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Greenhouse Confusion and Fear
Dai Davies, 190904
What I'm about to discuss is the confusion that surrounds the definition and evaluation of the greenhouse effect, how implausible it is as an explanation of the thermal energy dynamics of the Earth's surface, and hence, how baseless the fears surrounding our emissions of carbon dioxide are.
The greenhouse effect (GHE) is an attempt to describe the physics of the flow of heat from the Earth's surface to space – specifically the thermal radiation element of that. It's presented as a difficult problem that requires complex supercomputer models to solve, but that's the climate modelling extension of the problem which is not just difficult but impossible given present understanding and computing resources.
At its core, the GHE is relatively simple physics that, to a first approximation, can be tackled with undergraduate physics and a spreadsheet. As I've demonstrated previously (3), to gain an estimate of the magnitude of the GHE a first approximation is all that's needed. Here I'm trying to demonstrate that the foundations of the GHE are so unsound that the problems can be seen by anyone with an understanding of the scientific method. If you can't follow the physics, there's a good chance that you know someone who can. You can help rekindle a moribund debate by asking them.
To lay some foundations I'll point out something that few people are aware of – that our atmosphere is thermoluminescent. It's awash with low energy heat radiation generated by radiatively active (aka greenhouse) gasses – mainly water vapour with a small contribution from carbon dioxide and others. The vertical components of this radiation are represented in Figure 1 by the broad red arrows at A and F, and my added purple ones. There is no basis in physics for omitting these, and your guess is as good as mine in attributing this to a blindness created by conformation bias or deliberate misinformation. To create a more accurate perspective I've added scales on the far left.
Figure 1. Atmospheric energy dynamics. (Click for original)
The foundations of science are definitions and data. Most of the data we need for this discussion is represented in the diagram. The next step is a review of the definition of the GHE. I started with the IPCC AR4 (1) glossary definition because I had it at hand and assumed that at this stage in the game it would be stable. Later, looking at AR5, this turned out not to be the case. I'm taking both because the contrast is interesting.
AR4: Greenhouse effect Greenhouse gases effectively absorb thermal infrared radiation, emitted by the Earth’s surface, by the atmosphere itself due to the same gases, and by clouds. Atmospheric radiation is emitted to all sides, including downward to the Earth’s surface.
Why not simply "in all directions"? I suspect that this clumsy wording is a deliberate attempt to emphasise downwelling (back) radiation and downplay the upward component – the missing link in Figure 1. More on these later.
Thus, greenhouse gases trap heat within the surface-troposphere system. This is called the greenhouse effect.
With the word "trap" we get to the nub of the definition. This word implies a time lag. The key question it raises is how long? All that's ever been demonstrated is that GHGs absorb radiated energy, not whether it's trapped or delayed long enough to cause significant heating. Nowhere in the whole report (as far as I can see) do they address this.
Thermal infrared radiation in the troposphere is strongly coupled to the temperature of the atmosphere at the altitude at which it's emitted. In the troposphere, the temperature generally decreases with height. Effectively, infrared radiation emitted to space originates from an altitude with a temperature of, on average, –19°C, in balance with the net incoming solar radiation, whereas the Earth’s surface is kept at a much higher temperature of, on average, +14°C.
This section is misleading. The words "strongly coupled" are an exaggeration. To say "Effectively ... originates from an altitude with a temperature of ..." is also misleading and no amount of "effectively" changes that. It's a distortion and misdirection. They are trying to re-enforce the idea that it's all about emissivity and emission temperature. I deal with this emissivity issue later.
What you can simply say is that an ideal black body at a temperature of -18 C would emit the 240 W/m2 that is radiated to space to balance our solar input. It's the balance that determines the output not the altitude or temperature of emissions. To link it to an altitude is meaningless misdirection.
An increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases leads to an increased infrared opacity of the atmosphere, ...
The word "opacity" is incorrect in this context. It suggests that radiative energy entering the medium is just absorbed and never exits it. The words "translucent" and "thermoluminescent" are appropriate here. All of the net radiative energy that leaves the Earth's surface is eventually radiated to space along with the energy conveyed by conduction and the evaporation-precipitation cycle. It's just delayed (3). The definition concludes:
... and therefore to an effective radiation into space from a higher altitude at a lower temperature. This causes a radiative forcing that leads to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect, the so-called enhanced greenhouse effect.
