By JR on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Why I am a jellyfish when it comes to global warming theory
Most climate skeptics accept the theory that a rise in atmospheric CO2 will cause a rise in terrestrial temperature. Where they differ from Warmists is in estimating the quantum of the temperature rise. Looking at both the theory and the data, skeptics think the effect of more CO2 will be so minute as to be probably undetectable.
There is however another camp of skeptics who think the whole theory is bunk. They think that a rise in CO2 CANNOT affect temperature. Such thinkers coalesce to some degree around the Principia Scientific publication run by John O'Sullivan. Their "Bible" is Slaying the Sky Dragon.
One would think that both types of skeptics would get along with one-another in perfect amiability but that is not always so. The "Slayers" tend to be rather shrill critics of the mainstream critics. In their dogmatism and hunger for consensus they seem rather like Warmists at times.
So I am a jellyfish. I take no side in the dispute. Either side could be right in my view. I think that Warmism has long ago left the realm of science and become a political creed of the Left. So the important thing is that both skeptical groups piss on global warming fears. Just as in politics generally, I think you have to have a big tent for your side to win the contest with the Left. And I would be happy to have a beer with anyone in the tent.
But I was not always a jellyfish. For a while the slayers had convinced me. I thought that global warming theory transgressed the first and second laws of thermodynamics. After a while, however, I concluded that those laws could be applied only to convective processes in the atmosphere, whereas global warming theory is about radiative heat transfer. At that point I had a small correspondence with theoretical physicist Lubos Motl and he assisted me towards a view that the theory could be expressed in a way not contrary to the law of physics.
So what I now make of the theory depends on the old law of the conservation of energy. Energy is not created or destroyed but just changes guise. So when energy (heat) from the sun hits the earth, that energy does not just vanish. It does a number of things and one of those things is that it bounces back in the direction whence it came. And when it hits a water or CO2 molecule it in turn bounces off that. But it will bounce in all dirtections so only a small portion of the bounced radiation will bounce back to hit the earth. And since CO2 molelcules are a tiny proportion of the atmosphere, you have only a small proportion of a tiny proportion of the heat being re-radiated to the surface by CO2 molecules. So the total effect must be very small indeed. So even in theory the Warmists are wrong to proclaim a detectable effect of CO2 levels.
And what the theoory says is of course exactly what we observe. Temperatures have remained stable over 17 years during which CO2 levels have risen sharply. So there has been no detectable effect of CO2 levels. Any effect has been too tiny to detect.
But in their typical way, one of the slayers had a go at me recently for my view that, even given their own theory, warmists are barking up the wrong tree. I reproduce the correspondence:
Spotted this sentence in your lead story today: "On the global warming theory as I see it, CO2 reflection is such a minor source of heating that the effects of variations in it SHOULD be so minuscule as to be undetectable ..." You've got a PhD, so where do you reckon the "warming" comes from then? Think a bit further and you can only come to one conclusion: in the open atmosphere, CO2 can only act as a coolant, never a warming agent. Provide me with just one piece of actual observed proof that there is any warming off atmospheric CO2.
I am agnostic about the theory. The form of it that makes some sense draws on the law of conservation of energy. If back radiation from the earth hits something opaque in the atmosphere the energy should bounce and some of that should hit the earth. But since CO2 is a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, its effect should be tiny. That's the theory but reality could be different
The Slayer replied:
The entire basis of the "theory" you mention is incorrect, hence my email to you in the first place. The concept of "heating by back-radiation" is a myth, has never been observed in Nature and can in fact not exist! Imagine if such a heating mechanism did exist, we'd be able to build super-efficient heaters where for an input of 1kW we get 2kW out - or any wattage higher than the input. For sure, any effect off a tiny fraction is tiny, but the only effect that can be scientifically ascribed to adding any gas to the atmosphere is a cooling effect, never a warming effect. With CO2 being a radiatively active gas, it will in fact act as a super-coolant! Only when captured in a bottle will the walls of the bottle warm up more when CO2 is inside, because the re-radiated energy can not get out without first dumping its energy into the material of the bottle. Out in the open, that very same property will cause extra fast cooling of the CO2 molecule, where O2 and N2 can only rely on conductive and convective heatloss. Also remember that in the bigger picture, the sun dumps its heat onto the surface, the air then takes that heat and convects it upwards and sideways with wind - a heatloss situation at all times! Never can more heat be created by recycling the original solar heat - if only! Delayed cooling is not warming; that delay can at best increase the average temperature - a rather meaningless concept as all weather stations are measuring the air at some 5-7ft off the ground!
I don't think you have grasped the law of conservation of energy. Where does the energy (heat) go when it hits a CO2 molecule?"
The Slayer replied:
Thanks Ray, there is no point to any further comms.
Does the brevity of the final reply mean that I won the argument? I think so but I also think that the important thing is to have the discussion. Winning and losing are not what science is about. And I am still open to conviction either way. I could be wrong!