In last week’s Democratic presidential debates, every candidate who spoke about climate changed accepted the premise that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial activities are causing dangerous global warming. But it makes no sense. Even NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which strongly promotes the climate scare, asserts that the Global Annual Mean Surface Air Temperature Change from 1880 to 2017 is only just over one degree Celsius despite a supposed 40% rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content. Clearly, the atmosphere is not very sensitive to CO2 rise. And, of course, this modest warming has been a very good thing as we have pulled out of the Little Ice Age.
But the mistake being committed by the Democrats goes far beyond mere observational evidence. It extends to the basic theory itself.
The temperature at Earth’s surface and adjacent atmosphere where climate is experienced, is controlled by a balance between how much energy enters the Earth’s surface, primarily from light from the Sun, compared to how much energy leaves the planet and escapes into outer space.
This energy is what drives differences in temperature and pressure that control the wind and circulation patterns of air and water. It is required to evaporate all the water that forms clouds, storm systems and precipitation. Sunlight contains a variety of wavelengths, reacting differently with solid material. Of most importance to climate is visible light and infrared light rather than X-rays that can penetrate the body and ultraviolet that causes sunburn.
About 30% of incoming sun light is reflected back into space by clouds, particles in the atmosphere, and the Earths surface itself, transferring no energy to the Earth. Twenty percent of the incoming radiation is absorbed by the clouds. The remaining 50% is absorbed by the surface (1). That is the energy that powers Earth’s weather and climate.
The heat absorbed at the Earth’s surface creates air currents, winds and waves. It also evaporates water from the oceans into the atmosphere as clouds. Although much of the energy is recovered when water vapor condenses and falls as precipitation, the net evaporation-precipitation cycle consumes around 20% of all solar energy.
Because the surface of the Earth is much cooler than the Sun, the wavelengths of the Earth’s radiation are almost twenty times longer than those emitted by the Sun. This means that most of the energy first absorbed by the Earth is emitted back into outer space. It is infrared (IR) radiation that is invisible to the human eye. Most escapes unimpeded into space while greenhouse gases temporarily absorb the small amount that keeps the planet at a livable temperature. Our sister planets in our solar system are not so lucky.
The proposed mechanism for man-caused global warming sometimes called, anthropomorphic global warming or AGW, is based on the premise that greenhouse gases injected into the atmosphere by humans are causing more of this radiated heat to be temporarily captured, shifting the Earth’s energy balance in favor of heating.
Some molecules are highly efficient at capturing IR radiation, while others are not. The two most prominent gases in our atmosphere, nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%), are transparent to IR radiation and thus do not absorb much of the heat radiated into space from the Earth’s surface.
Gases that are not transparent to IR radiation are called greenhouse gases and their impact can be quantified by multiplying the ability of a single molecule to absorb radiation times the relative number of molecules that are present in the atmosphere. The efficiency with which all major greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation has been measured, and is listed in Physical Methods in Organic Chemistry by R.S. Drago, Wiley Publishers (2).
The most vilified greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, as this gas is tied to fuel emissions. But the primary greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is actually water vapor. A single water molecule absorbs over twice the heat of CO2. The effectiveness of water as a greenhouse gas is far greater than the factor of two, however, because of the massive volume of water molecules present in our near surface atmosphere, shown in the following chart.
Only about 400 molecules out of a million are carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. On the chart below, 400 parts per million is shown as the equivalent of 4 parts or dots per 10,000. On average there are 70 times more water molecules in near surface air than molecules of carbon dioxide each absorbing twice the heat of CO2. The picture should be coming clear now. On a percentage basis 400 part per million of CO2 absorbs less than .74% of the heat absorbed by atmospheric water vapor. The human contribution to this atmospheric CO2 through the burning of fossil fuels in automobiles, power plants, and factories is well below half of that. Most carbon dioxide comes from the oceans and decaying vegetation.
The small amount of heat trapped by man’s contribution of atmospheric carbon dioxide is below our ability to detect. This is why, in spite of all the claims of man caused global warming, no one has come up with a number of degrees of temperature that can be attributed to it.
Global warming advocates do not want to talk about water vapor for obvious reasons. Essentially all absorption of heat radiated from the Earth occurs close to the surface where both water vapor and clouds are prevalent. The outer atmosphere has a negligible impact on the Earth’s temperature.
Water, both in water vapor and in clouds, is by far the most important greenhouse substance on Earth, dwarfing any effects attributed to the concentrations of CO2 in our current atmosphere. It is instructive to see exactly what the percentage of our atmosphere is carbon dioxide. The illustration below divides the atmosphere into 10,000 dots. As most of us will remember from high school science classes, 78% is nitrogen, represented by 7800 dots on the diagram, while 21% is oxygen. The last one percent are trace gases of which argon is the primary one. All the carbon dioxide produced by human activities is represented by a single dot which represents one ten thousandth of all the gases in our atmosphere.
How can this tiny amount have a significant impact on our climate? Common sense should tell us that we can continue to burn fossil fuels without worrying about destroying the planet due to global warming.
However, there is now an industry of so-called scientists financially supported by governments around the world to prove through mathematical tricks that carbon dioxide is more important than it really is by many orders of magnitude. Their success in convincing a scared public of this fakery contributes to the opportunity for governments to increase control over their citizens, reduce individual freedom and install more failed socialism throughout the world. Now you know the rest of the story.
- Primer on Solar Energy, Solar Energy Systems, Argonne National Laboratory, web,and.gov
- Drago, R.S., Physical Methods In Inorganic Chemistry, Reinhold Publishing Corp. New York 1965, p.127