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Ozone Hole Leaks and Other Tales

Filed under: — group @ 5 April 2007 - (Türkçe)

Guest commentary by Figen MekikGrand Valley State University

“But Figen, humid air feels oppressive, heavy!” students told me, almost in unison. A very treasured moment indeed. I just got a glimpse of probably a long held misconception: water vapor is heavier than dry air. So, we took out our periodic tables and calculators, and went on to calculate the molecular weight of H2O and how it compares to that of N2 and O2 (most of the atmosphere). Happy that I corrected a major fallacy, I didn’t see the rest coming.

Apparently, there are many other sinister fallacies lurking just underneath the surface of the heavy wet air idea. One student asked “is the formula for water vapor the same as for liquid water?” and was astonished to find out that it is always H2O regardless of phase, even in ice! I said “we like to keep things simple in science” and a couple of ladies giggled “as if!”

Then another admitted that he always thought water split into H2 and O2 upon evaporation which would make wet air heavy. Another student answered him with “No way man. When water vapor condenses to liquid, the molecules get bigger which is why liquid water is heavier than vapor.” So we had a long discussion about molecular dynamics of evaporation and condensation. Also, once I helped the students realize the stark contrast between what they think they know (water vapor is heavy) and something else they know from the Weather Channel (low pressure means rain), the cognitive dissonance (the psychological tension created by conflicting knowledge) drove them to question both “bits of knowledge” and to adjust their ideas. By the end of the hour, they were saying this is SOOO weird, humid air rises. Who knew!

Here are some other common and very tenacious misconceptions:

[1] Seasons are caused by cyclical changes in Earth’s proximity to the Sun. The main causes underlying this one likely are that [a] intuitively it makes sense and [b] textbooks frequently exaggerate the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit to the extreme that such an idea is logical. The problem is this misconception is extremely popular, from kindergarten to high school physics teachers. A very confused young man once told me openly “Well, my third grade teacher told me that the Earth’s axis is tilted and that is why we get different seasons and it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. My high school earth science teacher told me during the summer we are closer to the Sun and summers are hot everywhere. Now you are saying my grade school teacher was right all along. And there is all this hype about sunspot activity being the real cause behind global warming. Since the Sun causes our seasons for whatever reason, that sounds believable to me. But you say it’s CO2 in the atmosphere causing global warming. How do I know I can trust you?”

He has a point! And it is very difficult to address the inconsistencies in his education convincingly. I could have told him about my PhD and that I am a climate scientist, but that really doesn’t have much currency in such situations. So I acknowledged that he has a valid point and devoted the next month to demonstrations and data and error margin analysis to empower the students to the point that they could understand the science for themselves. We couldn’t cover coastal geology that semester because we ran out of time, but I think it was worth it anyway.

[2] The hole in the ozone layer and atmospheric pollution (including but not limited to aerosols) cause global warming. Like the previous one, this one is also very tenacious and difficult to dispel because it is often presented this way in the media and most primary and secondary school teachers share the same fallacy. Perhaps one of the underlying faulty notions here is that the Earth receives heat from the Sun, instead of radiation. So, the thinking here is that the ozone layer shields our planet from the Sun’s harmful rays and its heat. And because there is a hole in the ozone layer, the extra heat seeps in and gets stuck under the ozone layer causing the greenhouse effect. I know, yikes!! I try to dispel this misconception by explaining that though the sun is indeed quite hot, there is all this empty space between the Sun and our planet and heat travels to Earth as infrared radiation from the sun, but the Sun’s output of infrared is only a fraction of its output as visible light. Energy from the sun mostly reaches us as visible light and ultraviolet radiation. (Minor edit to remove confusion with sensible heat and radiation. Sorry about that!).

However, the notion that global warming and ozone depletion are linked is not entirely wrong. As was discussed earlier on RealClimate (Ozone depletion and global warming), original CFC’s as well as ozone itself are powerful greenhouse gases and stratospheric cooling caused by the increase in atmospheric CO2 actually accelerates ozone loss there. Even the replacement gases to be used in lieu of CFCs may have significant greenhouse warming potential. BUT, ozone depletion (“the hole in the ozone layer”) does not cause global warming.

This discussion eventually lends its way to a discussion of aerosols (see Aerosols: the Last Frontier) and although aerosols tend to scatter or absorb incoming solar radiation (hence a warming effect), their net effect is in the direction of cooling because they have a positive influence on the nucleation of clouds which increases our planet’s albedo (ability to reflect light).

[3] The greenhouse effect and global warming are the same thing. This is another yikes!! Perhaps the root of the problem here is that the discussion of the greenhouse effect in the classroom is often tightly linked with that of global warming. It needs to be explicitly pointed out to students that without the greenhouse effect our planet’s surface would be about 30 degrees C cooler and with wild differences in temperature between night and day. Not exactly habitable. But anthropogenic global warming is caused by the human-induced increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, particularly CO2. Most of the past changes in climate on glacial-interglacial timescales can be explained by invoking changes in solar activity and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, sure. But the warming we have been experiencing in the last few decades cannot be explained if we do not include the effect of greenhouse gases released by human activities (see the IPCC 4th Assessment SPM, and Avery and Singer: Unstoppable Hot Air, just to name a couple).

[4] Toilets flush in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres. This one is kind of a pedagogically useful misconception because although it is absolutely wrong, the idea behind it is correct and it is primarily a matter of scale. Having said that, I find the Coriolis effect to be one of the most challenging topics for students to grasp as soon as we move beyond its initial descriptive definition. There is often lots of confusion between “to the right” and “to the east” in the northern hemisphere. Plus when we add another dimension to the mix (vertical) in discussing tropical hurricanes, this becomes a serious barrier to understanding. So, I try to avoid any directional terms, like east or west as well as clockwise or counter-clockwise. Not because students are too young to know a non-digital traditional clock, but because from satellite images hurricanes look like they are rotating counter-clockwise. Really can’t argue with what the students are seeing for themselves. But if we keep the terms simple, “moving objects in the northern hemisphere are deflected to the right within the frame of reference of the moving object,” it becomes a little easier to understand, though still challenging. Another challenge here is that the Coriolis effect comes across as a force and it is difficult for students who have not had physics to distinguish between a force and a deflection (an effect).

Perhaps you are now thinking “this may be true in some university in west Michigan but surely in other, more prestigious universities the students know better!” If only this were true. A Private Universe is a video documenting lingering misconceptions among Harvard graduates about the causes behind seasons and lunar phases. The problem is misconceptions are hard to detect because most students are adept at answering questions with exactly what the teacher wants to hear and with correct terminology but without any real understanding of the science. After nine years of collegiate teaching I now know to encourage a casual “say whatever is on your mind” attitude with students. This way, I am hoping to get them to inadvertently voice their misconceptions so I can address them.

