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February 22nd 2013 print

Walter Starck

The greenhouse with no roof

The greatest minds of our time -- at least when it comes to securing research funding -- do not seem to appreciate that a container needs a lid if it is to trap heat

As an interdisciplinary study, climatology draws upon knowledge and techniques from a diverse range of other relevant disciplines.   Almost all of the leading “climatologists” promoting the Global Warming alarm are in fact rebadged biologists, geographers, computer modellers and other specialists. Vanishingly few have any genuine expertise in the fundamental matter   of the complex atmospherics physics involved in the so-called greenhouse effect. They have simply accepted it as a proven physical fact that increased CO2 must “trap” more heat in the atmosphere. The very term “greenhouse effect” implies this.

Unfortunately, the greenhouse simile is highly misleading in a most important respect. The greenhouse constructed by the climate alarmists has no roof. It cannot “trap” any heat because the hot air will rise and drift away just as it does in a hot air balloon. A greenhouse with no roof is something only an academic would design. Anyone with practical experience would know immediately it could not work.

Even at pre-industrial levels of CO2, the absorption of infrared radiation that is within the absorption spectrum of CO2 is virtually complete within a few tens of meters. Increasing levels of CO2 do not increase the IR emitted from the surface and only marginal effect on the total amount of IR energy absorbed. It mainly concentrates the absorption closer to the surface. However, as soon as the near surface air begins to warm it also begins to expand and bubble upward in convection. This distributes the heat energy through a hugely greater volume of the troposphere.   As the total amount of thermal energy that is being absorbed is very small and the warm air is not being “trapped” near the surface, it makes little difference to the temperature of the troposphere whether the initial warming takes place within a few metres more or less from the surface.

Calculations by atmospheric physicists have estimated that a doubling of CO2 should result in an increased absorption of IR by only about 1.2% and a temperature increase of about 0.7C°. Most of this increment would come from the margins of the absorption spectrum as it is only there that absorption is not already saturated. Because of the low rate of absorption involved, this very mild additional warming would take place over a much longer path through the atmosphere  and would thus have even less effect on near surface temperatures.

Convection also carries with it large quantities of heat from the surface in the form of latent heat of evaporation in water vapour. This is released through condensation at altitude which both strengthens the convection and bathes the surface in cooling rain. Convective cells thus act as vast thermostatic heat pipes to carry away heat from the surface.

There are of course numerous varied, varying and interacting influences on surface temperature in this process. Variables of time, place, surface type, cloud cover, wind, humidity and sundry other factors in multiple combinations and permutations all have their effects. How all this precisely manifests in detail is well beyond any current understanding.  For supposed experts to claim to be able to accurately model this complexity and predict the resulting effect on temperature decades in the future is beyond hubris or even delusion. It is blatant fraud.

A small group of self-proclaimed experts has constructed a roofless greenhouse at a cost of about $100 billion diverted from productive activity or social needs. They have taken residence therein and savagely denigrate anyone who dares to question their design. Remarkably, they have managed to convince a seeming majority of naive politicians and journalists of the unquestionable certainty of their proclamations.

Even after the multiple exposures of malfeasance by the alarmists in climategate, glaciergate and the Gleick affair, the repeated failures of their predictions, the ongoing publication of hundreds of peer reviewed scientific studies contradicting their claims, 16 years of no statistically significant warming, the collapse of carbon trading, the ecological devastation wrought by bio-fuels and the slow motion economic train wreck of unreliable (i.e. alternative) energy, they still continue to ratchet up the level of alarm.

Now they insist we must rip out the very foundation of our economy and rebuild in accord with their demonstrably failed ideas. Although recent surveys show a clear majority of the electorate are now doubtful about, or outright disbelieve in, a climate crisis, the politicians, pundits and academics have been suckered so far out on that limb they cannot gracefully retreat without looking as foolish as they indeed have been. Instead, they cling to their increasingly awkward predicament making irrelevant noises and gestures, clutching at every straw of weather and praying for some disaster to vindicate them. Meanwhile they only manage to look even stupider.

Over the past several centuries for which sunspot observations and temperature records are available, solar activity and temperatures show a clear correlation. Proxy measurements from glacial cores reveal a similar relationship going back several hundred thousand years and data from deep sea sediment cores take it back millions more. The attempt by climate alarmists to dismiss any solar influence on late 20th century warming with the argument that no mechanism has been proven is irrational, unscientific and intellectually dishonest. It doesn’t require a deep understanding of gravity to recognise the reality of what will happen if you walk off a cliff.

Solar activity was particularly high during the warming of the recent past and now appears to be entering a low phase likely to last for at least several more of the predominant 11 year solar cycles. To refuse to accept that solar activity has an effect on temperature is to bet against very high odds regardless of whether or not we yet understand precisely why or how it works.

A number of key people promoting the climate scare are repeat offenders with histories of past involvement in the business of prophesying looming disaster for fun and profit. Before climbing onto the GW bandwagon they were preaching about a new ice age, nuclear winter, the ozone hole, acid rain, resource depletion, overpopulation, massive famines and sundry other imminent crises which never eventuated.   The only reasonably certain effect of increased CO2 is a significant increase in plant productivity accompanied by a global greening in arid regions. It is past time to end the climate change farce and start focusing on the very real and serious economic problems which confront us. Continuing to throw billions of dollars at every imaginary threat conjured up by self-anointed experts is an indulgence we can no longer afford.

Walter Starck is one of Australia’s most experienced marine biologists, with a professional career of studying coral reef and marine fishery ecosystems