Another Republican Politician

Dana Rohrabacher is currently serving as Vice Chairman of the House Committe on Science, Space and Technology. As John Stewart so pointedly asked, “How far back to the elementary school core curriculum do we have to go to get someone on the House Committe on Science, Space, and Technology caught up?”

In Dana Rorhabacher’s case, I doubt we could ever get elementary enough.


The issue at hand is, how much of the CO2 increase is due to humans — i.e., us? The answer is, all of it. The CO2 level is 42% higher than before the industrial revolution, and that increase is all because of us.

But Dana Rohrabacher doesn’t accept that. He’s been listening to dishonest, mendacious, misleading witnesses (some of them dishonest, mendacious, misleading scientists) who proclaim that we’re only responsible for 3% of CO2 emissions, maybe 5%, certainly not more than 10%.

Is Dana Rohrabacher so mind-numbingly stupid that he doesn’t understand the difference between the economic concept of “net” vs “gross”?

Every year there’s tremendous flow of CO2 between atmosphere, ocean, biosphere, land. Way more flux than we emit. But until we came along, the flux into the atmosphere was the same as the flux out of the atmosphere. The flow — the gross — was huge, but the imbalance — the net — was nil. That’s why atmospheric CO2 was stable. For thousands of years.

Then the industrial revolution came along, and we started burning ancient carbon that’s been buried underground for millions of years. That yields CO2 which goes about half into the atmosphere and half into the oceans. All of a sudden there’s a flow into the atmosphere which isn’t balanced by a flow out of the atmosphere. As a result, we’re only responsible for a tiny fraction of the gross but we are responsible for all of the net.

Dana Rohrabacher has been told this. It’s been explained to him. But he still denies it. Either he is telling a deliberate lie, or he is too stupid to comprehend the concept of “net” vs “gross.”

You don’t believe me? Here’s a recent twitter exchange involving Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher:


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Professor M ?@windoverthelea Jul 10

@DanaRohrabacher Your treatment of @GinaEPA Thursday was shameful, wrongheaded, misleading, ignorant, and rude. An insult to voters.

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Dana Rohrabacher ?@DanaRohrabacher Jul 10

@windoverthelea I have asked that question of Scientists & never been told it was inappropriate. instead of calling names challenge facts

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Professor M ?@windoverthelea Jul 10

@DanaRohrabacher To what ? were you referring? As for challenging facts, I’d rather challenge faulty, partisan rhetoric. Facts are facts.

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Dana Rohrabacher ?@DanaRohrabacher Jul 10

@windoverthelea U think it partisan 2 ask gov official what percentage of atmosphere is CO2, when it is being used to justify fed controls?

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caerbannog666 ?@caerbannog666 Jul 13

@DanaRohrabacher In your recent EPA hearing, u repeated the claim that only 10% CO2 is due to humans. That is trivially and obviously WRONG.

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Dana Rohrabacher ?@DanaRohrabacher Jul 13

@caerbannog666 that is based on answers I have received at science Cmtee hearings over the years when asking verity of expert witnesses

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caerbannog666 ?@caerbannog666 Jul 13

@DanaRohrabacher The “experts” pushing “10% CO2” r snake-oil salesmen. It is ez to disprove that claim. I showed u how in previous tweets.

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Dana Rohrabacher ?@DanaRohrabacher Jul 13

@caerbannog666 obviously some years higher some lower but max I was told 20percent, mini 5. Fact is most of CO2 in atmosphere not man made

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caerbannog666 ?@caerbannog666

@DanaRohrabacher The Vice Chairman of the House Science Committee should have the math/science chops to crunch those numbers himself (1/2).

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I’ll paraphrase John Stewart: “How far back to the elementary school core curriculum do we have to go to get Dana Rohrabacher — someone on the House Committe on Science, Space, and Technology — caught up?”

38 responses to “Another Republican Politician

  1. You are living pay check to pay check, earning and spending $2000/month. Then you get a $200 raise. Now you earn $2200/month and still spend $2000. After 5 months you have saved up $1000.

