The Age Of Embarrassment

Ninth of a series

I’ve been a serious skeptic since 1988, at which time I joined up with The North Texas Skeptics. It’s been a lot of fun. We looked into claims made by astrologers, graphologists, faith healers, psychics, and ultimately creationists. It has been skepticism well spent We continually found the claims of these groups to be baseless at best and fraudulent on the extreme side. Generally, rational skepticism has been based on the following:

  • You have to follow the facts.
  • Assertions made in the face of vast experience are worth a very close look.
  • Loyalty and personal bias are often the basis for false belief.
  • Verify, verify, verify.

A lot of bad science has come and gone in recorded history. The four basic elements—fire, water, earth, air—have been superseded by more useful concepts. Phlogiston turned out to be a useless idea for describing the flow of heat. N-rays turned out to be a figment of an experimenter’s expectations, and Nobel chemist Irving Langmuir figured the same thing was happening in experiments carried out at Columbia University.

More recently, some valid science has come under scrutiny. First the correlation between tobacco smoking and lung cancer was strongly denied by companies that marketed tobacco products. Executives even lied under oath at congressional hearings. Then rigorous studies demonstrated the relationship was causal. Smoking in this country decreased dramatically since, and so have new cases of lung cancer. Scientists determined that chlorinated fluorocarbons released into the atmosphere were contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer in the stratosphere, and laws were passed to restrict the use of these chemicals. There was much push back against this science—it was viewed as supporting government meddling and therefor bad science. Some members of The North Texas Skeptics were among those who spoke out against the science. Then two chemists won the Nobel prize for their studies related to the destruction of the ozone layer, and restricted use of CFCs has correlated with a healthier ozone layer.

One bit of science that has been around for decades is global warming caused by greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect in the atmosphere is likened to the way a planter’s greenhouse works. The transparent covering allows in energy from sunlight in but traps the resulting heat. Calculations projected a rise in average atmospheric and ocean temperatures, the result being melting of land ice and significant rise in ocean levels, among other consequences. Again there is vocal resistance. This resistance has come from both genuine disbelief that human activities can have a significant effect and from political resistance to any actions taken to curb the use of fossil fuels.

That brings us to the current discussion. Dan, a friend on Facebook, from time to time posts items hostile to the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW). From interchanges with Dan, I know he has a free-market bent and is a champion of personal liberties. Government action to combat AGW is anathema to Dan, and an ignorance toward some basic science teams up to make for some interesting exchanges. This is about one of them.

It kicks off with a posting by Dan. He’s talking about an opinion piece that ran in the 3 November 2013 issue of Forbes:

Blood And Gore: Making A Killing On Anti-Carbon Investment Hype

I write about aerospace, environment, energy, Second Amendment policy

Here is what Dan posted:

I guess Algor is coming out with a sequel to his “Inconvenient ‘Truth'” film.

I hope the film will answer these questions:

1. How does CO2, which is 1.4x the weight of air, get up above the Troposphere to form a greenhouse? What is its density there, given that CO2 is less than 0.04 of 1% ( = four ten-thousandths or 40 PPM) of all gases in the atmosphere?

2. If Global Warming is really happening, why have the central researchers of it (East Anglia Univ.) been caught at least three times faking the statistics?

3. If GW is really going to flood the seacoasts in another 2 years, why did Algor buy TWO ocean-side mansions, one on the East Coast and one on the West?

4. If Global warming is real, why have the purveyors of it changed their warnings from “Global Cooling” in the 70s, to “Global Warming” in the 1990s – 2010s, to “Climate Change” in the Obama years, to now, “Climate Disruption?”

5. If Global warming is real, why is one of the temperature stations atop a building near an air conditioner’s WARM air outflow, and another atop an ACTIVE volcano which spews heat and CO2 (Moana Loa).

6. Since we’re still emerging from an Ice Age, what is the PROPER temperature for the world, and how do you arrive at that number?

7. How will paying a tax which largely benefits a firm owned by Algor* save us from the alleged Global Warming? Is he going to use the money to save the world? How?

(* Gore & Blood is the only approved “Carbon Exchange” mentioned in the proposed US legislation. formerly, the Chicago Carbon Exchange was the official repository, until Barack Obama was found to have a material stake in the firm)

8. If Humans cause Global Warming, why and how are our neighboring planets warming, and how was this variable removed from your secret climate model?