And one may be tempted to think this is solely an American problem because the American system of education has been exposed to some serious criticism of late. Again, not so! It’s a global problem. Here are some examples from a couple of quick Google searches. Greek kindergarten teachers harbor deeply rooted confusion about the “ozone hole” and the “greenhouse effect;” while Greek primary school teachers think the ozone hole causes climate change. Australian university students believe a large portion of the ozone hole is over Australia and that the high rate of skin cancer is largely caused by this hole. Junior high school students in Israel seem to understand various processes within the hydrologic cycle, but believe its beginning point is the ocean and the end point is groundwater. And some Turkish in-service physics teachers believe that the moon does not rise and set while Turkish pre-service science teachers think summer is warmer than winter because the Earth is closer to the sun in the summer time.

How about you? Take this quiz to see where you stand ;) Update: Apparently the quiz has been taken off line…

I think, however, there may be some room for improvement in the wording and explanations in this quiz because some questions are very obscure, ambiguous and Chicago-centric. I would like to know what commenters think about it.

Where do misconceptions come from? Personal experiences and intuitive understanding play a large part in fostering misconceptions, and most false notions are reinforced through school and the media. I would like to share with you this delightful and brief story of how personal experiences color the judgment of a bunch of 4th graders about the nature of heat. They have a wise science teacher who broaches the topic with a question: “can you give me an example of something that is hot?” She is expecting answers like the Sun, or a stove or maybe even Britney Spears. But the students say sweaters, hats, and coats. One says “rugs are wicked hot.” The teacher says “when I touch your sweater it doesn’t feel hot.” The students say “Ooh, it’s a matter of time. With time it can be 200 degrees!” Hmmm.. Can you blame them? They spent at least nine years in cold Massachusetts winters and their parents and teachers always told them to put on their warm clothes.

Like this example, some of the problem underlying misconceptions stems from language. “Warm clothes” implies clothes that emit heat, “greenhouse gas” suggests greenhouses are warm because of their gas content, “the rise and set of the sun” suggests the sun is moving across the sky, not the earth is rotating on its axis, and “the theory of relativity” implies all things are relative when actually the theory is based on the constancy of the speed of light.

Let’s go back to our 4th grade class to see how this very experienced teacher addressed the problem. She could just come right out and say “that’s ridiculous, you’re clothes don’t emit heat, they trap the heat your bodies emit.” That would certainly save time to cover more content; instead she decides to do something else (e.g. concept/inquiry based learning for the educators out there). She says “Tomorrow I want everyone to bring something hot from home.” The next day sweaters, scarves, hats and even a down sleeping bag arrive. The teacher puts a thermometer into each one and they wait until the next day for them to get hot on the inside. The students are convinced the down sleeping bag will be 400 degrees! They rush in the next morning and quickly check their thermometers. 68 degrees! They’re shocked. But convinced? Not a chance! They are not going to dismiss 9 years of personal experience just like that. “Cold air got in there!” says one little girl. “When I sit in the car with the windows up, it gets hot. We need to hide our clothes.” So sweaters and hats get put into drawers and closets with their thermometers snuggly in them. Another night goes by. The next day they rush in and check their thermometers again. Again 68 degrees! Except one student has 69 degrees. They all applaud. Still not convinced, after all there has been indication in the right direction! Several nights go by like this. Finally serious doubt begins to ensue. So the teacher says “I want everyone who believes clothes are hot to walk to this corner” and she points left; “and the ones who think clothes trap the heat our bodies emit to this corner” and she points right. Most of the students go to the right but three stubborn ones go to the left. Guess you will always have the denialists! But no matter what, these students experienced two things more important than heat: the scientific method in action and sometimes the way something feels is only that and not reality.

So, are misconceptions barriers to understanding or helpful pedagogical tools? That will largely depend on the individual teacher’s (professor’s) style and interests. But the important thing is to [1] challenge misconceptions, [2] demonstrate their faultiness through carefully devised experiments (ideally by the students), [3] help develop multiple working hypotheses to understand the meaning of the results of these experiments, [4] devise more experiments to test and retest each hypothesis, and [5] NEVER let a student leave the classroom with a diagnosed misconception uncorrected. And, perhaps the most effective method for eradicating misconceptions at every level is going to be investing large quantities of time, money and effort into educating primary and secondary school educators. NSF has many programs that fund such efforts, but much more effort is clearly needed on a global scale.

Disclaimer: I am not an educational psychologist. I am simply a college professor and ocean/climate scientist enjoying a rich and intense teaching career in the Geology Department at GVSU. Also, my anecdotes and all my quotations are intentionally fictionalized to protect the confidentiality of students. The ideas expressed in the quotes are amalgamations of multiple repeated ideas expressed to me from students, professors and colleagues alike since I started graduate school in 1991 at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey; and the misconceptions I mention are not unique to any of my students but are listed in over 7000 published misconceptions about science.


260 Responses to “Ozone Hole Leaks and Other Tales”

  1. 101
    SecularAnimist says:

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote: “Of course, there isn’t much of a worldwide nuclear industry yet, except possibly in France. What are there, 200 nuclear power plants worldwide? Or 500?”

    FYI, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the lobbying group for the nuclear power industry, has an April 2nd press release about a new study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) entitled Is the �Nuclear Renaissance� Real?.

    The press release has a helpfully concise summary of the current state of the nuclear power industry:

    The CERA analysis finds that the global political, environmental, economic and business situation is favorable for expansion beyond the current base of 435 nuclear power reactors, which together provide 369 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generating capacity and 16% of total worldwide electricity generation. Twenty-eight additional units with 23 GW of capacity are currently under construction worldwide; 20 countries now have new plants either under construction or under development, with well over half of new nuclear plants likely to be built over the next two decades in five countries — China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States. In the U.S., several dozen reactors are in various stages of proposal development; international nuclear vendors and service providers are forming new alliances; and rising uranium prices have led to development of new mines.

    As the first sentence of that paragraph suggests, the CERA study has a relatively optimistic view of the prospects for a “nuclear renaissance”, balanced by recognition of factors that could limit or slow nuclear’s growth, and the press release is useful reading for anyone who wants to get a sense of the nuclear industry’s plans for growth in the 21st century.

    If course, while the report does discuss the competitiveness of nuclear with coal and natural gas fueled electrical generation, the press release makes no mention of wind or photovoltaics (both of which are growing worldwide by 30 to 40 percent per year) and falsely asserts “there are few effective options for carbon-free electricity production.”

    The press release also notes that “supportive government policy is essential for nuclear development”, in particular “a predictable structure for power markets”.

