I understand that the main issue of global warming is greenhouse gases that trap solar energy instead of allowing it to bounce back into space. That being said, I've always had this impression or idea that the amount of energy released from burning fossil fuels should also have an effect. Consider from antiquity to about 1600 AD, the sum of heat being dumped into the atmosphere came from the sun. Now, after the industrial revolution, a new source has been added, that being human activity (burning coal, burning petrol, burning natural gas, thermonuclear weapons, nuclear reactors). While I suspect human activity has no measurable comparison against the output of the sun, I'm wondering if it has an impact on global warming to any degree.

  • $\begingroup$ I suspect no but I don't have the numbers to hand to back it up. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 18:38
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I don't have time to write a proper answer, but this open-access paper from last year addresses your question very adequately: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL063514/full . From the abstract: "Over the long lifetime of CO 2 in the atmosphere, the cumulative CO 2 -radiative forcing exceeds the amount of energy released upon combustion by a factor >100,000." $\endgroup$
    – Pont
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @SimonW I think that this is a duplicate of the question you've identified $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jun 6, 2016 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it does. But who really cares... we won't be burning fossil fuels in about 50 years. New technology will have replaced this very very primitive practice of burning fossils. Why is everyone so worried about something that will go away in a few years... relax. There will be a little more damage done to earth but we need energy. Fossil fuels will be totally gone soon. Just chill out. People are well meaning but, really, you are worried about something that is almost ready to go away. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @slindsey3000 have you taken the argument of God, our Lord and Savior, into your analysis? I believe this global warming is caused by God, and that God wants people to live in a more tropical environment. $\endgroup$
    – Steve G
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


Yes, it does add to global warming.

No, it's not currently measurable.

Human primary non-renewable energy consumption is about 15TW - and pretty much all of that goes into low-grade heat in the ocean surface and the atmosphere.

Expressed in the same terms as the forcing units of global warming, the forcing effect of that heat is about 1.7% of the effect of the anthropogenic release of $\ce{CO2}$ to date.

So we can calculate it, but it's not directly measurable as a change to global energy content: it matters, but it's not quantifiable from temperature observations, given current data and techniques.

(Kudos to Pont for the link to the paper)


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