Letter to a Colleague, March 2008

Walter Cohn

3 March 2008

Dear Colleague,

Here is an update of my understanding of the Inconvenient Truth, which may be useful for your reference. Some of this will be familiar from previous communications, yet there is much that is new and pertinent:

I became intrigued with climate change discussions through the 1988 Greenhouse Conference in Melbourne, the same year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In September 2007, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) published their 28-page document "carbon values" for comment and here are brief extracts from my comments. You already have a copy of that document, and my comments can be readily understood without its attachment; they concern only one page, the first page of the first chapter on page 5, titled "The latest science".

The first sentence, first paragraph, contradicts a fundamental aspect of science by stating that: "For many, 2007 will be remembered as the year that the debate around the science of climate change ended, and..." The scientific method requires scientists to maintain their questioning of methods, and of experimental or other results based on science; to deny debate or scepticism is not science. Scientists are still trying to prove Einstein's General Theory of Relativity wrong.

In the second paragraph of the PWC document, page 5, it is written that: "The summary findings of the IPCC's Working Group 1 (WG 1 Summary) concludes with 90% certainty that climate change is due to the releasing of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere by human activity". In fact, the summary findings state that it is 90% certain that releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by human activity (anthropogenic emissions) contributes to climate change. Climate change cannot be due solely to anthropogenic emissions, since climate was changing when such emissions did not exist or were minimal.

The third paragraph identifies six primary greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride, yet omits the most prolific greenhouse gas, water vapour, which is responsible for upwards of 80% of the greenhouse effect.

In the PWC document, page 5, "Diagram 1: Summary of Findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1990-2007", it is noted that the lower limit of predicted average temperature increases to the year 2100 has declined progressively from +3.3 deg.C in 1990 to +0.3 deg.C in 2007.

My interest in climate change was stimulated by the profusion of documents based on historical statistics and on modelling based on subjective interpretations of such statistics. There are few references, readily accessible to the general public, to the basic physical science of the greenhouse effect. The Planck Radiation Law is the primary law of physics governing the intensity of blackbody radiation emitted by unit surface area into a fixed direction from the blackbody as a function of wavelength for a fixed temperature. As you know, for the purpose of radiation laws, the earth is termed a blackbody.

The mathematics of this, and of the other laws governing radiative emissions, are challenging. The equilibrium of these emissions maintains the temperature on the surface of the earth at an average of around +15 deg.C. Without greenhouse gases, the corresponding average temperature on the earth's surface would be around minus 15 deg.C, which would make life as we know it impossible, since there would be little or no liquid water.

Two important laws of physics governing the greenhouse effect are Wien's Displacement Law, which gives the wavelength of the peak of radiation distribution, while the Stefan-Boltzmann Law gives the total energy emitted at all wavelengths by the blackbody. They are best shown with graphs; thus, Wien's Law explains the shift of the peak to shorter wavelengths as the absolute temperature increases, while the Stefan-Boltzmann Law explains the change in the gradient of the curve as the temperature increases. This change is abrupt, since it varies as the (negative) fourth power of absolute temperature.

These laws have been, and continue to be applied to determine what is now called the greenhouse effect, since the great Max Planck formulated his law in 1900, with help from earlier work by Joseph Stefan (1879), by Ludwig Boltzmann (1884), and by Wilhelm Wien (1893), among others. They describe, that as atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increase, their impact on the earth's radiation balance, caused by the resonance of the CO2 molecule at the infra-red wavelength of 15 microns, diminishes rapidly. Once CO2 concentrations exceed about 200 parts-per-million by volume (ppmv), further increases have diminishing effect on the radiation balance, and doubling present CO2 concentrations from about 380 ppmv to 760 ppmv will have only marginal impact on that balance.

In brief, the effect of the CO2 molecule on climate change is not a linear function, but is exponential with the significant exponent being a negative fourth power. Regrettably, my keyboard cannot reproduce appropriate mathematical expressions.

We are told that a consensus of over 2,000 scientists involved with the IPCC agrees that climate change is determined by historical statistics and their subjective interpretations, whether this is Michael Mann's discredited Hockey Stick graph or other models. Consensus in science has unhappy precedents, and I am not aware of significant scientific breakthroughs created by consensus. One example is that of an early scientist in the modern sense, Galileo Galilei, who defied the then prevailing consensus by writing about the Copernican Principle that the earth revolves around the sun. During interrogation by the Inquisition in Rome in 1633, he was shown instruments of torture and bowed to the prevailing consensus that---as the Holy Bible says---the sun revolves around the earth. I heard during a recent Science Show on ABC Radio National, that 20% of the US population still believes in the sun revolving around the earth.

More recently than the 17th century, it had long been known to medical science that peptic ulcers are caused by stress, and an industry of practitioners and of pharmaceutical makers had grown up, showing that consensus medicine provides relief, if not cure. As we now know, two Western Australian medicos defied the strongly held consensus of their profession when, 23 years ago, they postulated their theory with dramatic effect. Three years ago they won their Nobel Prize for defying consensus. Consensus only demonstrates a convenient common belief which can rarely be proven with scientific rigour. It's the sceptical mavericks who defy accepted beliefs and who creatively advance their science.

