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Posted on on March 30th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (


James Hansen
Faustian Bargain & The Missing Climate Data

A short scientific story, Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain, is available here and on my web site.  It contains the main points in a paper just published in Environmental Research Letters.  It is a sorrowful tale of missing climate data, which makes quantification of human-made climate change far more difficult than it needed to be — maybe enough to make one look for new work.

29 March 2013

1.   Dr. Faustus contemplates the bargain with Mephistopheles – a painting that starts the Hansen article.
2.   Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain.


Humanity is doubling down on its Faustian climate bargain by pumping up fossil fuel particulate and nitrogen pollution. The more the Faustian debt
grows, the more unmanageable the eventual consequences will be. Yet there are plans to build more than 1000 coal-fired power plants and plans to develop some of the dirtiest oil sources on the planet. These plans should be vigorously resisted. We are already in a deep hole — it is time to stop digging.
Humanity’s Faustian climate bargain is well known.


 Humans have been pumping both greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and aerosols (fine particles) into the atmosphere for more than a century.
The CO2 accumulates steadily, staying in the climate system for millennia, with a continuously increasing warming effect. Aerosols have a cooling effect (by reducing solar heating of the ground) that depends on the rate that we pump aerosols into the air, because they fall out after about five
3. Aerosol cooling probably reduced global warming by about half over the past century, but the amount is uncertain because global aerosols and their effect on clouds are not measured accurately.
Aerosols increased rapidly after World War II as fossil fuel use increased ~ 5%/year with little pollution control (Fig. 1 in the article you can open with the link given).
Aerosol growth slowed in the 1970s with pollution controls in the U.S. and Europe, but accelerated again after ~2000.
 The rapid growth of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the past decade is mainly from increased coal use, mostly in China, with little control of aerosol emissions. It is thus likely that there has been an increase in the negative (cooling) climate forcing by aerosols in the past decade, as suggested by regional aerosols measurements in the Far East, but until proper global aerosol monitoring is initiated, as discussed in this article, the aerosol portion of the amplified Faustian bargain remains largely unquantified.
In our current paper we describe another component to the fossil fuel Faustian bargain, which is suggested by a careful look at observed atmospheric CO2 change (Fig. 2 in the article to which we have above link).


An interesting point, however, is the failure of the observed increases in atmospheric CO2 to increase as rapidly as the fossil fuel source has increased. This fact is contrary to suggestions that terrestrial and ocean carbons increases are tending to  saturate as CO2 emissions continue.
An informative presentation of CO2 observations is the ratio of annual CO2 increase in the air divided by annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the “airborne fraction” (Figure 3 in the paper) and much more to be found in the paper.


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