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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Monday, November 28, 2011

Natural Air Conditioning for the Lazy, Hazy Days of Carbon

Timothy Birdnow

One of the unquestioned assumptions in the Global Warming, er, Climate Change, er, Climate Disruption and Flatulence Events, is that carbon dioxide heats the planet. This idea flows from fundamental physics (put CO2 in a jar with a thermometer and watch the mercury rise) and from observations of the planet Venus, which is hotter than the melting point of lead and hotter than the combustion temperature of wood. Venus should be warm but in the liquid-water range (and, in fact, likely once was under 200* F.) yet, thanks to huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the planet is a balmy 900* F. or so. This has led the majority of scientists to conclude that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

But what exactly do we mean by the term? Any gas does not act in isolation - except in the bell jar experiment. It acts as part of a larger, more dynamic system. The atmosphere of Mars is 95% CO2, yet the planet is much COLDER than it should be, with most of the atmosphere frozen solid. Mars should have a climate similar to Sweden in many places, yet it is bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping below any of the worst parts of antarctica. This while the planet has an atmosphere composed primarily of that dreaded greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. How can this be?

There are huge differences between Venus, the Earth, and Mars. The Venusian atmosphere is almost entirely CO2, and it lost what water it once possessed to space. Venus barely rotates, with a day longer than it's year (a Venusian day is 243 Earth days, while a year is 224.7) which means you get bumpkis for a coriolis effect, meaning no rotating air masses, no hurricanes, no tornadoes, no squat for air movement. There is no moon, so Venus is subject solely to solar tides, which are of limited impact given the slow rotation. In short, Venus is like an anthill under a child's magnifying glass. It's going to be hot, hot, hot.

Mars, on the other hand, is so cold it cannot get a jump start. The atmosphere is frozen on the surface for much of the year, and when it finally warms it increases wind speed, picking up dust and dropping the planet's temperature back down. Mars suffers from too voluminous an atmosphere; it cannot get surface temperatures high enough. The atmosphere is voluminous because of the weaker Martian gravity. Even so, it belies the argument that CO2 is such a powerful driver of climate. Mars has water, too, but it is frozen into a rock most places, and will not come out. Mars has a decent rotation, but no major moon (Phobos and Deimos are little more than paltry asteroids) to create tides, too, which suggest that tidal forces may be vitally important to Earth's atmosphere. Oh, and Mars sits on the edge of the asteroid belt, and gets pelted by debris regularly. It is heavily cratered. Every major asteroid strike would knock dust into the sky, cooling planetary temperatures.

But Earth is unlike either of these worlds, and there is no reason to believe that CO2 operates the same as on either. Why should it? There is considerable mixing of gases, convections which make predicting Earthly weather extraordinarily difficult. There are tidal forces, for instance, unlike anyplace else. There is the Van Allan radiation belt, the result of the Earth's magnetic field. Venus rotates too slowly for a magnetic field, and Mars does not have a molten interior. We see the aurora in north and south, the effects of the solar wind visible to us mortals. This has got to have an effect on our climate, yet we do not have the foggiest idea. And let's not get started on Milankovitch Cycles...

Here is a paper that argues that, unlike on Venus, Earthly CO2 actually acts as a coolant.


There is a fallacy dominating the way of our thinking in current climate research
that radiative gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour are regarded greenhouse gases
that trap heat and warm up the atmosphere. This article will show it is non-radiative nitrogen
and oxygen gases that award the Earth a warm liveable near surface atmosphere. Radiative
gases such as carbon dioxide are cooler than, gain heat by molecular collision from, and
dissipate heat by radiation for nitrogen and oxygen.

End abstract.

While the simple bell-jar experiment couldn't possibly work this way, why shouldn't we see things differently in the dynamic system that is the Earth's atmosphere? Remember; gases to not generate heat, merely absorb it. There is no such thing as cold, really, but rather the absence of heat, and an air conditioner works by moving heat from one place to another. If CO2 is so good at absorbing heat, why shouldn't it act as the freon in a giant air-conditioning system in our atmosphere, moving heat upward and dissipating it into space?

And that has been the crux of the argument over Global Warming; what are the natur of feedbacks, and how do they operate. The IPCC and other alarmists argue feedbacks are positive, creating a feedback loop that will drive the planetary temperatures ever higher. CO2, they argue, will warm the planet enough to trigger the evaporation of more water vapor, which will then trigger more CO2, which will then trigger the release of methane and other high-powered greenhouse gases, leading to more water vapor...

But our experience suggests otherwise; certainly Mars is stuck in a negative feedback rut (and a pity; it could be SETTLED by humans if it would ever come out of the eternal ice age). In fact, warming proceeds a rise in CO2 in the historical record - often by as much as 800 years (interestingly, we had a warm period 800 years ago called the Medieval Warming Period). Planetary temperatures have been stable since 1995, suggesting we may have peaked in our warming and are on the downslide despite rising CO2 levels (and who is to say those levels are truly caused by Man; we only assume that; we do not have actual industrial emissions measurements to prove the assumption). It may be the rise in CO2 is actually cooling the planet, and perhaps we will regret cutting emissions when an ice age hits?

The point is, we aren't willing to consider this in the slightest. There is a template, a narrative, and woe unto he who thinks outside of the carbon box. But science is the ultimate home of rebels, because the most cherished views are regularly overturned by those who refuse to conform to the "concensus", and the lone rebel is often proven right. We must think the unthinkable sometimes. Perhaps this silly fear of carbon should be reconsidered.

Maybe CO2 is an air-conditioner? Perhaps in twenty, thirty years we will be missing the lazy, hazy days of carbon?

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