RealClimate logo


Why we bother

Filed under: — group @ 12 March 2010

A letter from a reader (reproduced with permission):

Dear RealClimate team:

I have a background in biology and studied at post-grad level in the area of philosophy of science. For the last few years, I have been working on a book about the logic of argument used in debates between creationists and evolutionists.

About a year ago I decided it was time to properly educate myself about climate science. Being perhaps a little too influenced by Harry M Collins’ “The Golem” (and probably too much modern French philosophy!), I was definitely predisposed to see group-think, political and cultural bias in the work of climatologists.

On the whole, though, I tried hard to follow the principles of genuine skepticism, as I understood them.

Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.

What convinced me, though, is that the arguments made by a few sites like yours are explicit and testable. In particular, it is useful that RealClimate sticks to the science as much as possible. It has been a lot of hard work to get here, but I am now at a point where I understand the fundamentals of climate science well enough to articulate them to others.

For my part, I am grateful to you guys. I hope it gives you some small amount of satisfaction to know that your work can convert readers who really were skeptics in the beginning. I use the word ‘skeptic’ carefully – the one thing most commonly absent from the so-called ‘skeptics’ is authentic skepticism.

By the way, my book is an attempt to categorise the various logical errors people fall into when they search for arguments to support a conclusion to which they have arrived at a priori. It will now have a few chapters on global warming.

All the best,

549 Responses to “Why we bother”

  1. 401

    No, that can’t be right either, I’ve got C going down… I’ll figure it out eventually… No more posting until I have this thoroughly debugged… massive apologies to all…

  2. 402

    351 CCPO

    I think no such thing which you ascribe to me about our being able to replace oil as fast as we use it.

    My interest in automobiles is because I have found that it is possible to build cars that use about about a tenth as much energy to move fast on roads we now have. This would not be a game changer; it would be a whole new game. Trucks might be able to get almost this percent reduction

    If we define the cars with some real sense of the important requirements, they could offer transportation that would be far more convenient than public transportation.

    What is amazing is how hard it is to shake the fixed assumptions surrounding the car, which seem to be your basis of thinking. As long as it has to be a personal fashion statement, as our thinking have been molded to expect, there will be not much progress.

  3. 403

    Okay, this time I’m SURE I’ve got it right. Lines under the header printing should be just two:

    lnC = log(280)
    dlnC = log(C + 110) – log(280)

    This gives reasonable output:

    d ln C C dT T
    —— ——- —– ——-
    0.331 280.000 1.325 288.325
    0.133 319.684 0.530 288.856
    0.053 337.090 0.212 289.068
    0.021 344.315 0.085 289.152
    0.008 347.248 0.034 289.186
    0.003 348.428 0.014 289.200
    0.001 348.901 0.005 289.205
    0.001 349.091 0.002 289.208
    0.000 349.167 0.001 289.208
    0.000 349.197 0.000 289.209

    Wow! Sorry to mess up the implementation for your very cleanly expressed idea, Neal.

    RC–is there some way to include indentation in code? [pre] and [/pre] with angle brackets doesn’t seem to do it. Do I have to plugs in 4 and 8 “nbsp ;” at a time?

  4. 404
    Norman says:

    378flxible says:
    16 March 2010 at 10:07 AM

    Thank you for your responses. Have you looked at the Link J. Bob posted?

    http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndClouds.htm

    It has lots of raw data. On this section on clouds check out the Tropical cloud cover vs the Global temp. It shows very strong correlation and it can explain why the Global temps have stopped going up the last few years (still historically very high but flatline). The tropical cloud cover % is no longer decreasing. I am not a “denier” as the fact is carbon dioxide will absorb long wave radiation and heat up and transmit some back to Earth. I am not sure of the actual contribution.

    I have seen posts on this site which state the skeptics have no good alternative explanations for the obvious Global temp increase. I think Cloud cover is a very rational and logical possible explanation for the Global temps with a much smaller fingerprint from carbon dioxide.

    [Response: You are just passing the buck. Why did cloud cover change then? – gavin]

  5. 405
    VeryTallGuy says:

    netdr (many above…)

    I think gavin and several others have tried to point you in the right direction on feedbacks and I hope you can make sense of it, but I’m genuinely intruiged as to why you think the Earth’s climate is so stable.

