Why the CO2 Greenhouse Gas Debate Doesn’t Matter

While the debate rages over at WUWT about how the laws of physics work, with well known skeptics explaining patiently that CO2 really does warm the earth’s surface to legions of skeptics determined to show that the laws of physics are being broken, or misapplied, or are just plain wrong, not matter how many real world examples there are that they are right… Everyone is missing the most important question. 

Does it even matter?

Every ChickenWarmingLittle scare graph is magnified to the point where the blips and curves in the temperature record that we are arguing about are measured in tenths of degrees, sometimes hundredths, and over decades, sometimes centuries.  With our attention focused through the lens of a microscope on a tiny piece of graph, we’ve forgotten that we live in the real world where changes in temperature are orders of magnitude larger every day, every season, and over every latitude change.  We forget perhaps the most important factor of all, which is that ChickenLittleWarming speaks about averages, forgetting that in climate, temperature in particular, there is little meaning, and almost no value, to the word “average”.

Over at WUWT the Stefan-Boltzman Law is being quoted by both sides to discredit the other in regard to how CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas.  But no one disputes the Stefan-Boltzman Law itself which is remarkably simple, and proven by thousands upon thousands of lab experiments.  Without going into the math, it just says that the hotter something is, the more power (watts per square meter) you need to warm it up one more degree.

So let us take the oft quoted ChickenWarmingLittle figures from the IPCC that say doubling CO2 in the atmosphere will result in an extra 3.7w/m2 going downward toward earth surface, and simply accept them at face value.  But instead of getting all wound about if that is possible or not, let’s just set aside the notion of “average”, let’s put the microscope analysis of tiny fragments of the record away, and just use their claim to put things into the proper perspective.

We’ll simply take the annual average temperature records from Yakutsk with pretty much the highest annual temperature variations over the course of the year on earth (not to mention also the coldest), Vancouver, one of the mildest annual temperature variations on earth, and Khartoum, pretty much one of the hottest locations on earth all year long.  Using the IPCC’s 3.7 w/m2 for doubling of CO2 and the logarithmic nature of that, and Stefan-Boltzman’s Law, we can calculate how much warmer each day through the course of the year would be for a given amount of CO2. 

To make it easy to understand, I used temperature records from a period in the range of 380 ppm, which is 100 ppm more than what the IPCC says is normal, and which took over a century of human activity to cause.  Then let’s plot those annual temperature curves on something realistic, a scale humans actually understand.  Not hundredths of degrees of some artificial construct called an anomaly, which is what the ChickenWarmingLittle hockey stick graphs use, just a regular temperature range that you can buy a $10 thermometer for.  -40C to +40C.

To complete the graph, showing those three cities on an annual basis, will add the ChickenWarmingLittle catastrophic, doomsday, we’re all going to die of spontaneous combustion numbers for increased CO2.  We added 100 ppm over more than a century, let’s add double that, 200 ppm more.  That’s about another 150 years from now provided we can somehow find enough oil to sustain our peak burn rate.  Now converting that into w/m2, using Stefan-Boltzman to calculate the new daily temperatures in each of those cities, and graphing them on the same graph, we should be able to see the enormity of the problem.

A century of emissions added 100 ppm of CO2. So let's add 200 ppm more.

Yup, that’s it.  That’s what the IPCC says is going to happen because of all that CO2

We won’t even be able to resolve the argument by real world observation because the chances that we’re going to burn enough fossil fuel to get to 580 ppm in 150 years is about nil, even if we were trying to do it on purpose.  But I can only wonder..will Ira, and Phil, and George and and all the other’s over at WUWT still be beating each other over the heads with physics text books?  I dunno…let’s go check in on them…

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/28/visualizing-the-greenhouse-effect-atmospheric-windows/

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14 Responses to Why the CO2 Greenhouse Gas Debate Doesn’t Matter

  1. Roger Carr says:

    Why are you bringing common sense into this, David?

    • Sera says:

      Yes, what’s with this ‘common sense’ ? Doesn’t he know that you can’t fight irrational behavior with rational behavior?

  2. Greg says:

    I think I read on WUWT, sometime back, probably in a comment, that if we burned ALL the oil and coal that we know we have it would bump CO2 to around 580 PPM or thereabouts.

    If that’s true then it seems to me that all the arguments about endlessly rising co2 leading to us burning are impossible. CO2 just can’t get that high. Not from us, anyway.

    /snark_on
    Of course, it (co2 & temp) was way higher way back when, when all those little critters were driving their CO2 belching machinery…
    /snark_off

  3. wayne says:

    David, that is one great visualization! Totally on point.

    Every congressman should have one of those on their desk. No joke. For those not comfortable on the radiative physics battleground, print one out and send it your representative!

    You’re right, in one respect, it is ridiculous and a laugh. But on the darker side, where cities are starting to have blackouts and prices of food are skyrocketing past affordability, this is no longer a laughing matter.

    But being, I guess, one of those physics warriors, most of them know it is just this almost indiscernible difference, but I do think that until the absolute correct answer about the atmosphere and carbon dioxide and forced to be accepted by the vast majority of scientists around the world, as they wander on such sites, we will be on a slow downward slide. Most scientists are honest and given correct views and papers compared to the warped view laid out by IPCC, they will chose the correct one in the end. But you are right, it is a bit of a battle.

