Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Thinking Outloud About Climate Change

I am not an expert on climate change, not even close, but I have never seen this argument advanced against climate alarmists. Perhaps there is a good reason why it hasn't been done so, but to my untrained eye I can't can't think of one. If there are objections from those of you who know more about climate, why the argument I am about to make is invalid, please explain in the comments.

Here goes:

Climate change alarmists like to use the greenhouse as an analogy to what carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses added to the atmosphere will do to the climate.

My question is: What would happen inside a greenhouse, if you fully covered a greenhouse with another greenhouse layer or if you built a greenhouse inside a greenhouse? My guess is very little in terms of warmth, since the initial greenhouse is already locking in the warmth.

If we buy for the moment that added carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause climate change, why would not this same effect  occur with added greenhouse gases, that is, with the more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it becomes more and more redundant, and thus would not produce much, if any, added climate change? Afterall, there is only so much absorption and emission of infrared radiation that can go on in the atmosphere.

It appears that many, when thinking about the climate, jump from the greenhouse analogy, which has limits to its effect, to thinking in terms of the climate and atmosphere in terms of a gas hot plate or a burning fire place, where the amount of fuel can be increased, without much limitation (especially in the case of the fireplace), thus putting no limit on the amount of additional heat that can be generated. But the climate situation is different, again, absorption and emission of infrared radiation is limited.

Perhaps the answer is as simple as that the greenhouse gas expansion is only in its early stages and that a lot more of the building of the initial greenhouse needs to be done to impact all the infared radiation, but I have not seen this argument made outright (and it may be that being an amateur in this area I just haven't seen the discussion of this, when it has occurred.)

If anyone can add further light on this question, it would be greatly appreciated that you comment below.



  1. Here is an interesting question. If all of this horrible co2 is coming from fossil fuels derived from animals and plants that were buried long ago, how is it that all of those plants and animals did well enough with all that co2 to create vast stores of carbon to be buried. They had to do that with obviously higher level o co2 then extant. Maybe co2 is not a bad thing! Uhhhh "fracking!"

  2. Check this talk by Bob Carter. ( 4 parts)

    Its a bit old, actually done in 2007, but one of the examples is exactly what you are talking about re C02.

    They have found the C02 contributes to warming but only for the first few hundred parts per million. Once you keep adding more and more C02 the rate sharply diminishes until it has almost no effect.

  3. It has been advanced:


  5. RW,
    Hi, I got from the talk from the Chem engineer that you posted, that indeed, the more "greenhouse" gas you put into the atmosphere, the smaller the incremental effect. i.e. diminishing returns. BTW, this effect is universal in science.

  6. If I understand the argument, it goes something like this: "If the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs all the blackbody radiation emitted from the earth, then adding more CO2 to the atmosphere should not cause an additional increase in temperature." This hypothesis has been around for almost a century. The premise of the argument is true, but the conclusion is false. The argument is based on an oversimplified heat balance in the atmosphere. Instead of going into greater detail, I urge anybody wanting more information to Google "ACS Climate Science Toolkit" and read more about the physics behind CO2's effect on atmospheric temperatures.

    I think it is important to note that I am a Ph.D. chemist. I am also a Ron Paul libertarian, and am often dismayed by the split down party lines of anthropogenic climate change "activists" and "deniers". This is a question of physics, not of political affiliation. That said, my opinion is that atmosphere is a terribly complicated system, and there are plenty of variables that could be offsetting the effect of CO2 concentration. The science is not settled.

    1. Thank you for the excellent link and thoughtful observations. The ACS information looks to be sophisticated, robust, well-informed, yet accessible to the layman. I agree the science is not settled. And the stakes for getting it wrong are quite high.

      IMO, too many libertarians are behaving as knee-jerk reactionaries when it comes to this issue. They observe that liberals and the establishment are saying it, therefore conclude it must necessarily be false, rather than impartially evaluating the evidence both for and against.

