Written by on October 14, 2022

A twitter post claiming that carbon dioxide levels are too little to make a difference in the atmosphere is partly false.

“Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are a very tiny fraction of 1%. Roughly 1/20th of 1%. Htf can that be dangerous. We’re being conned and too many are falling for it. Figures easily checkable”, states the claim.

According to Jeff Berardelli, a climate specialist at CBS News, it’s true, carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, less than a tenth of a percent. But because of CO2’s powerful heat trapping greenhouse properties, its presence makes a huge difference.

He goes ahead to say that currently, CO2 levels keep Earth’s temperature at a comfortable average of nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit. He affirms that if CO2 abruptly dropped to zero, Earth’s average temperature would also drop far below freezing, eradicating most life as we know it.

A drop in CO2 wouldn’t directly cause the whole drop in temperature. The biggest impact comes from the most abundant greenhouse gas, water vapor, which condenses out due to the fact that colder air holds less water vapor; this is what tanks the greenhouse effect in the simulation. Positive feedbacks like the growth of ice cover would further precipitate the temperature plunge. But it’s CO2 which drives all this change. 

Increase in carbon dioxide levels coincides with the rapid warming.


The Science Alert states that the key to carbon dioxide’s strong influence on climate is its ability to absorb heat emitted from our planet’s surface, keeping it from escaping out to space.


Working separately, John Tyndall in England and Eunice Foote in the United States found that carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane all absorbed heat, while more abundant gasses did not.

Scientists had already calculated that the Earth was about 59 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) warmer than it should be, given the amount of sunlight reaching its surface. The best explanation for that discrepancy was that the atmosphere retained heat to warm the planet.

Tyndall and Foote showed that nitrogen and oxygen, which together account for 99 percent of the atmosphere, had essentially no influence on Earth’s temperature because they did not absorb heat.

Rather, they found that gasses present in much smaller concentrations were entirely responsible for maintaining temperatures that made the Earth habitable, by trapping heat to create a natural greenhouse effect.

We looked into this claim that CO2 levels are too tiny to cause a difference and found it to be false. This information misleads the public in understanding climate change.

This fact-check was produced by Sky 106.1 FM with support from Code for Africa’s PesaCheck, International Fact-Checking Network, and African Fact Checking Alliance network.

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