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Guest Post: Rick Santorum and Climate Change

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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How to Explain Climate Change to a Skeptic

Rick Santorum has recently described climate change as a hoax – a bunch of “bogus” science that tries to make nature’s normal “boom and bust” cycle into something man-made.  His comments illustrate how, despite the fact that the scientific community accepts climate change as truth, and despite the fact that the science is gaining greater acceptance among the general public, you may still run into people that just don’t believe the “theory” of climate change. In my experience working for oil companies and environmental organizations alike, I have heard pretty much every argument for and against climate change.  But there are a couple truths that trump them all.

First, let’s consider the word “theory”. Colloquially, theory refers to an idea or hypothesis that has not been proven. However, a scientific theory is a hypothesis that has gone through the rigors of the scientific method, and is accepted as true after a thorough examination. Unless it is specifically noted otherwise, a scientific theory is indistinguishable from scientific fact. So, the theory of climate change, in the science realm, is scientific fact.

Analogously, the theory of gravity and the theory of nuclear physics are also theories that we live with every day. They may be hard to describe to someone who is not a scientist. But, every time we walk on the ground we see the theory of gravity in action. And every time we flip on a light, we see the theory of nuclear physics – because 20% of the electricity being used by that light bulb comes from nuclear power. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, climate change is less immediately tangible than gravity or a nuclear reaction, so it is not so clearly obvious that is true.

This is the root the climate change debate – scientific facts versus non-scientific observations. The majority of evidence presented by skeptics is anecdotal – evidence that is based on non-scientific observations or studies that may sound compelling in isolation. One example is “It is colder today than the average for this time of year; therefore global warming is not true.” Those who cite this clearly don’t understand the difference between weather and climate. You may have also heard someone say, “The climate is cyclical, and we are just on a warming trend.” Or “The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo has changed the climate more than we have.”

I am not saying that volcanic eruptions, or solar flares, or natural changes in the biosphere don’t change the climate. They do. Sometimes significantly. But that is not the argument. The argument made by skeptics is whether humans are changing the climate.

In order for the anthropogenic (human caused) climate change ‘theory’ to be true, there are two corollary truths that must also be proven. Find failings with one and you have broken the climate change theory. Prove them both, and human caused climate change must be true.

Corollary #1 – Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

The ‘theory’ that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas has been tested and confirmed thousands of times. But if for some reason you don’t believe it, here is an experiment that you can do at home, courtesy of NASA. You can also add a few steps to the experiment to test the effects of aerosols on temperature change. But for just CO2, consider the following:

Materials:

  • Two or more 2-liter clear soda bottles with the label removed.
  • Identical thermometers for each soda bottle
  • Opaque tape or modeling clay
  • Source of carbon dioxide (CO2) – see below*

Method:

  1. Drill the caps of the bottles to the same diameter as your thermometer. Place the thermometers through the holes in the caps several inches. Use the modeling clay or tape to hold the thermometers in place and seal the hole.
  2. Use the seltzer bottle to fill one of the bottles with your chosen source of CO2 (see footnote to choose CO2 source)
  3. Place the caps with thermometers onto the tops of the bottles.
  4. Put the bottles into sunshine. Make sure they receive the same amount of sun. NOTE: a heat lamp may be substituted for the sun, but you must be very careful to place the bottles exactly the same distance from the lamp.
  5. Shade the thermometers by putting a strip of opaque tape on the outside of the bottles. The tape must be the same length on both bottles.
  6. Measure the temperature of the bottles over time. Record the temperature of each bottle every five minutes for a half hour.

This is just one way to show that CO2 acts as a blanket that traps heat. There are dozens of other ways to show that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and if you put this blanket around the earth, the earth will get warmer.

Corollary #2 – Humans are putting more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Yes, there is a finite amount of carbon in the biosphere. Humans can’t add to that, but what we can do is convert carbon from a solid or a liquid to a gas. As a gas, it goes into the atmosphere, rather than staying underground. We know that we are doing this because we dig up lots of coal and oil, materials that are mostly made up of carbon, and convert that carbon to a gas. On a large scale, this gas can be measured as it is released from power plants. We can also simply measure the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. We have measured that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing by about 2 parts per million every year for the past several decades.

Another Approach

Explaining the two corollary truths may be the less scientifically esoteric approach, but there is a way to prove it mathematically, if your audience understands calculus (If Rick Santorum happens to be your audience, I would go with the simpler explanation). I have had the pleasure of proving global warming to other scientists – geologists and petroleum engineers for example, who understand math and physics, but may not have applied that knowledge to climate theory. To do this, you simply do a thermodynamic energy balance around the earth.

