The radiative forcing from carbon dioxide is approximately logarithmic in its concentration, producing about 4 W m−2 of global-mean forcing for each doubling. Although these are basic facts of climate science, competing explanations for them have been given in the literature. Here, the reasons for the logarithmic forcing of carbon dioxide are explored in detail and a simplified model for the forcing is constructed. An essential component is the particular distribution of absorption coefficients within the 15-μm band of carbon dioxide. An alternative explanation, which does not depend on the spectrum of carbon dioxide but instead hinges on the tropospheric lapse rate, is shown to be neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the logarithmic forcing of carbon dioxide and to be generally inapplicable to well-mixed greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
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The first two authors contributed equally to this work.