Climate at a Glance: Coronavirus Impact on CO2 Levels

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Bullet-Point Summary:

Figure 1: Using simple method1 for removing the large seasonal cycle from the Mauna Loa CO2 data, and well as the average effects from El Nino and La Nina events, no obvious downtown in global CO2 levels has been observed4. Analysis by Dr. Roy Spencer.

Short Summary:

The COVID-19 aka Coronavirus pandemic is causing a worldwide shutdown in economic activity as businesses close, airlines cancel flights, energy production is reduced, and people shelter in their homes and drive less.

Climate activists expected this economic downtown to translate to less energy usage, and therefore less CO2 emissions globally. While that has indeed happened, with China seeing a 40% emissions drop, and an expected 11% reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. this year, it didn’t translate into the proof they were seeking. What scientists are looking for is any evidence of a decline in global atmospheric CO2 concentrations that would be strong enough to attribute to the economic downturn.

University of Alabama climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer used a simple method1 for removing the large seasonal COcycle2, due to plant photosynthesis increases/decreases with seasons, from the Mauna Loa CO2 data, and well as the average effects from El Nino and La Nina events, which change the rate of ocean outgassing of CO2. The result: no obvious downtown in global CO2 levels has been observed3,4.

As can be seen in Figure 1, the latest CO2 data show no downtrend, but instead just a ripple, that is not unlike other ripples in the graph when there was no crisis and resulting economic downturn. The newspaper USA Today did a fact check on this issue and found the same result.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratories also studied the issue5 and concluded:

“That drop in emissions needs to be large enough to stand out from natural CO2 variability caused by how plants and soils respond to seasonal and annual variations of temperature, humidity, soil moisture, etc. These natural variations are large, and so far the “missing” emissions do not stand out.

Clearly, there is no indication that the forced reductions have had any effect on global CO2 levels, suggesting that natural forces, such as ocean outgassing of CO2 overwhelm man-made contributions. This further suggests that the calls from climate alarmists to reduce fossil fuel use, automobile use, airline travel, beef consumption, and an entire litany of complaints they make about modern life-enhancing energy use applications will have little or no effect if implemented as they demand.

Further reading:

  1. Is the COVID-19 Economic Downturn Affecting Atmospheric CO2? Mauna Loa Data Say, Not Yet Dr. Roy Spencer March 22nd, 2020  https://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/03/is-the-covid-19-economic-downturn-affecting-atmospheric-co2-mauna-loa-data-say-not-yet/
  2. Seasonal Changes in Carbon Dioxide NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio May 4th, 2017https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4565
  3. March 2020 CO2 Levels at Mauna Loa Show No Obvious Effect from Global Economic Downturn Dr. Roy Spencer April 7th, 2020 https://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/04/march-2020-co2-levels-at-mauna-loa-show-no-obvious-effect-from-global-economic-downturn/
  4. Why the Current Economic Slowdown Won’t Show Up in the Atmospheric CO2 Record Dr. Roy Spencer May 15th, 2020 http://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/05/why-the-current-economic-slowdown-wont-show-up-in-the-atmospheric-co2-record/
  5. Can we see a change in the CO2 record because of COVID-19? NOAA Earth System Research Laboratories May 2020 https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/covid2.html

Climate At A Glance is a Project of The Heartland Institute

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