The decrease in emissivity with temperature at higher altitude doesn't create a significant radiative "forcing", or "bottleneck" as it's sometimes called. I deal with that in later sections.
The dive into technical detail on a secondary point contrasts with, and deflects from, the complete lack of detail when using the key word "trap".
Now for the updated version.
AR5: Greenhouse effect The infrared radiative effect of all infrared-absorbing constituents in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases, clouds, and (to a small extent) aerosols absorb terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and elsewhere in the atmosphere.
This is a major dilution of the definition and the abandonment of one that specifically addressed the role of greenhouse gasses. How are we meant to refer to that now?
These substances emit infrared radiation in all directions, but, everything else being equal, the net amount emitted to space is normally less than would have been emitted in the absence of these absorbers because of the decline of temperature with altitude in the troposphere and the consequent weakening of emission.
They are now using "in all directions" rather than the previous devious wording. The word "trap" has gone. The rest of this sentence is either meaningless or wrong. The amount emitted to space must match the incoming solar radiation. The definition has now become what they previously referred to as the enhanced GHE.
An increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases increases the magnitude of this effect; the difference is sometimes called the enhanced greenhouse effect.
This is a complete redefinition of the enhanced GHE.
The change in a greenhouse gas concentration because of anthropogenic emissions contributes to an instantaneous radiative forcing. Surface temperature and troposphere warm in response to this forcing, gradually restoring the radiative balance at the top of the atmosphere.
There is a confused and confusing representation of timing here. The word "instantaneous" is wrong, as is "gradually". Carbon dioxide levels are changing on scales of years to decades. Radiative absorption and emission happen in step within periods of hours. More on this in the section on Calculating the Greenhouse Effect.
That such dramatic changes should be made at this late stage of the game to the most fundamental understanding of the GHE is extraordinary. That they further cloud the definition rather than clarifying is telling us something. As to what, your guess is as good as mine. Since the change in emissivity with temperature has now been pushed to the forefront, I take a closer look at this effect in the section Misconceptions 1.
A clean and simple definition of the GHE
The weaknesses in defining the GHE have led to great confusion in the public debate. I want to address a few examples, but I'll first provide what I think is an accurate definition.
The greenhouse effect is a rise in the Earth's average surface temperature arising from the fact that radiatively active gasses in the lower atmosphere, mainly water vapour and carbon dioxide, absorb infrared radiation emitted from the Earth's surface. The magnitude of the effect depends on how long this energy is stored in the atmosphere – i.e. how rapidly it is transported to the upper troposphere where it is radiated to space by these same gasses.
It can be defined more precisely using high school or introductory undergraduate thermodynamics. The heat content of a gas or solid is equal to its temperature multiplied by the material's specific heat capacity, c. Where Q is heat in joules, T the absolute temperature (Kelvin, K), and ∆ represents a change in value:
∆Q = c ∆T
After algebraic manipulation:
∆T = ∆Q / c
With power (W) expressed as watts (joules per second) and with delay time as t:
∆Q = W t
∆T = W t / c
Hence, the increase in atmospheric temperature can be quantified by the radiative power applied for t seconds.
The specific heat is defined for a unit mass of 1 kg. For a square metre column of air we have a mass M (10 tonnes) so:
∆T = W t / M c
The key to both the definition and evaluation of the GHE is the transit or delay time.
Calculating the Greenhouse Effect
I've calculated a radiative delay of about two hours (3) which leads to a value for the GHE of 0.14 C (or K) with carbon dioxide contributing about 0.01 C. As an intuitive comparison I give a 200W light bulb heating the air in a gym for a few hours.
Although that calculation is quite simple undergraduate physics it's not trivial. A realisation that I find quite startling came to me in the final stages of writing this article. There is another way of looking at the problem which only involves the simple high school physics represented in eq5. Since the fundamental claim for GHE is that it's raising the Earth's surface temperature by 33 C, how long must the atmosphere be storing (or trapping) the heat absorbed by GHGs to maintain this temperature rise?
Rearranging eq5 we can get:
t = ∆T M c / W
With ∆T = 33 C, M = 10,000 kg/m2, c = 1003 J/K/kg, and W at about 200 W/m2
The delay is 1,654,950 seconds or 460 hours or 19 days.