    But power markets are on the threshhold of dramatic transformation with the advent of low-cost distributed rooftop photovoltaics, wind turbines, distributed electrical storage technologies and a new generation smart grid (e.g. Al Gore’s “Electranet”) designed to intelligently integrate diverse power sources distributed and centralized, large-scale and small scale, baseline and intermittent — with an equally diverse population of electricity consumers, many of whom will themselves be producing and storing their own electricity. These new technologies and the power markets that evolve with them will be as disruptive to large centralized electrical generation, including nuclear power, as the PC was disruptive to mainframes, as the VCR was disruptive to the film industry, as cell phones were disruptive to the telephone industry, as the Internet has been disruptive to TV news and newspapers.

    What we need is government policies that open up the grid and power markets to the participation of diverse, distributed small-scale renewable energy producers, and government policies (again citing Al Gore, policies like the DARPAnet project that developed the original Internet) to develop the technologies needed to implement the intelligent distributed “Electranet” of the 21st century — NOT government policies that enforce and protect “a predictable structure for power markets” that is predictably favorable to and profitable for the wealthy, powerful entrenched corporate owners of large-scale, centralized electricity generation.

  2. 102
    tamino says:

    Re: Asimov

    My favorite of Asimov’s essay collections is “Science, Numbers, and I.” I learned a lot of science in my youth from Asimov; most of what I know about organic chemistry I learned from “The Genetic Code.” These, days, it’s terribly out-of-date, but the first half of the book is an introduction to enough organic chemistry to understand the structure of DNA, and that part is so well written, it’s still an extremely valuable resource.

    Taking him all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.

  3. 103
    Hank Roberts says:

    What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we’re so sure of that we don’t check the references.
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

  4. 104
    James says:

    Re #98: [Partly it depends on how they disingenuously define “civilian” deaths.]

    Define them however you like, the plain and simple fact is that there have been far fewer deaths from nuclear plant accidents than from any other mainstream form of power generation – and that’s not even getting into the number of secondary deaths from air pollution, or those that will be caused by AGW.

    [There are also the problems involved with storing the wastes…]

    On the one hand, you’ve got the problem of storing a few truckloads of solid “wastes” from a nuclear plant (most of which could be reprocessed and reused), versus the problem of capturing and storing millions of tons of fossil-fuel waste, most of which is a gas. Which is easier to solve?

    Even if we accept the claims of the anti-nuclear people, that nuclear waste would have to be stored for 50K years or so – well, it seems to me that CO2 storage has to be forever. Or at least have such a low leakage rate that biolgical & geological mechanisms could convert it to carbonate rocks. Hundreds of millions of years, at a guess?

    […and with the opportunities for terrorists…]

    This unavoidably gets into politics, but I’ll try steer as clear of the morass as possible. We see the likes of North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan building nuclear weapons with no real intervention by the rest of the world. “Terrorists” already have nuclear weapons, which makes this nothing more than a straw man argument.

    Even supposing that “terrorists” could steal nuclear material from a reactor, the harm that they could cause with it would still be less than that caused by fossil-fuel emissions.

  5. 105
    Chris says:

    Kaoten,
    For lots of subjects try: http://www.teach12.com. lots of their courses are excellent

  6. 106
    Aaron Lewis says:

    So, How many of us wrote to the quiz makers to complain? A kid could take that quiz and unlearn the good science that we had so carefully taught them.

    How will the test makers know that there is a problem with the quiz if we do not tell them? I did, but they are not going to listen to just one malcontent.

  7. 107
    Figen Mekik says:

    I thought about complaining too, but it needs to come en masse as you say Aaron Lewis. Otherwise it is just the complaints of someone who didn’t do as well as she hoped to.

  8. 108
    Kurt Greske says:

    Speaking of “A Private Universe”, you really should go look at the Annenberg CPB program “Minds of Our Own” that you may sometimes see on your PBS stations. They gave MIT graduating engineering students a flashlight bulb, a battery, and a piece of wire, and a surprising number of them couldn’t figure out how to make the light bulb light up! A lot of them burned their fingers by shorting the battery with the wire without ever getting the bulb in the circuit! Then they gave Harvard graduating students a stick of tree wood and ask them where the carbon in the wood came from, and most of them didn’t know the answer. They coyly mentioned photosynthesis, and it still didn’t ring a bell with the Harvard graduates. Ever hear of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere and photosynthesis? YUP! That is where EVERY BIT of the carbon in all the wood that has ever existed came from. Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant, it’s plant food!! Without it, every green plant in the world would die.

  9. 109
    Figen Mekik says:

    While growing up my favorite reads were pretty much all of Asimov’s work, all of Arthur C. Clark’s work (not just 2001 a Space Odyssey, but even The Deep Range), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Teachings of Don Juan (all of Carlos Castenada’s books), and of course the entire series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in five books).

  10. 110
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE #108 “Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant”

    Tell that to the relatives of the 1700 people who died in Camaroon in 1986 when a cloud of CO2 erupted from Lake Nyos (Science, April 10, 1987, Vol. 236. no. 4798, pp. 169 -175; http://tinyurl.com/3xpbfu)

    I’m always amazed when I see or hear people say that CO2 is not a pollutant because it is “plant food.” Water, oxygen, and NaCl are all essential to life, yet each of these can be toxic if consumed in excess. And too much CO2 can be unhealthy for plants. With the possible exception of water vapor, any chemical released from a smoke stack, exhaust pipe, or industrial process that accumulates in the environment and is potentially dangerous to living organisms can be reasonably considered a pollutant.

  11. 111
    Tavita says:

    Re: 108

    Kurt Greske says, “Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant, it’s plant food!! Without it, every green plant in the world would die.”

    If too much “plant food” in the atmosphere and ocean, through its effects, causes harm to humans and other species then I consider it to be a pollutant and it should be reduced to levels that cause no harm, but keeps plants green.

  12. 112
    BillOGoods says:

    Thanks for your comments, all, particularly 93 and 86. A few of my own:
    First, correct, I haven’t read everything on this site, but, I dare say, neither have you. I am confident that any honest climate historian will have more unanswered than answered questions about why the earth’s temperatures have changed in the past. Yet, all the physical data that preceded, existed during, and existed subsequent is there for him to see. With that being the case, I find it arrogant to conclude the catastrophes and calamity that is being discussed. Even more arrogant is the degree of certainty that warmists say doing “X,” i.e., stop using coal fired power plants, gasoline powered cars, and the like, will produce “Y,” i.e., lower temperatures. What’s the proof of that? None.

    Second, surely the farther away from one’s expertise you roam, the more likely you will err. So, how far away from climatology is astronomy, heliophysics, and solar physics? Respected scientists in these areas of study seem to disagree with the idea that CO2 trapping heat is the answer. See http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=469dd8f9-802a-23ad-4459-cc5c23c24651&Region_id=&Issue_id=
    Yet, with all hear from opposing climatologists when they are confronted are lame answers like “he’s not a climatologist.”

