Surgical anesthetic gases coming under fire for global warming potential – Only one problem: they haven't been observed in the atmosphere

The net upward atmospheric radiance spectrum at the tropopause.22 Dashed lines are Planck functions for blackbody emissions at 290, 260, and 220 K, respectively. (B) IR absorption bands for CFC-11 (CCl3F), isoflurane, and sevoflurane. Halogenated organic compounds absorb strongly in ‘the atmospheric window’ region.

The press release below is from the University of Copenhagen Department of Chemistry. The anesthetic gases isofluran, desflurane and sevoflurane are coming under scrutiny for global warming potential. However, what isn’t stated in the press release is this important paragraph of the scientific paper :

There are no production numbers available in the literature

for the anaesthetic agents. The three compounds have not yet been observed in the free atmosphere, and current atmospheric levels are expected to be small (of the order of part per trillion/volume). At these concentrations, when viewed in isolation, their present contribution to the relative forcing of climate change is negligible in comparison with the current forcing of 1.7 Watts/sq meter due to CO2.

Later though, even though they admit they have no numbers on the production quantity of these anaesthetic agents, and “the three compounds have not yet been observed in the free atmosphere”, they use some SWAG to make this claim:

Hence, we conclude that global emissions of inhalation anaesthetics, when measured by the 100 yr GWP, have a contribution to the radiative forcing of climate change which is comparable with that of the CO2 emissions from one coal-fired power plant or approximately 1 million passenger cars.

Gosh, more than a whole coal-fired power plant! Somebody tell China immediately so they can stop building two a week.


Neglected greenhouse gas discovered by atmosphere chemists

When doctors want their patients asleep during surgery they gently turn the gas tap. But Anaesthetic gasses have a global warming potential as high as a refrigerant that is on its way to be banned in the EU. Yet there is no obligation to report anaesthetic gasses along with other greenhouse gasses such as CO2, refrigerants and laughing gas.

By Jes Andersen

Ole John Nielsen ved den fotokemiske reaktor han bruger til at undersøge stoffers globale opvarmningspotentiale

Significantly worse than CO2

One kilo of anaesthetic gas affects the climate as much as 1620 kilos of CO2. That has been shown by a recent study carried out by chemists from University of Copenhagen and NASA in collaboration with anaesthesiologists from the University of Michigan Medical School. The amount of gas needed for a single surgical procedure is not high, but in the US alone surgery related anaesthetics affected the climate as much as would one million cars.Tænk før bedøvelse

Think before you gas them

Analyses of the anaesthetics were carried out by Ole John Nielsen. He is a Professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, and he’s got an important message for doctors.

“We studied three different gasses in regular use for anaesthesia, and they’re not equally harmful,” explains Professor Nielsen.

All three are worse than CO2 but where the mildest ones Isoflurane and Sevoflurane have global warming potentials of 210 and 510 respectively, Desflurane the most harmful will cause 1620 times as much global warming as an equal amount of CO2, explains the professor.

“This ought to make anaesthesiologists sit up and take notice. If all three compounds have equal therapeutic worth, there is every reason to choose the one with the lowest global warming potential”, says professor Ole John Nielsen.

Inspired by maternity ward

The three anaesthetic gasses isofluran, desflurane and sevoflurane were studied at the Ford atmospheric laboratories in Michigan. Mads Andersen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories collaborated on the analyses with his former PhD supervisor Ole John Nielsen. He relates how he got the idea for the study while his wife was giving birth.

“The anaesthesiologist told me, that the gas used is what we chemist know as a halogenated compound. That’s the same family of compound as the Freon that was famously eating the ozone layer back in the eighties” says research scientist Mads Andersen.

On the map with  ozone eaters replacement

Freon is a compound that Andersen knows well. It got his supervisor Professor Nielsen on the scientific map. With a global warming potential of a whopping 11.000 the refrigerant Freon has been banned all over the world since 1992. When the search was on for an alternative to the harmful substance Nielsen analysed just how much heat was retained by new compounds, and how long they would stay in the atmosphere. His methods went to prove, that the refrigerant HFC134a had a global warming potential of 1.300 and left the atmosphere in just 14 years to freons 50 to 100 years.Det gode viger pladsen for det endnu bedre

HFC-134a has spared the atmosphere a considerable climate effect. But it too is being prohibited all across the European Union. And unless therapeutic arguments speak for using all three, sevoflurane should be the only legal anaesthetic gas as shown by the study done by NASA, Ford and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.

