Water Vapor, Not Mankind, is the Greatest Contributor to Green House Gases

It seems over the past decades there’s been the notion that mankind has been the largest contributor to green house gas emissions. While green house gases do come from things developed to help mankind grow and prosper like: factories, plants that produce energy, cars, trucks, railroads, airplanes, they combined are not the greatest contributor to green house gasses.

It is important to understand what are green house gases and how they help or harm mankind and what should be done.

According to the EPA Greenhouse gases are:

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees and other biological materials, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement).
  • Methane (CH4) Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil.
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural, land use, industrial activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, as well as during treatment of wastewater.
  • Fluorinated gases [A]re emitted from a variety of industrial processes.

Therefore, according to the EPA, in order to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50-52% we must: stop using all fossil fuels, stop making cement, stop transporting coal, natural gas and oil, stop growing crops and raising cattle, pigs, chickens, etc., stop industrial activities, stop treating waste water and finally end all industrial processes.

QUESTION: Is it necessary to inflict massive hardship on mankind in order to “save the plant”? Or, is there something else going on?

That something else going on which are the natural processes on the earth, in conjunction with the sun, that are the greatest creator of green house gasses and have been since the beginning of time.

What is the Great Contributor to Green House Gases?

Water vapor is the most important, abundant greenhouse gas. Water vapor accounts for 60-70% of the greenhouse effect while CO2 accounts for 25%.

In a September 23rd, 2010 article titled “Water Vapor, CO2, and Global Warming” Anita Dotson wrote:

As the atmospheric temperature rises, more water is evaporated from ground storage, such as that found in our rivers, oceans, soils, and reservoirs. The released water vapor becomes a greenhouse gas where it then absorbs more energy radiated from the Earth and thus warms the atmosphere. The warmer atmosphere results in further water evaporation and the cycle continues. This mechanism is known as a Positive Feedback Loop.

Also, a common mistake that people make is to think that the “smoke” rising from power station cooling towers is air pollution. However this is simply water vapor being emitted as steam. This is not air pollution.

On November 17th, 2008 NASA released a report titled “Water Vapor Confirmed as Major Player in Climate Change.” In the report NASA stated:

Water vapor is known to be Earth’s most abundant greenhouse gas, but the extent of its contribution to global warming has been debated. Using recent NASA satellite data, researchers have estimated more precisely than ever the heat-trapping effect of water in the air, validating the role of the gas as a critical component of climate change.

Andrew Dessler and colleagues from Texas A&M University in College Station confirmed that the heat-amplifying effect of water vapor is potent enough to double the climate warming caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

With new observations, the scientists confirmed experimentally what existing climate models had anticipated theoretically. The research team used novel data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite to measure precisely the humidity throughout the lowest 10 miles of the atmosphere. That information was combined with global observations of shifts in temperature, allowing researchers to build a comprehensive picture of the interplay between water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other atmosphere-warming gases. The NASA-funded research was published recently in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters.

“Everyone agrees that if you add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, then warming will result,” Dessler said. “So the real question is, how much warming?”

The answer can be found by estimating the magnitude of water vapor feedback. Increasing water vapor leads to warmer temperatures, which causes more water vapor to be absorbed into the air. Warming and water absorption increase in a spiraling cycle.

The Bottom Line

We have known for decades that water vapor is both a major contributor to green house gases and that water vapor holds in other green house gases.

The problem is we, mankind, cannot eliminate the natural production of water vapor on earth.

Here are two charts from the U.S. Department of Energy that explain that mankind is not the contritutor:

The Important Greenhouse Gases (except water vapor)
U.S. Department of Energy, (October, 2000) (1)

(all concentrations expressed in parts per billion) Pre-industrial baseline Natural additions Man-made additions Total (ppb) Concentration Percent of Total
 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)  288,000 68,520 11,880 (2) 368,400 99.438%
 Methane (CH4)  848 577 320 1,745 0.471% 
 Nitrous Oxide (N2O)  285 12 15 312 0.084%
 Misc. gases ( CFC’s, etc.)  25 0 2 27 0.007%
 Total  289,158 69,109 12,217 370,484 100.00%

Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases (except water vapor)
adjusted for heat retention characteristics, relative to CO2

This table adjusts values in Table 1 to compare greenhouse gases equally with respect to CO2. ( #’s are unit-less) Multiplier (GWP) Pre-industrial baseline(new) Natural additions (new) Man-made additions (new) Tot. Relative Contribution Percent of Total (new)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)  1  288,000 68,520 11,880 368,400 72.369% 
Methane (CH4)  21 (3)  17,808 12,117 6,720 36,645 7.199% 
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)  310 (3) 88,350 3,599 4,771 96,720 19.000% 
 CFC’s (and other misc. gases) see data (4) 2,500 0 4,791 7,291 1.432% 
 Total 396,658 84,236 28,162 509,056 100.000%

Simply put, there’s  nothing mankind can do noting to stop the earth from producing water vapor.

Which leads us to the second myth of mankind becoming “carbon neutral.” Governments cannot regulate, mandate or control how much CO2 is in the atmosphere because every living creature from mankind, to animals, to plants, to fish in our vast seas and oceans emit CO2. Each of us, by simply breathing, emits as a by product CO2.

Is the answer for us to stop breathing? Some believe that we must control not only the growth of population but actually reduce our population. This is scary stuff. Who decides who lives and who dies? Who decides what we need to do to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere using draconian measures? Government or you?

In our column “The Unrealistic Myth of Carbon Neutrality” we wrote:

Amazon aims for total carbon neutrality. Apple aims for total carbon neutrality. FedEx plans to replace its entire gas and diesel powered delivery trucks and replace them with electric powered vehicles.  In 2030 Mercedes committed to selling EVs exclusively “where the market allows.” Porsche aims to be totally carbon neutral. In 2025 Jaguar will become an all electric brand. Honda is planning to sell only electric vehicles in America. In 2027 Alfa Romeo plans on selling only electric vehicles in China, Europe and the U.S. In 2035. General Motors pledged to sell only electric vehicles unless “the market demands otherwise” and aims for its global products and operations to be carbon neutral. Mercedes aims to be carbon neutral in 2039. And finally, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru, Toyota and the Volkswagen Group aim for total carbon neutrality by 2050.

Do you see where this is all going? 

If you want to destroy an economy, eliminate jobs, stop heating homes, stop manufacturing cars, trucks, and SUVs that use gasoline or diesel fuels, stop flying planes that use jet fuel, stop manufacturing, end farming, stop getting clean water, and all of those related industries, then just go carbon neutral.

Stopping the use of power plants using coal, natural gas and oil will literally shut down America. Our nation will become worse than a third world country, we would return to the stone age before mankind discovered fire.

QUESTION: Is this idea of carbon neutrality good for you and me or bad for you and me?

ANSWER: NO! Carbon neutrality is about government making decisions that are best left up to individual consumers.

We have learned three things about the climate:

  1. The climate changes.
  2. These changes in the climate are due to natural cycles (e.g. summer, fall, winter, spring).
  3. There is nothing mankind can do to change these naturally occurring cycles.

This ends this lesson on what is the greatest contributor to green house gasses and how there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

©Dr. Rich Swier. All rights reserved.

RELATED ARTICLE: The oceans are absorbing more carbon than previously thought

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