Step 1: Assume the Earth has no atmosphere. Calculate the average global surface temperature.


To calculate the Earth’s average surface temperature, you can use the Stefan-Botzman Law for a blackbody.

In this equation, E is the rate of incident solar irradiance, which can be assumed to be about 238 Watts per square meter.***

Solving for temperature:

 

Step 2: Add in the atmosphere. Recalculate the average global surface temperature.

For this calculation, the atmosphere can be regarded as a thin layer with an absorbtivity of 0.1 for solar radiation and 0.8 for infrared radiation. Let X equal the irradiance of the earth’s surface and y the irradiance (both upward and downward) of the atmosphere. E is the irradiance entering the earth-atmosphere system from space averaged over the globe (E = 238 W/ m2 from the previous equation).

At the earth’s surface, a radiation balance requires that:

Solving these equations simultaneously reveals that x = 377 W/ m2 and y = 163 W/ m2.

Again, by using the Stefen-Boltzman Law, you can now calculate the temperature of the surface of the earth.

You can see that with an atmosphere, the average surface temperature of the earth is actually 13 degrees C. Taking it one additional step, you can calculate the increase in absorbtivity that would be needed to increase the global average surface temperature by 1 degree Celsius. Using the equations above, you can show that to increase the global average surface temperature by 1 degree, the absorbtivity of the atmosphere would only need to increase from 0.8 to 0.8166.

No matter how you decide to describe it – through hands on experiments and measurements, or through the calculations – climate change is happening. The sooner we all accept it, the sooner we can start working together to both reduce our emissions and adapt to the changes that are already happening.

* For your source of carbon dioxide, you may use one of the following methods:

  1. Dry CO2 source – Seltzer bottle charges – fill a dry seltzer bottle with one charge of carbon dioxide. You will use the carbon dioxide in the seltzer bottle to fill one of the bottles with carbon dioxide. For this method, both bottles can be left dry.
  2. Wet CO2 source – Alka-seltzer – you will put a cup of water into both bottles, then put a couple of alka-seltzers into the water in one of the bottles. A tablespoon of baking powder can be substituted for the Alka-seltzer.
  3. Wet CO2 source – Put a cup of club soda or seltzer water in one of the bottles and a cup of tap water into the other bottle

** The problem presented is adapted from Wallace and Hobbs, 1977 as it was re-printed in Allen and Shonnard in their text, Green Engineering: Environmentally Conscious Design of Chemical Processes (2002).

***E is defined here as the infrared planetary irradiance, which is calculated using the incident solar irradiance (S = 1,360 W/m2), the radius of the earth (R, in meters), and the fraction of the total incident solar radiation that is reflected back into space without being absorbed (A = 30% = 0.3). An energy balance of the system produces the following equation:

About the author:

Scott McNally has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas. He has worked as an Environmental Engineer for Valero Energy Corporation, a Project Engineer for Shell Oil Company, and an energy and climate research intern for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Scott is a frequent guest blogger at Plugged In – he was invited to be a guest blogger by Plugged In’s Melissa C. Lott. You can reach Scott via e-mail at scottmcnally at gmail dot com.

About the Author: Plugged In Guest Author - An energy research engineer who has worked in oil and gas, environmental engineering, renewable energy, and energy and environmental policy for the Obama Administration.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. jdey123 11:45 am 02/16/2012

    Scott’s experiment is rubbish. The earth isn’t surrounded by glass, and putting Alka Seltzers in a soda bottle would provide more than the 0.039% of CO2 that is actually in the atmosphere.

    Here’s the proof that the global warming hypothesis McNally wishes to suppress. Note: Manmade Global warming is not a theory, a theory requires a definite, testable prediction and observations to match :-

    1. Predicted temperatures rely on a basket of climate models producing a range of results. Why is this required if the main contributing factor for temperature change is manmade greenhouse gases? If this were true, the problem would be deterministic (i.e. we could get a result by using a relatively simple formula). The method used implies that the problem is infact stochastic (i.e. it would require a formulae too complex to compute and therefore we need to fall back on probability theory).

    2. So, if the problem is stochastic, let’s compare it to a problem that we know is stochastic (life expectancy). Here we seem to have the same issue. We know that life expectancy is increasing and can provide projections by how much and by when. Life expectancy increases due to a number of contributory reasons, some known, some unknown. We are able to better predict the average life expectancy of the population today, than what our prediction would be in 100 years, however.

