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Fossil Fuels, Greenhouse Gas and the Impact of Our Changing the Composition of the Atmosphere

From fossil fuels to renewables, the energy disruption is underway, and not a moment too soon for Earths’ climate.

British Petroleum [BP] is a giant, global fossil fuel [oil and gas] company. Its 2019 sales were >$282 billion dollars, and with headquarters in London has over 70,000 employees worldwide. It supplies ~3.8 million barrels of oil per day. So it is big.

But as of February 2020 it has a new CEO, Bernard Looney, and he had this to say: “There’s a view that this is a bad industry, and I understand that,” and that his company’s main commodity is becoming increasingly “socially challenged.” He went on to say that even people working within BP started to have doubts about their line of work, and that they were in danger of losing staff, and more.

In August 2020 the company reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss. Mr. Looney then presented a bold new climate strategy and ambitious business plan to make over the company into a diversified cleaner energy company within a decade. He went on to describe a transformation that, in part, included a 40% reduction in oil and gas production by 2030 and a ten-fold increase in renewable energy investments!

BP also took a $17.4 billion write down in value in recognition that its oil and gas fields are no longer worth as much as they once were. This is seismic!

This is what a disruption looks like; a major change in thinking, a big change in corporate direction and a recognition that renewables will continue to displace fossil fuels and that they are here to stay. BP has pledged to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

And this is not all.

Exxon Mobil [XOM], for the first time in 90 years, will drop out of the S&P 500 Index’s 10 biggest companies. According to Tom Sanzillo, director of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis ‘”the oil sector has gone from being the leader of the world economy to a laggard.” In the last decade the energy sector’s share of the S&P 500 has fallen about 12 percent to 3 percent today.

The issue that the planet faces is that all of the fossil fuels we consume, coal, oil and gas, when burned in the presence of oxygen, produces carbon dioxide [CO2] with the release of energy. CO2 is a greenhouse gas [GHG] which has the property of absorbing infrared energy given off by the Earth’s surface.

The result is that we now have an energy “imbalance”; more energy is being trapped on Earth than in the past.


It is the fact that the atmosphere today has a different composition than a century or more ago. The additional CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs energy that was normally emitted to outer space. The best data set we have, with direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere, is called the Keeling Curve. The data have been collected at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii over the past 60 years and is part of the CO2 Program at Scripts Institute of Oceanography in California. See curve below labeled, “Monthly Carbon Dioxide Concentration.”

The left [vertical] axis is in parts per million [ppm] of CO2 and the bottom, or horizontal axis, is in years; 1958 -2020. Today, at about 417 ppm, we can see that there has been a change of about +100 ppm during this 60-year period. We are in new, uncharted territory that our species, Homo sapiens, has never experienced before.

Let’s look at one more graph. See graph titled, “Global Surface Temperature Relative to 1880-1920 Mean” we can see Earth still has a problem. This data is from NASA and Goddard Institute of Space Studies [GISS] at Columbia University. The 140 year data set, clearly illustrates the fact that Earth is warming and that this process is not slowing down. Indeed, the rate of warming is actually speeding up. Because of this extra energy in our climate system, climate change is here and now and will continue for a long time, and we will have to deal with it.

The scientific career of Raymond N. Johnson Ph.D., spanned 30 years in research and development as an organic/analytical chemist; he is currently founder and director of the Institute of Climate Studies USA [].


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