    Third, so, Ray, economists should just bend over and start “realizing” that “remedial action” on climate change is “economically sound.” You’re kidding right? If you are wrong that there is warming that man can or should do anything about, then there is principle of economics called “opportunity costs.” Think of the billions of dollars that could be put to a far better and more productive use than wasted on a fool’s errand.

    I think it’s tragic you give lip service to having open minds as scientists and you all act like lemmings behind the politicians that you claim distort your science.

    I’ll be back, but right now, I gotta watch a hockey game (MSU v BC for the NCAA Championship)

  13. 113
    James says:

    Re #108: [Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant, it’s plant food!! Without it, every green plant in the world would die.]

    It’s both, both in practice and by legal definitions of what constitutes a pollutant. Consider phosphorus: an essential plant nutrient in small quantities, yet a pollutant when there’s too much in the wrong place.

    Like so much else in this world, it’s not good or bad in itself. Take water: without it, every human in the world would die, yet we still worry about floods and drowning. Indeed, simply drinking too much water can kill you.

    Or for a closer parallel, consider that without oxygen all the higher animals would die. Yet if we somehow managed to double the oxygen content of the air, most plant life would soon be consumed by uncontrollable firestorms.

  14. 114
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #98, BArton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “[[Reality is also that there have been two civilian nuclear reactor accidents with fatalities]]

    No, that’s not reality, that’s industry spin. Partly it depends on how they disingenuously define “civilian” deaths. There were fatalities twice at a Virginia reactor, at a Russian reactor, at a Czech reactor, in fueling operations happening back to the Manhattan Project, and several times in Soviet nuclear sub reactor accidents (not “civilian,” like the American SL-1 accident, which, incidentally, may have been the first case of deliberate nuclear sabotage, a problem which remains). I’m getting a list together which I’ll post publicly when I have the time.

    Again, the danger is of a big accident, which Dukelow very rightly notes hasn’t happened yet. Of course, there isn’t much of a worldwide nuclear industry yet, except possibly in France. What are there, 200 nuclear power plants worldwide? Or 500?

    There are also the problems involved with storing the wastes, and with the opportunities for terrorists when large amounts of nuclear materials are moving around the country. There have been many incidents where soldiers sold or stole weaponry, even advanced weaponry, from US military bases. Are reactor operators less corruptible?”

    Levenson insists on offering a few more things he knows that aren’t so — and one that is so. The one that is so: An experimental Czechoslovak reactor A-1 at Bohunice (now part of Slovakia), suffered a 1976 leak of its carbon dioxide coolant that killed two plant workers. The heavy-water-moderated, natural-uranium-fueled reactor was cooled by high pressure, high temperature carbon dioxide. There are two likely mechanisms for the accident. A pinhole leak of high temperature, high pressure carbon dioxide would be an invisible high velocity jet. Plant workers walking into the jet could be badly burned and lacerated. The other mechanism would be accumulation of heavier than air carbon dioxide in low parts of the plant causing asphyxiation. In 1977, Bohunice A-1 suffered a serious fuel loading accident, that apparently didn’t kill any workers, but did eventually lead to the decision to decommission the reactor.

    The 1976 A-1 accident does not appear on the Wikipedia list I cited. Almost all Internet references to it appear to be copied from a Greenpeace list of nuclear “incidents” that I considered to be suspect because it contained so many identifiable errors and imprecise uses of language. However, I found independent confirmation of it in a 2 September 1980 NYTimes article and in a paper presented at the 2002 Waste Management conference in Tucson. I’ll note parenthetically, that, in the past, I have found reports by Greenpeace International’s Josh Handler and by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona to be the best sources of detailed information about the performance (or, rather, lack of it) of the Soviet nuclear establishment.

    Levenson apparently refers to an accident at the Surry reactor in Virginia that killed three or four workers. A pinhole steam leak on the secondary side of the Surry plant (the steam turbine, electrical generator side of the plant) burned and lacerated the workers when they inadvertently walked into the steam jet. That sort of narrow jet of high temperature, high pressure steam will go for many feet before it begins to condense and becomes visible. This sort of accident could happen in any facility — fossil-fuel electrical plant, refinery, chemical plant, steamship, etc. — that uses high pressure, high temperature steam to turn heat energy into mechanical work. The interested can review some of the 145,000 hits that a Google search on “steam leak fatality” produces.

    The reference to a Russian reactor (as vague as most of what Levenson writes on this topic) probably refers to a 2005 accident on the grounds of the Leningrad Nuclear Plant at Sosnovy Bor that killed a worker. The only problem with the reference is that the accident occurred at a smelter located on the grounds of the nuclear plant, not at the reactor.

    If Levenson actually bothered to do some fact-checking, he would have discovered that SL-1 was an experimental Navy reactor, military, not civilian.

    There are about 450 commercial nuclear power reactors world-wide, not 200. 58 of those reactors are in France.

    As James notes in Post #87, you could reasonably argue that Chernobyl was the “really big” nuclear plant accident, in terms of the fraction of core contents released to the environment. What it didn’t have were “really big” consequences, at least not by the standards of the fossil-fuel industry and hydropower.

    Outside the Soviet bloc, there have been no public health and safety issues with nuclear wastes. Most spent fuel is currently stored at the nuclear plant sites, so transportation of spent fuel has not been much of an issue so far. The casks in which fresh fuel and spent fuel would move on highways and the rail system have been analyzed for a variety of attack scenarios. The corruptibility of nuclear plant operators is certainly open to question and both attack scenarios and sabotage scenarios have included the assumption of insider involvement. The radioactive material in a plant that might be of interest to terrorists is essentially impossible to steal because of the high radioactivity levels and need for heavy shielding, if it is to be moved.

    Finally, industry spin or not, Chernobyl (civilian) and Mayak (military) are the only nuclear industry accidents that have produced civilian, as opposed to worker, deaths. Again, quite in contrast to the fossil-fuel and hydropower industries.

    Given Levenson’s aversion to citations for sources for his assertions and his obvious lack of knowledge of the topic, his list ought to be interesting.

    Best regards.

  15. 115
    Hank Roberts says:

    Kurt Greske: obviously, it’s both. Pretending otherwise is rhetoric.
    If you’re here sincerely, just repeating what you believe because someone told you was true, this is a good place to learn honest skepticism. First, check what you were told. You can look this stuff up for yourself, and make up your own mind to learn. Any good librarian can help you out.

    Or try a few of the terms you’re familiar with in Google Scholar. These may be helpful to start with:

    https://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/agubookstore?&book=CECE0613592
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006GL028554.shtml

  16. 116
    Kurt Greske says:

    Re: 109

    Go type “climate change” into Wikipedia and read what comes back.