    Have a look at ice ages. A very small perturbation causes a very large response. This suggests there must be very little damping and a considerable tendency to instability, no ?

    And as I pointed out earlier, there are events in the deep past (snowball earth, PETM) which demonstrate the potential for runaway feedback way beyond these.

    How can you explain any of this if there are no amplifying effects to forcings such as orbital changes, insolation, or specifically, CO2 ?

    Neal #363 Yes, realise that but for the purposes of this discussion it’s near enough to demonstrate the negative feedback and it would I think still be 4th order even taking into account albedo & greenhouse effects ?

  6. 406

    To BPL of #391: You say, “Transporation can be fueled by biofuels or can be electric. You don’t need fossil fuels at all. Don’t confuse “what is presently used” with “the only thing that can be used.””

    Open minds are necessary, but thinking is still required. Biofuels are probably going to come up short if we do not change the way we do transportation. Ultimately, biofuels are going to come into conflict with the need for food in the world.

    But really BPL, you can not still think that electricity is a practical way to eliminate fossil fuels! Of course you are going to say ? that wind, solar etc. are going to make this true. But think about the actual reality of how and when we might get there. Flawed thinking seems to have taken over. Electric power is a deceptive illusion.

    One must logically consider the incremental consequence of using electricity for propelling vehicles, or any use of electricity for that matter. I think that as long as there is a coal fired power plant connected to a grid that ties to the incremental electric power user, the consequence of that use is burning of coal.

    Neither does the expansion of renewables tie to incremental power use. Adding a renewable source to the grid cuts coal use. But it is a separate act to add an electric load. Think about this separately: What if I do not add this new load? The answer is: You will not cause burning of coal.

    So go on to the next step: A real way to cut the coal usage is to cut electric energy use. The myth of electric cars is that you can have high energy use if it is from electricity, but since it has only the opposite effect, this is disastrous thinking.

  7. 407
    Neal J. King says:

    #393, BPL:

    It didn’t occur to me to run the example, as I was more interested in proving mathematically that it would be not exceed a limit.

    However, it’s just as easy to run on Excel. But I think you modified one of my equations.

    The point remains: You can have positive feedback without the system going “over the top”.

  8. 408
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #314, Jack, I think you’re right about

    “I don’t think most people know enough about science to understand what its motivating principles might be…the lay public is, for the most part, scientifically illiterate. Therefore, even the best-formulated scientific explanations are, to a large extent, going to fall on deaf ears.”

    However, I want my property tax money back — the funds I’ve spent educating those scientifically illiterate high-schoolers and graduates. If there is anyone out there who’s reading this and they know next to nada about climate change and other pertinent science topics, I think you ought to pay back the school system for not paying attention in science class, dozing off, skipping classes to be with your girl or boy friend.

    Texas students are exempt since they get bogus science; accurate science is not allowed to be taught in Texas. So the blame passed on to the Texas Board of Education, which needs to refund those property taxes money to me PRONTO for failing in their job and obstructing education! (I actually wrote a letter to them — to no avail, I suppose.)

  9. 409
    Norman says:

    “Response: You are just passing the buck. Why did cloud cover change then? – gavin]”

    Not passing the buck Sir. I could not explain to you why the cloud cover in the Tropics is decreasing at this time. You are a highly educated climatologist that has studied climate at a high level. You could probably explain the reason in terms of GW gases. You may not have time to individually educate each person who posts on your website, so I will continue to do research to see if I can find the reason for this loss of cloud cover.

    Here is another website that really gets to the heart of the cloud cover issue and its effect on climate. Much more than GW gases.

    http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/cloudiness.htm

    I Thank you Gavin for taking the time to respond to my post.

  10. 410
    flxible says:

    Norman@404
    As Gavin points out, you can’t pull a piece of the puzzle out of the complete jigsaw and say that IT is the picture, clouds in one area as well as any number of other things may have a good correlation to temperatures, which says nothing about how the system works or the direct cause of a temperature increase or lack of increase. Might be a close correlation between the greater temperature increase in the north and how often I pee out in the garden, but it’s certainly the case in western Canada that the more cloud there is this time of year, the warmer it is.