    How much of the $1000 savings is due to your raise?

  2. Ralph Snyder

    I think you’ve flipped the meanings of gross and net.

    Gross emissions should be the total of natural and human emission into the atmosphere.

    Net emissions should be the difference between total emissions into the atmosphere and absorption from the atmosphere.

    [Response: Thanks. Fixed]

    Unless I’m wrong.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out where the 5% figure comes from. It’s certainly not the percentage of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere. Nor is it the ratio of anthropogenic emitted each year to total CO2 in the atmosphere. It’s certainly not the percentage of the increase of CO2 due to human activity. Surely it comes from somewhere, but where?

    • edaviesmeuk

      “I can’t for the life of me figure out where the 5% figure comes from.”

      I’m not sure but I think the idea is that 5% of the extra CO₂ in the atmosphere is literally anthropogenic. Suppose that fossil carbon was all a different isotope from that in pre-industrial atmosphere and ocean CO₂ then 5% of the amount in the atmosphere would have that isotope.

      Of course, that’s quite consistent with the amount in the atmosphere increasing by 50% of the emissions we make. On time scales of decades the CO₂ in the ocean and the atmosphere is reasonably well mixed. The amount in the ocean is much larger so 5% of our emissions can finish up in the atmosphere and 95% in the ocean but the amount dissolved is much “stiffer” with respect to increase of surface partial pressure than the amount in the atmosphere hence the roughly 50/50 split of the increase.

  3. You have gross and net flipped. Gross is “gains from all sources”, net is gains minus expenses. What we measure in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is the net increase, and that is apparently about half our contribution to the gross.

    [Response: Thanks. Fixed]

  4. David B. Benson

    Actually it is a bit more than 100% of the net as the temperature, without humans, would be in a slow decline, bringing CO2 down as well.

  5. But wait… there’s more!

    Rohrabacher hosted a little reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session today, so I took the opportunity to press him a bit more about his CO2 claims.

    (WARNING: Secure all hot beverages before you click on the link below.)

    The train-wreck begins here: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3ehwqz/iama_congressman_dana_rohrabacher_for_californias/ctf5ofn

  6. Mod: that should be “intro course”

  7. Is Dana Rohrabacher so mind-numbingly stupid that he doesn’t understand the difference between the economic concept of “net” vs “gross”?

    Yes. Wait… is this a trick question?

  8. Ernst K:

    “You are living pay check to pay check, earning and spending $2000/month. Then you get a $200 raise. Now you earn $2200/month and still spend $2000. After 5 months you have saved up $1000.

    How much of the $1000 savings is due to your raise?”

    None! That’s why Republicans also oppose raising the minimum wage …

    Or something.

  9. I had one success (at least) showing the actual mass of C in the air compared with cumulative mass emitted. It’s hard to deny. Of course, some still do.

  10. John Mashey

    As David says, but in more detail, as per Ruddiman et al(2011), p.7, by comparison with relevant past interglacials, without humans, best estimate of likely CO2 is ~250ppm, not 280.

  11. Chris O'Neill

    Is Dana Rohrabacher so mind-numbingly stupid that he doesn’t understand the difference between the economic concept of “net” vs “gross”?

    What was that saying about when a man’s livelihood depends on not understanding something, there is no limit to how stupid he can be?

    • I wonder whether some–meaning some of the propagandists who feed our not-so-noble committee members–are calculating this way:

      hco2=((pc-pic)/pc)*100*r

      where

      hco2=human contribution to atmospheric CO2
      pc=Present concentration
      pic=Pre-industrial concentration
      r=percentage of human emissions to total natural emissions, ca. 3.76% from:

      https://www.skepticalscience.com/human-co2-smaller-than-natural-emissions.htm

      Which would give an answer of ‘human CO2’ being ~1.13%. It’s smaller than Rohrbacher’s ~ 10% in the comment feed, or the ‘mini 5%’ in the quoted tweet in the body of tamino’s post, so maybe not–but who knows what additional fudging or simple carelessness went into that number?