    Specifically, look at the graph of “phanerozoic carbon dioxide” in the atmosphere over the last 500 million years ( if you click on the graph in that article you will get an enlarged version that is easier to read ) and note where the carbon dioxide level is NOW compared to where it was in prehistoric times.

    Could it get much lower than it is now? Note how much higher it has been in the past when man didn’t exist at all.

  17. 117
    Philip Mulholland says:

    Aaron

    RE your #106 post. Like you I did the quiz and noticed just how weakly constructed the questions are. A suspicious person might think that the real purpose of the quiz is to extract pedantic answers from knowledgeable folk. In this light it succeeds beautifully.

    Doudoo Doudoo Doudoo…

  18. 118
    BJandTheBear says:

    Sorry guys I couldn’t keep up with the blog that I love most for the past several days. Been spending too much time shoveling this April snow out of my driveway. Sister down in Louisiana tells me it’s gonna be a 38 degree Easter Sunday there.

    OK, so any important events on the warming disaster about to befall us while I was away?

  19. 119
    Tavita says:

    Re: 110

    I don’t think CO2 levels 500 million years ago really have much to do with us. As you correctly point out, humans did not exist (or evolve) with anything close to those levels (archaic Homo Sapiens only appeared around 400,000 years ago and modern humans have only been around for about 170,000 years). I think what the levels have been throughout Homo Sapien’s existence are more relevant to what we and our fellow species are used to and can tolerate; CO2 levels have been between 180-300 ppm for about the last 650,000 years. In other words, the current levels at 380 ppm are unprecedented in our entire history as a species; we are heading into uncharted territory for us and our fellow creatures on this planet at this time.

    And, yes, the C02 levels could get lower, they could get back to the 180-300 ppm range to which we and our fellow species are accustomed.

  20. 120
    pete best says:

    Re 67 etc regarding Nuclear Vs Coal. Just a thought but coal puts out more Uranium and other radioactive elements than nuclear power plants ever do. Coal is a killer in many ways, it is just a bad substance overall apart from the energy it contains of course. Nuclear waste is tiny relative to coals record.

    Regarding electromagnetic radition, there is one thing that infrared is that all the others are not and that is it has the highest entropy and hence once it is heat it is in its most useless form. High energy photons such as UV, Xray and Gamma are much more useful than infra red. Of course there are heat engines etc but in terms of physics entropy is the slipperly slope to uselessness.

  21. 121
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. 110 the issue is not absolute levels but rate of change. Mass extinction events occur when the rate of change is greater than species can adapt to.

  22. 122
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re 110 “Could it get much lower than it is now?”
    Well, it was about 30% lower at the start of the industrial age. So, yes, it could be much lower than it is now.

  23. 123

    [[Even supposing that “terrorists” could steal nuclear material from a reactor, the harm that they could cause with it would still be less than that caused by fossil-fuel emissions. ]]

    That’s why I’m for renewable sources of energy.

    (Of course terrorists would have a hard time stealing material from a reactor. It’s much more likely someone would sell it to them. Or that they would hijack a truck en route.)

  24. 124

    [[ Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant, it’s plant food!! Without it, every green plant in the world would die. ]]

    True, but we don’t need 300-600 ppm for that.

  25. 125

    [[Sorry guys I couldn’t keep up with the blog that I love most for the past several days. Been spending too much time shoveling this April snow out of my driveway. Sister down in Louisiana tells me it’s gonna be a 38 degree Easter Sunday there. ]]

    Oh, well clearly that disproves global warming. Thanks for letting us know.

  26. 126
    Ray Ladbury says:

    So, Kurt, hoping for a comeback by the dinosaurs? The reason CO2 is lower now than 500 million years ago is because all that carbon had been sequestered in resorvoirs of coal, oil and natural gas trapped deep under sedimentary strata.
    Did it occur to you that maybe the environment of the time was a reason human-like creatures did not exist 500 million years ago. We’ve evolved during carbon-poor conditions and all of the infrastructure of our civilization has evolved during a period of exceptional climatic stability. That is precisely the concern.

    I also see William Gray is at it again claiming that all climate change is due to ocean currents. Denial is alive and well in the US of A.

  27. 127
    Figen Mekik says:

    Frederick,

    I am not measuring the Coriolis force. Of course the Earth is the main frame of reference. You can pick your frame of reference as large or as small as you want depending on the problem. But simply saying every moving thing in the northern hemisphere is deflected to the right (which is true) does not help students understand why subtropical gyres rotate clockwise and subtropical hurricanes rotate counter clockwise when they are both in the northern hemisphere. That’s the issue I am trying to tackle. I am not discussing the forces involved or their magnitude.

  28. 128
    Figen Mekik says:

    “Sorry guys I couldn’t keep up with the blog that I love most for the past several days. Been spending too much time shoveling this April snow out of my driveway. Sister down in Louisiana tells me it’s gonna be a 38 degree Easter Sunday there.”

    I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It snows here ALL the time. Big chunks of snow the size of my fist fall out of the sky on a regular basis. And if it’s not snowing then it’s raining or at least cloudy. Really cloudy though, thick clouds, dark, ominous most of the time. When we see the sun, we are thankful (less than 90 days out of a year are sunny here). Don’t get me started… BUT, this has nothing to do with global warming. Nor the fact it is unusually cold in Louisiana. That would be like saying my grandma smoked like a chimney but lived healthily til she turned 98. Great for your grandma, but it doesn’t mean smoking does not cause lung cancer, and we can only hope she was careful to not expose her family to second hand smoke.

  29. 129
    Zach Mayer says:

    The quiz link is broken

  30. 130
    Dan says:

    re: 126. Like many deniers who have posted here, Gray’s comments have become shrill and repetitive and sound desparate. It is unfortunate that he gets press for a topic that is out of his area of expertise. Just look at the repetitiveness of the arrogant “look-what-I-know-that-thousands-of-climate-scientists-don’t-know” comments from layman deniers here. The latest being “CO2 is not a pollutant”. Laughable if not for the fact that 1. apparently some people beleive such rubbish, and 2. the “issue” has been clearly discussed already here at realclimate.org. And all it would take would be a simple search in the “Search” box at the top of the page for the deniers/drive-by posters to read and learn about it.

  31. 131

    Figen- Re120 You have your work cut out for you, but at least we knw the region of the spectrum richest in factoid radiation — Such statements as
    “there is one thing that infrared is that all the others are not and that is it has the highest entropy and hence once it is heat it is in its most useless .”

    Radiate primarily from the AM radio band. Perhaps RealClimate’s foundation sponsors should invest in some commercials on the Rush Limbaugh show, since you already have to field a lot of his past buy-date culturual merchandise.