    So, how about climate science. Here, we’re told that there are much fewer variables involved and they’ve all been identified – solar activity, volcanoes, aerosols, greenhouse gases and ocean current temperature being the ones that are identified as the “forcing agents” which combine to determine future temperature change. Now the hypothesis says that only 1 of these – greenhouse gases – is the dominant factor but the others create “climate noise” which masks this signal in the short term. Here we’re told that scientists can’t possibly be expected to predict what the temperature will be in the short term due to the “clmate noise”, which is starkly different from life expectancy. However, the scientists also try to persuade us that they’ve determined the relative forcings of the “climate noise” e.g. Foster & Rahmstorf (2011) which would make the problem deterministic, so why do they still insist that they need a basket of climate models, you only need 1 if problem is deterministic.

    3. So if we accept the argument that increases in CO2 emissions are the dominant signal in a background of “climate noise”, and scientists supposedly have worked out how to filter out the “climate noise”, how come they still can’t provide us with a precise value for climate sensitivity (i.e. the increase in global temperature due to doubling of CO2) when they have more than 130 years worth of records which tell them global temperature and CO2 emissions? Furthermore, if they’re unable to do this because of the “climate noise” after all this time, why do we keep getting alarmist stories about how the world wil heat up (according to their models) by at least 2C and possibly 6C by 2100?

    Of course, if the climate is actually random and neither deterministic nor stochastic, this provides an explanation, but then mankind wouldnt be to blame.

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  2. 2. drafter 3:44 pm 02/16/2012

    jdey123
    To add to your comments the bottle is also a closed system where as our atmosphere is not a closed system. And to the calculation the author used it seems that the temperature increase is for any atmosphere provided not just CO2 since I did not see any factors that were specific to an atmosphere with or without CO2.

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  3. 3. jerrydodd 4:04 pm 02/16/2012

    Will anything but brain transplants work for folks who do not accept the conclusions re:climate change stated and publicized by the National Academy of Sciences, AAAS, and practically ever other legitimate organization of actual scientists in th world. I doubt it. Some oddballs of nature just cannot be convinced, no matter what experts say. This is particularly true of politicians who are trying to raise money for running in elections. You would think a family man, like Santorium professes to be, would get this because his kids and grandkids are going to pay a heavy price for his greed and/or stupidity, which ever it is. It is probably useless to waste our time to convince folks like that of the hard facts of anything. jd

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  4. 4. Rocco Bamba 5:06 pm 02/16/2012

    @jerrydodd
    Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, there’s no such thing as brain transplants either…

    Link to this
  5. 5. bbremner 7:03 pm 02/16/2012

    Jerrydodd, you are right, it is useless to waste your time on those jerks, however it is fun to insult them from time to time.

    A. The bottle experiment (Corollary 1) is what we who have actually taken (and not failed) a higher level science class in a college/university call a Quantitative result. It is not designed to Quantify the amount, merely to demonstrate the substance or hypothesis exists. A Qualitative result tells you how much of it there is.

    B. Not quite a test, just a recommended experiment. Go into a small room, close and tape all the openings. This room will have a big bag of charcoal (pretty much all carbon) and a small charcoal grill. Now light the charcoal briquets and record as you put each one on the grill. Those who come into the room later can record how many briquets it takes. Perhaps before you go in, you can invite other climate change deniers to repeat your experiment. This would reduce the number of them as well as reduce the excess population. Call it a social experiment.

    Oh, by the way jerrydodd, have you noticed how these climate deniers are always real cool and have some fancy handle, I guess they are too cool to have a real name.

    Warning!! Treat this as a “thought experiment” it might prove dangerous to actual perform this, although it would be enlightening.

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  6. 6. Carlyle 10:00 pm 02/16/2012

    You need to demonstrate this for us. Use a full bag of charcoal & a small room if you want dramatic & lethal results. What weight of charcoal will you need to burn to reach the equivalent of todays Co2 atmospheric concentration of less than 400 parts per million? Even if you double it to 800 parts per million? Take it to 1000 parts per million which is way past any predictions & you would need to liberate 1 litre of Co2 per 1000 litres of air. How much charcoal would you need to liberate 1 litre of Co2? Hint 1 gram of pure C02 fills a volume of 22 litres so you need a thousandth of a gram per 22 litres of container space to give you a concentration of 1000 parts per million, more than two & a half times present levels.