      To shame. The only thing setting us apart from those people is our insistence on exhaustive, careful, impartial, rational thought and evidence when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of political and economic claims. If we flip to emotionalism for evaluating climate change claims, we sink to their level.

  7. CO2 accounts for 0.04% of the atmosphere. It's a trace gas that somehow dominates atmospheric temperature... Water vapor is by far the major greenhouse gas. One big unknown is how much CO2 concentration in the atmosphere causes warming versus is a response to warming (from the ocean which is many times more than human contribution). Warming caused by solar activity, land use changes and other possible factors or many in combination.

    The paleo record shows increasing CO2 concentrations lag temperature increases. Global climate models (GCMs) assume CO2 is a forcing agent in the atmosphere (not a response) so it is baked into their models to show that more CO2 drives temperature. CO2 having a disproportionate positive effect and that negative feedbacks (increasing cloud cover the big one) have under represented cooling effect. Increasingly, more research indicates that the atmosphere is much less sensitive to CO2 than GCMs assume. Even the IPCC is admitting as much.

    Climastrology is a study in confirmation bias (by sleazy tax feeding scientists and sleazier politicians). But the evidence is now pretty clear, GCMs have NO predictive value and are pretty worthless (the "Pause" going on 20 years).

    From Wikipedia on the global warming hiatus, "In a presentation to the American Physical Society, William (Bill) Collins of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and lead author of the modeling Chapter 9 of the IPCC AR5 said "Now, I am hedging a bet because, to be honest with you, if the hiatus is still going on as of the sixth IPCC report, that report is going to have a large burden on its shoulders walking in the door, because recent literature has shown that the chances of having a hiatus of 20 years are vanishingly small.""

    I'd say their credibility is already blown. And we're supposed to upend our lives and human civilization on this?

  8. Here's another problem: When an oil company pays for a "study" that concludes that CO2 from burning its products does not cause dangerous climate change, it is (rightly) pointed to as a conflict of interest. "Follow the money" and all that.

    However, when a bunch of climate scientists, who only maintain employment (or continue to receive research grants - same thing I guess) if they conclude that what they are studying is actually a problem, why is there no equal cry of conflict of interest?

    Why the double standard?

    That said:

    “Within a few years winter snowfall will become a very rare and exciting event. … Children just aren’t going to know what snow is.”

    David Viner, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, 20 March 2000

    I guess a "few" years is up for debate....

    Here's all the epic fails:

  9. Hi Bob,

    Well from my layman research the argument goes like this. CO2 itself alone would not be a problem. A doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would cause a warming of less than 1°C. However it is argued that the warmer it gets the more water vapor gets into the air which is an even more powerful greenhouse gas. Now they (and this is important) assume that this water vapor has a net positive feedback effect reinforcing the warming of CO2, so that 1°C would roughly result in 3°C warming.

    Here are links for that:

    Please note water vapor also causes clouds in the air which stop sun light to reach the earth which is a negative feedback (well as I read now, proponents of AGW already argue that even clouds are most likely net positive feedback...) For my point of view the assumption that water vapor is a net positive feedback is just that a pure assumption..

    1. The assumption that additional water vapor causes positive feedback would indicate that you would get a cycle of more and more water vapor in the air, because the reason for it is the warming not the CO2 per se hence if water vapor causes additional warming, and additional warming gets you more water vapor etc. then that would imply that minuscule changes in CO2 (or any other GHG for that matter) would have caused the earth to lurch very violently to extremely warm and wet periods. This is why the Chem engineer that Robert linked to said that *if* the feedback is positive than the potential warming is unbounded...

      However, the geological evidence indicates that warm periods are short, not all that warm, and the earth gets out of them fairly quickly (unfortunately for us slackers!). So basically the fact that earth doesn't look like a sauna even though it had millions upon millions of occasions to get out of whack, hints very strongly that there is no mechanism for positive feedback at play, on earth.

    2. Yossi L,

      Right see my second comment further below.