    So, textbook in the scabbard, back to the battlefront… tally ho! ☺

  4. Jim Masterson says:

    >>
    Then let’s plot those annual temperature curves on something realistic, a scale humans actually understand. Not hundredths of degrees of some artificial construct called an anomaly, which is what the ChickenWarmingLittle hockey stick graphs use, just a regular temperature range that you can buy a $10 thermometer for. -40C to +40C.
    <<

    I, too, am a full-fledged, stark-raving skeptic. I dislike the nonsense attempts to average temperatures in trying to produce a global average temperature. Averaging temperatures is like averaging phone numbers in a phone book (an analogy I first saw in a paper by Dr. Christopher Essex, although George E. Smith on WUWT uses it often); what you get isn’t a phone number you’d want to call.

    However, I like the idea of anomalies. I think they might make averaging temperatures possible. The problem with current attempts is that they’re seriously flawed. There’s no standard for creating a baseline temperature reference, and no standard for applying them to various temperature collections.

    Jim

    • davidmhoffer says:

      I like anomalies too, but they have limits. The supposed purpose of anomalies is to track warming or cooling trends in locations with very different climates. The idea being that a north temperate zone might fluctuate from -40 to +40 over the course of a year while a tropical zone might just sit within a few degrees of +30 the whole year. Since they cannot be compared directly, the use of anomalies allows one to see if there is an over all positive or negative trend beyond the raw tempse themselves.

      Here is the massive flaw. If we accept the AGW position that doubling of CO2 = +3.7 watts, we cannot possibly observe that by anomalies unless we FIRST normalize the anomalies by temperature. +3.7 watts might mean several degrees of warming at -40, it might mean less than a tenth of a degree at +40. By looking at anomalies as raw numbers, we’re basically weighting the average warming measured so that the dead of winter in northern zones counts more than the same area in square km’s in the tropics.

      Hmmm. Just gave me an idea for a whole new post!

      • Jim Masterson says:

        >>
        . . . unless we FIRST normalize the anomalies . . . .
        <<

        How refreshing! I distinctly remember when the “hockey stick” first came out, that the proxy curve under the modern temperature curve was rising about one-third as fast. I often thought that if they would normalize the proxy curve to the modern temperature curve, then the proxy curve would expand by roughly a factor of three. That would make the MWP and LIA reappear. Later depictions of the “hockey stick” conveniently removed the proxy curve under the modern temperature curve so you couldn’t make that argument.

        Jim

  5. Earthling says:

    Common sense, the least common of all the senses, a good portion of which is displayed here by David for anyone to read.
    I’m surprised that no alarmist has bothered replying to this article, maybe they just can’t handle that much common sense.
    They would tell us about the ‘tipping points’ that an increase in CO2 could bring and that it may unleash an enormous amount of sequestered CO2 and trapped methane as the permafrost melts, causing an inevitable catastrophe for, guess who, our grandchildren, of course, a favoured manipulation tactic ot theirs.
    580 ppm sounds like a good number to me, but if it’s going to take 150 years to reach that figure at current emission levels, it’s an impossible goal, one has only to look at progress over the last 150 years to imagine what the world and emission levels will be like in the year 2161.

  6. blvr says:

    Hey has anyone submitted this to a peer-reviewed journal? Why not?

    • Truthseeker says:

      blvr – Good to see you looking at some real analysis. I hope you continue with your education in science.

      As to submitting to a peer-reviewed journal, this not really advancing any new knowledge, it is just commenting on the irrelevance of the IPCC conclusions. Technical point I know, but relevant in the very “special” world of peer-reviewed scientific papers.

  7. Myrrh says:

    “While the debate rages over at WUWT about how the laws of physics work, with well known skeptics explaining patiently that CO2 really does warm the earth’s surface to legions of skeptics determined to show that the laws of physics are being broken, or misapplied, or are just plain wrong, not matter how many real world examples there are that they are right… Everyone is missing the most important question. ”

    Nonsense, carbon dioxide levels have always shown themselves to be the effect of temperature rises, never the cause.

    There is no common sense logic in claims to the contrary, and I have yet to see any one of you, who claim carbon dioxide drives temperatures, produce any physical mechanism by which a trace real gas heavier than air with no heat capacity and which is continually washed out of the atmosphere in precipitation in the 9-10 day residence time of water in atmosphere is physically capable of doing what you claim for it.

    All we ever get instead is the continual mindless regurgitation of the claim “that CO2 really does warm the earth’s surface”. Show it.

    • davidmhoffer says:

      Myrrh,
      You must be running out of blogs to make a fool of yourself on. As usual you ascribe to comments things which were never said, argue points that have nothing to do with the thread, and all in support of some special brand of physics which exists entirely in your head, Physicists who are warmists, luke warmists, and skeptics have all tried to educate you on this matter in various forums, and they have all given you identical explanations, and explained to you that the debate is about magnitude and sign of feedbacks. Yet you persist, insisting that your imaginary world inside your head is reality.

      Go away.

  8. Keitho says:

    Agreed in every respect. The result of burning everything is trivial but the relentless drumbeat of climate catastrophe goes on.

    Why?

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