CO2 lags temperature

From Quora





David Charles Leithauser

Consultant (1980-present)5y


Historical data shows that CO2 levels lag temperature. What reasoning

supports increasing CO2 levels as the cause of global warming versus an



The idea that CO2 lags temperature is oversimplified. Increased

temperature can cause increased CO2 for several reasons. The main one

is that warmer water cannot hold as much CO2, so when the temperature

goes up the oceans releases CO2. Also, soil releases CO2 when it gets

hot, not to mention the fact that increased heat causes forest fires.

However, increased CO2 also increases the temperature by trapping the

sun's heat. Thus, you have a vicious cycle. Increased CO2 increases

temperature which increases CO2 which increases temperature, and so on,

until the cycle stops when almost all of the stored CO2 has been



This cycle can be started either way, with warming first or release of

CO2 first. When a natural event, like a slight change in the Earth's

tilt, causes a slight increase in the ocean temperature, the cycle can

start up and perpetuate itself. On the other hand, an increase in CO2,

whether from natural sources like super volcanoes or unnatural sources

like humans burning fossil fuels, can trigger the vicious cycle.


Those who like to deny human caused global warming for their own

political or economic reasons will often cherry pick the geological

record and point to periods in the past when natural warming triggered

the cycle. Looking that those period, you see the warming first and

then the increase in CO2. They then ignore the rest of the cycle,

trying to make it look like the only effect was the increased CO2 due

to the warmer temperatures. However, you can also look at periods when

release of CO2 from super volcanoes or other sources started the cycle,

like about 200,000,000 years ago when a super volcano triggered global

warming that killed off about 1/2 of all life on earth. Looking at the

present, we see human released CO2 warming the Earth. There is no

natural cause for this warming. In fact, most natural events like the

current tilt in the Earth's axis would be having a cooling effect.


Historical data shows that CO2 levels lag temperature. What reasoning supports increasing CO2 levels as the cause of global warming versus an effect?

Bruce Jones

MBA, Statistician, Six Sigma Black Belt, Modeling Climate Change Data Since 2006


The "reasoning" is based on evidence, today's carbon cycle is very different from the natural pre-industrial cycles.








In fact, the three primary greenhouse gases are off the charts:





And temperatures are following:









Scott Strough



Researcher in carbon farming as a climate change mitigation strategy5y


Very simple. Historically CO2 was most of the time a reinforcing feedback. That means it took a tiny warming from some other forcing like a solar cycle and reinforced the effect making it warmer still. Our current situation is a bit different. We are first warming the planet by increasing the CO2, and still must wait for the natural reinforcing feedbacks to kick it warmer still. Be prepared. It is coming. Once the lagging natural reinforcing feedbacks catch up to our own CO2 emissions, we have every reason to believe it will accelerate too.


Your question is often misused by climate deniers to hoax people into believing AGW is not real, when actually this very fact is what makes AGW likely very dangerous.