October 31st, 2020

The game no one wants to play

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on August 13, 2020.

Data has forced the conclusion about climate change

Marc R. Roussel


Imagine a game in which two players take turns, player one adding a cup of water to a bucket, and player two removing a cup. Averaged over time, the amount of water in the bucket stays the same. At some point, a third player enters the game. When player three’s turn comes around, he adds a tablespoon of water to the bucket. So every round, player one adds a cup, player two removes a cup, and player three adds a tablespoon. Slowly, the bucket fills.

This is a crude analogy to the carbon cycle. The anthropogenic contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide is about the equivalent of a tablespoon to the cup that nature adds and removes from the atmosphere left to its own devices. It’s that extra tablespoon that is causing atmospheric CO2 levels to rise.

Let’s go back to our game: In one turn, player three doesn’t fill his spoon very carefully, and adds less than a tablespoon. Are we likely to notice the difference? If this behaviour is sustained over time, we will notice that the bucket fills more slowly. But after a single round? It would take a very careful measurement to notice the difference, and it would become almost impossible if the water in the bucket was sloshing around.

In a June 30 guest column, Cosmos Voutsinos argued that we should have seen a decrease in atmospheric CO2 during the COVID-19 lockdown, where he attributed the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels during the lockdown to natural sources.

On July 15, I pointed out that our decreased CO2 emissions during the lockdown (our partly filled tablespoon) still represented an excess over nature’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In a July 31 guest column, Voutsinos adjusts his language, talking about a missing “reset signal.” I know just enough about signal analysis to know that detecting a temporary change in slope against a seasonally fluctuating signal is really hard. You certainly can’t see that sort of thing by eyeballing the data, and you need a number of points to either side of the slope change to have any hope of seeing it.

I could refute Mr. Voutsinos’ other points one by one, about peer-reviewed evidence (there are now several decades’ worth of such research), about the IPCC simply assuming that anthropogenic CO2 is the cause of rising atmospheric CO2 levels (there are decades of measurements of carbon fluxes, published in the peer-reviewed literature, that conclusively show this to be the case), about models reflecting the biases of the scientist (potentially true, which is why models go through extensive validation processes using historical data), but I would instead like to take this opportunity to pursue my bucket analogy a little further because there is an opportunity to understand something about our current situation that is under-appreciated by most of us.

At the point at which we left our players, the bucket was slowly filling up because player three had put the game out of balance. We might have started the game with half a bucket of water, but it relentlessly filled so that it is now three-quarters full. Then player three decides to quit the game. Players one and two continue their game. Here is the important part: now that the bucket is three-quarters full, it will stay three-quarters full as each player, in turn, adds and removes a cup of water.

Similarly, if we went to net zero tomorrow, atmospheric CO2 levels would not recover to pre-industrial levels quickly, if at all. This is an under-appreciated consequence of the industrial-era increase in atmospheric CO2 levels: the best we can hope for on the time scale of decades (the most relevant time scale to humans, who only live a few decades) is to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels. The level at which CO2 levels stabilize will depend on when player three quits the game.

As Mr. Voutsinos points out, the carbon cycle is more complicated than my bucket analogy. And the climate response to CO2 is extraordinarily complex. Both have been the subject to intensive study over a lengthy period. Neither is perfectly understood, but that’s true of almost everything. That doesn’t mean that we don’t know what is going on at all. There is a strong consensus in the scientific community, in carefully peer-reviewed research, that humans are responsible for increases in atmospheric CO2 to levels well above any that this planet has experienced for hundreds of thousands of years, and that these high CO2 levels are driving climate change.

I will leave the readers of The Herald with one last thought: Nobody wants to believe in climate change. Scientists are people, too. They want to have their comfortable, modern life, enabled by cheap energy. The scientific community has come to the consensus that anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions are causing climate change because the data forced us to this conclusion.

If there had been strong evidence to the contrary, the scientific community would have embraced it so that we could go back to consuming resources guilt-free. The fact that scientists have come to such a strong consensus on anthropogenic climate change, despite the natural preference of humans for an easy life, tells you how strong the evidence is.

Marc R. Roussel is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Lethbridge.

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Thanks to Dr. Roussel for distilling a complex subject for the non-scientific reader.


Dr.. Roussel did an excellent job in discussing the conflict rather than silencing those that question claims. However, his assumption of short term equilibrium of natural CO2 in the atmosphere is not correct. A lot of the time the difference in CO2 IN and OUT is more than one spoon of anthropogenic CO2. ] Historically, levels of CO2, up to the start of the industrial revolution, have been anything but constant.


What a stupid analogy. It works for the water bucket , one phase is left out. What if player one puts in 5 cup fulls (a volcanic eruption). As if this never happens yet water level balances out anyway.


I think the answer, Phlushie, is that volcanic activity is a relatively small forcing.



phlushie, Please notice that the first paper recommended by F. shows only a few decades. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of years. Look for a graph with longer timeframe Also,
Read the last paragraph of the second paper given by F also, stating: “We emphasize that climate forcing presents major uncertainties………….”


The relative forcings have held up as the data has reduced ‘scientific uncertainty’ (which is a statistical concept, not an admission of not knowing, as many ignorant deniers might imply)

This site provides the current data:


Seth Anthony

Maya Tolstoy is a marine geophysicist specializing in seafloor earthquakes and volcanoes. One of her studies from a few years ago in regards to submarine volcanoes is very interesting. I’m trying to figure out why her study and findings have gone unrefuted.

