Reef is acceptable, because adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere than what is already in now might not commit our descendants to an unstable system warming on its own with an ocean too acid to support this Age of Life.

  6. I realize there are many voices out there who say “there is no such thing as clean coal”, and that we must “leave coal in the hole”, because burning it inevitably means more CO2 ends up in the atmosphere because there is not now and there never will be a way to use fossil fuel economically without emitting CO2.

    It is interesting how prominent those who disagree with this position are.

    Stephen Chu committed hundreds of millions of dollars during his term as head of the US DOE to research into carbon capture and storage, i.e. CCS. Bob Watson, who helped create the IPCC and served as its chair for the Third Assessment Report argued at this year’s AGU that he can’t envision a climate solution that doesn’t involve substantial amounts of carbon capture and/or nuclear power. Myles Allen published an article on his views, that there is no climate solution without CCS, in The Guardian recently. Etc.

    How about talking about keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere rather than “leaving coal in the hole”?

    Schellnhuber suggested that developing CCS will be an excellent way to learn how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere itself.

  7. I think Lewandowsky and/or Cook’s idea that there is evidence, or they think the IPCC has been doing something like erring on the side of least drama, or as Lewandowsky stated in Colorado recently, worse, i.e. seeping seepage or whatever may be correct.

    However, consider what Bob Watson said at this year’s AGU on this very topic.

    Keep in mind that Watson chaired the Ozone Trends Panel way back when, i.e. before the IPCC was created, he was central when the IPCC was created, and he chaired the Third Assessment Report that came out with the first memorable attribution statement in 2002. I bring up the Ozone Trends Panel because that was an example of where the Watson strategy is said to have been a tremendous success.

    I had a brief conversation with Watson in 1988 at the Changing Atmosphere conference in Toronto, where some say the decision was taken to create the IPCC. Watson’s idea then was that scientists needed to be very conservative in what they said in order to maintain their credibility. I argued that they needed to do more. He indicated that doing more was for types like me to do, not types like him. (He took me for some type of NGO. I had introduced myself to the conference as an artist who was concerned after reading the scientific journals these guys were publishing that I was living in a dying civilization).

    Anyway, back to this year’s AGU, and what Bob Watson said after all these years. He hasn’t changed. Whatever effect Lewandowsky is talking about was happening, in Watson’s case, as far back as 1988.

    He was asked in the Q&A after his 2012 AGU presentation why, given that the evidence was so clear way back before the IPCC was created, that it took so long for the IPCC to come up with a clear attribution statement.

    He said: “I strongly support the way we did it…. We were careful and conservative. And also the evidence was not overwhelming. … We have to be very careful. If we ever have a strong statement that’s later proved to be wrong we will lose all credibility as a science community. I believe the statements… [in the 1st and 2nd IPCC assessment reports] certainly showed that human induced climate change was a serious issue. It stopped short of a very strong, as you are inferring correctly, an attribution statement. So the first really strong attribution statement was in the 3rd assessment report which became even stronger in the 4th assessment report. But basically I think if you read those first two assessment reports it clearly showed that we were very very worried about human induced climate change. But we had to weigh how good was the evidence to make a strong attribution statement and it wasn’t until the third one [ 2001 TAR ] and we got some criticism even on that, that we thought we could make it basically. I think we should always be slightly on the side of being conservative otherwise we’re going to get ripped apart by the climate deniers if we make even the most simple mistake as you saw happen with the Himalayan glacier issue about a year and a half ago”

    The 1988 Toronto conference put out this consensus statement, which, because he was there, Watson is a signatory to. That conference was invitation only, with 400 delegates from 40 countries present. Two heads of state dropped by. I was there somewhat by accident, as Canada was the host, I was Canadian, they wanted some enviromentalists present as window dressing, and I happened to be the most knowledgeable NGO type in Canada on ozone at the time, and ozone was on the agenda as well. Take a look at the first paragraph of the conference statement, i.e. what the scientists I talked to said 95% of their colleagues would agree with:

    “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war. The Earth’s atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate by pollutants resulting from human activities, inefficient and wasteful fossil fuel use and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions. These changes represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe“.

    This is quite a bit different from what Watson says didn’t materialize until just before the TAR came out in 2002.

  8. David – I have read your posts several times and enjoyed Lewandowski’s word games and dry humour. We have discussed these matters before and every now and then I like to clarify and simplify my thought.

    We don’t like what is happening in the world now with respect to weather and crop production. The 2°C target was never a scientific determination as David Archer points out in his lectures. We will not like a 2°C world or any world hotter still. I see it as something that some people thought could be put in front of politicians as a way of building arguments and inspiring the setting of incremental targets by governments on the grounds that “something is better than nothing”. “Something” is worse than nothing if it deceives us into a belief that adequate action is being taken. The 2°C target and the percentage targets are ways of defering action to some later government or generation – a way of handing on a supposed poison chalice.

    Our objectives with respect to greenhouse gasses are:

    1. to eliminate fossil fuels sourced emmissions of greenhouse gasses by all constructive means possible
    2. to extract these gasses from the atmosphere to a level that sustains a biosphere we can live with. – for now call it 350ppm

    Progress on these goals should be publically reported at every level every year, the second objective not being set against the first. One obvious and universally desired means of carbon sequestration is in restoration and improvement of soil quality. That should be part of any relevant report too.

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