      In this scenario, the committee members would be “mind-numbingly stupid” (or more likely, not bothering to pay attention to anything except the attractiveness of the answer), while the (posited) propagandists would be somewhat clever–albeit also being lying, cheating, unscrupulous, short-sighted bastards.

  12. The CO2 around us is 30% anthropogenic:

    (400-280) / 400

    • Yes. I usually state that as 40%+ growth:

      (400-280)/280

      I very much fear that the chairman and some members of the committee would think that that was a contradiction of your calculation, rather than the other side of the coin…

  13. Years ago I found myself involved in trying to straighten the mess a politician had made of a project. Unfortunately the politician was still involved with the project. It became very obvious that the politician did not understand the difference between all, some and none. Once the project was wrecked beyond salvage he announced victory and said, “My job here is through!” and took off.

  14. skeptictmac57

    Who knows what he’s getting at, but it might be that someone has convinced him that Co2 lags warming, and the warming that we are experiencing is natural (you know, because the (fickle) climate changes all the time…like it just wakes up in a bad mood one day, and decides to warm up and expel some “natural” Co2).
    But wait! That can’t be right because it isn’t warming, and Co2 doesn’t cause much/any increase in temp, and it’s all for the good anyway cause Co2 is good for plants, and you know the sun is hot…so hot, and God, and it’s really, really gonna be OK…I think, and did The Koch bros. return my call yet Marge?

    • It gets better: Since CO2 is “plant food” and spurs plant growth, apparently all this phenomenally wonderful growth occurs only using “natural” CO2 molecules from the atmosphere and NOT a single “man-made” CO2 molecule as they, apparently, are supposed to all stay in the atmosphere.

      The ability of a denier to hold and expound mutually contradictory positions
      is simply astounding.

  15. I put on my “junior-high science teacher wannabe” hat and tried my hand at walking Rohrabacher through some very simple calculations: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3ehwqz/iama_congressman_dana_rohrabacher_for_californias/ctfamhk

    I also tweeted that link to him to be sure that he sees it.

    We shall see how he responds…

    • Rattus Norvegicus

      Yes, but that uses numbers and mathy stuff and we know how deceiving numbers can be.

  16. Jeffrey Davis

    The depressing thing to realize is that you can’t shame or scold gangsters. These people aren’t mistaken or obstinate or true believers. They’re gangsters.

    Somehow we’ve got to get the goods on them, convict them, and get them out of office.

    Sorry to be blunt.

  17. Mr. R also said that Obama science advisor John Holdren is not on board with the “97%” consensus. Could someone please go ask him & report back?
    (Not me, the context feels clever, which I am not.)

    And to be kinder to Mr. R, since most U.S. voters wouldn’t have followed the math either, perhaps someone could show him the proportion by which amospheric CO 2 levels have risen in the years since we started burning fossil fuels, and ask whether the scientists he’s consulted have published evidence for a natural cause that could explain this rise, & also explain where all the CO2 from human activity went? (And if so, which scientist, & who could come up with the reference.)

  18. A variation on the false theme of ‘the increase in atmospheric CO2 can’t possibly be due to burning fossil fuels’ is given by Timothy Casey in an article called Deforestation & Carbon Emission, here:
    http://deforestation.geologist-1011.net/

    Casey concludes that between 1850 and 2000 “Carbon emissions due to fossil fuel combustion represent less than 20% of the total human impact on atmospheric carbon levels” and that the contribution of deforestation to carbon emissions “dwarfs” the fossil fuel combustion contribution.