  11. 411
    flxible says:

    Norman!! You’re claiming that the theories of an economist who claims “The climate models are probably just worthless and should be scrapped. The ones that ventured to provide validation by carrying out backcasts failed miserably” can provide you with valid information about the nuts and bolts of how climate works?

    I suggest you click into the “Start Here” link up top and start reading at the beginning. Or see here for cloud/water vapor discussion

  12. 412
    Rod B says:

    Lawrence McLean (375), others might have better answers (and likely already have…) but as I recall rock is far and away the largest and the greatest potential store of CO2. It also recycles little. Problem it is very very very slooooooww — absorption (not chemically correct term but sufficient) measured in centuries at the bare minimum.

  13. 413
    Hank Roberts says:

    Norman, he’s an economist. He’s wrong about the models being “tweaked” with incorrect information. His website pages disagree with most climate science, are just assertions without cites to sources, and he’s never had anything published about climate. Why, do you suppose?
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22thayer+watkins%22

  14. 414
    J. Bob says:

    Norman, Thank you. The one thing I like about http://www.rimfrost.no/ is they also give the references (i.e. Uppsala – data from SMHI, 1722-2010). You can also download the raw data from these stations, paste them in a spreadsheet, and do a fair amount of analysis. My interest is looking at long term temperature data, and comparing it to present.

  15. 415
    Brian Dodge says:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/105/45/17295.full
    “Natural carbonation of peridotite in the Samail ophiolite, an uplifted slice of oceanic crust and upper mantle in the Sultanate of Oman, is surprisingly rapid. Carbonate veins in mantle peridotite in Oman have an average 14C age of ≈26,000 years, and are not 30–95 million years old as previously believed.”

    “Are you sure you, a control systems engineer, aren’t familiar with it?” Bhopal; damn those nonlinear complex multiple feedback loop systems.

  16. 416
    Notrman says:

    410flxible says:
    16 March 2010 at 3:56 PM
    Norman@404
    “As Gavin points out, you can’t pull a piece of the puzzle out of the complete jigsaw and say that IT is the picture, clouds in one area as well as any number of other things may have a good correlation to temperatures, which says nothing about how the system works or the direct cause of a temperature increase or lack of increase. Might be a close correlation between the greater temperature increase in the north and how often I pee out in the garden, but it’s certainly the case in western Canada that the more cloud there is this time of year, the warmer it is.”

    I like your sense of humor. I could not explain why tropical cloud cover has decreased but I could easily explain why that would cause warming. The type of clouds are the thick heavy cumulus. The albedo is very high (similar to fresh snow) so most the solar radiation is returning back to the void without the chance to warm the ground and become longwave radiation. Less of these clouds means more energy gets through which heats the ground and ocean and increases temperature. I think the connection here is considerably stronger than your choice of urination spots.

    From my reading, the cause for an Ice Age is a negative feedback with the high albedo of ice and snow, they reflect so much energy that the air can’t warm up enough to melt the ice even in summer months. I really can’t grasp why clouds would not act in similar fashion. Thick heavy clouds reflect most the solar radiation, the ground does not warm as much and you get cooling (at least in the summer when the daylight is much longer than night…nightime clouds have the warming effect. Snow and ice are also act like greenhouses for the water and ground below them. The ice reflects most the solar energy but the water under the ice stay above freezing as the ice prevents the energy from the water from leaving (insulation and radiative barrier).

  17. 417
    Notrman says:

    411flxible says:
    16 March 2010 at 4:07 PM

    “I suggest you click into the “Start Here” link up top and start reading at the beginning. Or see here for cloud/water vapor discussion”

    I did as you suggested. I looked at some of the starter material (most of which I have read before). I looked at the page with forcing agents but they did not have clouds. I looked at the Earth’s radiation budget and clouds and aerosols reflect some 70 watts/m^2 into space. The figure for carbon dioxide forcing is a few watts/m^2. Can you see that if you increase the thick clouds a little you will considerably swamp the carbon dioxide forcing?