The study was published in the renowned medical journal “British Journal of Anaestecia”.

PDF of original science paper here


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I use Argon, Acetylene, and Oxygen liquid gases in my trade.
Study THAT, r3tards.[d]

Bite on this stick while I saw your leg off — you’re saving the planet.

The ordinary Nobel prize usually goes to people like Pachauri and Gore. Nielsen’s important message for doctors deserves much higher recognition.
Quick! Somebody nominate Ole John Nielsen, Professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, for an Ig-Nobel prize immediately!

Its all in the game, going back to the pre-industrial age also requires that the medical world has to bring offers.
Now for you anesthetic do you want a wooden mallet or a bottle of gin?
The gin is not optional if you are under 21, sorry but if have to be political correct 🙂

stephen parrish

More anti-human, anti-industrialist bent to the global warming cabal. Mr. Asher has it correct, there always seems to be a perverse inclination to roll back some aspect of the industrial revolution in each AGW missive.


This isn’t the stupidest AGW paper I’ve seen, but it’s certainly in the top 10.


“…banned in the EU. Yet there is no obligation to report anaesthetic gasses along with other greenhouse gasses such as CO2, refrigerants and laughing gas.”
We have no need for laughing gas in the EU, although we do use a lot of anaesthetics alleviating the pain of those that have split their sides laughing at the antics of the unelected clowns in charge of that particular circus.

amicus curiae

and which one? is better for the patients health and aftereffects?
I read theres a worldwide shortage of anaesthetics right now, many vets use them for euthansia and are having supply issues,
and as an aside Antibiotics also seem to be hard to get?
Read an american pharma report on hospitals having short supplies
yet the commercial feed producers seem to have plenty on hand?
as to the report above…someones been breathing in too much of something. idiots!
odd thing, in 92 I was working for BAero, we had litres of Freon in tubs for cleaning electronics components with, and it was allowed to dissipate into the workroom! sure did liven the atmosphere gloves no fume cabinet..occ health? ha ha.


When anasthetic gases are this dangerous to the climate, we should prohibition them… And if you want patients to be knocked out during surgery, use your fist… 😀

It’ll never end, they’ll keep finding new things to add a tax to in the name of saving the planet.

Dave the Engineer

It is not about saving the planet, it is about getting rid of those vermin, humans, from the planet, utilizing a whole lot of guilt and angst. However, since politics isn’t doing it I expect the next evolution to be “Rainbow 6”. We have already had the 10:10 global campaign ad exploding kids. Yeah, I’m paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?

Joel Heinrich

Peak wavelength at ~17.5 µm? I suppose it was just another “scientist” who doesn’t know that a fancy (modelling, graphics, math, …) computer program can’t replace thinking.

My proposal is to operate those lunatic greenies without anesthesia.
Btw, the whole concept of “radiative forcing” seems to be just a virtual theory coming from Trenberth art diagrams.
Where is that 1.7W/m2 in Antarctic?

A world-wide Jonestown. That’s what the elitists want, they’d like us to do them a favor. They want us all dead.

Grumpy old Man

Any info on how these gases degrade when released into the atmosphere, or is that impossible to deliniate because the compounds have not been observed in the free atmosphere? Is there an anasthetics expert reading the blog who can shed light on the problem?


Mads Anderson should put his statistical techniques to real medico-legal issues and assist the US economy. The tip of the iceberg I imagine….
“OIG Reports Medicare Contractor Overpaid for Diabetic Supplies – On September 3, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report (A-09-08-00043) estimating that NHIC Corp., the Durable Medical Equipment Medicare Administrative Contractor (DMEMAC) for Jurisdiction A, inappropriately paid approximately $39.2 million in claims for home blood-glucose testing strips and/or lancet supplies in calendar year 2007. …………
As a result, the OIG recommended that NHIC take the following actions with respect to test strips and/or lancets: (1) implement system edits to identify high utilization claims and work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to develop cost-effective methods of compliance review; (2) implement system edits to identify claims with overlapping service dates; and (3) enforce Medicare documentation requirements by identifying DME suppliers with a high volume of high utilization claims, performing prepayment reviews of those DME suppliers, and referring them to the OIG or CMS for further review or investigation. ”

Frank K.