  10. The assertion that increasing concentrations in the atmosphere of gasses that exhibit a "greenhouse" effect have progressively less effect is correct. Professor Ian Plimer in his book "Heaven and Earth" (ISBN 978-1-58979-472-6) provides a concise explanation, with supporting quantitative data and references, on pages 374 and 375: "The first 20 ppmv of CO2 operating as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere has the greatest effect on temperature. After about 200 ppmv, CO2 has done its job as a greenhouse gas and has absorbed about all of the infra-red energy that it can absorb. Once the atmosphere is at the present content of 385 ppmv, a doubling or quadrupling of the atmospheric CO2 content will have very little effect on atmospheric temperature. This is why in former times when the atmospheric CO2 content was up to 25 times the current content, there was no runaway greenhouse of 'tipping point'."

    Professor Plimer provides a better analogy than stacked greenhouses: "Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere operates like a curtain on a window. If you want to keep out light, add a curtain. A second curtain makes little difference, a third curtain makes even less difference and a fourth curtain is totally ineffectual."

    Professor Plimers book is an excellent reference on climate change in that it relies exclusively on physical evidence - geologic evidence - which can actually be examined - rather than relying on theories or computer models. It is a fascinating book, with some astonishing information that geology reveals about our planet.

    J. Sturkey San Jose CA

  11. Following on skylien's note, the CO2 absorbs infrared radiation (IR) that is emitted by the earth. But a second CO2 molecule cannot absorb the IR that the first molecule has absorbed, so its effect is lower. This is a pretty common situation, and is called a first order effect. The result is that the absorption will be proportional to the log of the CO2 concentration.

    Water absorbs IR more effectively, hence a stronger 'greenhouse gas.' But water in the form of clouds reflects visible light very effectively as well. During the night water is acting like CO2, but during the day water is reflecting a much wider spectrum of light, ie more energy, than it is absorbing at night. Thus clouds likely have a net cooling effect on the climate.

    Since the water concentration increases with increased temperature, and decreases with lower temperature, it has a net 'buffering' effect on the planet's temperature, ie it stabilized the temperature. Planets like Venus that have lost almost all of their water and have 96% CO2 in their atmosphere can experience a runaway greenhouse situation - very high temperatures. If the 'feedback' from water was positive the Earth would long ago have experienced a runaway greenhouse effect.

    Spencer's paper that skylien linked to explains some other reasons water could have a negative feedback on atmospheric temperatures.

    1. Gee, did these warmists ever notice that in cloudy weather the days are cooler and the nights are warmer?
      Stated differently, in the cloudy tropics day/night differentials are small, whereas in deserts, the difference is huge.

  12. Bob,

    If I am allowed to think aloud for once as well then I would think:

    If you look at chain of arguments by pro AGWers:

    1. More CO2 from fossil fuels cause (only) a little warming that is followed by:

    a. More Water Vapor in the air due to assumed net positive feedback causes more warming, which in itself is already reinforcing
    b. A warming earth also means finally a warming ocean. Oceans bind CO2. However the warmer ocean the less CO2 it is able to bind, hence even more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, which… well just start with point 1 again
    c. A warming globe means frozen methane hydrates might or already are melting, which means more methane, which is 4 times as potent as CO2 in terms of greenhouse gas, in the air. So again more warming due to it and just again triggering all above points.
    d. A warming globe means less ice, therefore less albedo, more heat is sucked up by the earth from the sun again triggering all the above even more

    If you follow this arguments you must come to the conclusion that by necessity this is a runaway warming, once triggered that cannot be stopped. And one wonders if even humans are needed to start this runaway warming. Obviously the earth heated up from lot of ice ages so far, triggering all of the above, strangely not producing runaway warming ever (else we wouldn’t be here right). Also as everybody knows fossil fuels were already in the air once, and the earth despite all of the above mentioned points was able to suck all the CO2 out of the atmosphere and put it below ground. How is that even possible given the above points?