    Here is one you probably know about but whoever this skeptic is they do a lot of mathematical calculations.

    http://www.junkscience.com/Greenhouse/What_Watt.html

    [Response: If you are blindly impressed by math, then you need to read Tamino’s take on such things: “One is tempted to be amazed how often such arguments are made about serious issues.”–eric]

  18. 418
    Notrman says:

    414J. Bob says:
    16 March 2010 at 5:32 PM

    Thanks for all the great links. I am very interested in the Climate debate and am doing a crash course to learn about it. I did take a Meterology course in College but my memory has faded on the forces that run the system.

  19. 419
    Notrman says:

    413Hank Roberts says:
    16 March 2010 at 5:02 PM

    Maybe the economist does not know enough about climatology, how about this man. His credentials seem very good and he has had peer reviewed articles on climate. Check out what he thinks about Climate Models.

    http://www.climate4you.com/

  20. 420
    Hank Roberts says:

    Who’s this “Notrman” — typo or parody?

    > the cause for an Ice Age is a negative feedback with the high albedo
    What source are you relying on to believe in this single cause?
    What actual feedback of what initial forcing do they tell you happened?
    Have you looked at any of the science first-hand? How about just since 2007?
    What do you see here besides what you think is “the cause” — much?
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=%22ice+age%22+albedo&as_sdt=2001&as_ylo=2007&as_vis=1

  21. 421
    Septic Matthew says:

    406, Jim Bullis: Ultimately, biofuels are going to come into conflict with the need for food in the world.

    This is not yet known. It could be that biofuels will come from salt-tolerant plants, including algae, grown in areas that now have no agriculture.

  22. 422
    Septic Matthew says:

    396, BartonPaulLevenson: Norman (338): it could be an exaggerated claim for a few wealthy investors to reap billions with carbon taxes and for the One World Government people to get their dream fufilled.
    &&&&
    BPL: Not to mention the black helicopter people. And the Jews. Controlled, of course, by the Vatican, through the Trilateral Commission.

    Some day, AGW believers are going to have to come to grips with the fact that large amounts of money will change hands, and the recipients of that money are now lobbying hard to get it. The idea that the only profits to be made are in fossil fuels is passe. Not a lot of AGW proponents are “one world government” types or Marxists, but some are, and a lot of the demonstrators at Copenhagen were.

  23. 423
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also, Norman, Google would like to be your friend.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=climate+clouds
    Some clouds warm; some clouds cool. You need to understand both effects.

  24. 424
    Hank Roberts says:

    > SM
    > believers are going to have to come to grips with the fact

    Well duh. Nice of you to insult the people here as “AGW believers” then inform us of this obvious fact.

    Clue: not all that many people in the world are either scientists or even scientifically educated.

    Most of the people in the world still have basically a 16th-Century view of how the world works.

    Give them information, they think of politics, money, and personal advantage.

    Work with it. It’s the only world we have.

    How _else_ do you think we expect people to behave.

    Good grief, man, we’ve been living with people all our lives who don’t have a clue about science, most of us starting with getting roughed up on the playground in gradeschool by the worst of them.

    Now we’re getting roughed up by professionals like Morano.

    Same deal, same understanding of the world, same attitude.

    You think we don’t _know_ about this?

    Which planet, again, are you from?

  25. 425
    Norman says:

    423Hank Roberts says:
    16 March 2010 at 9:08 PM
    “Also, Norman, Google would like to be your friend.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=climate+clouds
    Some clouds warm; some clouds cool. You need to understand both effects.”

    I looked at the graphs on this website, shows fairly clearly that thick low clouds create cooling effect at least near the tropics.

    http://www.climate4you.com/ClimateAndClouds.htm

    Mr. Roberts, This may be a stupid question but others may have it as well and your answer will help them out as well as me. I went to the start here part of this website to get the general infromation you use. I am confused by the Energy Balance Diagram of Earth’s energy (What Factors Determine Earth’s Climate). It has the Solar radiation coming in 342 Watts/m^2, 77 are reflected 168 end up being absorbed by Earth but then the Earth radiates 390? How does the surface radiate far more Watts/m^2 than it receives? And how does the greenhouse gases radiate back 324 watts/m^2? I really do not understand the energy balance of this diagram and would hope you can let me know what is going on. I just don’t see how greenhouse gases could send back this much energy. The way I have understood it, if the atmosphere was completely saturated with GHG it could only send back 50% and the rest would go into space as the radiation it reemits would go in all 360 degree directions. You are most correct!! There are a lot of concepts and ideas I do not fully understand!

