Letter to a Colleague, March 2008
3 March 2008
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
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
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,
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.
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'
"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
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.
|Lavoisier the Man|
Bio and Image
|Click above for latest SOHO sunspot images.|
Click here for David Archibald on solar cycles.
|Where is that pesky greenhouse signature?|
Click here for David Evans's article.