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  7. 7. sheep rustler 10:17 pm 02/16/2012

    Science relies firstly on observation. Over 20 years since AGW was proposed we’ve had plenty of time to observe. The first level challenges presented here address the sort of people who still compare AGW with the ozone layer and air pollution, but for anyone who has the time and patience to do their own research has not actually addressed any of the actual climate data since that date, and although alone each may not prove or disprove anything, once you add them all together (and I’ve just started here) it looks like maybe the case is not as expected back in 1990 or so. We’ve had two decades to play this experiment out, and I have only one thing I can offer, not conceptions as this strangely cynical author suggests, but hard and solid data, from satellites, universities, coastguards, and the polar bears from a Canadian environmental group under oath in court. After this period of time the total scenario relies on computer programs set up with a high CO2 sensitivity already demonstrated to be absent. There is no built in delay to Hansen’s suggested feedback. The oceans were meant to evaporate and add water vapour to the atmosphere, raising temperatures above that of the CO2 alone. 50% later at 390ppm+ where is it? When did he expect it to happen? Anyhow, if the author would care to answer this short list of questions (far from exhaustive) rather than patronise his readers I will be delighted to see the answers:

    Temperatures lower than the IPCC lowest CO2 estimate by 2011
    The IPCC saying how much better their programs are than the ones they used originally (to make current policies)
    The stability of world ice coverage
    The lack of positive feedback from 50% extra CO2
    Where the 60 year multidecadal oceanic oscillation fits into their graphs?
    Why solar power and tilt correlates more with temperatures than CO2
    Why the polar bear population is not yet reduced but higher
    How the ocean releases its heat with a long delay as suggested by James Hansen
    How an 8 inch sea level rise is expected to inundate anywhere in a century
    At what level does CO2 change from an essential part of the atmosphere to a pollutant?

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  8. 8. Carlyle 10:38 pm 02/16/2012

    From the above you have to subtract the existing concentration. It is only the vast volume of the atmosphere that allows so much to be absorbed plus natural processes that recapture some of the Co2. The mechanisms are not yet understood. Some are. Some goes into vegetation, some is absorbed by the oceans & some goes into natural chemical bonds. Like the missing heat, there is also missing Co2.
    Only nuclear energy can lower the rate of Co2 emissions so if you are not in favour of nuclear energy you must be prepared to accept the consequences what ever they might be.

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  9. 9. Carlyle 10:52 pm 02/16/2012

    7. sheep rustler
    Quite correct. higher levels of Co2 is much more likely to be beneficial to life, as high levels were in the past.
    Ditto slightly higher temperture & rainfall are likely to green the deserts rather than cause more droughts.
    Australia suffered a long drought until late 2010. All the alarmists claimed it was because of global warming & that there was no point in building new dams. The drought broke as they always do. Dams full or nearly so. What happened? Climate change caused the floods they now say, or alternatively it is just weather, not climate.

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  10. 10. Blairos 1:10 am 02/17/2012

    Dare I say it, but what a ridiculous, oversimplified straw-man argument.

    The fact of the matter is that there are a number of variables that the climate scientist community has identified that they are unable to accurately measure, and so either ignore outright, or use simple, simulated data, to represent in their models. A list of these can be found in the IPCC AR4.

    The IPCC AR4 also acknowledges that a 1% change in the albedo of clouds could have the equivalent effect of a DOUBLING in the level of CO2. The recent CLOUD experiment at CERN has helped to confirm that the formation of clouds is very dependent upon solar activity and cosmic rays. Weighting given to solar activity and cosmic rays in the climate models? Insignificant.

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  11. 11. TWinters 1:22 am 02/17/2012

    It is “anthropogenic”, not “anthropomorphic”. CO2 acts by absorbing outgoing infrared radiation from the earth, not sunshine. And the energy balance calculation is wrong. Please do not spread misinformation in the name of climate science. Not all climate skeptics are illiterate. You are doing a disservice to the science by (1) getting it wrong, (2) implying that everyone else on this side of the issue has got it wrong, (3) using a condescending and didactic tone further polarizing the issue. Say what you will about Rick Santorum but he does not pretend to have a degree in Chemical Engineering. Get the science right first, then write about it.

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  12. 12. MoEnergySci 8:05 am 02/17/2012

    @TWinters – For the benefit of those of us who do not immediately see the flaws in the problem statement and calculations above, would you mind spelling out (writing out with an equation perhaps? or an explanation) what you mean when you say that “the energy balance calculation is wrong.”

    Thanks.

