An extremely dangerous trend in public policy is growing around the world: demanding reduced emissions, mainly from agriculture, of nitrous oxide (N2O) because it contributes to global warming. Indeed, we’re told, every molecule of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has 230 times the warming potential of every molecule of carbon dioxide-and governments all over the world concluded long ago, rightly or wrongly, that we must cut carbon dioxide emissions to reduce global warming. Clearly, then, it is even more important that we cut nitrous oxide emissions.
What’s dangerous about this? Nitrous oxide is a critical input of agricultural production. Reducing its use will seriously reduce food production, harming the world’s poor. But, if global warming is even more dangerous than reduced food production (which it is not, but for the moment we’ll assume it is for the sake of argument), surely, we must go ahead and take this step. Life is full of tradeoffs, after all.
Not so fast. Things aren’t quite that simple.
I want to begin with a thought experiment. Imagine that you have two cans of paint, A and B. Like all paint, their content is a mixture of clear liquid, through which light passes unimpeded, plus some color pigment. The concentration of the pigment determines how intense the color is, that is, how much light it absorbs so it doesn’t pass through the clear liquid. In can A, 230 out of every 1,000 molecules of paint are pigment. In can B, 1 out of every 1,000 molecules is pigment. It follows obviously that a coating of paint from can A will absorb 230 times as much light as a coating of the same thickness of paint from can B.
Now imagine that you apply 10 coats of paint from can A to a sheet of clear glass, and 23 coats of paint from can B to another sheet of clear glass. Which will block more sunlight? The sheet with paint from can A, because 230 times 10 is more than 23 times 1. Now imagine that instead you apply 10 coats of paint from can A to a sheet of glass, and 30,000 coats of paint from can B to another sheet. Now which will block more sunlight? Obviously, the sheet with paint from can B, because 30,000 times 1-30,000-is 13 times more than 230 times 10-2,300.
This is a simplified analogy-not perfect, but good enough to give us the basic idea-to the comparison between the radiative forcing (which determines the warming effect) of carbon dioxide emissions and that of nitrous oxide emissions.
Those who demand that we cut nitrous oxide emissions will point out that the radiative forcing by every molecule of nitrous oxide is 230 times that of every molecule of carbon dioxide. If we think we must cut carbon dioxide emissions to curb global warming, they reason, it follows that it’s even more important to cut emissions of nitrous oxide.
But they neglect two important things. First, concentration nitrous oxide’s concentration in the atmosphere is about 0.334 parts per million in the atmosphere, while carbon dioxide’s is about nearly 1,300 times as high: 420 parts per million. Second, and more important, carbon dioxide’s concentration is increasing at a rate some 3,000 times that of nitrous oxide. Consequently, the contribution of each year’s addition of nitrous oxide to the annual increase in forcing is 230 divided by 3000, or about one-thirteenth that of carbon dioxide. Similar comparisons can be made between the radiative forcing of nitrous oxide and that of methane.
To cut to the chase, it can be calculated, based on the well-understood physics of radiative transfer, that the combined radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that are being added to the atmosphere is enough to raise global average atmospheric temperature by about 0.1 degree Celsius (0.18 degree Fahrenheit) per decade, or 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) per century. But since the rate of increase of nitrous oxide’s concentration in the atmosphere is much, much lower than that of either carbon dioxide or methane, it turns out that the radiative forcing of nitrous oxide being added to the atmosphere is only about 0.01 degree Fahrenheit per decade, or 0.1 degree per century-one eighteenth of the combined warming from all three gases.
What those who demand that we cut nitrous oxide emissions by reducing or even eliminating our use of nitrogen-based fertilizers in agriculture-the primary source of nitrous oxide emissions-want us to do, then, is to drastically curb food production, at very high cost, in order to slow global warming by only about a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit per century. Does that make sense?
I don’t think so.
