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Filed under: — stefan @ 4 May 2010

The new novel Solar by Ian McEwan, Britain’s “national author” (as many call him) tackles the issue of climate change. I should perhaps start my review with a disclosure: I’m a long-standing fan of McEwan and have read all of his novels, and I am also mentioned in the acknowledgements of Solar. I met McEwan in Potsdam and we had some correspondence while he wrote his novel. Our recent book The Climate Crisis quotes a page of McEwan as its Epilogue. And of course I’m not a literature critic but a scientist. So don’t expect a detached professional review.

In interviews McEwan describes his difficulties in approaching the topic of climate change: “I couldn’t quite see how a novel would work without falling flat with moral intent.”

One solution is that he makes his protagonist who tries to “save the world”, the Nobel laureate physicist Michael Beard, thoroughly pathetic and unlikeable. (Actually quite unlike any scientist I know, but certainly less boring than us at Realclimate.) The only redeeming feature of Beard is his sarcastic humor. When his business partner is worried that claims of global warming having stopped will ruin their grand solar energy scheme, Beard (after expertly refuting the “no warming since 1998” myth) retorts:

Here’s the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Even as we speak, the inhabitants of the island of Carteret in the South Pacific are being evacuated because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. Malarial mosquitoes are advancing northwards across Europe… Toby, listen. It’s a catastrophe. Relax!

This is McEwan’s funniest book. The humour in it is another way around the moral gravity of the subject. In an interview he said:

The thing that would have killed the book for me, I’m sure, is if I’d taken up any sort of moral position, I needed a get-out clause. And the get-out clause is, this is an investigation of human nature, with some of the latitude thrown in by comedy.

Half-way through the novel Beard gives a riveting speech on climate change to an auditorium full of pension-fund managers (representing 400 billion dollars of investments) – a speech that I’d be almost tempted to steal and use verbatim myself at some occasion. But what could have been tedious – a whole lecture embedded in a novel – is turned into a hilarious scene where Beard is engaged in a losing battle with his bowels, trying to continue speaking while swallowing down “a fishy reflux rising from his gorge, like salted anchovies, with a dash of bile”.

McEwan showing off that he can write such a speech better than a scientist is reminiscent of his novel Enduring Love, to which he appended an entire scientific paper about a psychological disorder (De Clerambault’s Syndrome) that allegedly inspired the book. Later he admitted this “paper” was part of the fiction. He’d even submitted it to a journal, but one of the reviewers smelled a rat.

McEwan’s deep (and often playful) affinity to science is one of the hallmarks of his writing and of course one reason why I like his novels. The other is his stunning power of observation; he seems to be reading people’s minds, cutting right through their delusions to get to the deeper truths. In that, his analytic work as a writer resembles that of a scientist.

McEwan is a forceful rationalist and well-versed in science culture, and his witty observations on that are a big part of the fun of his books. In Solar, for example, he pokes some hilarious fun at the social constructivists. Beard chairs a government committee to bring more women into physics, and a social scientist on his committee introduces herself with a speech on how a particular gene is not discovered by scientists, but is rather a social construct.

Beard had heard rumours that strange ideas were commonplace among liberal arts departments. It was said that humanities students were routinely taught that science was just one more belief system, no more or less truthful than religion or astrology. He had always thought that this must be a slur against his colleagues on the arts side. The results surely spoke for themselves. Who was going to submit to a vaccine designed by a priest?

This develops into my favourite subplot. At a press conference of his committee, the journalists are “slumped over their recorders and notebooks” and “depressed by the seriousness of their assignment, its scandalous lack of controversy”, as “the whole project was lamentably worthy”. Beard makes some fairly harmless remarks about the efforts of bringing more women into physics perhaps reaching a ceiling one day, because they may have a preference for other branches of science. The social constructivist explodes (“Before I go outside to be sick, and I mean violently sick because of what I’ve just heard, I wish to announce my resignation from Professor Beard’s committee.”) Predictably, that makes the predatory journalists spring to life, and in the following McEwan spins a completely credible story how Beard’s remarks turn into a media storm where Beard’s love life is dragged into the tabloids and his “genetic determinist” views are linked to Third Reich race theories. One journalist, “more in the spirit of playful diary-page spite”, calls him a neo-Nazi.

No one took the charge seriously for a moment, but it became possible for other papers to take up the term even as they dismissed it, carefully bracketing and legalising the insult with quotation marks. Beard became the ‘neo-Nazi’ professor.

McEwan knows what he is writing about: he became subject to a media storm about his Islam-critical views a few years ago. I read Solar in February (thanks to an advance copy that the author had sent me), in parallel with the unfolding surreal, but real-world media campaign against IPCC, and found that McEwan dissects the mechanisms beautifully.