That takes some digesting. I exchanged a few comments with Dan and hoped to elicit his acknowledgement he was serious, and this was not some kind of spoof. What alarmed me was a lack of knowledge and logic. I will get to some of the additional exchanges, but first the forgoing needs some analysis. Start with Dan’s point 1, if you will pardon the repetition:

1. How does CO2, which is 1.4x the weight of air, get up above the Troposphere to form a greenhouse? What is its density there, given that CO2 is less than 0.04 of 1% ( = four ten-thousandths or 40 PPM) of all gases in the atmosphere?

His first question, “How does…” is an example of begging the question. This is manifest when a question is asked, but the wording of the question presumes a premise, something the speaker wants to assert. There are two parts here.

First, asking how CO2, being denser than air, makes it into the stratosphere and beyond. The implication loaded into the question is that it does not. This is not true. The gases in the atmosphere are well mixed below 90 kilometers altitude, and that is close to the fringes of the atmosphere. The second implication is CO2 must reach into the stratosphere before it produces a greenhouse effect. There is no basis for this. In fact, CO2 close to the Earth’s surface absorbs infrared radiation as effectively, just closer to the surface. The answer to Dan’s question, “What is it’s density there…” is answered by any reference to the composition of the atmosphere. There is little variation, and the concentration of CO2 above the troposphere is still approximately 400 parts per million.

2. If Global Warming is really happening, why have the central researchers of it (East Anglia Univ.) been caught at least three times faking the statistics?

Dan is going to need to elaborate on this. Again, it’s a loaded question. The question presumes the East Anglia University researchers were caught faking the statistics.

3. If GW is really going to flood the seacoasts in another 2 years, why did Algor buy TWO ocean-side mansions, one on the East Coast and one on the West?

Really. Really? Global warming is going to flood the seacoasts in another two years? Get serious. I will address one of Dan’s concerns here. Purchasing a house on a cliff overlooking an ocean would be a safe investment. By “Algor” I presume Dan means Albert Gore, former Vice President of the United States. Al Gore is not a young man, and by the time the land ice melts and the oceans rise 200 feet, he, plus Dan and I, will be long dead.

4. If Global warming is real, why have the purveyors of it changed their warnings from “Global Cooling” in the 70s, to “Global Warming” in the 1990s – 2010s, to “Climate Change” in the Obama years, to now, “Climate Disruption?”

The science behind global warming has not changed. Based on history, the Earth is due for another ice age in the northern hemisphere in the next few thousand years. AGW is another issue, and it is AGW. Climate change will be an offshoot of AGW, and you may want to call it climate disruption if you want.

5. If Global warming is real, why is one of the temperature stations atop a building near an air conditioner’s WARM air outflow, and another atop an ACTIVE volcano which spews heat and CO2 (Moana Loa).

Dan is going to need to provide some facts to back this up. Again there is a loaded question—the presumption being that these vital measurements are made at inopportune locations. In case Dan is confused about one item, the station at Mauna Loa Observatory is a major location for taking measurements of CO2 concentration. Great care is taken to ensure that CO2 from the volcano does not contaminate the measurement. It is obvious Dan is pulling his information from unreliable sources. It would have been better had he done some on-line research before posting some of this stuff.

6. Since we’re still emerging from an Ice Age, what is the PROPER temperature for the world, and how do you arrive at that number?

Dan should have been able to answer this one for himself. The answer is there is no “proper” temperature. The Earth has, in the past, been hotter, and it has been colder. Evidence is that at one time the oceans were frozen over. That is, perhaps, why the terms climate change and climate disruption are used. We have built our cities where they are, we live where we do, and our crops flourish as they do because the global average has been stable for thousands of years. Relatively stable. People did experience the previous ice age. The problem is that some cities, Miami and New York City being two examples, were constructed very close to the level of the current ocean. Miami is already combating ocean level rise, and New York City is making preparations for ocean rise. A rise in the order of 50 feet within the next 100 years would be very disruptive. Bottom line—it would be best for world economies if the global average stayed about where it is right now.

7. How will paying a tax which largely benefits a firm owned by Algor* save us from the alleged Global Warming? Is he going to use the money to save the world? How?

Dan has me on this one. Maybe he can answer that, either in the affirmative or in the negative.

8. If Humans cause Global Warming, why and how are our neighboring planets warming, and how was this variable removed from your secret climate model?