    [Response: Google is all very well, but how about starting with a basic text? I particularly like G. Philander’s little book, Is the Temperature Rising?. A quick read, but quite thorough and the appendices give some of the details you are looking for. I hope that helps. -eric]

  26. 426
    RaymondT says:

    Thanks for your reply to my message (#350). In your reply” The drivers of the drought appear to be the increase in aerosol emissions in the Northern Hemisphere, which affected sea surface temperatures and caused the tropical rain bands in Africa to move south. ” you did not specify how the temperature was affected (increase or decrease ?). I assume it was a decrease in the temperature of the North Atlantic based on the presentation by Mojib Latif at the WCC3 and on a lecture by Jim Hurrell. According to climatologists, the cooling (stable temperatures) of the 1950 to 1970 period would have been due in part to the reflective properties of the aerosols whereas the global warming of the 70’s would have been accelerated by the partial removal of the aerosols (and therefore a reduction of the reflection of the SW radiation) due to the scrubbing of the SO2. The driest years in the Sahel were in the 1980 to 1985 period when the aerosols would have been reduced. So how could the aerosols have cooled the atlantic according to your theory during this latter period ? There seems to be a contradiction here. Please clarify.

  27. 427
    ccpo says:

    100 Michael,
    I would rather say that 78 ccpo confuse environmental problems with scientific theories. People at this site tend to see climate change as a theory (either true or false). This binary approach is problematic since climate change is very broad and complex: Some claims are true whereas others are false and others are too uncertain to know much about. yes, I would agree that 78 ccpo takes an extreme position because of that, it is far too simplistic.

    Climate change as environmental problems. that is how I interpret Oakwood since he talks about science, sustainability and equality. It ir rather easy to make a case that world poverty is a more pressing problem than climate change. To take away such important “by definition” of AGW is silly.

    Comment by Andreas Bjurström — 14 March 2010 @ 1:16 PM

    I am confusing nothing. I responded to specific points. You are very much broadening the discussion. As to AGW being a yes or no issue, that is, again, you. i said no such thing. You are confusing, however, the bases of AGW with individual issues within AGW. This is not a useful, nor helpful, nor particularly honest thing to do. AGW is a fact on the basis of the basic science. Some discreet points need further research, but that is like saying the ocean is salty, wet and full of life and we need more research to determine exactly what life forms live there.

    Cheers

  28. 428
    ccpo says:

    What is amazing is how hard it is to shake the fixed assumptions surrounding the car, which seem to be your basis of thinking. As long as it has to be a personal fashion statement, as our thinking have been molded to expect, there will be not much progress.

    Comment by Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. — 16 March 2010 @ 2:46 PM

    You seem to like making assumptions. My problem with the car has to do with depleting resources, embedded energy, efficiency, the physical structure of society, Liebig’s Minimum, etc.

    The car is a bad idea whose time is done.

    Cheers

  29. 429
    Hank Roberts says:

    > [ … G. Philander’s little book, Is the Temperature Rising?. A quick read, but quite thorough and the appendices give some of the details you are looking for. I hope that helps. -eric]

    Impressive (you can view many of the pages online, a _lot_ of appendices).
    It’s available for as little as $4 used, including the cost of shipping!

    Eric, that might be worth adding to the StartHere references as a good deal.

  30. 430

    412 Rod B

    I continue to wonder about the rate of CO2 take-up and “sequestration” that comes when calcite shelled creatures grow. This question never seems to get addressed in a way that is satisfying to me. The growth rate of some of these is greatly increased in warmer waters, and this looks like something that could have an effect in tens of years if waters warm as we think they will.

    I do not think that such things are in the models, but they could have a meaningful effect in removing CO2, though probably it would work best if the rate of producing CO2 was reduced at the same time.

    I am interested in ways that the drastic predictions might reasonably be modified, if at all possible. Then there could be a reasonable chance for reasonable people to catch up with the problem.