McEwan says that the idea to make a Nobel laureate the main character of his new book came to him in Potsdam, when attending the Nobel Cause Symposium organised by our institute in October 2007 (and on page 179 his hero Beard returns from a conference in Potsdam). At the time I discussed with him whether this wouldn’t be a good topic for a novel: humanity facing an existential threat that is well-understood by its scientists, but largely ignored by a population who prefers to delude itself in creative ways about the gradually unfolding disaster. McEwan responded: everything there is to say about this situation has already been said by Thomas Mann in his novel Death in Venice.

I’m glad he tackled the topic of climate change nevertheless. It’s McEwan at his best. Intelligent, funny, and full of insights. Read for yourself!

Link: Here is McEwan speaking about Solar (and about his views on climate change) in a TV interview.

726 Responses to “Solar”

  1. 251
    Ray Ladbury says:

    flxible says, “but too bad nobody wants to wrestle with the real problem in need of a solution, unsustainable population.”

    Actually, population is only about half the problem. Consumption per capita is also growing. Both are inconsistent with a sustainable economy in the long run.

    This does not mean, however, that wealth cannot grow–it just means that wealth must be driven by technological advance.

  2. 252
    Jimbo says:

    Is this coincidence?
    Ian McEwan received his MA degree in English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

    RC is the perfect place to review this piece of novel science fiction. :o)

  3. 253
    TRY says:

    Gavin says “Science works even for complex systems, despite the fact that it is harder to make ‘simple’ statements.”

    But you can’t just rephrase a claim as if it’s evidence. You stated that “science works” then mentioned gravity and the predictive power of science as it relates to gravity.

    How about a complex science example that has proven predictive power? For example – nuclear weapons modeling – I imagine these models have been proven to be at least somewhat predictive, in that there are numerous real-life explosions that can serve to both inform the models and test the models.

    As someone deeply engaged in modeling and complex science, what other examples do you know of that show predictive power?

  4. 254
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Read Burnham and Anderson on AIC. AIC is an unbiased estimator of the K-L distance. Thus, the model with minimum AIC will likely be closest to the actual model and will, so, have the greatest predictive power of any single model. B&A have shown, however, that model averaging can further increase predictive power.

  5. 255
    Jim Eager says:

    Hmm, a comment by Rattus Norvegicus in the
    Open Thread at Open Mind
    makes it clear that Richard Steckis is just regurgitating Steve Goddard from WahttheF’sUp.

  6. 256
    Ray Ladbury says:

    It appears that most if not all of your ideas attack the problem from the supply side? Any thoughts on conservation–after all every watt saved can actually save 1.5-3 watts.

    Also, you are discussing approaches that can be carried out only within national borders. What incentive would India or China have to follow suit? If all we do by decreasing our fossil fuel consumption is lower demand/price, wouldn’t that just provide incentive for others to consume fossil fuels?

    You may not like the UN, but it is at least an international body with a degree of legitimacy established over 60+ years. Would it not make more sense to use this body rather than reinvent an international body with no guarantee the result would be more palatable.

    I guess what I’m asking is how would you approach the GLOBAL portion of the problem.

  7. 257
    flxible says:

    SA – Yes, getting to that much reduced sustainable population level [including attitude changes] will include a lot of pain, but until it happens we’re left with Gilles situation, there will be no reduction of carbon use until it’s gone or not affordable for anyone. I’ve about accepted <a href=""the "natural" course of events will do what “rational” beings don’t seem to be able to. Funny how folks relate our “advances” with increased life expectancy, when the lower average way back was a function of infant and maternal mortality, and the actual life expectancy has always been about the same, if one made it past 20. And we all insist on “full measure” for us and ours.

  8. 258
    David Miller says:

    Richard Steckis said at 7 May 2010 at 12:19 PM

    The essential argument is that the heating of the Venusian atmosphere occurs through adiabatic processes and not through absorbance of IR by GHGs.

    Gavin corrected him: Since ‘adiabatic’ means without input of energy it seems a little unlikely that it is a source of Venusian heating. – gavin

    I’ll refine response that a wee bit. “adiabatic” means without change in *heat* energy. IE, no flow of heat into or out of the system. An adiabatically compressed gas will heat up, due simply to conservation of energy. Doing work on the gas warms it.

    If we had a model Venus around which we could arrange an atmosphere and then flip the gravity switch, the atmosphere would warm due to adiabatic compression, and the work done on the gas would be done by gravity.

    And, Richard, once it was compressed the heat would radiate off until it fell back into equilibrium. That would have been billions of years ago.