How plausible is it that the delay could be so long? The typical time lag between midday solar input maximum and maximum air temperatures is 3 hours. This represents the relaxation time for thermal equilibrium between the surface and our thin layer of atmosphere through a combination of radiative and convective transfers. The radiative delay calculations in (3) give a typical surface to space delay time of 2 hours.
Looking at convection alone, we need some general estimate for the vertical speed. Using supercomputer modelling of kilometre scale air flows, (5) gives a general value of 0.6 m/s. At large scales we have the major circulatory patterns such as the Hadley cells which cycle heat from the equatorial regions poleward with mean air speeds (4) of 1 m/s.
To go from speed to time we need a distance. To what altitude, then, does surface air need to be raised before its excess heat is radiated to space? The full domain of convection is the troposphere, typically 10 km, but atmospheric radiation to space starts, and usually peaks, well below that.
Figure 2 shows values calculated in my Radiative Delay work (3), which fills in the missing link in radiative transfer of Figure 1. It uses a surface humidity of 0.013 kg/kg, CO2 at 400 ppm, and a temperature lapse rate of 7.7 K/km. It doesn't include the affects of convection which can carry water vapour above the levels indicated. The dashed vertical line 'a' marks the altitude where the air temperature drops to the freezing point of water. By this point most of the water vapour, the main active gas, has condensed out.
As the delay and mean free path of photons (mfp) graphs show, most of the IR has escaped to space by a height of 2 km. The line 'b' at 4.3 km marks what AR5 calls the effective emission height. Taking an altitude range of 2 to 4 km and an air speed of 0.6 m/s gives a transition delay for convection of 1 to 2 hours.
Vertical heat transfer will be much faster in the hottest regions. A hotter surface not only produces stronger convection but the rising air is carrying more heat. In extreme cases, the one million thunderstorms per year around the Earth each involve heat transfers in the order of a small atomic weapon.
Ignoring extremes, but including radiative transfer, we have four modally distinct sources giving times of a few hours. Taking the aggregate delay as around 2 to 3 hours, we have the fundamental claim for the greenhouse effect implying a delay in transfer of heat from surface to space that's 150 to 200 times longer that is reasonable.
Am I wrong? If not, how has this claim managed to persist for so long? I still haven't assimilated this. It seems too obvious to be true and too simple to be wrong.
Measuring the Greenhouse Effect
The most serious and fundamental flaw associated with the GHE is that it has never been directly measured. Attempts at quantification are indirect and based on the assumption that no other effect exists that could raise the Earth's surface temperature above its effective emission temperature. Over the past decade this assumption has been shown to be false (3). NASA's 2009 DIVINER measurements of the moon's surface temperatures provided empirical evidence for a simple alternative mechanism – the Diurnal Smoothing Effect, which I discuss later.
I've spent some time wondering how a measurement might be made. It is a tricky problem. You're trying to measure how long it takes for energy to ascend via radiated infrared transport. The most obvious approach would be to measure the change in ascending IR at several heights above a surface that's temperature is changing, and measure how rapidly that change is transmitted upward. The day-night transition might do, or a total eclipse.
Satellites move too fast. You'd need a fixed platform that was in thermal equilibrium with the surrounding air and not interfering with measurements, so a drone is probably not suitable. Tethered helium balloons that can reach 5 km or more might work with multiple tethers to maintain a fixed position. Measurements at 1, 2, and 3 km would do.
Misconceptions about the Greenhouse Effect
When I look back over years of debating this issue, a few significant misunderstandings stand out. Most are a direct consequence of a lack of a clear definition. I don't think any part of the spectrum of beliefs is immune to them.
Misconception 1: The GHE is the increased effective emission height
The concept of effective emission height provided what appeared to be a simple explanation of the GHE. It was a messy abstraction and has been replaced by a definition based just on the drop in emissivities at the lower temperatures of higher altitudes. This new definition warrants a bit of unpacking. Here again is the key statement.
... but, everything else being equal, the net amount emitted to space is normally less than would have been emitted in the absence of these absorbers because of the decline of temperature with altitude in the troposphere and the consequent weakening of emission. An increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases increases the magnitude of this effect
It is true that emissivities, or emission coefficients, of individual GHG molecules drop at lower temperatures, but all else is not equal. Pretty much everything is changing.