  31. 431
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, Norman, you might want to look at this list and check it out a bit.
    Anything you find that’s climatology you can paste into Google Scholar, probably see at least the abstract, the number of citing papers, and possibly the references. What’s his area of expertise, do you think, from this list?
    http://www.climate4you.com/Text/BIBLIOGRAPHY%20OLE%20HUMLUM.pdf

  32. 432
    Hank Roberts says:

    PPS for Norman:
    Animation, clouds and net radiation over several years, here:
    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/GlobalMaps/view.php?d1=CERES_NETFLUX_M&d2=MODAL2_M_CLD_FR#

  33. 433
    Bella Green says:

    Re: BPL at 396

    Dude, you forgot about the Illuminati! Don’t sit with your back to the door…

    Gavin et al, thanks very much for all your hard work and very real courage.

  34. 434
    Kris says:

    #396, BPL: To elaborate on the point made by #422 above: Please google who owns Chicago Carbon Exchange. Then you are free to prove to me that one of the world’s largest financial institutions is in this business not because of money, but something else. I’m all ears.

  35. 435
    Ray Ladbury says:

    netdr,
    You are looking at general principles you learned in an electronics class, not at physics. There are many systems that have positive feedback, but are stable. Why not actually look at the physics–namely what the feedbacks are and why they are limited. Ultimately, the biggest feedback is thermal radiation. Eventually any body will heat to the point where energy-out equals energy-in. The only question is what temperature that occurs at. Look at the physics rather than your undergrad electronics notes.

  36. 436

    Jim Bullis @ 402:

    My interest in automobiles is because I have found that it is possible to build cars that use about about a tenth as much energy to move fast on roads we now have. This would not be a game changer; it would be a whole new game. Trucks might be able to get almost this percent reduction

    Do you have an actual working vehicle?

    Because if you don’t, you’re several steps behind people who make much of their own electricity and drive vehicles which operate on it.

  37. 437
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kris@434
    So by your logic, we should all follow the Unabomber’s example and become subsistence farmers since every business is in it for the money? Frigging brilliant.

    Now perhaps we can tap into your vast conspiratorial knowledge and you can tell us how this is going to somehow benefit the scientists who are providing all the mountains of evidence that you choose to ignore. And then maybe you can tell us where the National Academies and all the scientific professional societies fit it, since they’ve endorsed the IPCC conclusions and most of them stand to be hurt by emphasis on climate science. Do tell. We’d love to hear more.

  38. 438

    OF COURSE big sums of money are going to change hands as we transition to a sustainable energy economy. OF COURSE billionares will be made.

    It’s going to happen in the context of a market economy. That’s the way a market economy is supposed to function–people innovate in hopes of really big payouts.

    It’s crazy how folks (you can fill in names here, I’m sure!) who, on the one hand, tout (and I mean that verb with the most denigratory way possible) the virtues of the free market, will insist on the other that people making money on sustainable energy or (especially) carbon markets is evidence of a terrible, sinister conspiracy.

    Making money is what markets are about. Can’t be much more straightforward than that.

  39. 439
    Kris says:

    #437, Ray: The scientific case for AGW stands on its own. And no, I don’t suggest that CCX shareholders finance the scientists under the table.

    However: the people here like to paint a simplified image of a struggle between the scientists who strive for truth and deniers funded by the industry (which seeks to discredit the truth to safeguard its own profits). This is, to an extent, correct. But, it overlooks the existence of a THIRD fraction, which seeks to capitalize on AGW. These are: politicians, ecological activists and financial circles. This is a fact.

    Now, here comes my own conspiracy theory: these circles are behind the most exaggerated claims of danger due to AGW. Take, for example, the “glaciers gone by 2035” claim. It was sourced from a non-scientific literature produced by an ecological organization (WWF) and sanctioned by a political organization (IPCC). When it was discredited, it backfired at the scientists who had nothing to do with it.

    So my view is that the science is caught between anvil and the hammer. And most people here are so preoccupied with the hammer (oil industry), that they refuse to see the anvil.

    You are welcome to debunk my assertions.

  40. 440
    Didactylos says:

    Norman:

    If clouds provide a negative (or positive) forcing or feedback which will magically counter (or explain) climate change – why haven’t we observed this?

    To have the result you hope, the effect would have to be very large. Very large effects are easy to detect.