    Richard, if you want to stick with the mysterious “adiabatic process” you really need to define it if you want anyone here to listen. Begin by explaining how a compressed gas will continue to heat the surface (or anything else) once the pressure has stabilized, and why the atmosphere doesn’t simply cool by radiating IR. Once you’ve done that I can come up with a dozen more problems with the theory for you.

  9. 259
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: Old nuke codes. They even have predictive power when extrapolated several orders of magnitude upwards in energy. I did an internship where I used old 2-D codes to predict morphologies of craters on Jupiter’s icy satellites. Worked like a charm. Even got the pit at the center rather than the usual peak. Pays to have a smart adviser when doing an internship.

  10. 260


    It’s English, not rocket science.

    Objective economic mechanisms certainly include Austrian School (Ludwig von Mises) and components of some others.

    The Keynesian model is reliant on expansion. That combined with overuse of resources puts the model up against a wall of peak resources in relation to growth of needs. Desire complicates the issue as desire rises above needs. In this case desire can be considered a component of artificial inflation.

    Artificial inflation is the monetary value in excess of the mean/objective value in a transparent market that is inviolate of anti-trust.

    Oh, and I believe also that “The power coupling on the negative axis has been polarized. You’ll have to replace it.”

    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future –
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  11. 261
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Oh, you poor child. You are so lost. The ALR refers to the fact that the atmosphere will cool with altitude unless energy is added. As a result, there is less thermal radiation at altitude, and more energy goes into heating the atmosphere=greenhouse effect. Venus has quite a steep ALR. You’d know that if you bothered to look at my reference.

  12. 262
    John E. Pearson says:

    Jim Eager 255:

    I’ve never heard of Steve Goddard. He isn’t a scientist at least as far as I can tell. I’ve noticed that various blog scientists have recently targeted venus. These lawyers and other idiots are attempting a rewrite of a half century’s worth of atmospheric physics without actually understanding any physics. It would be funny if it wasn’t so horrific.

    [Response: Isn’t it interesting how they all discover “the venus non-CO2 effect” at about the same time, yet generations of physicists have missed it! They balance a lack of knowledge with increased audacity.–Jim]

  13. 263
    Frank Giger says:

    Ray, I don’t approach global problems because I think we should get our house in order first. Besides, China isn’t going to really reduce anything, nor is India, because we tell them to. And we have a large enough trade inbalance with China that handing over large pallets of money isn’t really going to impress them.

    CFU, you missed the point on wind farms. Not a bad idea = good idea. But wind isn’t dependable, and can’t be scaled up or down in output based on demand.

    How does that make me a “denialosaur?” (Though I admit that sounds cool.

    “As you add GHG you increase the height at which TOA radiation leaves the system.

    Therefore the radiative losses reduce.

    This causes the entire atmosphere to heat up.”

    Damn it, that was the answer I was looking for. Why was it so hard for you to spit it out?

    Btw, layers of the atmosphere:

    Btw, found a pretty cool graphic on temps by layer:

    On conservation, I am definately for it, but chose to address just one thin policy wedge – coal fired plants.

  14. 264
    Richard Steckis says:

    Ray Ladbury says:
    7 May 2010 at 5:18 PM

    “Oh, you poor child. You are so lost. The ALR refers to the fact that the atmosphere will cool with altitude unless energy is added.”

    I’ll not argue with you. I am familiar with what ALR is. Just read Motl’s analysis of the issue. The ALR only exists between the surface and the tropopause. Above that, the atmospheric pressure dictates the heat generation on Venus.

    Thats if Gavin does not pull this post for mentioning him.

    He states:

    “To summarize, the adiabatic lapse rate is a key effect that drives the temperature difference between the tropopause – many kilometers above the surface – and the surface of a planet. In fact, a pre-existing lapse rate is an essential pre-requisite for the greenhouse effect, too (without it, the absorption and emission would be balanced): the greenhouse effect may be understood as a slight change of the pre-existing lapse rate.

    The lapse rate has the capacity to add hundreds of degrees Celsius to the surface temperature of Venus, regardless of the composition of the atmosphere……”

    [Response: The lapse rate only determines the gradient – not the absolute value of the surface temperature. The absolute temperature value is driven by the greenhouse effect. Please, no more pseudo-science. – gavin]

  15. 265
    Matthew H says:

    This is OT, but can’t think of a better place to get pointed in the right direction.

    I’m looking for a career change from finance to climate science (with the idea of going back to school). Any help on where to get started – I can’t stray too far from southern CA for the time being.


    [Response: Scripps!–jim]

  16. 266
    flxible says:

    Ray Ladbury – “Actually, population is only about half the problem. Consumption per capita is also growing. Both are inconsistent with a sustainable economy in the long run.

    This does not mean, however, that wealth cannot grow–it just means that wealth must be driven by technological advance.”