    The increase in atmospheric CO2 during this period was from 288ppmv in 1850 to 369.5ppmv in 2000, an increase of 81.5ppmv, which represents (at 2.13GtonsC/ppmv) an increase of 174Gtons C (636Gtons CO2) in the atmosphere. However, the CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels during this same period was 282Gtons C (1035Gtons CO2) showing that emissions from fossil fuel burning are more than enough to account for the increase in atmospheric CO2.
    ( Data from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, specifically:
    http://cdiac.ornl.gov/faq.html#Q4 and http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/ndp030/global.1751_2011.ems ).

    Land use change, including forest destruction and wetland and peatland drainage and destruction, are indeed important contributors to atmospheric carbon emissions, and their restoration should play an important part in sequestrating atmospheric CO2, as well as safeguarding biodiversity: but that importance should not be used as an excuse for continuing to burn fossil fuels.

  19. climatehawk1

    Based on the above exchange and others I’ve seen, I don’t think Mr. Rohrabacher gives a crap, or to the degree he does, he just enjoys trolling. Therefore not sure of value of further speculating on his motives.

  20. I think Dana Rohrabacher is correct that just 10% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is man made. I believe he means it came directly from our emissions i.e. the CO2 carbon atom originated in a fossil fuel or a tree we burnt down. To check I had to write a simple mass balance model which gives figures between 5% and 20%. My best estimate is 10%.

    Our emissions have a short life time in the atmosphere (about 5 years) before they are absorbed into the land/ocean carbon reservoir. That reservoir contains a lot more carbon than the atmosphere, and the carbon cycles through it more slowly. As a result it mostly emits natural CO2 from which it follows that the percent of CO2 in the atmosphere is far lower than you might expect. If this reservoir is huge I find only 5% of atmospheric CO2 is man made. If the reservoir is 10 times larger than the atmospheric store (a number comparable to the carbon in soil vegetation and the upper ocean) then 10% is anthropogenic. A small reservoir (3x larger) leads to my upper estimate of 20%. Smaller reservoirs lead to a higher percentage because at least some of the man made CO2 cycles round and round the system in ever increasing circles!

    According to my model the current 400ppm CO2 is made up as follows; 280 ppm is natural (the original natural CO2 replaced by recycled natural CO2), 40ppm is from man, and 80 ppm is natural CO2 that has been displaced from the reservoir by the 225ppm of man made CO2 that has been drawn down from the atmosphere into the reservoir by the carbon cycle.
    ——————————————————————————————-
    The only 10% is man made argument is of course a red herring, a meaningless percentage since it is the total amount of extra CO2 that matters regardless of the point of origin. It is our activities, emitting CO2 directly via chimneys and indirectly via the carbon cycle, that are driving up the total level in the atmosphere.

    • If you ask the wrong question you will get an irrelevant and misleading answer, designed to obfuscate and confuse, which is what deniers and misleaders do all the time.
      Just stick to the question, “How much of the increase from c.280ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere in 1750 to c.400ppmv now is due to human activity?, to which the answer is, “All of it”.
      Simples.

    • I think you are right, he is just playing a word game. Skeptics seem to like doing that. He might truly have been told at committee hearings that only 10% of the actual CO2 molecules in the atmosphere are anthropogenic in origin. So saying that only 10% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is man-made is arguably true.

      If you want to get at whether he understands why that is irrelevant, you will have to be more precise with language. Perhaps ask him what proportion of the increase in CO2 levels is man made.

    • edaviesmeuk

      I think this is a more-numerate version of the reply I gave to Ralph Snyder above. It’d be interesting to see a more authoritative version as both mdenison and I are speculating somewhat.

      Speculating further, did somebody brief Rohrabacher to ask a question in a way specifically to elicit this red-herring answer?

    • Deniers have routinely used the annual churning of the carbon cycle–which amounts to a large number compared to the annual human addition of carbon–to confuse the issue for many years. This is just another example phrased in a slightly different way.

      That is, R “just happens” not to check on how many “man made molecules” have migrated from the atmosphere into plants, the soil, the oceans, etc. Just plain slipped his mind (if any)! For his argument to work, there should be zero in all sinks other than the atmosphere. But of course that is not the case.