Nitrous oxide is crucial to agricultural production. When Sri Lanka, a year ago, ordered all its farmers to stop using nitrous fertilizers, the impact on agricultural yields was devastating, leading to a complete collapse of its government. A less stringent but still destructive policy in the Netherlands led to widespread protests by that country’s farmers-whose amazing productivity has made that tiny country the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products. Declined production there will multiply hunger and starvation in developing countries that import food from the Dutch.
Tell your elected representatives, in the White House and in Congress, what you think.
Want to learn more about this? My good friends at the CO2 Coalition have just published a major technical paper on the subject along with a short summary for non-scientist readers.
Steven Brizel says
We are not going to starve so that some well heeled person can live a so called sustainable life
First it was “we must stop emitting CO2.” Then it was CO2 and nitrogen. Then CO2, nitrogen, and nitrous oxide. No doubt others will be added. I’m getting the idea these people want to curtail all human activity on the planet.
I sincerely wish at least some of them would strt with this curtailment of human activity with curtainling their own, completely. Go head, make yourself a HEEROE by taking one for the team.
There is a group of elitists who think that the Earth’s population is too high and that it must be culled. This is one of the ways they will accomplish their goal of elimination of the human race, whom they deem as expendable.
Others have already been added. To reduce degradation of the ozone layer R-12 was replaced for refrigeration and later all other uses by other chemicals. For refrigeration the answer was R-134 in most applications — a chemical with loosely similar properties that could actually be used in R-12 systems with minor adaptation.. It worked not quite as well, but adequately for most jobs like auto A/C.
But now it has been concluded that R-134 is a far more serious greenhouse gas than CO2. So it is being replaced by R-1234 which is again loosely compatible but requires specific changes.
Oh! Did you forget Ozone calamity?
Climate change is the biggest hoax of all time. Its the globalists and their $ millions that are investing in alternative energy.. Which will fail! You cant make polyester from thin air. Or fertilizers.
The March Hare says
Looking at the Short Summery link in the last paragraph, the photo at the bottom tells the tale. Two fields of wheat, one grown with nitrogen fertilizer and one without. It says it all.
So does the photo of the wheat field with nitrogen fertilizer next to the field without it, below those.
And look at the timeline. About the time the ‘environmentalists’ started saying population would overwhelm food production and we would run out of food by 1992, was when nitrogen fertilizer started the remarkable increase in crop yields, proving them wrong, and increased further when GMO crops started being used.
370H55V I/me/mine says
Understand that this is part of the plan. They have openly stated ithat their objective is to reduce the world’s population to 500 million. Starvation, war, feminism, abortion, celebration of homsexuality–lots of ways to do it.
Terry Hulsey says
Great succinct article on the science!
Spurwing Plover says
Save the Earth from the useful idiots trying to save it from a totally made up threat of Global Warming/Climate Change
John Wood says
How have we survived for so long without having all these “geniuses” around to tell us what we are doing is going to kill us and destroy the planet?
I don;t know the answer to that one… but I have a good suggestion: SINCE we human have not been able to destroy this whole dirtball in the six thousand or so years we’ve been trying to, how’s about we rare back and give it another go for another six thousand years? We’ve failed so miserably at destroying it I think our track record speaks well for us.
Tex the Mockingbird says
The cure can often be worst then the desease in this case is true World/Global Government is Not the cure its the cause
I have not yet heard of any of these shrill shills railing on dentists who use NO as an anaesthetic for their patients. Imagine the horror of releasing multiple cubic metrers of this ‘horoble” gas just to keep their delicate and sensitive patients frm feeling a wtings of pain as they get their teeth drilled, ground up, hacked up, ripped out of their jaws…..
if it saves one life (even if only of a flea) then its worh it, yea?
Numbskulls are wilfully ignorant of the proven FACT that CO2 levels in earh currently are less tan one sixth of what is known to have existed in aeons past. And in THOSE periods of time, plant growth was far more rapid, lush, prolific, fecund, than at any time these past two or three centuries.
Spurwing Plover says
Pollution was far worst in the Horse and Buggy days
Andrew Blackadder says
These idiots that think they can control the climate of the Planet when in fact they cant even control their own thoughts inside their own mind.