In other news…the EU will soon be signing off on new regulations to control breathing. “Climate scientists have shown us that breathing is a dirty but necessary practice. Accordingly, citizens will be permitted a maximum of 14400 breaths per day.” said Sir Sydney Schneeb, of the EU Global Warming Regulatory Committee. Special waivers will be required for sports events, where the number of the breaths will likely be higher.


Oh no! like CFCs, is this gases loosing your patents too ? And, now, they must be replaced with new gases with protected patents by some country in north EU ? So, follow the money again… Ever you follow the money you go to EU… this guys dont give up.

Vince Causey

Can anyone explain how one type of molecule can exhibit thousands of times as much greenhouse gas absorption than co2? Surely, a photon will either be absorbed by a molecule or not. Is it because these molecules absorb at a broad spectrum of wavenlengths?


Neal Asher says:
December 5, 2010 at 3:06 am
“Bite on this stick while I saw your leg off — you’re saving the planet.”
Don’t give the EU commissars ideas.


I swear more and more they are sounding like the “gives rats cancer” people. Turns out that everything gives rats cancer at the right doses.. thus everything causes climate change. Science has lost so much respect.

Well … with the economy still in trouble and the earth refusing to cooperate with AGW claims, it won’t be long before the free ride is over. Get all the easy funding you can before it is taken away and you’ll have to *gasp* be a real scientist. To me, this is further proof that AGW is about padding wallets and not about science.

Third Party

China is the larges coal producer (and consumer) world wide: It produces about 1.8 billion tons in 2006. As a result coal fires are a severe problem in China. It is estimated that 10-20 million tons are directly burned by coal seam fires and 100-200 million tons of coal are lost for the mining industry.

richard verney

Since it is unlikely that a trace gas such as CO2 has any significant warming effect, these people have lost their marbles (or have been inhaling too much laughing gas) if they consider that gases with merely parts per trillion have any role to play. The role of all of these gases (including CO2) is dwarfed by water vapour.
Slightly O/T but in the UK the Daily Mail is carrying a large editorial/comment “The Truth is Global Warming has Halted (Even if the Climate Change Bandwagon Rolls On…)” It notes that global warming has now halted for the past 15 years and poses the question “Just how long does a pause have to be before the thesis that the world is getting hotter because of human activity starts to collapse?”
Nice to see such an article prominantly placed.

Dave N

Has anyone seen Bob on Earth in the past few weeks? – Albert Rosenfield

P Wilson
In that case, in operating theatres, the temperature must shoot up dramatically by at least 40C, if its millions of times more potent than c02

Alex the skeptic

Should we laugh or what? Thank God I have not yet had the necessity of being anesthetised . But I just hope that the anesthetist who would perform my first surgical op will not be a warmist or James Hansen’s cloned twin.
Bring on the next one for Cancun.

P Wilson

The obvious inference is that if a gas had 10 billion the power of c02, it wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the atmosphere, except if there was so much of it that it increased th eatmospheric density, like on Venus

P Wilson

typo: slightest difference to the *temperature*,

Methow Ken

Let me get this straight: These gases have NOT been observed in the atmosphere; and even if they ever are expected concentration is parts per TRILLION. BUT: The CAGW loonies want medical estabilishments to start restricting use of same. IMO Neal Asher had a great answer above; to those who want us to ”save the planet” in this area: YOU FIRST !!

R. de Haan

That’s it, no more anesthetics for warmists.
No more heating, no more car driving, no more commuter flying, no more meat, no more
coastal condo’s, no more kids, dogs and cats.
Just shoot yourselves.


