• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • The Futility of Greenhouse Gas Abatement Continues

    If the Obama administration succeeds in passing the Waxman-Markey energy tax, and it works perfectly, it will only reduce global temperatures by nine hundredths of one degree Fahrenheit. In other words: it will do nothing. The only possible benefits from Waxman-Markey occur if the rest of the world, including the globe’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases– China– also reduces its emissions. So how are those negotiations going? Financial Times reports:

    China and the US failed to achieve a breakthrough at their latest round of climate talks yesterday, raising the stakes in the global effort to fight global climate change.

    Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s special envoy on climate change, tried to sound optimistic when the US delegation ended its China visit but could hardly conceal that little had been achieved. Mr Stern, who before leaving for China had said, “Let’s get this damn thing started [between the US and China],” did his best to paper over the lack of progress.

    Chinese officials maintained that the two countries should have a “common but differentiated approach” – code for Beijing’s reluctance to adopt a formal domestic mandate to reduce its carbon emissions. The US Congress is considering a bill that would reduce US emissions to 83 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. China wants the US to cut its emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 – a different order of magnitude. It also wants the US to pledge up to 1 per cent of its gross domestic product to pay for clean technology in China and elsewhere.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to The Futility of Greenhouse Gas Abatement Continues

    1. Nancy Levy, Milwauke says:

      Lost in this debate is any consideration of the veracity of the argument that human activity has caused an increase in global temperature. If it could be proven to the satisfaction of most reasonable people that, in fact, there is no global warming due to an increase in greenhouse gases, then the Waxman-Markey bill would have all the air taken out of it, so to speak.

      Here are the reasons I do not believe that the earth is in any danger of heating up due to human production of greenhouse gases:

      1. Several years ago, I asked one of the 3 founders of Greenpeace (you would be correct to assume that he was not a conservative!) what he thought about global warming. His answer surprised me. First he said that the earth's atmosphere is so vast and complex that it would be difficult to say with any certainty what effect additional greenhouse gases would have on it. Then he observed that although CO2 would have a warming effect, on the other hand, water vapor would have a cooling effect. So that it might turn out that we would have global cooling instead of global warming.

      2. A few months ago, after turning over his answer for years in my mind, I googled greenhouse gases & water vapor, as well as global warming & water vapor, and despite the fact that the contributors were all at odds as to whether or not there was global warming, they did agree that:

      a. the warming of the atmosphere by additional CO2 allows the atmosphere to absorb more water vapor, which itself is heated by the CO2, and thereby permits additional water vapor to enter the atmosphere.

    2. Nancy Levy, Milwauke says:

      b. Eventually, there is so much water vapor in the atmosphere that it condenses into clouds.

      c. Clouds have 3 effects:

      I. They act like a sweater lying atop the atmosphere, keeping the warmth in.

      II. They leak radiation (heat) out into the stratosphere, thereby removing heat from our atmosphere.

      III. They prevent the sun's heat from entering the atmosphere.

      So, net, clouds have a cooling effect.

      Add to this, that although from 1988 to 2000 actual measurement revealed that the earth's temperature was increasing, since 2000 the temperature has been decreasing. My conclusion is that additional greenhouse gases cause a slight fluctuation in the earth's temperature, but in an alternating pattern. Thus, first there is heating and then there is cooling, and these alternating patterns over time essentially neutralize each other. So, there is, in the long run, no effective temperature change.

      And no need, therefore, for Waxman-Markey.

    3. Warren Funk, William says:

      I have been trying to figure out why additional CO2 is a cause of global warning, but so far without success. If someone can clarify this for me, I would appreciate it.

      My mystification is based on some fairly straightforward physics: if you google "atmospheric absorption spectrum" or something similar, you will be directed (probably at wikipedia.com) to a web page that shows how radiation in the band emitted by the ~286K earth, from ~8 microns to ~20 microns in wavelength, is absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. You will see, as I did, that essentially all the radiation emitted in the band between 10 and 12 microns, where CO2 absorbs, based on molecular vibrations, is already completely absorbed! In fact, some of the measurements reported are ~50 years old, long before the current growth in CO2 concentrations took place! So, if there's been enough CO2 in the atmosphere to absorb all of the emitted radiation in that band for a long time, what difference can it make to add more of the gas? You can't absorb more than everything!

      That's a bit of a simplification, for two reasons: first, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere will cause the absorption band to broaden slightly, thereby absorbing a touch more of the radiation presently outside the absorption band. But that would be a very nonlinear change, in the sense that increasing the concentration of CO2 by a factor of 10 might only increase absorption by a few percent.

      The second reason is that, given the absorption properties of the CO2 in the atmosphere now, the extinction length (the distance in which essentially all the radiation in the band is absorbed) is somewhere around 10 m, or 32 ft. Doubling CO2 would probably reduce the extinction length to half its present value. To see or model that, however, the simulations that the global warming "scientists" base their projections on would have to have the capability to analyze the atmosphere on grids with a spacing of a few meters. I happen to know that the best they can do today in climate simulation is a grid scale of a few kilometers! No way today's models could see that subtle effect.