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  13. 13. scottmcnally 10:47 am 02/17/2012

    Thanks everyone for your comments, this seems to be quite a passionate subject for many of you. I’m glad to see such a lively discussion. I’ll try to respond to all of your comments in the coming days (currently on vacation):

    Jdey – The experiment is not intended to simulate the earth. It is intended to do one thing: show that CO2 traps heat. Do you disagree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas?

    CO2 is one factor among many that influences the climate. I’m not saying it is the dominant force or not. But, if it is a continuous drive in one direction, it will cause a permanent change, and other things will become the noise. Volcanos, solar flares, cloud cover etc are all temporary epochs. If the sun’s intensity permanently doubled, that would not be noise. If we were to temporarily double the CO2 concentration, and then remove it back to normal, that would be noise, but we aren’t. It will be increased permanently, and the other factors become the noise.

    It is true that cloud cover has a huge impact on the greenhouse effect, and that changes in cloud cover can impact the climate more than CO2. And while changes in cloud cover can be significant over a short period of time, the amount of cloud cover over a long period is fairly constant and predictable.
    The point is, there are many things that influence the climate. Some things more than others. And while there is disagreement among climate scientists about how impactful the changes will be and how to model those changes, they are all saying the climate will change. The fact remains: significantly increasing the amount of a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere will impact the climate. Sure, there is disagreement on how, or how much, but changing the atmosphere will change the climate. Does anyone disagree with that?

    Fun fact: We know high levels of CO2 heats planets. Venus has a CO2 rich atmosphere, and it is much hotter than Mercury, even though it is farther away from the sun.

    More to come later. Thanks again for the comments everyone.

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  14. 14. jdey123 11:43 am 02/17/2012

    A reasoned response from scottmcnally, I feel.

    The essential problem that is that scientists need to explain what happens to the ‘missing heat’ in a logical way. If the global warming hypothesis is true then CO2 traps heat which would otherwise radiate back to space and an experiment such as the one that you describe attempts to prove this. So, what causes the fluctuations in observed global temperatures on a day to day basis? It can only be that either less solar radiation is hitting the planet, or the amount being radiated back is changing. Now a major problem emerges with the hypothesis in that on a day to day basis, you can see why things like changes in ice and aerosol concentrations may alter these factors, but it’s very hard to explain the ‘missing heat’ that’s happened since 1998 or indeed for longer periods (1940 to 1978, 1880 to 1910) etc. especially when CO2 content in the atmosphere has continued to climb through these periods. And here in is where the ‘science’ starts to unravel. In recent times, Foster & Rahmstorf, Lean & Rind & Hansen have claimed that they have worked out a formula to remove the effects of ENSO events, aerosols and solar activity and prove that there is no ‘missing heat’, the problem is that they disagree on the time lags and weightings that they’ve applied in order to produce the results. Hansen, in particular, analysis of 2011 is highly suspect. He tries to claim that the solar rise which started in 2009 has failed to show up in the temperature record yet due to ocean thermal inertia of 18 months! If you want a simple experiment to do, fill your bath half full with cold water and position a thermometer at the bottom of the bath, then turn on the hot water tap for 30s and swirl the bath, to simulate the supposed effect of an ENSO event. See, what effect it has on the thermometer reading and how long this effect lasts. Schoolkid science tells us that heat rises, and that heat can’t get trapped at the bottom.

    I have 2 hypotheses on the climate:-

    i) The heat escape to space is variable. CO2 may trap heat, but it interacts with other non-greenhouse gases and is converted to another energy form which eventually escapes to space, and would show up in an area of the spectrum that satellites haven’t currently looked at. I’d say this hypothesis is highly improbable but possible, and not as ludicrous as the ocean heat sink hypothesis.

    ii) The earth is kept warm by geothermal activity as well as the sun. This could explain the so-far unexplained ENSO events. Logically, heat can’t sink and be trapped, but if the heat source is down below and is fluctuating, as you would expect from a molten core, this is a possible explanation. I imagine the way to prove or disprove this theory is to take temperature readings from sufficiently below the earth’s surface to discount heat from the sun.

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  15. 15. TWinters 3:38 pm 02/17/2012

    @TWinters – For the benefit of those of us who do not immediately see the flaws in the problem statement and calculations above, would you mind spelling out (writing out with an equation perhaps? or an explanation) what you mean when you say that “the energy balance calculation is wrong.”

    Dividing 1360 by 5.67*E-8 and taking the fourth root of that yields 393.5 not 254.5 deg K. Both the calculation and formulation of the problem are wrong. The earth is obviously not that hot.

