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Daily Archives: September 5th, 2010

One reason why is seems so hard to believe that we emit so much carbon dioxide is that we never see it.   If we make a visible mess of things, there tends to be a lot of pressure to clean up our act, but burning fossil fuels is a real disappearing act.  The gas we put in our cars, or the firewood we put in a stove, or the coal going into a power plant just disappears—so there is nothing to clean up.  It’s already clean.

The exception for combustion is when it gets really cold—like it does in Fairbanks in the depths of winter.   The CO2 never condenses at these temperatures, but the water vapour that accompanies the combustion will—and the clouds from these persist long enough to give a sense of the volume of emissions we leave loose in the atmosphere.

8-4778 17th and Cushman, 2008

I remember once driving from Fairbanks to Anchorage on Thanksgiving.  It was about -37 F in Fairbanks when we left in mid-morning, and even colder at noon when we passed though the flats south of Nenana—it was at least -50, maybe colder.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road, and we passed only a handful of cars.  The sun was out, barely clearing the southern horizon,  and I remember looking in the rear-view mirror of my Honda Civic, and realized that I was leaving a contrail on the road behind me—a visible vapor trail from my exhaust, just like the jet trails high in the atmosphere.