    Here’s an Ozone-relevant example:
    “CALLER: So you don’t believe in global warming? (scoffs)
    RUSH: No.
    CALLER: Or that the large ozone hole?
    RUSH: No. Wait, wait, wait, wait. I —
    CALLER: Or that humans created the ozone, destruction of the ozone.
    RUSH: No. No, no, no. I don’t. Because the hole closes every year and we don’t do anything to close it. ”

    Whole thing at
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/04/modern_masters.html

  32. 132
    BillOGoods says:

    So, Ray, there are a lot of incredible assumptions in your #126, but let’s start here. Maybe I’ll be surprised to hear something that “climatologists” don’t know:

    Just what is it, exactly, that “science” will do, through our friendly political and diplomatic class, of course, that we are sure will keep our atmosphere at the right level of, as you say, “carbon-poor” (I assume you know precisely what this level ought to be since you obviously know things like why there were no “human-like creatures” 500 million years ago) so that “exceptional climatic stability” continues for us and our posterity?

    When that question is answered in a fashion that we mere laymen can understand, you will have support. It would also be nice if the politicians could understand it, too. Sometimes they can be prone to opportunism for their own benefit. Can we be assured we, as a nation, can understand your offered “cures” well enough to avoid fueling Big Government, an over-regulated society, and the loss of our freedoms afforded by the US Constitution? Or are these questions beyond the scientists pay grade? I hope not.

  33. 133
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #108 & “Carbon-dioxide is NOT a pollutant, it’s plant food!!”

    It seems I read somewhere that too much CO2 could actually harm plants. I know that many of the same measures that cause GHG emissions also contribute to acid rain, which harms farm soil & plants & trees. And CO2 is harming sea life by making the oceans more acidic.

    And I remembering seeing in IS IT HOT ENOUGH FOR YOU? a science experiment with growing plants in a CO2 enriched greenhouse. What they found was that weeds (C3 plants) greatly outdid food crops (C4 plants), and that insects ate more of the crops, because while the crops were somewhat larger, they were nutritionly poorer.

    So net result of enriched CO2 – more damage to food crops, crops that are nutritionally deficient, and decline of sea life.

    That could even be considered a form of totalitarianism, changing the farmers’ and our crops in ways we don’t like without our permission. So denialists of the anti-totalitarian stripe, not reducing our GHGs will lead to eco-totalitarianism, a world controlled and harmed by high GHG-emitters jerking everyone around against their will.

    And then, of course, if you add in the effects of GW (beyond simply harms from the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere), the prognosis for life on earth worsens even further.

  34. 134
    Hank Roberts says:

    Kurt, you’re talking about a much simpler world, one much less favorable to life as we know it.
    No conservative could want to turn the world back to what it was when CO2 was that high.

    Life removed most of that carbon — made it into coal — while making Earth habitable for us.

    “The Phanerozoic ….half a billion years …. built up complex and diverse ecosystems, and life has evolved … millions of species ……. This eon can also be considered (as suggested by Dr James Lovelock …) the modern period in the life of Gaia … characterized as much, if not more, by the presence of abundant free oxygen as by the existence of multicellular organisms or fossil-bearing rock strata.”

    http://www.palaeos.com/Timescale/Phanerozoic.htm

    “Gaia” isn’t your enemy. It’s you and your friends and relations, all those multicellular organisms.

  35. 135
    J.C.H says:

    “… CO2 is not a pollutant …”

    Great. Tell the Navy so they can stop wasting our tax money by removing harmless CO2 from submarine air.

  36. 136
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    What Would JC Do About Global Warming?

    Seems like an appropriate question to ask on a weekend that celebrates forgiveness and renewal. According to CNN, nothing.

    In a telephone interview with Dr. John Christy yesterday (you thought I was talking about the other JC didn’t you!!!), global warming is not a real problem. He said that the recent IPCC report and the previous one greatly exaggerate the warming due to greenhouse gases, citing his own data set accumulated over many years as the authoritative source.

    The CNN interviewer pointed out that Christy was one of a handful of climate skeptics and that over 2300 scientists involved in the preparation of the IPCC reports represented the majority view on the issue. However, Christy said that not all 2300 wrote the SPM or its underlying document and that he himself was a member of the 2300. Truth is, various sections are assigned to different groups of authors who have a specialty in that field. A report actually written by 2300 people would never get finished.

    He did not go into specifics about why the IPCC reports were wrong, instead noting that the doubling of human life expectancy in the 20th century was due mostly to fossil fuels and that problems in Africa said to be exacerbated by global warming in this century would best be dealt with by providing the beleaguered residents of that continent with better governments.

    Who can argue with the former Kenyan missionary about the need for better governments for Africa and yes, Reddy Kilowatt and the Exxon Tiger have improved our lives. But a lot of the increase in life expectancy is due to disinfection of drinking water and the availability of vaccines and antibiotics. Having a Lincoln Navigator in the driveway may correlate well with how much health insurance you can purchase, but a Ford Fiesta will still get you to the emergency room.

    I was wrong when I recently said that the time has passed for the climate skeptics. They’ve just morphed into armchair economists and political scientists. Now how can we forgive that.

  37. 137
    Ray Ladbury says:

    A scientist has more responsibility/authority in politics than other citizens on this issue only to the extent that he/she can make sure that our fellow citizens–and the criminals (oops, I mean politicians) they elect–are informed with the best science we can determine. This website is an excellent contribution in that direction.
    Do I know exactly how much carbon is right? No. Here’s what I do know. Climate seems to be relatively stable right now. We know we have returned to roughly the same climate patterns after a variety of small perturbations. However, we know that climate is only ever quasi-stable, and if we (or nature) ever perturb it sufficiently, it will depart the region of phase space where it is relatively stable. We are now perturbing the climate to a much greater extent. When does climate become unstable? We don’t know. We do know that the faster and more we perturb it, the more likely it is to become unstable. So the answer is to slow down the speed with which we are changing climate. To do that we need to slow down (note I don’t say stop) our emissions of greenhouse gases. We do this by means of increased conservation and diversifying our sources of energy–with emphasis on renewable and nuclear power. We also invest in technologies to mitigate the effects that will inevitably occur.
    Now, here’s the deal. CO2 emissions are rising exponentially. There are known positive feedbacks in the system–that is, once we get above a certain temperature, they will start emitting even more greenhouse gases. So anything we do will take time. Moreover, the sooner we start, the better will we be able to develop coping strategies without resorting to draconian measures or “big government” solutions. So, this is where people like YOU come in. Carbon credits, if properly handled, could be a way of introducing market forces. What’s the best way to handle them that keeps government from interfering to the maximum extent–and maybe makes a little money available for research into solutions? This is where economists, etc. can contribute. The climate scientists already have a pretty good handle on the climate itself.