    It’s good to pass theories like this past a reality filter before getting excited.

    As for your confusion about the energy balance diagram – you will need a calculator. Add together all the terms at the top of the atmosphere, and add together all the fluxes at the earth level. You will find that both balance out to zero.

    Some of the detail in the middle is quite confusing. It isn’t the clearest diagram I have seen, but it is rare in that it gives actual figures for energy transfers. Now, this is the tricky bit – even though all the terms must remain totalling zero, it is possible for individual terms to increase when you alter things like the greenhouse gas concentration. So, back radiation *and* surface radiation increase, and balance out. However, higher surface radiation can only occur if the actual surface temperature is higher.

    You can confirm where the back radiation figure comes from by adding together all the fluxes ending in the atmosphere. It all adds up! 67+24+78+390-235=324.

    And that’s the greenhouse effect, or at least my puny attempt at explaining it.

  41. 441

    Norman (#325)–

    I think that confusion around the energy budget diagrams is pretty widespread–and I say “diagrams” because there are different (and mutually inconsistent versions) around. My understanding is that the science here is not “settled” in all its detail yet, by any means.

    However, that’s not to say that the diagrams are without value.

    In the case of your specific question, the issue is (I think–again, I’m not a scientist!) that the diagram numbers reflect energy “transactions” all through the atmosphere. If we imagine (incorrectly but maybe helpfully) a quantum of energy entering the atmosphere, we can follow it being absorbed by the ground, re-emitted into the atmosphere, and experiencing several such interactions before finally escaping to space.

    There are several ways in which we can “balance” these transactions. We can balance them at the top of the atmosphere (“TOA”): quanta in = quanta out. Actually, right now, there is a slight imbalance since the system is in process of warming, but we can include the warming as a “balance sheet” item. If you look at the diagram, you can see that TOA “balances.”

    We should also be able to see that the surface budget balances–energy received from direct absorption and from atmospheric re-emission = energy reflected, energy lost via evapo-transpiration, and energy re-emitted to the atmosphere. That means that the earth doesn’t “radiate more than it receives.” I couldn’t access the diagram–server busy, I guess–but if you total direct and atmospheric sources, you’ll find it balances out to 400-some watts/m2 in and out.

    What’s confusing is the atmospheric interchanges. In the past I’ve compared it to an apartment lease shared by several roommates who owe each other varying sums: the money spent on rent is fixed, but as the roommates settle all their various debts to each around the rental payments, you end up with a much larger dollar figure to account for all those transactions.

    The statement about the “saturation” is wrong, too, as I understand it–because:

    1) the atmosphere isn’t “saturated”, and
    2) “saturation” doesn’t mean that increased absorption is impossible. This, because the atmosphere doesn’t act like a single unitary slab; rather it must be modeled in multiple layers. For detail, see Spencer Weart’s “Discovery of Global Warming,” or the post “A Saturated Gassy Argument” on this site.

    Hope this helps more than it confuses!

  42. 442
    J. Bob says:

    #425 Norman, Kietl & Trenbrth from the NCAR Boulder CO., have a good short summary on the Earth’s energy balance, and a lot of references: http://wattsupwiththat.com/ .

  43. 443
    SecularAnimist says:

    Kris wrote: “Then you are free to prove to me that one of the world’s largest financial institutions is in this business not because of money, but something else.”

    There is most certainly a lot of money to be made by those who step forward with solutions to the AGW problem — just as there has always been money to be made by those who have the foresight, courage, innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to come up with solutions to any challenge or need facing society.

    And your problem with that is … what, exactly?

  44. 444
    Kris says:

    #443, SecularAnimist: And your problem with that is … what, exactly?

    That said financial institutions are not interested in developing CO2-neutral technology, but only in emission trading. I have yet to see any solid proof that cap-and-trade would generate measurable reductions in CO2 emissions (hence, it is not certain to solve the problem). It is however certain to generate rampant possibilities for financial speculations.

