Bristol research does not support climate change denial

November 10, 2009

Just wanted to put this out there. I’ve been pretty disappointed, though not entirely surprised, by some of the coverage the Wolfgang Knorr research has received.

Basically, Bristol University scientist Knorr has discovered that the proportion of CO2 being absorbed by natural ‘sinks’ (i.e. the oceans and forests) has stayed roughly the same, despite the amount of carbon being emitted shooting up.

The implication is that we have more time to address climate change than some believe because more carbon has been absorbed than previously thought.

But Dr Knorr is adamant that we must still adress climate change, and favours mandatory caps on emissions. I ask him if that’s what we need to do and he says, “There is no other way”.

But I was aware this story would generate a lot of coverage suggesting the research supports climate change denial, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing. I think when the nationals get hold of this (probably tomorrow) it’ll go into overdrive.

So here is an interview in which I ask Dr Knorr specifically whether his research backs up climate sceptics. (He says no, if you can’t listen to it)



  1. Good to publicise this Martin.
    If their research is correct, it means there might be abit more time to work out how to reduce CO2 emissions. The down side is that if they have over estimated the ability of natural systems to soak up emissions, and we use this info to delay reductions for a few years, we would be in a worse situation.

    Nothing in the research gives any credence to climate change denial, its implications are about the speed of change in atmospheric CO2 not about the effect CO2 has on the climate.

    Estimating the ability of natural systems to use CO2 is a difficult research topic. We don’t even have good data for how fast how peatbogs and other carbon rich environments accumulate and store carbon, never mind normal plants and the oceans.

    However, the research is in many ways bad news for the oceans. CO2 is absorbed and changed into carbonic acid, which is changing the pH of the sea, making it more difficult for animals to make shells or other hard calcareous structures. In rough terms this means fewer molluscs and the faster destruction of coral reefs.

    Be interesting to see how other research groups react and how the national media react too, if at all!

  2. It means that if Knorr correct, nature will keep on absolving annually 2,1ppm CO2 annually of the 3,9 emitted. If GDP increases as usual 3% that means an added 1% CO2 increase annually, all thing being equal (THAT IS KNORR FINDING) will end up by the end of century with 560ppm. Assuming all warming was due to CO2 (IpCC says only 50%) then will end up with 0,8C of temp increase!! – No positive feedback out of added CO2!!!
    If only 50% was CO2, we will end up with … 0,5C added by the end of the century.
    That’s why knorr work is important – For AGW catastrophe and 860PPM – Knorr has to be wrong!
    Did it make sense to you?

    • Erm… I have to admit that I am a journalist and do not really understand the science in detail. I think I understand what you’re saying, which is that nature’s absorption rate of CO2, as claimed by Knorr, means global warming should not be all that significant.

      However, my point in covering the story and in posting the interview here was not to comment on the science specifically. I knew that with research this controversial, the climate change denial lobby would be likely to use it to support their view. And, they did. So, I just wanted to have it in the public domain that Knorr himself states categorically that his research cannot be used to support climate change denial.

      I would not, as a journalist, want to wade into the specifics of climate science as I would be completely out of my depth. However, I do think it’s important to report accurately what scientists are saying.

  3. The amount of CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere. This study is about the ratio being absorbed by the earth’s carbon sinks (Oceans/land/forests) which appears from this study to be constant. The study calls into question the rate of increase of CO2 used in models to calculate the future CO2 level in the atmosphere for each ton of “extra” human produced CO2. Current models are reported to use, or are considering using, a decreasing ratio for CO2 absorption in future this study indicates that may be overly pessimistic.

    The bottom line: the earth will continue to do its share in absorbing Co2(fortunately) but we must still do ours if we want to avoid CO2 increasing in the atmosphere.

    The question really: Is global warming bad? Probably very rapid warming is as we can’t adapt. But of all the weather risks we face as humans on planet earth I would put global cooling before global warming. The risks we face from volcanic activity, meteorite strikes and climate cycles such as the ice ages (due one I think) are not zero. And maybe a warmer planet to start with is not so bad.

    That the science is not settled is clear and acknowledged. The statement that action is better due to the possible catastrophic consequences due to inaction is not looking at all the risk scenarios we face.

    Less hysteria more efficiency for slower CO2 growth (less dependence on oil is generally a good thing for many reasons) and plenty of research may be the answer.

  4. […] interview with Wolfgang Knorr, the author of the paper in the OP? bristol-research-does-not-support-climate-change-denial/ Martin Jones: "The people who deny climate change is real could use this to say "well […]

  5. […] The paper is behind a paywall, but the abstract says : There's got to be a catch. Interview with the author […]

  6. Thanks Martin for taking the time to clear this up.

    I just read Knorr’s report today and instantly wondered if he was in support of climate change deniers… His report reads as though he may support skeptics… But he also seems smart so there was an obvious contradiction.

    Thanks for making sure Knorr’s work is not misconstrued as something it is not.

    • I’ve been astounded how much interest this post has generated. I’ve been running the blog for about a year and this has been by some distance the most read post. I’m flattered that people are so interested in what I’ve been doing.

  7. […] Posted by MannieD An interview with Wolfgang Knorr, the author of the paper in the OP? bristol-research-does-not-support-climate-change-denial/ Martin Jones: "The people who deny climate change is real could use this to say "well […]

  8. […] new climate change results – Bristol University press release CO2 Absorption Remains Steady Bristol research does not support climate change denial – "But Dr Knorr is adamant that we must still address climate change, and favours mandatory […]

  9. There seems to be some disparity between persistent BBC attempts to induce world disaster panic and funding rows and the Wolfgang and University research contrast to lobby groups seeking more funding where there is important work to do and salaries to be paid for long term research and teaching staff of dedication. The apparent mode at date is that CO2 might wait for sea absorption, or acidity, or fluctuations in air cell and jet stream are induced by climate change system effects. Africa is definitely hot, that is caused by a number of factors including mining, poor agriculture, lack of plant cover, changes in erosion, offshore cold currents and air patterns to the south, urban growth, or fluctuations in cells … it has been 42 years since the Sahel drought and we may see another impending on a 30 60 year cycle. That draws colder air in from north and south. Researchers have not found data in soils to support 300 years of radical change, that covers the industrial and agricultural revolutions of the UK, sea data changes as silts lump and plates move, C14 dating was ruined when a check with tree rings proved it inaccurate. So history books we have, some time lines, mass of geologic record which is sheared into blocks. What we do not have is an answer to pollution. CO2 is used to form limestone, alkaline increase although fixed, sea shells, H is acidic in water, Rain, that is a natural soil solution process. It also needs lignin for great iron motion and laterite differs again leaving iron and dissolving silicates. Rocks are formed of silicates and many residues of sand and feldspar end up in soils, clays, irons tends to be higher in gabbro deeper fluid rock sources, gases escape. Tell me a computer that can run that macro set even if the data existed to fill it and I can tell you how complicated even a telecommunications cellular network is and we do need flood data on telecommunications transfer, fire officers, River Authority engineers designers civil and appropriate construction subcontractors, Local authority drainage, Forestry and Arable systems. We need water supply reservoirs, pipes, treatment plant, water supply data telemetric work. So apart from the lack of understanding of Oceanography and failure to research salt flats and Tundra what do we know yet ? I am pleased cars and gas boilers are more efficient, that is common sense anyway.

  10. […] the author of that article himself saying that his article does not support the skeptical position: Bristol research does not support climate change denial Jones The News __________________ […]

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