    Over population and over consumption are two sides of the same coin, the coin being this planet and it’s finite resources. Wealth can only continue to grow at the expense of the planet AND the expense of the vast majority of humanity that has never, and will never, share in the wealth. It’s the “developed” worlds insistance on growth = healthy economy/society that will precipitate the resource/economic/population crash, just as it’s now preventing any real action on climate change. We wouldn’t want to shake up the global economy after all. Like FG thinking that “handing over pallets of money” is the only proposal for encouraging the developing exporters to reduce emissions, with nary a thought for reducing our consumption of imports drastically, “choosing” instead to focus on one unlikely crusade.

  17. 267
    Septic Matthew says:

    Here is an interesting item, interesting if confirmed by other analyses:

    US CO2 production has declined:

  18. 268
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Frank Giger — 7 May 2010 @ 6:36 PM:

    Regarding your comment to CFU about reliable wind power– One of the recent suggested solutions for base power is to string together very long lines of turbines with a high voltage DC grid. For example see:

    There is a link to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article in this Scientific American news item.


  19. 269
    Stephen Baines says:

    @262 JE “These lawyers and other idiots are attempting a rewrite of a half century’s worth of atmospheric physics without actually understanding any physics. It would be funny if it wasn’t so horrific.”

    What is really disheartening is that trying to steer these people right on the physics will actually be recast as some form a censorship and intolerance somewhere in the blogosphere.

  20. 270
    Frank Giger says:

    You may not realize it, but we actually agree on that score, flxible!

    The proposals at the UN are precisely the “pallets of money” solutions, which are offensive on many levels, least of all a huge “greenwashing” of emissions.

    Reducing our (and its a huge generalization) own consumerism is a domestic affair. I’m very much in favor of folks living within their means and spending much less than they make.

    Legislating what people can and can’t buy and restricting how much anyone can own isn’t workable in a free society.

    However, lots of improvements can be made on that score.

    Remember back in the ’70’s when McDonalds served their burgers in styrofoam boxes? They were really neat – open it up, pour the fries in the open half, and dig in. Horribly wasteful. Rather than castigate McDonalds and turn them into villians, some really smart guys showed them that ditching the styrofoam and adopting recycled paper boxes not only made ecological sense, but improved their bottom line considerably.

  21. 271
    Hank Roberts says:

    > If we had a model Venus around which we could arrange an
    > atmosphere and then flip the gravity switch, the atmosphere
    > would warm ….

    Already suggested in blog science; see the first hit:

  22. 272
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 232 Jaime Frontero
    (PS Steckis doesn’t have it right, as many have stated)

    There is no need for a particular boundary between phases of matter to have a greenhouse effect. A completely gaseous planet could have a greenhouse effect.

    In the most GENERAL sense, what is needed is:

    1. some impedance of heat loss from below some level(s) to space – thermal conductivity must be finite, convection must not be able to keep everything isothermal (see lapse rate, troposphere), and there must be some opacity (either via scattering or absorption or both) to radiation at some of the same frequencies that material at or below this level(s) can emit. The first two conditions are generally satisified in planetary material (thermal conduction is insignificant within the atmosphere except in the lowest ~ 1 mm against the surface and – I think maybe – on small scales around particles in the air (as in clouds); convection cannot achieve an isothermal atmosphere due to the effect of gravity via pressure); with respect to climate, the greenhouse effect refers specifically to the effect of varying the third condition (optical properties).

    2. there must be some heat supplied to this level(s) or a layer beneath it (such as via solar heating, or tidal or geothermal heating – for at least the Earth’s climate system, the first dominates so much the others can essentially be ignored), so that, in equilibrium, the temperature and/or the variation of temperature must be sufficient to drive a heat flux out to balance the heat supplied.

    In this most general sense, one could actually point to the high temperature of the lower mantle as being due to the ‘greenhouse effect’ of the overlying material, including the upper mantle – and certainly, if the overlying material were made transparent to radiation, then the ‘surface’ of the lower mantle would tend to cool down (via radiation to space) towards temperatures in the range of what are now found above the surface of the crust and ocean. But of course, the greenhouse effect generally refers to the effect of an atmosphere.

  23. 273
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis, And you chose Motl because of his astounding record of publishing papers on climate in peer-reviewed journals… Oh, wait. See, Richard, there are LOTS AND LOTS or books on climate science. This isn’t even something you have to go to a journal article for. BOOKS!

    And yet, for some reason, you choose to try to learn this stuff from blog posts by people who have never even cracked one of these books. Now why would that be, Richard? Ever wonder what else you might be wrong about?

  24. 274
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There are good reasons why nearly every human society has relied on growth (or in the cases of some Pacific islands, mass suicide). It is difficult to care for the young and the old, and to maintain productivity in an economy that is not growing. A quick look at the late Dark Ages through the Middle Ages in Europe gives some idea of the challenges. Or you can look at the economic stagnation in the Former Eastern Block today.