    Up to now nobody can explain the dynamics of ice ages or of clouds and many other things. As long as this is the case all we do is wild guessing, at best! I wouldn’t even dare to call it educated guessing. But that is just my layman opinion.

    1. Speaking of methane, what about those buffalo herds that once blackened the continent. A buffalo can blow out a LOT of methane!

  13. It is ridiculous to even attempt to forecast global climate trends but,
    considering that if our globe(earth) was to be shrunk down to the size of a marble, no present day machine could make that marble as smooth as the earth marble would be. Our globe is made up of precise uniform layers with an extremely hot and radioactive core.
    I believe that there is a uniform layer of fossil fuel(oil) throughout the globe. We only drill in certain areas due to ease and/or geo/political considerations.
    Because Oil is the perfect insulation possibly protecting us from a very hot radioactive core, I believe that IF our climate should warm in the next 100 years,.......
    therein might be the culprit.
    Thinking out of the Box

  14. Gordon Prather debunked the "green-house gas theory" of global warming (the same guy who debunked the Cox Commission report on Chinese espionage and "Chicom penetration" of US national labs) along these lines almost two decades ago: (a formatting glitch seems to have substituted "?s" for dashes throughout the article).

  15. Let me start by saying that I don't believe in global warming.

    However, I do not agree with this argument. Going back to chemical engineering, there is a very basic equation for convection heat transfer:

    heat transfer (out of the greenhouse) = heat_transfer_coefficient * (Temperature_outside_greenhouse - Temperature_inside_greenhouse)

    This equation tells you how fast heat will escape based on the difference in the temperatures inside and outside of your greenhouse, as well as the properties of the greenhouse itself (heat transfer coefficient).

    The heat transfer coefficient is the critical parameter here. This is the innate property of your transfer medium. When you have multiple layers (such as your shirt, sweater, and jacket), each of these layers applies a resistance to the flow of heat through the medium, thus making you feel warmer. Just the same, multiple greenhouses will add multiple layers and thus multiple resistances to heat flow.

    As a result, based on this equation, if you add more greenhouses, you will increase the resistance of heat to escape the greenhouse. There will be some extra driving force from the greater difference in temperature inside and outside the greenhouse, but this won't have as big of a contribution to the overall heat transfer rate. Imagine wearing two coats; you'll probably feel it.

    Solely within the context of this equation, adding more carbon dioxide or water vapor (or other greenhouse gases) will increase the resistance to the heat transfer coefficient of the atmosphere.

    I hope that makes sense.

    1. Except that convective heat transfer has nothing to do with the warming of the Earth... radiative heat transfer does.

    2. You are really missing the point.

      In terms of heat transferring through a medium (or multiple mediums), the heat transfer coefficient will describe the effect of having multiple resistances (or multiple greenhouses) to slow heat transfer.

      It applies no matter which over-simplified equation you're using. I use the convective model to explain because it's much easier to understand without exponents to the fourth power.

  16. Following this mental exercise about stacked greenhouses I thought it would be instructive to learn what’s the average temperature on the moon, since it’s on average the same distance from the sun as the earth is, and it doesn’t have an atmosphere, what I’ve learned made me realize that there is valid argument for warming with the addition of CO2 or really anything which smoothens out the temperature curve. This is covered here:

    The Moon Is a Cold Mistress - Willis Eschenbach

    Basically, previously I assumed that temperatures just average out when you have a blanketing effect, but really, what gets averaged out or conserved is really the radiance. According to Stefan-Boltzmann law, radiance is proportional to temperature raised to the forth power, so a perfectly sinusoid temperature curve corresponds to radiance curve whether the peaks are much higher than the troughs. This means in order to keep the total radiance constant, a temperature curve that is periodic can have much lower overall temperature compared with a flat line curve.

    To the extent that additional matter in the atmosphere has a buffering effect that smoothen out the peaks of the temperature curve, the average temperature will go up. Any other buffering effect, for example, faster axial rotation, will have the same effect. And this is also why the average temperature in a greenhouse is hotter on average compared with its unbuffered surroundings.