Absorption coefficients also drop which means that photons travel further before being absorbed – their mean free path increases. At high altitudes and lower air pressure the distance between molecules is greater which also increases the mfp. Lower temperatures mean lower molecular velocities, so molecular collisions are weaker leading to fewer excitations of GHGs. On average, only 1 in 100,000 excited molecules emits a photon, the rest losing their excitation energy back to thermal energy in the next collision. Since the natural lifetime of the excited states is constant, fewer and weaker collisions leads to more excitations surviving to emit photons. Then we have the fact that the concentration of water vapour, the main active molecule, is dropping as it condenses to form clouds.
As the model illustrated in Figure 2 shows, of these parameters the emissivity varies least. It drops by about 10% in the first kilometre where most of the delay occurs, and only 20% by 2 kilometres, by which stage the majority of the vertically emitted photons are escaping to space. The main change taking place at high altitude is an increase in the mean free path of photons that don't escape to space – i.e. a rapid increase in the percentage of collision generated photons that are escaping to space. The reduction in emissivity is sometimes referred to as a bottleneck. Clearly it is not – certainly not enough to be maintaining a 33 C rise.
Summarised, the IPCC definition of the GHE becomes the difference between two temperatures. One is the temperature that the Stefan-Boltzmann law implies for a hypothetical flat, black body that emits enough radiation to balance the incoming radiation from the sun. The other is an estimate of the measured temperatures of the atmosphere two metres above the Earth's surface. This definition, in itself, provides no information on mechanism, so no means of theoretical quantification of the delay caused by GHGs and consequent temperature rise.
Misconception 2: If not the greenhouse effect then what?
The alternative is the Diurnal Smoothing Effect (DSE), which I discuss in (3) and is dealt with in detail in (6, 7 and 10). In brief, heat storage in the surface (e.g. rock) layers and lower atmosphere cool the surface during the day and warm it at night lead to a rise in surface temperature. This may seem counterintuitive, but the reason is simple.
The relationship between the thermal radiation emitted by a solid and its temperature is expressed in the Stefan-Boltzmann law, E = εσT4, where ε and σ are constants. This nonlinear relationship means that a drop in surface temperature during the day reduces emission more than the same increase raises it at night. Thermal equilibrium between incoming and outgoing radiation is maintained by an increase in average surface temperature.
A simple example of this was demonstrated in NASA's 2009 DIVINER lunar temperature data. On Earth, ocean and atmospheric buffering add to the affect.
This effect can be explored with my Open Climate Modeller. It modelsfdistortion and misdirection deep surface heat transfer through fifty or more layers. Other models have been presented that appear to be modelling the DSE but use just one surface layer. This is inadequate because it leads to poor temporal resolution and thus gives lower values for the DSE.
Misconception 3: The GHE is back radiation
A common misconception is to assume that the greenhouse effect is back radiation – simply expressed as GHGs absorbing energy emitted by the surface and re-radiating it back down to further heat the surface (marked A in Figure 1). This is hinted at in the AR4 definition and given as the definition of the GHE in Wikipedia (11). A simple model taking the atmosphere as a single slab is given at (12), which is linked to by the American Institute of Physics site.
This approach seems so obviously true that attempting to counter it is met with understandable derision. The problem lies in confusing cause and effect, and not considering the local thermodynamics at the surface.
The causal chain is that the sun heats the Earth's surface which then heats the atmosphere which then emits the heat to space in the upper troposphere. What's happening in the lower 100m or so of the atmosphere is it's inevitable attempt to reach thermal equilibrium with the surface. Note the vertical scale I've added on the far left of Figure 1. The distortion of this scale in the original is significant.
We need to view the energy transfers from a thermodynamic perspective that looks at the full energy dynamics. Taking as a simple starting point the 18 W/m2 of thermal conduction between the surface and air (lower right in Figure 1) the energy transfer comes from transfer of thermal energy in collisions between air molecules and surface ones. How does this conduction compare in magnitude with the mean transfer of energy between colliding molecules in the near-surface atmosphere? Using a mean molecular velocity of 460 m/s and about 1010 collisions per second, I estimate the total at 70,000,000 W/m2, so the net thermal conduction of 18 W/m2 is a minute fraction of this.