    Oddly, I am probably a bit more optimistic than you are about the possibility of finding a sustainable economic model, and if we can get close to 100% recycling, zero population growth and clean, sustainable energy, we might even still have economic growth with the rate dictated by advances in technology rather than increased consumption. I think it’s possible. I just don’t think we’ll get there, as human stupidity seems to be the only force we cannot conquer.

  25. 275
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger,
    The problem is that climate change is inherently a global issue. It does us no good to cut back if the BRIC countries speed ahead and spew out more CO2. Indeed, we would wind up driving a lot of business to these countries simply because the cost of doing business would be lower. On the other hand, assistance to these countries in getting off fossil fuels could take some pressure off of us and allow us to transform our infrastructure at a more reasonable pace.

    We simply cannot think only in terms only of our own nation. National sovereignty does not extend to the atmosphere. Yes, we must get our own house in order, but that doesn’t mean we can neglect the crackhouse across the street.

  26. 276
    Richard Steckis says:

    Ray Ladbury says:
    7 May 2010 at 8:37 PM

    “Steckis, And you chose Motl because of his astounding record of publishing papers on climate in peer-reviewed journals… Oh, wait. See, Richard, there are LOTS AND LOTS or books on climate science. This isn’t even something you have to go to a journal article for. BOOKS!

    And yet, for some reason, you choose to try to learn this stuff from blog posts by people who have never even cracked one of these books.”

    Motl is a Harvard Ph.D. in Physics. Are you telling me that he is incapable of understanding climate physics? I think not and his capability to rationalise the science is substantial. Of course you have fallen for the logical fallacy of the appeal to authority. Have you ever considered they might have got it wrong in the case of Venus. By the way Ray, how many climate science papers have YOU primary authored?

    As for Gavin’s comment re: pseudo-science, I guess it is only pseudo-science when it disagrees with your pre-conceived ideas about Venusian climate.

    This is my last on this topic.

  27. 277
    Edward Greisch says:

    Richard Steckis: Please go take freshman Physics.

  28. 278
    Patrick 027 says:

    … that may have been general to the point of confusion; to answer your original question directly, imagine if instead of the Earth’s surface being where it was, put more atmopshere in it’s place; that air would be warmer than otherwise because of the greenhouse effect.

    (PS if thermal conductivity were infinite, then the whole mass would be isothermal and so, whereever radiation is emitted to space, it would be emitted according to the temperature found anywhere else. The thermal conductivity of the atmosphere (Earth’s, probably most planets too, though) is so small, relative to it’s thickness, that, as implied before, essentially all heat transport through the atmosphere is accomplished by convection and radiation (with convection being less of a factor above the troposphere; convection in the atmosphere occurs where it does because, without it, radiation would drive the system towards an equilibrium that is unstable to convection), except in the lowest ~ 1 mm next to the surface (and maybe just a little bit inward and outward from particles in the air? – thought that would not tend to produce a net heat flow on larger scales). Of course, ‘thermal conduction’ among different populations of molecules sharing the same volume is important (in the vast majority of the mass of at least Earth’s atmopshere) in maintaining (quasi-)LTE – so that all the molecules can be described as having nearly the same temperature, and share the heat energy lost and gained by radiation. Conduction of heat is also relatively unimportant compared to convection in the ocean. Conduction is important within the crust because of the lack of convection and the high opacity to radiation. Conduction and convection are both important deep within the Earth.

    Regarding Venus, other planets in general: the composition and mass of the atmosphere, and the gravity of the planet, all affect the lapse rates that can be sustained by convection (this is relatively unaffected by trace gases that are not physically or chemically reacting at high rates, and except for latent heating associated with them, this is also true of sufficiently small concentrations of water vapor and particles like cloud droplets and ice crystals – thus, there are ways in which optical properties can be strongly affected while leaving the composition and some other properties relatively unchanged), and a greater mass of air allows, for the same composition, greater optical thickness, and for the same lapse rate, greater temperature change over the thickness of the atmosphere. Pressure and temperature also affect line-broadenning and line strength, which is important in determining optical properties (my understanding, though, is that these don’t provide significant climate feedbacks – they can have a strong effect on how optical thickness per unit mass changes with altitude, but the changes at a given altitude are generally much smaller with moderate changes in weather or climate, as I understand it). The effect of the greenhouse effect (LW opacity) is modulated by these things, but if the greenhouse effect goes to zero for the whole atmosphere (or the atmosphere down to some level), then the surface temperature (or temperature within the layer of air beneath the portion of atmosphere lacking LW opacity, found within the portion that can emit radiation directly to space) will approach an equilibrium temperature determined by surface (or lower layer of air) emissivity and solar heating (or in some alien worlds, stellar heating, tides, geothermal heat flux) of the whole system (because all the heat put in the system from outside or originating from within, whereever it initially goes, generally ultimately has to exit from where it can be emitted to space), so that the flux to space balances the solar (or etc.) heating.