      So I don't get it. What am I missing?

    4. Warren Funk, William says:

      I have a further issue with the idea of anthropogenic global warming, also based on some fairly simple physics. I invite you to try it for yourself.

      Starting with the fact that the sun converts 4,000,000 tons of matter to energy every second (impressive, ain't it!), you can calculate the total energy output of the sun. The earth will intercept a fraction of that energy equal to the ratio of the area it presents to the sun (area = pi * r squared, where r is the radius of the earth, ~4000 mi) to the area of the sphere irradiated by the sun at the earth's orbital radius (area = 4 * pi * r cubed, where r is now the radius of the earth's orbit, about 93,000,000 mi). If you do that calculation you will get a number that corresponds quite closely to the solar constant, the solar power per unit area in the vicinity of the earth, of about 1500 W/m squared. The total power input from the sun, every second of every day, with only minor fluctuations associated with the various solar cycles, is about 20,000 TW (that's terawatts, each one equivalent to 1 million million Watts).

      One nice thing about the earth, from a simple-minded scientist's point of view, is that it is an essentially isolated system. By this I mean that, aside from solar radiation coming in and thermal radiation going out, there is no other process affecting the earth's temperature. This makes it possible to draw conclusions about what is going on based on relatively simple analyses, like this one.

      So, what is the anthropogenic heating term? You can google that one, too, and even the IPCC agrees that it amounts to a total of about 15 TW, slightly less than 0.1% of the solar heating term. We mustn't forget that the earth is also radiating the heat contained in its molten core (the source of geothermal heating). Googling that yields a value of about 45 TW, about 0.2% of the solar heating term.

      I would be grateful if someone can explain to me how us humans, who contribute such a small amount to the global energy balance, can be responsible for temperature swings as large as global warming "scientists" would have us believe.

      It's worth noting that the fluctuations in solar energy output I mentioned before, combined with variations in the earth's orbital parameters, can vary the total energy input to the earth by an amount about as large as the total amount attributed to human activities. To this simple mind, that would be a more logical place to look for the cause of the warming trend that created all this excitement.

    5. Warren Funk, William says:

      A point I missed in my first post: to get the "solar constant" number, you have to account for the fact that the earth reflects much of the incoming solar radiation. The factor is quantified as the earth's albedo, which is 0.367. The earth reflects 36.7% of the incoming light, so it has to be removed from the calculation. Of course, as earlier posters have pointed out, if the earth's temperature actually does increase, the amount of water evaporating into the atmosphere will increase, thereby increasing cloudiness and the albedo and reducing the amount of energy that actually is available for absorption at the earth's surface.

    6. Warren Funk, William says:

      One final note: another advantage of the earth's 'isolated' condition is that it is fairly simple to calculate the amount of radiation that the earth emits, based on its temperature. This calculation is not quite so simple, but if you google "Stefan-Boltzmann" you'll find the equation that governs it and describes its temperature dependence. A little work will allow you to use the equation to predict the spectrum of radiated energy. A little more work (and some high school calculus) will allow you to predict how much additional energy would be radiated if the earth's average temperature were to go up as much as global warming "scientists" predict, even in the absence of further increases in CO2 concentration. If I haven't made any arithmetic errors, the answer is in the neighborhood of 10 TW. In other words, if human energy output is driving global warming, it would have to roughly double in a decade or so to produce the predicted result.

      That seems more than a little unlikely, even if the BRIC nations were not mired in the same economic mess we are, and were continuing to grow their output at the same high rate they enjoyed two and more years ago.

      In fact, if the global warming alarmists were correct, wouldn't we expect to see the earth's temperatures correlated with economic cycles?

      I'm looking for someone to come along and point out where I've gone wrong in my analysis of this situation. Failing that, I'll have no option but to conclude that anthropogenic global warming is so much baloney.

      For people (almost invariably people with no scientific credentials) to say that the science is clear and the debate is over, offends my sense of propriety greatly. But perhaps I'll leave that for another time.

    7. Barb -mn says:

      It all balances out. It's nature. It's frustrating and dangerous to witness the authority in this country be so immaturely, arrogantly, unaccepting of facts and truth. To destroy lives in all areas.

    8. Albert G. Roark says:

      It seems odd to me that no one is talking about the greenery we destroy every day in the name of progress. I seem to remember something about photosynthesis having something to do with removing carbon dioxide from the air and replacing it with oxygen. Fewer plants = more co2/less o2. Maybe them tree hugger nuts were on to something. what'cha think? Just an old man's rambling, but it seems to me that a few more greenscapes and a lot less concrete would make a lot more sense than some of the silly stuff coming out of D.C.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.