  38. 138
    James says:

    Re #123: [That’s why I’m for renewable sources of energy.]

    Well, who isn’t? The problem (as we’ve discussed before) is that there’s not enough of it that can be harnessed, dependably, with current technology, to do everything that needs to be done.

    [Of course terrorists would have a hard time stealing material from a reactor. It’s much more likely someone would sell it to them. Or that they would hijack a truck en route.]

    Which ducks the point I was trying to make. Assume the worst case: instead of stealing the nuclear material, our “terrorists” can just go to the friendly folks in Tehran, Pyongyang, or Islamabad, and get their nuclear weapons off the shelf. What can they do with those weapons that will have worse consequences for the world than continuing to emit CO2 from fossil-fuel plants?

  39. 139
    tamino says:

    Re: Coriolis spin

    Perhaps its best to inform your students that a mass of air in the northern hemisphere, which appears not to be moving at all, is actually already spinning (counterclockwise as viewed from space), along with the rest of the planet earth.

    When that air mass contracts inward toward a low pressure center (as in a hurricane), its spin speeds up, just as a figure-skater does when drawing his/her arms in while spinning. Then it’s spinning faster than the rest of the earth, so to us earth-bound humans its spin is apparent (and counterclockwise when viewed from space, in the northern hemisphere).

  40. 140
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Re #128
    “Snows all the time here”

    OK, it is a good place to study snow. The guys at NCAR in Boulder are likely jealous.

  41. 141
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #138 “Assume the worst case: instead of stealing the nuclear material, our “terrorists” can just go to the friendly folks in Tehran, Pyongyang, or Islamabad, and get their nuclear weapons off the shelf. What can they do with those weapons that will have worse consequences for the world than continuing to emit CO2 from fossil-fuel plants?”

    Set off a full-scale nuclear war, deliberately or otherwise. Say you’re an extreme Islamist, Nazi, or Unabomber-type anti-industrialist, who has managed to get hold of a nuclear weapon. You hate both the USA and its main potential enemies, Russia and China. So why not use the bomb to attack one of them, while casting suspicion on another? Put it in a shipping container, ship it to a major port in one of your target states, plant evidence that another of your hate-objects is responsible, and set it off. The government of any nuclear weapons state attacked in this way would be under enormous pressure to retaliate with a nuclear attack on some other state that could plausibly be identified as the perpetrator, or as aiding the perpetrator. Suppose the USA is attacked and the signs appear to point to Russia, or vice versa? How confident are you there would not be nuclear retaliation? And if there was, would not spiralling counter-retaliation be all too likely? That this would happen is the very cornerstone of “deterrence”. (It is in fact far more likely that the initial shipping-container attack would be performed by a state, not by non-state actors, simply because nukes are hard to build, and no government is likely to hand a nuke to a group they do not control. However, this point is not crucial here.) The more states have nuclear weapons, the more chance of such weapons being used (except, perhaps, in the shift from one nuclear-armed state to two), either overtly, or in the covert way I have described. The greater part nuclear power plays in future energy production, the greater the chances of more states acquiring nuclear weapons: a civil nuclear power program provides excellent cover for a nuclear weapons program; civil nuclear power generates bomb-making materials; and selling nuclear materials, technology and knowhow is an obvious way to offset the costs of either a civil or military program.

    If a major expansion of nuclear power could prevent disastrous climate change, and no other plausible measures could, then the risks of accident and proliferation would have to be taken – but the most detailed analyses I’ve read (by the Tyndall Centre and George Monbiot, both concerning the UK) suggest otherwise. In any case, only one of the major sources of GHGs – electricity generation – could be much reduced in the next few decades by either. Far more profound changes to industrial society than any specific energy-generating technology are required if disaster is to be averted.

  42. 142
    pat neuman says:

    …,perhaps the most effective method for eradicating misconceptions at every level is going to be investing large quantities of time, money and effort into educating primary and secondary school educators. NSF has many programs that fund such efforts, but much more effort is clearly needed on a global scale. …

    A few years ago in the U.S., education about earth science principles was done by local meteorologists in their local communities. That mostly stopped when global warming was made out to be political and controversial by National Weather Service (NWS) supervisors and NOAA administrators. NWS refused any responsibility for public education on global warming as early as 1993 when they refused national media requests to talk about global warming in relation to the 1993 Midwest summer floods. NOAA administrators reinforced NWS refusals from 2001 (Bush) to current (still Bush).

  43. 143
    Ike Solem says:

    The misuse of temperature trends and anecdotal reports of cold weather is a common skeptic’s theme; the posts about cold weather are one example. The Exxon-funded site CO2science.org also publishes a weekly temperature record that alwas shows a local cooling trend: “To bolster our claim that “There Has Been Little Net Global Warming Over the Past 70 Years” each week we highlight the temperature record of one of the 1221 U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) stations from 1930-2000.”

    This approach is similar to that of a person who attempts to prove that rivers flow uphill. If you look at a river flowing over rocks, you can always find local areas where eddies result in upstream currents. If you run all over a river looking for such features, and only measure the flow direction at such features, you produce a dataset where every measurement shows upstream flow… and then you can claim that rivers flow uphill, and that you have the data to prove it.

    Also, nuclear is a dead end for the same reasons that fossil fuels are a dead end – there is a ver limited supply. Eventually all human energy demands will be met using various solar conversion strategies – wind power, solar thermal, solar PV, solar and biofuels – and the sooner the better. We’ll need very energy efficient technology as well as new energy storage technology to make this happen, at which point nuclear and fossil fuels will be largely obsolete. There will be no need for energy-expensive carbon sequestration because there will be no need for fossil fuels.

  44. 144
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #143: Ike Solem — Unfortunately the ‘limited supply’ of coal is very large. Enough to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide to about 4000 Gt if all burnt. To put that in proportion, so far humans have added about 300 Gt of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere…

  45. 145
    pat neuman says:

    The Twin Cities NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) statement below is an example of a special cold weather summary report for public interest.

    One of the Coldest First 7 Days of April on Record

    The following table highlights the top 15 total heating degree days for the first seven days of April for selected locations. Heating degree days are computed by adding the high and low temperature of the day, and then calculating the average. The average is then subtracted from a base temperature of 65 degrees to determine the heating degree temperature for that day. As you can see, this first week in April ranked among the top 10 at 4 of the 5 locations. This translates into one of the coldest, if not the coldest, first weeks of April.

    Table of coldest by year based on heating degree days at NWS link below.


    http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crnews/display_story.php?wfo=mpx&storyid=7196&source=0

    The text and table highlight recent cold observations versus historical data at 4 climate stations in MN and one in WI.