Paid for by the makers of isoflurane.;-)

Atomic Hairdryer

Re Neal Asher
The Neal Asher? If so, thanks for the books! Sniper would make a great anaesthesiologist 🙂

Just came across this, some may find it interesting, others may think is hilarious.
These results provide evidence that relatively small solar forcing may play a significant role in century-scale NH winter climate change. This suggests that colder winter temperatures over the NH continents during portions of the 15th through the 17th centuries (sometimes called the Little Ice Age) and warmer temperatures during the 12th through 14th centuries (the putative Medieval Warm Period) may have been influenced by longterm solar variations.
Authors: Gavin A. Schmidt, Michael E. Mann SCIENCE VOL 294 7 DECEMBER 2001


Actually, there’s an error in the post reversing the GWP’s of isoflurane and sevoflurane. After reading the study , it is apparent that sevo is the “safest” for our precious planet. So… paid for by the makers of sevoflurane. 😉


Why don’t they just come out and say “the western style of living is under fire for global warming potential?”

Henry chance

Nitrous oxide, cyclopropane, ether, fluothane etc. are used in small doasges. Actually the breath of air from a patient is recycled. The Soda lime is used to remove CO2. It appears the greenie weenies are desparate and chase around making obscure claims assuming they are correct and won’t get refuted. Many machines also have a cannister of CO2. Giving a patient CO2 is to keep the heart rate going.

Antony, could you please explain to me (in simple terms as I am a simple man) how it is possible for a gas to warm the rest of the atmosphere (and thus the whole planet). Any gas which has a place in the atmospheric composition of gases will do but of course CO2 is of particular interest. Those other anesthetic gases which you have just mentioned seem to me to have just as much chance to warm the planet as CO2 has as in all cases the chance must be 0.


Its worse…than……..we………… ZZZZZZZZZ.


If you want to use gin (or whisky) as an anasthetic, and you are over 18 but under 21, you can always come to GB.


“Somebody tell China immediately so they can stop building two a week.”
China’s current target is 1600 GW of generating capacity by 2020. 60% of it fossil based.
In September 2010 China Generating capacity stood at 680GW coal and 220 GW Wind/Hydro/Nuclear.
The 2020 Goal is 900 GW fossil and 700 GW Wind/Hydro/Nuclear/Solar.
The Chinese could coal get coal for $50/tonne in 2006.
They can’t get coal for less then $110/tonne now.
Chinese coal fired construction peaked in 2006.
Funny how economics works. The price of something goes up and various ‘substitute products’ once considered prohibitively expensive all of a sudden appear to be bargains.

DJ Meredith

Neal says: “Bite on this stick while I saw your leg off — you’re saving the planet.”
That pretty much sums it up.
The other not-so-obvious is a golden opportunity for ADM to get even more subsidies for ethanol to replace Evil Greenhouse Anesthetics for all medical procedures.
Alcohol….the GREEN pain killer.


Medical and veterinary gas anaesthesia systems include “scavenging” of used isofluorane gas and absorption in a charcoal filter. Care is taken not to allow the gas to vent to the atmosphere and to anaesthetise the doctors, nurses or veterinarians.


1) CFCs did not destroy the ozone layer
— Current replacement refrigerants are less efficient and more toxic
2) DDT did not kill animals
— Current replacement pesticides are nerve gases, thousands of times more toxic than chlorinated pesticides, or “natural” insecticides like pyrethrins, that are potent contact allergens probably culpable for the resurgence in allergies and asthma.
3) CO2 does not contribute significantly to warming, even at three times current levels, levels that should be embraced
—Current replacements for hydrocarbon fuels are dangerous and inefficient
Everything we learned in the state controlled classrooms is bogus, man.


They must be inhaling a good amount of the gas to produce such “research.”
“Yo dude pass me a toke….I gotta get blitzed enough to tell a lie and put in my global warming plug…otherwise my funding dries up, dude.”
(in Danish, obviously)

Laura Hills

This is a wonderful way to test the commitment of AGWers facing surgery : do they want their operation with or without anaesthetics?

Pamela Gray

I’ll trade you all the gas induced sleeping surgery patients for one Mexican food fed boyfriend!

Pamela Gray

If your job is to study the gas you use to put people to sleep, and all the grants have dried up for such studies, you go to the only source of grants there are, thus forced to turn your job into greenhouse gas studies just to keep your lab going. That must be a bitter pill to swallow.

Pamela Gray

One of these days, studies like this one will be used in place of laughing gas. Works just as well.

Pamela Gray

Well by golly, “Det gode viger pladsen for det endnu bedre…” says it ALL!