It would be nice if I could treat this one as some kind of joke. However, Dan has refused to disavow his comments, so I must take him seriously. Venus, as is well-known, is an extreme case of greenhouse warming. The planet’s atmosphere is a different composition from the Earth’s, and it has created a furnace, compared to Earth. Also, Venus is 20 million miles closer to the sun. Mars, not so much so. It’s farther from the sun and barely has an atmosphere. If Mars is warming, Dan will need to give me some evidence.

Dan posted an additional comment:

John: You told me the Periodic Table was irrelevant. That CO2 was denser at Sea Level than the average of air. That didn’t refute my statement, only attempted to muddy it.

A balloon filled with CO2 would not rise, on Earth, correct?

I told you I’m not going ’round with you. It’s your religion and you are stuck with it. I’m sticking with facts as we know them, e.g. molecular weight of air vs CO2 means CO2 won’t rise by itself at normal conditions on Earth.

But… we both know where each other stand.

Yes, the periodic table is not relevant to this. The periodic table only associates elements according to their similar chemical characteristics, which characteristics having been determined to be predicted by quantum theory. No properties of individual elements (atoms) are involved in the greenhouse process, since only argon and helium are the atomic gases that exist in quantities in the atmosphere.

Yes, CO2 and all other gases are denser at sea level, this being due to greater atmospheric pressure at sea level (than higher up), that coupled with Boyle’s Law.

True, a balloon filled with CO2 will not rise. What does this have to do with the discussion at hand?

Dan continues to insist, in defiance of all known facts, that CO2 does not mix in the atmosphere.  CO2 is about equally represented in the stratosphere as it is at lower altitudes. Dan needs to read some basic science.

Mark, apparently a Facebook friend of Dan’s, added the following bit of wisdom:

Chemistry 101: CO2 is not a Greenhouse Gas, nor is it a “pollutant”, nor has the quantity of CO2 changed on Earth for many hundreds of millions of years. Water vapor in the atmosphere is many times (close to 100X) more capable of capturing the Sun’s ion radiation than CO2. One single volcano spews more CO2 in one day than all of the CO2 emitted by Human activities in their ENTIRE existence. Finally, it’s the weather, which is constantly changing in reaction to the Sun spot activities. That is the end of the class kiddies.

Yes, that’s weird. CO2 is a greenhouse gas due to it’s molecular structure, which causes it to absorb long wave infra red radiation. Details on request. This can get lengthy.

The quantity of CO2 has changed significantly within the past few decades. Here is the Keeling Curve, the concentration of CO2 since about 1958:

Yes, water vapor is a major greenhouse gas. Without the water vapor we presently have in the atmosphere, temperatures would be about 20C lower. The difference is that water vapor was already built in when humans first appeared, and we have done nothing to change that. Nor could we likely. Water vapor has a mechanism for removal that CO2 does not have, and that mechanism is called “rain.” Rain continually cycles water from the atmosphere back to the surface, maintaining a steady state condition, globally.

Mark further says, “One single volcano spews more CO2 in one day than all of the CO2 emitted by Human activities in their ENTIRE existence.”

No. Look at the Keeling Curve. This time period includes several major volcanic eruptions, and these do not show up on the graph. Here is another graph:

No, it is not volcanoes.

Nor is it solar activity. Here is another graph:

Mark concludes, “That is the end of the class kiddies.” Yes, it is the end of the class for Mark. I suggest somebody read a science book.

Peter is another of Dan’s friends. He posted:

This area of science is not my specialty but I would speculate that C02 is distributed in the upper atmosphere by airplanes. I know some fly as high as 60K ft. and their exhaust contains C02. The upper jet stream can carry it higher. It can account for it with all the military and commercial planes up there.

Peter, read the above. CO2 is distributed naturally.

Dan has asked me why I am not skeptical of AGW. The interchange I just analyzed illustrates why I am skeptical of assertions made against AGW. They are all of this quality. Nobody, even any serious scientists, has ever made arguments against AGW that did not have a level of prevarication or misinterpretation of the facts.

It’s up to Dan and his friends to provide some kind of realistic argument, of which the ones so far presented are not. Fetching imaginary facts out of the air will not do. It would help if these people would research the subject and verify assertions they are about to post. There seems to be little to no evidence any of them are doing that. Scientific explanations concerning the greenhouse mechanism and details of the nature of the atmosphere abound on the Internet. Even a brief check before posting would have avoided the failures manifest in these postings.

Dan, Mark, and Peter are charged with heading to a library or at least to the Internet and coming back to me with something to back up what they have posted. This is the end of class, kiddos.

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One thought on “The Age Of Embarrassment

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