By Dr. John Happs
Climate alarmists often argue that the “greenhouse effect” threatens all life on Earth should carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase. They warn that we face a “runaway greenhouse effect” pointing to Venus as the torrid future on Earth if we don’t stop burning hydrocarbon fuels.
But do the alarmists even know what the greenhouse effect really is? Dr. Ian Plimer lays out the problem:
“Everyone knows what the greenhouse effect is. Well … do they? Ask someone to explain how the greenhouse effect works. There is an extremely high probability that they have no idea. What really is the greenhouse effect? The use of the term ‘greenhouse effect’ is a complete misnomer. Greenhouses or glasshouses are used for increasing plant growth, especially in colder climates. A greenhouse eliminates convective cooling, the major process of heat transfer in the atmosphere, and protects the plants from frost.”
Unfortunately this lack of understanding is evident amongst many scientists, including a number of Australia’s Chief Scientists past and present.
On the 26th September, 2011, Australia’s then Chief Scientist (2011-2015) Dr. Ian Chubb gave testimony before the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Clean Energy Future Legislation.
Neuroscientist Chubb was called on to provide “information” about climate change to the committee.
Green’s Senator Christine Milne asked the Chief Scientist:
“What can we learn from the record Arctic ice melt this year?”
“The latest information I have seen shows that the CO2 levels are high and that the rate of accumulation is accelerating.”
In fact atmospheric carbon dioxide levels remain amongst the lowest over the last 500 million years and there is no record ice melt in the Arctic. In fact Arctic sea ice has been stable since 1900.
“Again, the evidence I have seen suggests that you could not get that Arctic melt if you did not factor in the increased emissions that have been occurring through human activity.”
Again, a preposterous statement with no empirical data presented for unusual Arctic ice melt or any link with human activity.
Senator Milne then asked the question:
“At the same time, Australia has signed up internationally to constrain global warming to less than two degrees. Is 550 parts per million on track to constrain global warming to less than two degrees? “
“What we are projecting seeing is hugely changing patterns of rainfall and weather and the intensity of certain weather events.”
“I think there does need to be a recognition that the evidence of science is suggesting that we will have changed weather patterns and extreme weather events with much greater frequency than we have at the moment. That is where the evidence sits right now. Of course, where they will occur and all the rest of it we do not know. But that is where the evidence is pointing and that seems to me to be the view of the majority of scientists who are studying that particular aspect of weather and climate.”
Chubb appeared unaware that even the alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted there is no evidence that extreme weather patterns are emerging and “the majority of scientists who are studying that particular aspect of weather and climate” know this to be the case.
Chubb added to his ignorance by saying:
” … the evidence that I have seen is that the last decade has been the warmest decade that we have ever hadon this planet.” (My emphasis)
This is an absurd statement and reflects his total lack of knowledge about past climate.
Apparently Chubb didn’t know that we are currently living in a mild (interglacial) part of an ice age that has been ongoing for around 2 million years. We emerged from a glacial maximum, about 15,000 years ago and we should not be surprised if the planet has warmed since that time and continued to warm. There have been several interglacials during the current ice age and they have all peaked at temperatures higher than the current interglacial.
When uncontaminated satellite data show a large discrepancy between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, the media and politicians should pay attention and Australia’s Chief Scientist should have informed the Joint Select Committee accordingly.
It would appear that Australia’s previous Chief Scientist astronomer Dr. Penny Sackett (2008-2011) was no better informed than Chubb about global temperature and the so-called “greenhouse effect.”
When given a “soft interview” on the ABC’s Lateline in October 2017, Sackett told Emma Aberici:
“We are in a warming world and we’re in a world in which deaths due to heat are going to eclipse those completely from cold weather.”
“It is human action that is responsible for the lion’s share of the current warming.”
In response to the typical “hard questions” we have come to expect from the ABC’s Tony Jones, Sackett added:
“I regard any action that begins to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as serious – any reduction.”