It took the Vatican 359 years, until October 1992, to reverse the Inquisition's verdict on Galileo, and it took only 20 years for the efforts of Drs Barry Marshall and Robin Warren to be recognised. However, the supposed guilt of the CO2 molecule remains loaded with the baggage of popular consensus by growing commercial interests, fuelled by many tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded research grants, by political factions and reputations, by international travels to vital conferences, by a proliferation of costly investigations and reports, by justifying clamorous demonstrations and, no doubt, by future IPCC reports further reducing the lower limit of guesstimated temperature increases. If only these efforts could also benefit the environment!

I must reassure you that I do not doubt climate change---it's been changing for millennia; I do not doubt sea level change (it rose 122m +/-5m between 19,000 and 11,000 years ago); I do not doubt humanity's complicity in debasing the environment; I do not doubt that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are contributing marginally to climate change; I do not doubt the sincerity of the many thousands of people actively and profitably engaged in the greenhouse industry with misleading conclusions, whether they be Al Gore or Nicholas Stern; I do not doubt the inevitable continuing mis-interpretations of historical statistics; and I certainly agree that environmental concerns and saving energy are worthwhile purposes to pursue earnestly and with determination. Largely blaming the CO2 molecule, with its attendant enormous and unjustified costs to society, reminds me of recent investigations in Perth by high-level criminal investigators as to why an innocent man spent 12 years in jail for a murder he could not have committed.

Many scientists prefer the subjective modelling of historical statistics to harder science, since billions of research dollars depend on supporting the public's belief in the guilt of the carbon dioxide molecule. Depriving such academics and politicians of funds is the modern equivalent of the Inquisition's physical torture in Galileo's time, 375 years ago.

The inconvenient truth need not remain buried by the growing avalanche of political and consequent monetary and media capital. That truth will have profound positive environmental effects for our and other communities by enabling the world to help the truly underprivileged, instead of pouring seemingly limitless funds and corresponding efforts into futile exercises to make middle-class people and their politicians feel better by conveniently blaming carbon. Without carbon, life on earth would not be possible, and an increase in atmospheric CO2 encourages plant growth.

Dr Stephen H. Schneider, Greenhouse Superstar until eclipsed by Al Gore, had been with the Institutes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, and attended the Greenhouse Conference in Melbourne in 1988 as a major proponent of carbon dioxide being responsible for global warming. That made me suspicious, since Schneider had co-authored a paper with S. Ichtiaque Rasool, "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols---Effects of large Increases on Global Climate", Science, vol. 173, 9 July 1971, pp. 138-141, which began with this abstract:

    "Effects of the global temperature of large increases in carbon dioxide and aerosol densities in the atmosphere of the Earth have been computed. It is found that, although the addition of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does increase the surface temperature, the rate of temperature increase diminishes with increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For aerosols, however, the net effect of increase in density is to reduce the surface temperature of Earth. Because of the exponential dependence of backscattering, the rate of temperature decrease is augmented with increasing aerosol content. An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg.K. If sustained over a period of several years, such temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age."

In this 1971 paper, Dr Schneider showed that he was aware of Planck's Law (AD 1900), which is supported by the earlier Stefan-Boltzmann Law and by the Wien Law, all basic laws of the physics of thermodynamics. By 1981, just ten years after his "ice age" paper, Dr Schneider had seemingly determined that he could attract more funds by ignoring rigorous science. He became a protagonist for apocalyptic global warming through blaming the carbon dioxide molecule, which contributes so little, and even then to a rapidly diminishing extent, to the greenhouse effect That change has been attributed to advances in atmospheric science, yet the laws of thermodynamics have not changed.

Unhappily, climate change speculation has penetrated lofty realms of public scientists in search of fame and funds. In the Third Lowy Lecture on "Australia in the World---Relations among Nations on a Finite Planet" in Sydney on 19 November 2007, Lord Robert May, said (page seven of the re-print of his lecture), that "....CO2 is of course the principal 'greenhouse gas' in the atmosphere...." Lord May, a theoretical physicist with an honours degree from Melbourne University, had been President of the illustrious Royal Society, from 2000 to 2005, following his service as Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government from 1995 to 2000. Lord May is obviously aware of Planck's Law and its ramifications, including the role of water vapour.

However, that Lecture reminded me of the statement by another former President of the Royal Society, Lord Kelvin of Largs, who said in 1895 that heavier-than-air-craft cannot ever fly. That was probably because the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright were developing such craft across the Atlantic Ocean.

Climate change is now commonly discussed with evangelical fervour, and the biblical quotation said to be by St. Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe", is sometimes invoked, as it was by Lord May in Sydney last November. In fact, it was Jesus who said that (Paul, Chapter 20, Verse 29) to the Doubting Thomas. When it comes to the carbon dioxide molecule, its minimal contribution to climate change should not be attributed to its inability to follow biblical injunctions. Real science and sceptical scientists have moved on.