Her study and findings have been ignored even on the renowned “Skeptical Science” web site that debates anything and everything about climate change. The site thoroughly discusses and debates land volcanoes, but even when Maya’s study was introduced into the volcano topic, the scientist’s reply was no reply at all. They were just silent when presented with her findings.

So what’s up with that?

Here’s a briefing of her findings:



That’s interesting, Seth. Notice how the article presents an increase of activity as a feedback to changes in sea level? It’s a complex planet.

Seth Anthony

“Complex” is an understatement.

So Fescue, any thoughts on why her research and findings have been ignored? Especially by Skeptical Science.

BTW- Am I assuming correctly that you are well aware of the Skeptical Science site?

Seth Anthony

Also Fescue, the sea level feedback isn’t in relation to the climate change period we’re discussing. In other words, a 5 inch rise in sea level over the last 150 years in water that averages a depth of 150,000 inches won’t have any affect on submarine volcanoes. That would be like saying the feather you placed on your coffee mug caused the coffee mug to crack.


Good point. I think that this was anticipatory of future sea level changes.. I can’t find much on this on the research sites. I don’t think it is being suppressed, maybe just being evaluated. I get the impression it is not a major forcing.

One site relates the melting of the ice caps as a possible cause of increased seismic activity. Changing the shape of the Earth.

Seth Anthony

Do you have a link to that site?

Here’s Tolstoy’s conclusion from her 2015 study:

There are several ways in which seafloor volcanism can contribute to global climate change. The first is the direct emission of CO2 into the ocean that will eventually contribute to atmospheric levels through venting at upwelling sites. In addition to immediate release of greenhouse gases from seafloor eruptions, the subsequent increased high‐ and low‐temperature hydrothermal venting may impact the CO2 output. However, whether hydrothermal venting is a net source or sink of CO2 is still unclear [e.g., Lang et al., 2006] due to paucity of measurements.

Overall, the average annual contribution of CO2 from seafloor spreading is generally considered to be small, although not insignificant (~2 × 1012 mol/yr) [e.g., Resing et al., 2004] with respect to the global carbon cycle. However, this assumes a model of near continuous release, whereas a model of frequent pulses of activity followed by quiescent periods might result in more significant pulses of CO2 into the global carbon system. Approximately 2 km of glacial unloading in Iceland resulted in volcanism rates 20–30 times higher than today [Jull and McKenzie, 1996].

The two aspects of that conclusion that stuck out for me are:

1) The continuous release assumption (with “assumptions” being one of the major bullets towards anthropogenic warming).

2) The unloading in Iceland reference (especially considering that only around 5% of the ocean floor has been charted, let alone examined and studied for submarine volcanoes and thermal pipes.

So, the study has been out for 5 years, and has been cited on numerous sites. I would have thought it to be a very important study for climatologists to take into account, but not a word from them.


Seth, it was Carolina Pagli I was reading on volcanoes, but can’t find the paper again. This is from The Atlantic, which refers to her:




Cosmos just emailed me that the Herald has a policy limiting to two replies on the same topic from two debating individuals. As a result, I am posting here his re-battle.

” I like to thank Professor Roussel for replacing his silencing approach with one of scientific reasoning. However, in my opinion his example of a bucket analogy is not only ” crude” but inaccurate. He implies that left on its own, nature will achieve a balanced level of CO2. If this was true, then fears of Earth warming become null and void. Natural and anthropogenic CO2 are identical and undistinguishable in the atmosphere. They both obey the same laws of physics. So, one cup of natural CO2 IN does not equal one cup OUT, and the difference can be more than a tablespoon. This can be confirmed by looking at a graph showing levels of natural CO2 and temperature for hundreds of thousands of years, up to the time of the industrial revolution. Natural CO2 levels and temperatures historically have fluctuated wildly.

Dr. Roussel also writes about strong consensus within “peer reviewed research that humans are responsible for increases in atmospheric CO2 to levels well above any that this planet has experienced in hundreds of thousands of years”. Respectfully, this is incorrect. Peer reviewed research suggests that our planet has experienced fluctuations of CO2 from 4,000 ppm to as low as 180 ppm (plant starvation level is about 150 ppm , below which would doom all plant life to extinction). The current 2020 range is at 417 ppm, and is beginning to expand the greening of the Earth again.

Finally but not lastly, I would like to point out that “ the extensively validated IPCC models, that allegedly show conclusively” that anthropogenic CO2 is the culprit, have a little problem, a +300% confirmed error in predicting the Earth’s “likely” temperature rise during the last 20 years, which IPCC has named it “a pause”. This should confirm to “experts” and general public that mathematical models are useful to help us understand chaotic systems, but they are not any good in making predictions for them.

At this time of the year plant growth is maximizing CO2 absorption, and quite possibly it may “mask the COVID signal” as Professor Russell has stated. I am prepared to meet with him privately or otherwise and continue our discussion. It is time for the Alarmists to come to the table and face their critics instead of silencing them, ignoring them, cherry picking peer reviewed scientific publications or name calling. Yes, human CO2 causes some warming. But considering that past alarmist projections did not materialize, how can the public accept now claims for “climate emergency or crisis”.


Hey, Seth. I looked up Skeptical Science. Not one I’ve looked at before. Looks like Cosmos nailed the number one common myth perpetuated by deniers. Impressive, or sad – hard to tell.

Seth Anthony

Oh wow. I thought for sure you would have known about that site. Soooo, this one right?


It’s a pro anthropogenic warming site, and if you haven’t noticed, I’m not into anthropogenic warming lol. Well at least not to the degree that the alarmists pursue.

What I am into however, is the full out scientific debate that accompanies each topic.