One would hope that Australia’s Chief Scientist would do his/her homework and tell politicians that the science of climate change is far from settled and that the IPCC “science” and “process” are not to be trusted. The hope was that Australia’s next Chief Scientist would do better.
Unfortunately this lack of understanding is evident in Australia’s current Chief Scientist, neuroscientist Dr. Alan Finkel. He told theSenate Economics Legislation Committee:
“The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing because of fossil fuels; world temperature is increasing as a result of the increasing carbon dioxide content from those fuels’ combustion; the greenhouse effect (described by Arrhenius) proved this; plus, the models are telling us that this will be catastrophic for civilization etc, etc.”
Compounding his ignorance, Finkel told the National Press Club:
“Fourier’s answer was that the atmosphere was keeping the Earth’s surface warm, like the glass windows in a greenhouse, hence the term ‘the greenhouse effect’. Although the process is more complicated than that, Fourier provided a straightforward analogy that is still widely used. In 1896, a Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius went a step further and determined the underlying physics of how global warming actually works. As the sun shines through our atmosphere, the Earth’s surface warms and emits some of the sun’s energy as infrared radiation.
Ordinarily, this infrared radiation would escape to space. However, Arrhenius found that some gases, like carbon dioxide, trap this infrared radiation and then re-emit it in all directions. While some of that re-emitted infrared radiation makes its way back into space, the rest heats the Earth’s atmosphere, surface and oceans, making them warmer than they would otherwise be.”
A little due diligence from our Chief Scientist would have found that the Swedish physicist Knut Ångström (1857-1910) tried to replicate Arrhenius’s work but couldn’t. Ångström was critical of the supposed high carbon dioxide absorption values reported by Arrhenius.
Others who have argued incorrectly that carbon dioxide is a “powerful greenhouse gas” have referred to the work of the Irish physicist John Tyndall (1820-1893) and his work on the absorption of thermal radiation by various gases. It’s likely they don’t know that Tyndall tested carbon dioxide at concentrations of up to 80,000 ppm, (200 times the current atmospheric concentration) and concluded:
“Carbonic acid gas is one of the feeblest of absorbers of the radiant heat emitted by solid sources. It is, for example, extremely transparent to the rays emitted by the heated copper plate already referred to.”
Tyndall also noted that, at atmospheric concentrations, carbon dioxide did not change the temperature of the air regardless of how much infra-red radiation was passed through it.
He published his findings in:Tyndall J. (1879) “Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses and Reviews.”
Senator Roberts is one of the few politicians well informed about climate science. He pointed out some of the questionable statements in Dr. Finkel’s assertions about the “greenhouse effect.” Roberts asked for specific data but Finkel naively referred to the thoroughly debunked claim that:“97% of scientists say so.”
A little more due diligence from Dr. Finkel would have revealed that the 97% appears to come from the paper: Cook, J., D. Nuccitelli, S.A. Green, M. Richardson, B. Winkler, R. Painting, R. Way, P. Jacobs, and A. Skuce, (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environ. Res. Lett. 8: 024024 (7 pp), doi:0.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024.
Respected statistician Dr. William Briggs examined the Cook et al. paper and concluded:
“In fact, Cook’s paper provides the clearest available statistical evidence that there is scarcely any explicit support among scientists for the consensus that the IPCC, politicians, bureaucrats, academics and the media have so long and so falsely proclaimed. That was not the outcome Cook had hoped for, and it was not the outcome he had stated in his paper, but it was the outcome he had really found.”
Many scientists have now spoken out against the Cook et al. paper. Dr. Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia (UEA) stated:
“The ‘97% consensus’ article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed. It obscures the complexities of the climate issue and it is a sign of the desperately poor level of public and policy debate in this country [UK] that the energy minister should cite it.”