    The greenhouse effect, combined with atmospheric circulation and heat capacity, would account for the relative lack of temperature variation on Venus’s surface. Without the greenhouse effect, all radiation emitted from the surface would escape to space, and there would be no radiation downward from the atmosphere (which transports heat horizontally and, at least on Earth, has greater heat capacity than the (non-ocean) surface relative to radiative and convective heating and cooling – I’m guessing that’s also true on Venus), and the surface temperature would vary more from daytime to nightime (and over latitude).

  29. 279
    Hank Roberts says:

    > pre-conceived ideas about Venusian climate

    Says Steckis, who has apparently bought into the “John Dodds Wobble Theory of Global Warming” — truly amazing it took so long for you to get there.

  30. 280
    Thomas says:

    Jamie @272, thanks I was about to present similar arguments, you’ve made my task easier.

    Since we are considering for simplity, 1 D models, i.e. parameters vary with altitude only, a lot of simplifications can be made. Going to a 1d model, where we neglect intertemporal and horizontal variations makes things easier -and hence allows some intuition about atmospheres to be gained. In any case our 1D model is in equilibrium, so heat is not being stored/released within the system, only trasfered vertically. The total vertical heat flux must be the total heat absorbed or generated from below. In the case of the earth or venus, this would be the time averaged solar absorbtion below the layer in question. Of course any other “source” of heat could be substituted, similar models can be used for stars, and gas giant planets etc. In any case there are two main ways to transfer heat. One is thermal radiation, from higher temperature layers to lower temperature layers. Space is simply a very cold layer with zero pressure. The other is convection/advection. If the thermal gradient exceeds the adiabatic lapse rate (determined by physical chemistry properties and gravity), convect ensues. For the relevant cases we are concerned with convection is very efficient, and the lapse rate can be considered to determine the maximum possible thermal gradient. When/where the gradient is less than this adiabatic lapse rate, then thermal radiation determines the lapse rate -it is adjusted until each layer absorbs and radiates the same amount of heat. Higher infrared opacity (or whatever frequency range the local temperature radiates in -deep within stars this might be X-rays or even gamma rays), means a given layer thermally communicates with layers closer to itself than with lower opacity. This increases the radiative lapse rate. There is no need to be thrown off by symantics about ground surfaces, or day night, or to care about the source of the thermal flux -it all works out the same.

  31. 281
    Stephen Baines says:

    @ RS “As for Gavin’s comment re: pseudo-science, I guess it is only pseudo-science when it disagrees with your pre-conceived ideas about Venusian climate.”

    If by preconceived ideas, you mean ideas conceived and tested by scientists over more than a century of prior research, I think he would agree. You, on the other hand, seemed willing to accept uncritically the statements of a blog you read only hours ago without questioning how to reconcile them with well established physical laws.

  32. 282
    Patrick 027 says:

    Steckis – bottom line, you remove the greenhouse effect on Venus, and the temperature plummets to whatever would sustain emission to space to balance solar heating (the heat capacity of the crust would add a long tail to the cooling process, but it would happen). The resulting global average temperature would actually be colder than the temperature corresponding to the global average emitted flux, because of the nonlinear relationship and the surface temperature variations (a relatively small issue on Earth for conditions as they are, but on Venus without a greenhouse effect and with it’s long diurnal period, the temperature variations whould be quite large).

    (An atmosphere can have a considerably larger heat capacity than the land surface** relative to the radiant and convective heating and cooling it experiences, and thus changes temperature on short timescales less rapidly than the land surface; the atmosphere can also transport heat horizontally. ***Radiation from the atmosphere to the surface (which would not exist without a greenhouse effect) tends to vary less than solar heating (which actually goes to zero sometimes), and this reduces the diurnal temperature range of the surface and also reduces the latitudinal surface temperature variation.)

    (Actually, the heat capacity of the surface makes the heating (convective and radiative) of the atmosphere from the surface less variable (over time, and counting ocean currents on Earth, over space as well) than solar heating of the surface, and this filters out the variability of solar heating of the surface from the heating of the atmosphere, just as variability of solar heating of the atmosphere is filtered out of the heating of the surface by the atmopshere. I am using the phrase ‘heating’ somewhat casually here; I am refering to contributions to enthalpy gains and losses).

    ** – actually, for the long day of Venus, the atmosphere might undergo siginficant temperature changes (??) were it not for horizontal motion.