Last month I was asked: "Who paid for the research showing that CO2 cannot be the principal culprit responsible for climate change?". The answer is: the same sources that funded individuals such as Galileo (solar system) and Isaac Newton (gravitation) and Clerk Maxwell (electromagnetism) and Wilhelm Roentgen (x-rays) and Max Planck (thermodynamics) and Albert Einstein (relativity) and Erwin Schroedinger (quantum mechanics), etc. to meet the challenge of their imaginations in their quest for truth in the natural world with scientific rigour. Such quests can only be pursued and realised by querulous sceptics; in the past, they were able to do their work without so-called 'commercial' support, except for livelihoods from their respective research institutions, usually universities.

In an interview with Discover magazine, October 1989 issue, Dr Stephen Schneider, said: "To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest." I do not believe the public should be told lies, because it suits some politicians to win votes under false pretences, because it benefits academics vying for research funds, or because it profits brokers promoting carbon trading schemes without proven, measurable benefit to the environment.

The principal source of the earth's atmospheric heat---the sun---also causes the polar regions to become warmer. That includes the polar regions on Mars, which have been tracked for many years, and for which a reduction of atmospheric carbon on earth can do nothing to ameliorate their warming; nor could a reduction in anthropogenic atmospheric carbon on earth have a proven, measurable effect on the warming of the Arctic or Antarctic regions.

I cover only the scientifically known effect of CO2 on climate change and avoid discussing present, recent or historical statistics, whether they refer to the measured cooling of the oceans or otherwise. For example:

Measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Seattle, Washington, found that the upper 750 metres of oceans lost enough energy between 2003 and 2005 to cause an overall drop in water temperature of about 0.02 deg.C (Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 33, p. L18604). That may not sound much, but it is proving difficult to account for the enormous amount of missing energy, since the oceans can hold 1,000 times as much heat as the atmosphere. It is probably just normal variability of climate, since similar cooling of oceans occurred between 1980 and 1983. Relevant data are taken from a network of 3,000 free-floating robot buoys, called ARGO, which monitor the oceans worldwide, and which were developed in Australia.

I focus here on basic physical science, which does not change with weather or climate, with votes or research budgets, or with promises of carbon trading profits, unless someone revokes the laws of thermodynamics. The commercial assessment of risks would require carbon trading schemes to include cost/benefit calculations, including measurable factors recognised by the science of thermodynamics, rather than rely exclusively on subjective modelling based on historical statistics and on hoped-for outcomes.

On pages 52 and 53 of the New Scientist, dated 26 January 2007, appeared an article headed "Marvellous Mithridatum". This is worth noting, because it describes a situation, similar to the present claims for CO2, and which pervaded health practices for a couple of thousand years or so. The long 'sub-heading' reads:

    "In 1745, London doctor William Heberden wrote a scathing essay debunking what others considered the most marvellous of medicines---a peculiar concoction called mithridatum. For almost two millennia, mithridatum had been considered a cure for every illness imaginable, from indigestion and insomnia to boils and bubonic plague. The most that could be said for it, wrote Heberden, was that it would make the sick sweat, 'which is commonly the virtue of a medicine which has none'. Yet such was its reputation---and cost---that apothecaries were required to prepare it in elaborate public ceremonies lest they be tempted to leave out a vital ingredient or skip a step in the laborious manufacturing process. If mithridatum was useless, why was it revered for so long?"

The top half of page 53 shows a colour reproduction of a painting in late 18th-century Bologna, demonstrating that the manufacture of mithridatum was a colourful public spectacle, just like Al Gore addressing the United Nations on climate change 250 years later, with results for the environment similar to those endured by plague-afflicted patients having been prescribed and taken mithridatum.

Coincidentally, on page 6 of that issue of the New Scientist was a news item headed "Papal backlash", in which the second paragraph reads:

"The pope had been due to give a speech last week marking the opening of the academic year at the University of Rome La Sapienza, but he cancelled his visit after 67 academics wrote a letter of protest and students held demonstrations. The academics objected to remarks by the pope in 1990 suggesting the church's condemnation of the astronomer Galileo in the 17th century was rational and just." As we know, the Vatican reversed the Inquisition's 1633 verdict on Galileo in October 1992.

My friend, there is much supporting technical material, such as the 114-page dissertation by Gerhard Gerlich of the Institut fuer Mathematische Physik in Braunschweig, Germany, in collaboration with Ralf D. Tscheuschner, Version 3.0 dated 9 September 2007. However, simpler descriptive notes may be more readily accessible by some interested observers.



About the Author

Walter Cohn is a Consultant, Business Development, for WorleyParsons---an Australian-based international provider of professional services to the energy, resource and complex process industries. With qualifications in both electrical and chemical engineering, Walter has had a distinguished career as a consultant and manager for the investigation and implementation of a range of processing and infrastructure projects, both here and abroad---particularly, though not exclusively, in the power and hydrocarbon sectors.

The foregoing letter is intact, save for the identity of the recipient which has been removed to preserve privacy and confidentiality.

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