Not surprisingly, the media latched on to the term “greenhouse gas” and predictions of thermal Armageddon. In 2006 Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” brought imaginary carbon dioxide-driven climate alarmism into public view. The “greenhouse hypothesis” involves a number of false assumptions exposed by field observations, including the following:
Atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration has increased while the average global temperature has not increased. Dr. Judith Curry pointed out this fact in her Congressional testimony:
“The stagnation in greenhouse warming observed over the past 15+ years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability ondecadal time scales.” (My emphasis)
Many radio-sonde (weather balloon) observations have confirmed that there is no greenhouse gas-induced “hot spot” in the mid-upper troposphere, yet this was posited as the “fingerprint of Anthropogenic Global Warming.”
Computer model predictions of global temperature increase have been based on carbon dioxide forcing. These have proven to be spectacularly wrong.
Such observations shouldn’t be surprising since there is no empirical evidence to show that global temperature has ever been driven by carbon dioxide. Australia’s current Chief Scientist appears to be unaware of this fact.
Australia’s Chief Scientist should also have found out that early rejection of the greenhouse hypothesis came from the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) who showed that the atmospheric temperature gradient is due to pressure, resulting from the Earth’s gravitational field and not from radiative forcing.
In addition to Maxwell’s conclusion, the French physicist Nicolas Carnot (1796-1832), the German physicist Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) and the American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) explained atmospheric temperature, not in terms of “trapped heat” due to carbon dioxide, but from gravity, atmospheric mass, pressure, density, and heat capacities.
It is now well known (apparently not by our Chief Scientist) that the atmospheric warming effect from adding carbon dioxide is logarithmic and that increasing the concentration further diminishes the heating effect. By the time we get the increase from 280 to 400 ppm, the warming effect of carbon dioxide is trivial. Paleo-climatologist Dr. Amy Frappier explains further:
“At some point the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide and its effect gets saturated and you don’t have increased heating.”
Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric physics at MIT, told the UK House of Commons:
“The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.” (My emphasis)
Meteorologist and combustion research scientist, Dr. Martin Hertzberg has expressed his views about the additions of atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than delicate terms:
“In comparison to water in all of its forms, the effect of the carbon dioxide increase over the last century on the temperature of the Earth is about as significant as a few farts in a hurricane!”
Dr. Will Happer, Professor of atmospheric physics at Princeton University, also pointed to the trivial impact of carbon dioxide:
“The global average atmospheric CO2 concentration is currently a tiny 387 ppm (parts per million)-just a trace gas-and trees and plants are craving for more, yet fools are threatening to decimate our economy, in order to reduce this life-giving gas. Carbon dioxide is a bit player in atmospheric warming.”
Atmospheric scientist Dr. Heinz Thieme dismisses the impact of carbon dioxide and points to the main controller of atmospheric temperature:
“The statement that so-called greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, contribute to near-surface atmospheric warming is in glaring contradiction to well-known physical laws relating to gas and vapour.”
And: “Gravity essentially determines the temperature conditions within an atmosphere.
The American Meteorological Society rejected the idea that carbon dioxide controlled global climate, stating that such a notion:
“… . was never widely accepted and was abandoned when it was found that all the long-wave radiation absorbed by CO2 is also absorbed by water vapour.”
Brooks C.E.P. (1951). In the American Meteorological Society in its: Compendium of Meteorology: “Geological and Historical Aspects of Climatic Change.” pp. 1004-18.
Climate scientist Dr. Tim Ball commented on the baseless greenhouse analogy: “Since we don’t live in a typical greenhouse, the term “greenhouse effect” is a poor analogy.”
Former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) climate scientist Dr. Rex Fleming detailed the lack of an identifiable causal relationship between carbon dioxide concentration changes and Earth’s temperature. He stated:
“There is no propensity for CO2 to store heat in a systematic way over time to produce a climate change effect.”
Try telling that to Australia’s Chief Scientist.
Dr. John Happs M.Sc.1st Class; D.Phil. John has an academic background in the geosciences with special interests in climate, and paleoclimate. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas and was President of the Western Australian Skeptics for 25 years.