    *** – this specifically requires a greenhouse based at least in part on absorption and thus emission – Earth’s greenhouse and, so far as know, Venus’s greenhouse, are based largely on that, but it is possible to have a greenhouse effect only from scattering, and in that case, the backradiation would just be reflected from the surface and wouldn’t have the same moderating effect on surface temperatures (it could have some moderating effect (such as via reduced temperature sensitivity to flux changes at higher temperatures), but it wouldn’t be as effective).

  33. 283
    Stephen Baines says:

    I’m proud to say that I count my PhD advisor, one of my post-doc advisors and my next door neighbor among the signees to the letter to Science defending climate science against McCarthyism. But, the money question is do people here think it will make a difference. Andy Revkin seems to think it sounds defensive – and that doesn’t play well generally where scientists are involved. I’m not sure I agree, but what do people here think?

  34. 284
    Chris Colose says:

    While we are talking about pseuedo-science and the greenhouse effect, the first formal, peer-reviewed reply to Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner has just become available in IJMPB at (at the bottom). Will be on various blogs soon….

  35. 285
    Patrick 027 says:

    RE 264 Steckis quoting … Motl?
    ““To summarize, the adiabatic lapse rate is a key effect that drives the temperature difference between the tropopause – many kilometers above the surface – and the surface of a planet. In fact, a pre-existing lapse rate is an essential pre-requisite for the greenhouse effect, too (without it, the absorption and emission would be balanced):”…”The lapse rate has the capacity to add hundreds of degrees Celsius to the surface temperature of Venus, regardless of the composition of the atmosphere……””

    Take away the greenhouse effect and surface cooling by radiation to space would drastically change the lapse rate, tending to remove the troposphere altogether. Tropopause level radiative forcing can be taken to be equal to surface radiative forcing when the troposphere has zero thickness. See

    HOWEVER, if it was (I wouldn’t know) Motl’s point that the radiative forcing as a function of CO2 concentration, or the same logarithmic approximation of that relationship, or the climate sensitity to forcing in terms of surface temperature, are not the same on Venus as they are on Earth, I completely agree. Different atmospheric mass and composition, vastly different amount of CO2, no ocean, slightly different gravity, etc… (in fact, as I understand it (I could be wrong), the tropopause is underneath a layer of stratosphere with significant positive lapse rate, unlike on Earth where the stratosphere ranges from nearly isothermal or cooling slowly with height to having a negative lapse rate).

    But that’s not what is implied by saying that Venus’s warmth (relative to the temperatures that would sustain radiative cooling to space to balance solar heating) is not due to the greenhouse effect.

  36. 286
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Venus
    Oh, wait, Marko over at Deep Climate mentions another likely source:
    “WUWT, and Steve Goddard explaining to all those physicists out there in the world that Venus is hot because of pressure, and pressure alone.”

  37. 287
    Jacob Mack says:

    Richard, Ray is not making the claim that he is published in climate science, nor am I for that matter, however, we do read the peer reviewerd literature and textbooks written by those who are published. Furthermore, the basic physics of greenhouse gases is 100% induspitable independent of other less known factors. Now, I am not going to say that Motl is not a PHD or that his knowledge of physics is abysmal, but there are no violations of the laws of physics in AGW as it is described by physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and various climate modelers within climatology. Do you see any violations? What aspect of physics or from Motl’s papers do you see a list of strong evidence to counter all of the research within climate physics on this matter? What analysis of the statistics in this particular discussion do you have a problem with? I do read many of your other posts, of course, however, what here in way of repeatable and generally replicated evidence which contradicts what we who accept the science on AGW do not see? I promise you to look through Motl’s claims. If there exists writings of his I will find them, but I as of yet to see any hard evidence and repeatable data from the very few contrarian working physicists.

  38. 288
    Jacob Mack says:

    And by the way Harvard is just a Univesity like any other, where people go to class and listen to the professor speah, take notes, study, pass or fail just like any other student… not that it is not a good school in general, or for specific subject matter, but Harvard Physics is not better than say Purchase College physics…

  39. 289
    Hugh Laue says:

    #262 #286 Steven Goddard is the one who embarrassed himself and Watts (actually no – denialists have no sense of shame)by hypothesizing that it could snow CO2 at the Anarctic. Took them quite a while to realise they didn’t understand partial vapour pressure. And then, when they finally got a glimmer of understanding they all congratulated each other as to how one could learn science on blogs – as if it was some sort of amazing advance in scientific understanding. Well, I guess it was for them. Incredible. Now pressure on Venus explains warming? Incredible!