The radiative energy transfer in the atmosphere is a small fraction of the thermal collisional transfers, but it takes place over much larger distances. The 70 MW/m2 of collisonal transfer takes place between molecules in a layer just 10-7m thick, while radiative transmission to the surface comes from all the excited molecules in a hemisphere tens of metres in radius. This is considered in detail in (3).
What really matters at the surface is not the total energy transfers but the net transfers of radiative, conductive, and evaporative fluxes. The greenhouse effect comes from the delay in its ultimate transmission to space.
The simple calculation of (12) assumes a passive atmosphere with no collisional excitation, and treats the atmosphere as a single uniform slab. This approach has been extended to an active atmosphere and multiple horizontal layers varying in pressure and temperature. Taking this approach, a detailed analysis of radiative transfers by Harde (13) concludes:
Figure 4b: Assessment of climate sensitivity in (13)
Note that the values of 0.3 to 0.6 C increase for a doubling of CO2 levels are based on the assumption that the total GHE is 33 C. Any downscaling of this assumption would result in a comparable downscaling of the results. It's work like this, which takes the atmosphere as an active thermoluminescent medium, that supports the modification I've made to Figure 1 – the missing link.
Figure 4c: Schematic atmospheric temperature profile
Figure 4c shows a highly simplified representation of the affect of different degrees of GHE on the atmospheric temperature profile. Near the surface, the IR thermoluminescent atmosphere will attempt to maintain thermal equilibruim with the surface. It will be higher than the surface temperature at night and lower during the day, thus buffering the diurnal cycle. On average through the diurnal and seasonal cycles it will be lower than the surface, with net energy flow being from surface to air and balancing the solar input.
A high GHE will counter the gravitational lapse rate, lowering the temperature gradient. Heat accumulates and this is the simplest and most direct view of the GHE. Unlike other views, it allows a temperature difference to be calculated3.
Surface temperatures will differ in the two cases as indicated by the red lines. Surface to air radiative transfers will vary accordingly (as T4). It's the impact of the full atmospheric thermal dynamics that is driving this change, not just the boundary layer above the surface.
Misconception 4: The GHE is the difference between surface radiation and what escapes to space
The surface radiation is 400 W/m2 and the final flux to space is 240 W/m2. What matters at the surface is net flux which is about 60 W/m2 for radiative transfers. The total surface flux is 240 W/m2 which balances the emissions to space, as it must for thermal equilibrium.
Something that has puzzled me is that this view is strongly held by people who otherwise seem intelligent and well informed. A clue came recently when someone insisted that heat was measured in W/m2. Since the theme of this article is problems caused by poor definitions I delved a little. This view may have have arisen around ambiguity in the definition of heat – that the word "heat" only applies to heat transfers.
I'm using the definition of heat I was taught, which is still used in the Oxford Dictionary.
This is a simple, unambiguous, and adequate definition. While energy can be transferred by radiation this is electromagnetic energy, the energy of photons, which is not heat. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Merriam-Webster, and Wikipedia add, or insist on, an alternative. Merriam-Webster says:
I'd reverse the order there and attribute their e1 to usage in chemistry more than in physics. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica definition "written by the editors" explicitly excludes e2. In Wikipedia, the most common source for such information these days, it becomes:
The "in transfer" is simply wrong. As an example that's relevant here, the transfer can be radiative. In the discussion there is much inevitable confusion. The confusion reaches a zenith in the definition of units:
"The standard unit for the rate of heat transferred is the watt (W), defined as one joule per second."
I can now see where this particular confusion in the perception of the GHE may have arisen. This example underlines the necessity for precision and lack of ambiguity in definitions.
Misconception 5: The GHE is demonstrated by increasing outgoing radiation
The measured increase in outgoing infrared radiation over the satellite era is only evidence that the mean surface temperature has been rising. This is a fact that has rarely been denied till now when there are indications that it's starting to drop.
Misconception 6: The GHE is well established science that was proven over a century ago
Nineteenth century physicists correctly recognised that CO2 absorbed in the infrared spectrum. That its presence in the atmosphere might cause significant temperature rise was pure speculation, which was questioned and generally dismissed at the time. They didn't have the means to demonstrate it experimentally or theoretically. Good physicists as they were, they didn't know what an atom was let alone quantum mechanics.
Misconception 7: The GHE is demonstrated by the parallel rise over the past century or two in both atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures
This causal claim is only scientifically valid if an evaluation of the GHE backs it up quantitatively. All empirical or theoretical support is based on the failed assumption that the GHE acts alone.