    1360 W/m2 is the radiation at the top of the atmosphere (TOA). For earth’s energy balance this value must first be divided by 4 because the earth’s surface area (sphere, 4πr^2) is 4 times greater that the area that intercepts the radiation (disk, πr^2). That brings you down to 1360/4 = 340 W/m2.

    Secondly, you have to account for the fact that only 70% of that radiation is absorbed by the earth, the rest 30% is reflected back out. That brings you down to 340*0.7 = 238 W/m2.

    Use this value in the blackbody equation and you will get the temperature of 254.5 deg K. It is a hypothetical mean temperature in the absence of a greenhouse effect, but of course there would still be variation with latitude and seasons.

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  16. 16. Melissa Lott 5:58 pm 02/17/2012

    @TWinters – Thanks for pointing out the two typos in this post – the first being the term anthropogenic and the second being the typo in the calculation presented.

    Regarding the calculation – the correct value for E is 238 W/m2. This equation has been updated and a footnote has been added to explain the calculation behind this value for E. You will see the 1,360 W/m2 value in this set of calculations – as you indicated, this value is the total incident solar irradiance.

    Apologies for any confusion that this typo caused.

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  17. 17. Carlyle 6:01 pm 02/17/2012

    13. scottmcnally
    I do not wish to discourage you young fellow & appreciate the amount of work & dedication it has taken for you to reach your academic goals.
    This is the real world & you will find more & more that your studies & lecturers have given you a biased view on many topics. Hopefully you will not reject differing viewpoints out of hand & will grow to understand that things are not nearly as cut & dried as you currently think.
    Have a nice vacation.

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  18. 18. Old Engineer 11:06 pm 02/17/2012

    First, I am embarrassed that a fellow Chem E would write such a condescending and pointless post. Who is your intended audience?

    No informed skeptic doubts that CO2 can cause some warming. We disagree on the fine details. Things like how much amplification H2O provides if any, what the albedo of clouds is, what other drivers need to be included, etc.

    You start out by assuming to know the skeptic position, which you obviously do not and have not bothered to investigate, so I have to assume you are writing for your fellow warmists who also hold the same incorrect beliefs. You assume us fools and put words in our mouths to substantiate your bias. Very immature and more typical of a politician than an engineer.

    You don’t mention amplification from water vapors in your post. The IPCC originally said it was 3x, but that was based on theory, not fact, not measurements. Kind of significant. It’s on these inconvenient details that the skeptics depart from the warmists.

    If you would look at the actual temperature records, sea level records, ocean heat content, Himalayan glaciers, and frequency and strength of storms, you would notice that all of the IPCC predictions are wrong. Their models are garbage and the Assessment Reports are just wishful thinking, much of it based on input from groups such as WWF and EDC with no peer reviewed documentation to back them up.

    Yes, most scientists (and engineers) believe that the climate is warming, and that man is having an influence on climate. I am one of them. But I don’t believe that CO2 is the main driver, and it certainly is not the only driver. The climate record going back millions of years shows little correlation (and inverse causation) between temperature and CO2 concentration.

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  19. 19. frauleinkarly 1:04 am 02/18/2012

    Dear Scott,

    you may have a lot of fancy equations that may just intimidate some readers into thinking you know what you’re talking about but your arguments are over-simplified and you have misrepresented the arguments of the ‘skeptics’.

    Corollary #3 should be that the amount of temperature change caused by CO2 emissions is SIGNIFICANT when compared to other climate driving factors. It matters if the temperature change is 0.00000001 deg or 1 deg in 10 years, and all observational evidence is pointing to something like the former number.

    To illustrate my point lets draw an analogy to chocolate consumption.
    Corollary #1 Chocolate causes obesity
    Corollary #2 More chocolate is being consumed
    Unlike the evidence for rising temperatures there is very strong evidence that the prevalence of obesity is rising dramatically.
    Does this then mean that we should ban the consumption of chocolate? Would the obesity problem be solved if chocolate production stopped?

    OF COURSE NOT. There are many many factors that drive obesity; multiple food types, lack of exercise, psycho-social factors… the list goes on…

    The climate also has a multitude of other factors that drive it; solar flares, cloud formation, volcanoes, deep ocean currents…

    Clearly you need to revise your argument because as it stands, you have proven nothing.

