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Fact Check-Volcanoes do not produce more CO2 emissions than human activity

An eruption of Italy’s Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, does not produce “10,000 times” more carbon dioxide (CO2) than “mankind has in our entire time on earth”. Contrary to a years-old meme containing this false statement, the combined activity of all volcanoes on earth is actually estimated to be a fraction of the CO2 emitted by human activity.

The meme reads: “That one little burp by Mt. Etna has already put more than 10,000 times the CO2 into the atmosphere than mankind has in our ENTIRE time on earth but don’t worry a scam is in the works to tax you your minuscule footprint.”

The same allegation has been shared since at least 2016 ( here ) ( here ). More recent examples are viewable ( here ) ( here ) ( here ).

An iteration posted on Twitter on June 2, 2022 has been retweeted nearly 9,000 times as of the writing of this article ( here ).

In an email to Reuters, Boris Behncke, vulcanologist at the Etna Observatory of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) ( here ) described the meme as “complete nonsense” and “misinformation”.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey ( here ), published scientific estimates of the global CO2 emissions for all on land and submarine volcanos “lie in a range from 0.13 gigaton to 0.44 gigaton per year.”

This is a fraction of the CO2 produced by human activity. In 2021, the global CO2 emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes alone reached a record high of 36.3 billion tonnes (or gigatons, GT), data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed ( here ). A graph by the IEA tracking the increase of emissions since 1899 is viewable ( here )

“On a global level, volcanoes currently emit just a few percent of the man-made CO2 production,” Bechkne said, highlighting that CO2 emissions of human activity have dramatically increased in the past decades, while volcanic emissions have not.

Simon Carn, Professor of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences at Michigan Technological University, concurred and said the best estimates for Mt. Etna’s volcanic CO2 emissions are at “~3 million tons per year.” “Hence Etna’s CO2 emissions are roughly ~0.01% of anthropogenic emissions in a typical year. A single eruption of Etna would emit much less CO2, and so the percentage would be even smaller.”

Large eruptions can indeed emit significant amounts of CO2, but these events are rare and are still small when compared with human emissions ( here ).

The largest volcanic eruptions in recent history emitted approximately 10-50 million tons of carbon dioxide, Carn told Reuters in 2020, while addressing a similar allegation ( here ).

Fact-checkers at the AFP, AAP and Climate Feedback have previously debunked the meme about Mt. Etna as well ( here ) ( here ) ( here )

VERDICT

False. Volcanoes are estimated to produce a fraction of the CO2 emitted by human activity.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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