Greenhouse gases simply do not absorb enough heat to warm Earth

Greenhouse gases simply do not absorb enough heat to warm Earth
© Getty

Mark Twain, in his inimitable way, is reputed to have quipped “what gets us into trouble is not what we don't know, it's what we know for sure that just ain't so.”

Today, many climate scientists “know for sure” that observed global warming is caused by greenhouse-gas emissions. Many have worked tirelessly for decades, publishing thick summary reports, forging the appearance of a scientific consensus sufficient to convince political leaders to take action to prevent runaway global warming.

ADVERTISEMENT
Such an agreement was reached in Paris on December 12, 2015. If greenhouse-gases are indeed the problem, their work will go down in history as heroic.

 

But science is not done by consensus, by popular vote, or by group think. As Michael Crichton put it: “In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”

The drive to demonstrate scientific consensus over greenhouse-warming theory has had the unintended consequence of inhibiting genuine scientific debate about the ultimate cause of global warming.

Believers of “the consensus” argue that anyone not agreeing with them is uninformed, an idiot or being paid by nefarious companies. The last thing most climate scientists want to consider at this point, when they think they are finally winning the climate wars, is the possibility of some problem with the science of greenhouse-warming theory. Believe me, I have tried for several years to communicate the problem to numerous leading climate scientists.

New data and improved understanding now show that there is a fatal flaw in greenhouse-warming theory. Simply put: greenhouse gases do not absorb enough of the heat radiated by Earth to cause global warming.

Understanding this very surprising and rather blunt statement is much easier than you might think. It gets down to understanding why a traditional light bulb gives off a great deal of heat whereas a new LED light bulb producing the same amount of light remains quite cool.

Heat is what makes us feel warm. More formally, heat is thermal energy flowing spontaneously from a warmer body to a cooler body. Thermal energy is well observed at the molecular level to be the oscillation of all the bonds that hold matter together. The hotter the body of matter, the higher the frequencies of oscillation and the higher the amplitudes of oscillation at each frequency of oscillation. In this way, heat and the temperature that results from absorbing heat both consist of a very broad spectrum of all of these frequencies of oscillation.

A traditional light bulb uses a large amount of electricity to heat the tungsten filament to temperatures around 5500 degrees, causing the filament to glow white hot. This high temperature is required to produce visible white light. The glowing filament gives off a very broad spectrum of frequencies of radiation, however, that we perceive as heat. Only a very small number of the highest of these frequencies are useful as visible light.

A new LED light bulb, on the other hand, uses a very small amount of electricity to cause a diode to emit a very narrow range of frequencies within the spectrum of visible light. The LED radiates only visible light — it does not radiate heat.

The primary purpose of a light bulb is to provide visible light. To repeat, a traditional light bulb radiates heat, a small portion of which is visible light. An LED on the other hand, only radiates visible light, requiring much less electricity. This is why you can substantially reduce your electric bills by replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs.

How does this apply to greenhouse gases? Detailed laboratory studies of absorption of radiation show that carbon dioxide absorbs less than 16 percent of all the frequencies making up the heat radiated by Earth. Just like LEDs, this limited number of frequencies absorbed by carbon dioxide does not constitute heat. This limited number of frequencies cannot cause an absorbing body of matter to get much hotter because it contains only a very small part of the heat required to do so.

Current radiation theory and current climate models assume that all radiation is created equal—that all radiation is the same no matter the temperature of the radiating body. Current theory simply assumes that what changes is the amount of such generic radiation measured in watts per square meter.

Extensive observations of radiation emitted by matter at different temperatures, however, show us clearly that the physical properties of radiation, the frequencies and amplitudes of oscillation making up radiation, increase in value rapidly with increasing temperature of the radiating body.

Climate scientists argue that the thermal energy absorbed by greenhouse gases is re-radiated, causing warming of air, slowing cooling of Earth and even directly warming Earth. There simply is not enough heat involved in any of these proposed processes to have any significant effect on global warming. Greenhouse-warming theory “just ain’t so.”

Peter L. Ward worked 27 years with the United States Geological Survey. He was the chairman of the White House Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems during the Clinton administration. He’s published more than 50 scientific papers. He retired in 1998 but continues working to resolve several enigmatic observations related to climate change. His work is described in detail at WhyClimateChanges.com and in his book What Really Causes Global Warming? Greenhouse gases or ozone depletion? Follow him on Twitter at @yclimatechanges.