Misconception 8: The current warming is unprecedented
Historical evidence exists for the Little Ice Age, the Medieval Warm Period, and the Roman warm period. Ice core data shows significant correlation between temperatures and the rise and fall of cultures and civilisations over the holocene. The main argument against this evidence has been that it is localised to Greenland, but the Mediterranean, Indus, and Yellow River are not near Greenland.
Figure 6: Greenland ice core data
It appears that sudden drops are a critical factor. Both sunspot activity and my cyclic analysis of southern ocean surface temperatures discussed in (6) suggest that the Earth has passed the peak of the Modern Warm Period and is heading back to conditions comparable to the Little Ice Age.
Figure 7: What the oceans are telling us
Until recently I had resigned myself to the idea that with so many vested interests, and a deadlocked debate, this issue would take decades to resolve. One thing I couldn't put aside was the knowledge that a generation of children were being told from an early age that they had no future. I'm reactivated by the fact that this is now undergoing a major escalation with talk of an imminent climate crisis.
Growing up in the '50s under the threat of nuclear war, I was unnecessarily frightened by being forced to watch film of the devastation that would entail. After being ushered by teachers in a sombre mood down to a small basement theatre we were shown a film of a house bursting into flame as the radiation hit then, moments later, being demolished by the physical blast. A few years later, when I started to understand, I lay in bed at night wondering where ground zero might be, how far away that was, how much concrete was between it and me, and how strong our house was.
I still have a strong memory of the impact that had on a child too young to have any understanding, let alone the ability to do anything about it. That was a real threat, and remains so. Those who are terrifying children now over climate have a deep moral responsibility to question the need and motivations for scaring young children.
It's a comfort to see that most of the protesting children appear to be having a good time. How hard is it to persuade school kids to take time off school for a street party? The latest and youngest recruit in a long line of celebrity advocates has a perpetual cheshire cat smirk, but there will be many children who are seriously affected by this, and it will cast a shadow over the rest of their lives.
For climate alarmism, appeal to emotion has replaced appeal to science. I'm not trying to do that here. My scientific claims stand on their own. My emotive appeal is an attempt to stir people into an urgent re-evaluation of the situation – the urgency prompted by a recent escalation of the scare to the totally unsupported, and unsupportable, climate crisis.
I'll go further and suggest that this escalation, rather than being prompted by science or any concern for global ecosystems, is an attempt to raise the prominence of the climate debate in the forthcoming US presidential election – the context that prompted Al Gore to use the initial climate scare as a basis for his aspirations.
Regardless of what people may be telling pollsters, Abbott's landslide win in Australia after declaring the climate scare to be a left wing scam, Trump's win after playing down the climate issue, Morrison winning Australia's "unwinnable" election after bringing a lump of coal into parliament, and the British government kicking the climate can down the road to the middle of the century, it's clear to me that the public in the Anglosphere are rejecting what their elites have been strenuously promoting.
There is a disjunction in what people are telling pollsters (8). When asked directly to put their concern on a scale of none to high their responses tend to be on the high side, but with a wide spread. When asked to rank a set of problems or threats, climate concern ranks low. This suggests an acceptance of a potential problem but the rejection of its immediacy. Amongst voters the impact of the original scare campaign has worn off as the scare scenarios have turned out to be false or highly exaggerated. Accordingly, the new scare push is being specifically directed to those with shorter memories.
While extremist claims have lost credibility through a string of failed disaster predictions, many moderates have retained views that may have been reasonable compromise positions in the past but are now bolstering the push for renewables and the fantasy of decarbonisation. There is a qualitative difference, not just one of scale, between judging the GHE as an insignificant effect that can be ignored, and an effect that's not very significant now but may become significant in the future. Compromise has an important part to play in politics, but the middle ground is not always helpful or even viable.
Climate alarm has been attacked on many different fronts, none of which alone has been decisive. That the UN and associates have political agendas (6) is not a scientific argument. Arguing that some scientists have behaved unscientifically (UEA emails) or appear to be rigging temperature records (dubious spatial averaging and selection of sites) do not address the core issue of the GHE itself. If it isn't significant, debate about temperatures is politically irrelevant unless it's discussion of where nature might be taking us next.