    I have not seen any reports on new records for annual mean temperature set in recent years, year after year.

    Including 2006, which was well above normal (1971-200 averages) for annual mean temperatures at all climate stations in MN and WI, a few stations reached a 10 year consecutive mark of having above average annual mean temperatures (Cloquet, MN COOP, 1911-current) and Spooner Experimental Farm, WI COOP, 1894-current). Many stations in MN and WI have had 9 years of consecutive above average annual temperatures, including 2006. Prior to the current streaks, the longest previous number of consecutive above average annual temperatures in the period of record (110 years) has been 4 or 5.

    I don’t think NWS or NOAA or anyone that I know of has been reporting on the streaks of years above historical average temperatures, but me. Shouldn’t that be a responsibility of NWS? NOAA’s NWS has about 120 offices in the U.S. with a staff of about 5500 meteorologists and technitions. I’m only doing it because it seems no one else is.

  46. 146
    Figen Mekik says:

    Pete Best: What do you mean by “there is one thing that infrared is that all the others are not and that is it has the highest entropy and hence once it is heat it is in its most useless form”? Infrared radiation is heat. Sensible heat refers to the energy in the excitation state of molecules in a substance. Let me quote from raypierre’s e-mail to you because he is far more eloquent than I: “It’s true to say that the Earth can’t lose heat by conduction “to space,” so it needs some other means. Fourier was the first to realize that this ‘other means’ was infrared radiation.”

    Tamino: Thanks!!

  47. 147
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#144 – that’s true enough. Here’s the breakdown (I posted this some time ago, but here it is again)

    Now, the estimated total fossil fuel resources left to burn (as of 2000) from http://www.worldenergy.org:
    Conventional oil – 263 (Gigatons of Carbon, GtC)
    Shale oil, etc. – 525
    Natural gas – 422
    Coal bed gas, etc – 450
    Coal – 3370

    The preindustrial atmospheric carbon dioxide content (as carbon) was 580 GtC (280 ppm) and in 2000 was 750 GtC (380ppm)

    How many gigatonnes of carbon per year stay in the atmosphere? Around half, so if current total CO2 emissions (as carbon) are at 7.2 GtC (only looking at fossil fuels), then around 3.6 Gt of carbon stay in the atmosphere each year – and it’s worth wondering what processes account for the uptake of the other half. See the Woods Hole discussion of the missing carbon sink. What you don’t know can hurt you… meaning that it’s possible that more CO2 could start lingering.

    If we burn all the fossil fuel, that means adding 5000 GtC to the atmosphere, (if half stays up, that’s 2500 Gt) and warmer oceans and stressed forests will probably absorb less CO2, resulting in a minimum CO2 content of around 1500 ppm (and probably quite a bit higher, due to sink limitations.. and the oceans may degas methane and CO2 if they warm up a lot..). There’s also no reason to assume that all that CO2 wouldn’t stay in the atmosphere for millennia, either – meaning no ‘global cooling effect’ after the fuel is gone. This is a bit beyond the worst-case scenario in the IPCC report.

    One main myth is that restricting the use of fossil fuels will cause economic collapse, but that’s simply not true. Fossil fuel industry spokespeople will tell you that people absolutely need fossil fuels, and we’ll just keep burning it till it’s all gone – but the fact is that recent economics indicate that renewables become economically preferable as oil approaches $100 a barrel.

  48. 148
    BillOGoods says:

    Re #137. Yes, we really donâ��t want the economists interfering with the climatologists, would we. But the worst thing we could do is impose â��carbon credits.â�� Instead, what we should do is freeing up our economy and lowering taxes to create more wealth in this country so that if private parties want to start taking action to inhibit the effects of any global warming (damns to prevent flooding of property, flood insurance companies insuring high risksfor those that can’t get it otherwise, hurricane insurance companies offering coverage in areas prone to them, whatever), they can do so. See http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/20/2/2/1

    In this way, only those theoretically effected will pay for the effects and not the whole of society. �Carbon credits� are just a tax, and, therefore, a drag on the economy of this country and others. Ultimately, we all pay it. On totally other grounds, we should start and start now to shift to nuclear power. I agree. But try getting a plant built with the environmental nuts out there laying in the road bed ready to be crushed by the construction equipment.

    Your post is also very honest and I appreciate it, but I�m not sure you intended it.

    If we know we have �returned� to stability after other disturbances (not caused by man, I assume), why do we need to do anything at this point? Why don�t we just wait, as other smart scientists suggest, for the stable period to return? See http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/20/2/2/1. And how do we know if it was �we� or �nature� that did the disturbing? Sounds like this would be a pretty important question to answer and we haven�t yet. And some climatologists say you guys are �cooking the books� on your data�skewing the data. See http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/20/2/2/1

    You also admit we don�t know why climates become unstable so, then, how can we conclude that, if the climate is unstable now, it got that way because of man? Some climatologists say we are well within normal temperatures when we look at long term weather. See Lindzen, �Climate of Fear, Wall Street Journal (4/12/2006), http://online.wsj.com/article/PA2VJBNA4R/SB114480355145823597-search.html (must be a paid subscriber�sorry).

    Finally, how do we know that by �slowing� emissions we won�t make the problem worse in the other direction? You are speculating, you don�t �know,� that by slowing down emissions, the chance we will return to a more �stable climate� increase. That�s an assumption. Why might it not destabalize the climate in the other direction?

    Again, you will have to convince the average person of the merit of your cause�not frighten them, like Al Gore does, into acting irrationally. That hasn�t been done, Ray, and it seems like it�s very far away from happening. You seem to abdicate your responsibility in this regard. Politics and the smarmy politicians have hijacked this issue and the scientific community better catch up quickly. Problem is, they seem to enjoy going along for the ride and may lose credibility with these wild predictions.

    Finally, I just read something that I’m not going to bother to look up unless you really want to see it about the idea of a “global average temperature” is a farce and does not exist. So, if we really don’t know what the global average is, how do we know it’s significantly different from what it used to be?

  49. 149
    Will Carpenter says:

    Many thanks for the reminder that many of those who chant the ‘phrases and praises’ of global warming/climate change often might benefit from a basic understanding of the mechanisms involved. Keep up the good work.

  50. 150
    pete best says:

    Re 144, I am just stating that Entropy is a measure of large scale disorder and infrared radition is more disordered than UV or Xrays for instance. Well I beleive that is the case anyways.

    Re 147, coal comes in three flavours and they carry different amounts of energy per Kilogram burned. We have used a lot of the good stuff and we are left with bitumous and sub-bitumous which is not way near as energy dense as the other sort. Hence we may have billions of tonnes of it but not a lot of energy to come from it I believe.


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