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  20. 20. scottmcnally 11:51 pm 02/18/2012

    Hello again everyone. Thanks for all your comments, here are some more responses:
    Drafter – I did not incorporate the atmospheric absorbtivity effects of CO2 in these equations. This just shows that any gas (CO2, methane etc) that changes the absorbtivity of the atmosphere will change the temperature.
    Sheep rustler – I’m not fully up to speed on everything IPCC has put out. I don’t represent them, and some of their predictions on the effects of global warming may be innacurrate. In fact, the specific effects of climate change, including when and how gradually they will happen, are very hard to predict, and there are probably be tons of incorrect predictions out there, and incorrect predictions will continue to be made.
    Here is what we know: Increasing CO2 concentrations will change the climate.
    Here is what we don’t know: Exactly how the climate will change.
    I wasn’t aware that global ice coverage is stable. One thing I have heard: satellite photos show that arctic ice is melting so fast that it could be completely gone in the summer months in just two decades. Ice coverage might be stable, but I haven’t heard any studies showing that. Do you know of one?
    Polar bear populations could be increasing because of human intervention. Polar bears are protected, and there are efforts by many groups to revive the species.
    Generally, it is true that there are some benefits to climate change. It is good for plants and reforestation. Again, the impacts are hard to predict. Some of the impacts will be positive.
    On sea level – Overall, I am more concerned about widespread biota disruption and ocean acidification that I am with a few inches/feet of sea level rise.
    Blairos – You don’t have to be daring, you can just say it. But I disagree. How is this an oversimplified straw-man argument? You are right though, clouds, cosmic rays and solar activity can have a huge impact. I agree with you there. All I am saying is that CO2 also impacts the climate. Do you think it does not?
    TWinters – you are right on the two typos. Thanks for politely pointing those out. I am on vacation in Southeast Asia, and editing on the iphone is sometimes error-inducing. Thanks to Melissa for updating these changes.
    Jdey – interesting comment and hypotheses.
    The heat capacity of water is 1,000 times that of air. That means if you apply the same amount of enthalpy to both water and air, the water may heat up 1 degree, but the air will heat up 1,000 degrees. Or, if you apply the same amount of enthalpy to air and water, and want the temperature increase to be the same, you will need 1,000 time greater mass of air (1 pound of water per 1,000 pounds of air – that’s a lot of air). The point is, the ocean can hold an incredible quantity of heat (enthalpy), and the temperature will not increase by much.
    Carlyle – I’m not discouraged, and I am aware that this is the real world. But I have found that the more I learn, the wider my viewpoint is, and the greater understanding I have for different ideas. My only bias is toward math and science, and I tend not to automatically trust unsubstantiated anecdotal assertions. But, if you have an idea you would like to discuss, I would be happy to hear it. Feel free to email me as well if you like.
    Old Engineer – I do understand the skeptic’s position. But, skeptics have a wide range of beleifs, many of which are correct. But, saying you understand the beliefs of a skeptic is like saying you understand the belifs of a religious person, but without specifying the religion. Also, I was a skeptic for a long time.
    You say, ‘No informed skeptic doubts that CO2 can cause some warming. We disagree on the fine details.’ I agree with you here. The point of my article is to show that CO2 causes warming. That’s all. I am not talking about H2O amplification or the albedo of clouds, or sea level records, ocean heat content, Himalayan glaciers, or the frequency and strength of storms. That stuff matters, sometime a lot, but it is a different topic. I am just talking about CO2. The skeptics I am referring to are those that think climate change is a hoax, and that CO2 has no impact.
    For the IPCC predictions, see my response to Sheep Rustler.
    Frauleinkarly – I liked your chocolate analogy. Here is another one. CO2 emissions are like smoking cigarettes. I am saying that cigarettes are bad for you. Some skeptics may say, ‘yeah, but they aren’t that bad for you’, then we can have a discussion about the types and frequency of problems they cause. Other skeptics may say, ‘Smoking isnt bad for you! Jumping off a cliff and punching yourself in the face is bad for you, smoking is harmless.’ Sure, cliffs and face punches can affect your health, just like volcanoes and solar flares can affect the climate, but it is totally beside the point, and has nothing to do with CO2, or cigarettes.

    Thanks again everyone for your comments.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Carlyle 2:13 am 02/19/2012

    Off hand I can not think of anything beneficial about cigarette smoke but there are potential benefits with Co2 increase & particularly when this is not resulting in catastrophic temperature increases as many have falsely predicted. In fact the benefit to agriculture could be enormous.