What I've attempted to show in this article is the weakness of the GHE as a scientific concept as illustrated by the IPCC's inability or reluctance to define it and the inability to demonstrate it empirically.
The challenge I present to anyone who believes that the GHE is significant is to come up with a better defence than "it's all done in the models". Theoretical proof of concept doesn't need supercomputer general circulation models. If it can be done, it can be done in a spreadsheet. If there is no direct empirical evidence, then why not?
I'm not just making this challenge to IPCC consensus scientists and supporters, but to all those taking a sceptical position that still concedes a significant role for the GHE. As long as some significant impact is believed, the push for renewables and the opportunity for renewed scare campaigns will continue.
Scientists, educators, policy makers and their advisors should, at an individual level, consider the words "duty of care" and "professional negligence". Today's children who carry irrational fears through to adulthood are unlikely to be sympathetic to those who hide behind scientific consensus, committee decision-making, or "I was just following orders".
As important as the threat of renewables and scare campaigns are, there is another threat which hasn't received the attention I think it needs. Metastasising from the climate scare we have the push to rank and micro-manage individual lives whith personal carbon footprint allocation and tracking involving the intrusion of a centralised global bureaucracy into the minutiae of individual lives. It is an application of the innocent sounding but highly pernicious "internet of things".
This is part of a broader issue – how we deal with the problems of control, transparency, and privacy created by Artificial Intelligence (9). These are genuine problems that we need to face up to over the next few decades, but I don't see them as being an existential threat if we start responding now. There are technically simple solutions. They involve a rejection of centralised AI by starving them of data, then the adoption of new, simpler computer architectures that are inherently secure to replace our current very flexible architectures that are inherently insecure.
Our view of the world is already being manipulated at an individual level by centralised automata, albeit quite dumb ones so far. If people each nurture one of their own then, apart from advantages of acting as a prosthetic for our relatively poor memory, and even extending our individual powers of reason, they can help us fight back with the creative diversity of AIs working under the full control of, and the under the personal responsibility of, an individual human.
Climate science is not settled, it's in meltdown. After all the time and money that's been spent, the IPCC doesn't even have a settled and meaningful definition or quantification.
The claim that the greenhouse effect is lifting the Earth's mean surface temperature by 33˚C, is untenable. This value is about 150 to 200 times higher than plausible.
We must stop the terrorising of children. They need a childhood.
The climate scare is distracting us from real problems such as the state of the oceans and the encroaching threat from centralised artificial intelligence.
We also need to be preparing for a shift to colder weather, or at least taking this possibility seriously.
The Frozen Thames, 1677.
1: AR4-WG1 Glossary, IPCC, 2007.
2: AR5 Glossary, IPCC, 2013.
3: Dai Davies, Radiative Delay in Context, 2017, and Radiative Delay spreadsheet
4: Daniel J. Jacob, Introduction to Atmospheric Chemistry, Princeton University Press, 1999. Chapter 4. Atmospheric Transport.
5: Miyamoto Y. et.al., Deep moist atmospheric convection in a subkilometer global simulation, Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 40, Issue 18, 2013
6: Dai Davies, Energy and Atmosphere Revisited, 2017.
7: Gerhard Kramm et.al., Using Earth’s Moon as a Testbed for Quantifying the Effect of the Terrestrial Atmosphere, Natural Science, Vol. 9, (No. 8), pp: 251-288, 2017
8: Roger Andrews, Climate change – what the polls tell us
9: Dai Davies, Artificial Intelligence, Privacy, and the Personal Archive, 2017.
10: Dai Davies, The Diurnal Smoothing Effect, 2019.
11: Wikipedia, Greenhouse Effect
12: Wikipedia, Idealised Greenhouse Model
13: Hermann Harde, Radiation and Heat Transfer in the Atmosphere: A Comprehensive Approach on a Molecular Basis, International Journal of Atmospheric Sciences Volume 2013, Article ID 503727.
Related articles from my climate archive
The Earth's Water Thermostat, 2018.
Open Climate Modeller: An interactive model of atmospheric energy dynamics, 2017.
The Atmospheric Temperature Lapse Rate, 2016.
The IPCC and the Carbon Cycle, 2016.
Natural Cycles, 2016.
Our Political Climate, 2016.
Climate: A Personal Perspective, 2015.
Fusion: Fiasco Or Finesse, 2014.
Soils and the Modern Pagan, 2010.