  21. Upton Sinclair – “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

  22. If a Republican president will follow after the Obama, I’m afraid that almost all the renewable enrgy programs started by the the Obama administration will be ended very quick, and the fossil fuel industry will thrive.
    Here is a recent clash between President Obama and a few republicans at the State of the Union Address 2015.
    http://www.alternative-energies.net/obama-vs-republicans-on-climate-changes/

  23. Mr. R. needs to hear/see the bathtub metaphor.
    For Mr. R:
    Atmospheric CO2 is the water in a bathtub. This tub has 2 faucets, “natural” and “human-caused”. The tub’s faucet inflow used to be balanced by its drain outflow, until we humans, for very legitimate reasons, opened our side’s spigot. Now the level in the tub has risen, and it keeps on rising, because the drain is now overburdened, having now to get rid of our (fossilfuel+deforestation+… -produced) CO2 as well as the naturally produced CO2 that the drain has been handling all along.
    (And the higher level is more harmful the further from”normal” it gets. So we need to find ways to get our energy that don’t require the open spigot.)

    Most of the inflow, thus most in the tub, is still CO2 that emerged from the “natural” faucet, but humanity’s actions are still the reason tub level is rising, because of our CO2 taking some of the drain’s capacity.

    • That’s a great metaphor – and it also works for the folks who love to point to the teeny-weeny fractions of CO2 in the *whole atmosphere* and that the increase therefore is an even more teeny-weeny thousands of whatever and that possibly couldn’t have an effect…

      You just have to invoke a bucket and a swimming pool. Tell those folks they should imagine a bucket of water, filled to the brim – and that a tiny amount of additional water will make it overflow. Then tell them to imagine a swimming pool, also filled to the brim – and the same tiny amount of water make it overflow, too (…and since most cannot fathom that, tell them they should imagine the volume of the swimming pool in a tube of the diameter of the bucket, which is filled to the brim).

      So whether you refer rising CO2 relative to CO2 (the bucket) or relative to the whole atmosphere (the swimming pool) – the effect of a tiny additional amount of CO2 can be the same, regardless of the relative smallness of the rise (…and yes – that’s a crude but effective metaphor)

      As always, those metaphors don’t really change the minds of the perpetrators of mis-information. They just might help other folks in not falling for that nonsense.

  24. In biology and ecology, we talk about sources, sinks and fluxes. This could refer to the energy balance of an organism or an ecosystem, but is most commont when making budgets for nutrient and element cycling. When teaching science to non-science majors, the biggest point that I try to make is that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is 100% due to humans. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or very misinformed.

  25. Well, I’ve pretty much wrapped up my twitter exchange with Dana Rohrabacher. I tried my darndest to explain to him how to prove that humans are responsible for the 40% CO2 increase, using nothing more than very basic high-school science concepts.

    I served all the material up to him on a silver platter — no, make that in a *sippy cup* on a silver platter — and he still didn’t understand any of it.

    Here’s how our exchange wrapped up:

    Me: “@capital_climate I showed @DanaRohrabacher how to do the atmospheric CO2 calculations at https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3ehwqz/iama_congressman_dana_rohrabacher_for_californias/ctfamhk … It’s high-school stuff.”

    Rohrabacher: “@caerbannog666 yep what you believe is high school stuff”

    Me: “@DanaRohrabacher That’s right — high-school stuff like conservation of mass & mole fractions. Too bad the House Science Committee doesn’t.”

    The twitter exchange can be viewed in all its ugly glory here: https://twitter.com/caerbannog666/status/628252319285522432

    Folks with strong stomachs can mine Rohrabacher’s twitter feed for much more. But be careful with those hot beverages!

    Now, of course, I had no expectation that Rohrabacher would actually would learn anything from the exchange — I just wanted to help him litter the Internet with more of his climate-denialist breadcrumbs. Hopefully those breadcrumbs will bite him in the ass in a future election. Getting him out of office anytime soon is an extreme longshot, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.