    Link to this
  22. 22. scottmcnally 7:47 am 02/19/2012

    Carlyle – Yes, there could be benefits to agriculture, and in some places there will be. But, there could also be devastating negative impacts.
    For example, it is thought that the North American Honeybee is threatened because of a sub-tropical virus that can now survive higher latitudes because of climate change. In many agricultural enterprises, honeybees are the main pollinators. If the populations of honeybees decline significantly, it will cause incredible problems for farming efforts. If they go extinct, the cost to mechanically pollenate would be something like $800 billion per year. Now, Americans waste roughly 50% of the edible food produced here, so food prices may increase dramatically, but most Americans won’t starve. However, if this happens elsewhere, 5 out of 6 people in the world could be at risk of starvation.

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  23. 23. Carlyle 2:12 am 02/20/2012

    I am an apiarist amongst other things. There are various problems confronting our industry but climate change is of minor concern. Just as warming encourages the expansion of coral reefs in the ocean, warmer climates & higher Co2 levels encourage greater plant growth & nectar availability. Currently bee keepers kill or allow their colonies to retract to very small survival mode in Canada every winter for example while in tropical areas bees work year round. If you genuinely wish to know something about beekeeping in a cold climate See: http://www.honeybeeworld.com/diary/

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  24. 24. ct_une 8:11 pm 02/21/2012

    Rick Santorum, the greater understanding knows you are being paid by the oil industry to position yourself against climate change. Positioning yourself with the convenient lie that there is not enough evidence only appeals to the lower understanding. You, and the others, which position yourselves to deceive are profiting at our expense. Greed is the non-understanding of Christ.

    I invite you to the understanding of Christ, which is the understanding of The Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ:
    11:18 – “and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth”.

    You can say you are all about Christ, yes, but you are the non-understanding of Christ. You can’t get much further from understanding than right wing extremism.

    13:18 – Let him who has UNDERSTANDING calculate the number of the beast…..

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  25. 25. mrburkley 2:36 pm 02/23/2012

    Thanks for your article on proving climate change. While I am certain that human activity is the dominant cause of recent climate change and that this effect will only increase in the future unless dramatic changes are made, I take exception to your “proof” of human-caused climate change. You state that if these “two corollary truths” are proven then “human caused climate change must be true.” The corollaries are, 1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas,” and 2. “Humans are putting more CO2 in the atmosphere.” I grant both of your corollaries (I suspect that “corollary” is not the right word to use here, as a corollary is “a proposition inferred immediately from a proved proposition with little or no additional proof”, but…). But granting them both doesn’t prove human caused climate change. For example, the increase of CO2 might lead to a decrease in some other factor which would then balance out any absorptive increase caused by the CO2 (I don’t think this is true, but…).

    All your corollaries prove is a –possible– mechanism for human mediated climate change, but they don’t prove that it is occurring, or that it is occurring because of that mechanism. Simple “proofs” like this are simple to refute, especially in relation to as complex a system as our climate. Every “proof” that can be easily refuted makes it easier to throw away the whole idea, which is not a good thing!

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  26. 26. Postman1 2:45 pm 02/24/2012

    Scott- First, good article and commentary. However, since you have failed to tow the AGW line supporting their dogma an entered into intelligent discussion, you have left the door open for attack. By pointing this out, I am attempting to divert some of their wrath.
    You also made one critical error by admitting to past skepticism, but maybe they will not notice that one.
    Good luck in your future endeavors.
    Check out: http://judithcurry.com/

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  27. 27. LAReader 9:28 pm 03/25/2012

    Santorum says things that are provably false. For example,

    1) Euthanasia in the Netherlands: Rick Santorum’s bogus statistics http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/euthanasia-in-the-netherlands-rick-santorums-bogus-statistics/2012/02/21/gIQAJaRbSR_blog.html?hpid=z2;

    2) “In a statement first posted last week on his campaign website, Santorum cites ‘a wealth of research’ demonstrating that pornography causes ‘profound brain changes.’ . . . There’s no such evidence of brain changes, researchers say.” http://www.livescience.com/19251-pornography-effects-santorum.html

    We can’t talk Santorum out his positions because American people cannot outbid his clients like the insurance industry, and he will always work for the highest bidder.

    With regard to global warming, his clients are coal and oil industries, and again we just cannot outbid them because they make a lot of money by dumping pollutants into our environment.

    His followers are not like him. Their beliefs are genuine. However, they are also hopeless. They are too far gone. You cannot explain global warming to them any more than you can explain evolution to someone who believes that the world was created in seven days.

    This distrust of science can only be erased with education. A cocktail party or a water cooler conversation are simply not suitable for such a profound change of deeply held beliefs. Considering our current state of education and its miserable prospects, we will be relating to forces of darkness at cocktail parties and around water coolers for generations to come.

    Link to this

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