    Case in point: the EU ETS system is expected to start to include airlines from 2012 on. Airplanes emit CO2, so this seems logical. But remember, that such system is supposed to provide financial advantage to “clear” alternatives. However, you cannot really make a nuclear-powered airplane (well, technically you can, but it is not the best idea) so you can only push for marginal CO2 reductions (which can be quickly compensated by the increase in number of flights anyway). At the same time, the price increase due to CO2 credits will not be big enough to change economics of air travel [1] (i.e. it will not force me to take the train instead). So, we get all the cost of ETS and (almost) no CO2 reduction.

    [1] http://www.envirovaluation.org/index.php/2010/02/17/the-economics-of-co2-emissions-trading-for-aviation

  45. 445
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 442 J. Bob says: 17 March 2010 at 9:20 AM
    > #425 Norman, Kietl & Trenbrth from the NCAR Boulder CO., have a
    > good short summary on the Earth’s energy balance, and a lot of references:

    ALMOST TRUE, except for getting the names wrong

    > … wattsupwiththat.com/ .

    WHOAH! Pretty amazing misdirection by J.Bob.

    The real information is available.
    You can look it up.

    You need to know how to spell it (and know not to trust J.Bob’s directions).

    http://chriscolose.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/an-update-to-kiehl-and-trenberth-1997/
    http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/cas/Trenberth/Presentations/CC07_UWis.pdf
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;296/5576/2095a

  46. 446

    Norman (425): How does the surface radiate far more Watts/m^2 than it receives?

    BPL: It doesn’t. It doesn’t just get sunlight, it also gets back-radiation from the atmosphere. Those are the heating effects. It cools by conduction, convection, evapotranspiration, and radiation. The two effect, cooling and heating, are very close to equal except over very long time periods.

  47. 447
    Nick Gotts says:

    By Kris’s logic, the Allies should most certainly not have fought WWII, because quite a number of firms made a good deal of money producing the armaments allowing them to do so.

  48. 448
    Nick Gotts says:

    But, it overlooks the existence of a THIRD fraction, which seeks to capitalize on AGW. These are: politicians, ecological activists and financial circles. This is a fact.

    Politicians generally dislike telling the people who elect them uncomfortable truths – such as, that they will have to change their behaviour to avoid the likelihood of long-term disaster; the idea that they need AGW to justify increases in state power is ludicrous – terrorism suffices. As for ecological activists – sure they “seek to capitalize” – in the sense that the science indicates quite clearly that the concerns they have been expressing for decades are, in fact, justified. They have no need to distort the science as denialists do, although some may do so, accidentally or deliberately. But this rebounds on them as well as scientists in the case of the WWF-sourced error. Nor do financial circles have any need to do so – where we do need to be concerned is that they may push for those mitigation measures that will most benefit them specifically – and this is also true of specific industries. The situation is closely parallel to that in the run-up to WWII: you would have been bleating that leftists, anti-appeasement politicians and arms manufacturers were behind the most exaggerated warnings about Nazi Germany – as indeed, your fellow right-wingers were mostly busy doing at the time.

    Now, here comes my own conspiracy theory: these circles are behind the most exaggerated claims of danger due to AGW. Take, for example, the “glaciers gone by 2035″ claim. It was sourced from a non-scientific literature produced by an ecological organization (WWF) and sanctioned by a political organization (IPCC). – Kris

    It was a single error that should have been caught – but error happens. You produce not the slightest reason to believe that the WWF, let alone the IPCC, intended to mislead anyone – note that it did not appear in the summary for policymakers, nor was its inclusion in the body of the report in any sense a political decision. The evidence that industry-funded denialists do intend to mislead, on the other hand, is overwhelming.

    In conclusion, your conspiracy theory is as daft as those of the 9-11 truthers and tea-bagger birthers.

  49. 449
    Hank Roberts says:

    (PS, the third link I posted above is from a 2002 Science article that ends with this):

    > … there is a planned gap in the radiation time series between
    > the end of the NASA Aqua research mission in 2008 and the restart
    > of the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)
    > weather system in 2012. Until a continuous climate observing system is
    > established, both climate models and observations will remain uncertain.

    Anyone familiar with the actual satellite coverage for the radiation time series? Did that gap actually happen? What’s up there and working now?

  50. 450

    Hank, I don’t know about the time series, but AQUA seems to be going OK. At least, this page seems fairly up to date:

    http://aqua.nasa.gov/