  40. 290

    Gavin et al.: the WUWT thing about Venusian pressure may be gibberish, but it’s a recurrent meme. An article about why higher pressure cannot account for the Venusian climate would be good as a reference. Not everyone out there understands the basics of thermodynamics and atmosphere physics, and this sort of con is easy to pull off (let’s see if my post on their site gets through the censors …).

  41. 291
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Andy Revkin seems to think it sounds defensive ”

    But complaints of “stop calling us deniers” isn’t???

    How about complaints of “we would be submitting papers but you’ll just refuse them”?

    Then again, the double standard is the standard for denialism.

  42. 292
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Rather than castigate McDonalds and turn them into villians, some really smart guys showed them that ditching the styrofoam and adopting recycled paper boxes not only made ecological sense, but improved their bottom line considerably.”

    So tell us Frankie (do you remember me?): how do we do this with oil companies?

    How about coal companies?

    Remember: if they convert to renewables, they will be lumped with Al Gore, who is wrong on AGW because he has a company that invests in renewable energies.

    So how do we do that?

    McDonalds sold food. Not styrofoam boxes.

    How do we do the same for the oil companies?

  43. 293
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Over population and over consumption are two sides of the same coin”

    Nope, they are loosely connected.

    Consumption in the African Continent is lower than the US despite having more people (nearly four times).

    Only when other things are kept constant is consumption and population linked as closely as you suggest.

  44. 294
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Btw, layers of the atmosphere:

    Have nothing to do with greenhouse gasses or the warming effect of them on a gaseous atmosphere.

    Therefore your insertion of “boundaries” in a discussion of the above (given you meant the list above) was an irrelevancy. That you included such an irrelevancy in your position where you had done NO CALCULATION but merely used your “intuition” and that intuition had you include information that was irrelevant (and unused) shows that your intuition was unable to be used to draw conclusions.

    “Damn it, that was the answer I was looking for. Why was it so hard for you to spit it out?”

    Uh, no, that was the suppostion you were trying to disprove with your “surely it would be cooling quicker”.

    Such an answer was readily available in ANY source book on climate.

    Try the Start Here button above.

    Or (as I gave you earlier)

    Or as many others have given and shown in the past to others:

    The reason why you didn’t get that answer was because you had been given it a thousand times before, had every opportunity to find out yourself and, apparently, didn’t even bother to look.

    Which then leads me to wonder how you can have any position on AGW when you haven’t done the first thing in educating yourself about it.

    In fact, how can your intuition be thought by you to have any relevancy in what’s going on in the climate when you haven’t read any information to cast your intuition in relevant thought modes?

    A very Palian model of thought.

  45. 295
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “How about a complex science example that has proven predictive power?”

    F=ma has been proven by applying the Schroedinger equation and having F, m and a defined as the AVERAGE values of the system so modelled.

    QM is pretty complex.

    How about PV=nRT. It’s a complex problem of uncountable numbers of invisible particles acting unpredictably. Yet it is a predictive result.

    How about the climate models which are pretty darn accurate:

  46. 296
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “In the case of Venus, the major proportion of the extra heating is theoretically due to the adiabatic lapse rate.”

    The lapse rate is theoretically due to the power leaving the system radiatively.

  47. 297

    JF 232–no surface required; an atmosphere is all that’s needed. There is a greenhouse effect on Jupiter as well (in addition to an internal heat source).

  48. 298

    flxible: Christianity, the much more dominant belief system “underlying” the historical ills of the world, especially overpopulation.

    BPL: No, the dominant system “underlying” the historical ills of the world is arrogance, prejudice and belligerence like that you just demonstrated.

  49. 299

    FG 239: Republicans are largely silent because they’re simply shouted down or not invited into discussions to begin with by Democrats. Democrats have made climate change “their” policy bailiwick

    BPL: Because Republicans are almost all denialists, as polls show, and as we constantly hear from GOP propagandists such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, George Will, Sean Hannity, etc., and GOP politicians such as Sarah Palin, James Inhofe, Joseph Barton, etc. It’s hard for Democrats not to regard Republicans as AGW denialists considering the general GOP opposition to anything in science that disturbs them or threatens corporate profits–evolution, AGW, or the dangers of DDT, asbestos, hexavalent chromium, nuclear power, tobacco, alcohol, salt, overeating, too much TV, cars without seatbelts, or even the statement that science can’t say anything about when personhood starts in a fetus. The list is almost endless. The GOP these days has very much become the anti-science party. If that offends you as a Republican, why don’t you start telling Republican leaders that you don’t like their taking stands like that? The grassroots Republicans don’t seem to have any problem with what their leaders are saying.

  50. 300

    RS 244: Is not heating of a dense gas through friction an adiabatic process particularly if it does not involve heat transfer with the environment?

    BPL: By definition, friction IS a type of heat transfer with the environment!