Greenhouse gas theory disproved with two fish boxes and a roll of cling film

Cling film – useful for keeping food fresh and debunking climate change, apparently

SOMETIMES in the world of climate science “scepticism”, things can become a little surreal. A bit odd, if you will, to the point where you need to inflict a sharp pain upon your person to confirm you’ve not drifted off into an alternate reality.

Like the time when TV station Channel Seven, for example, chose a “climate expert” who, as it later turned out, had once written a book called “Pawmistry” describing how reading your cat’s paws could reveal their unique character.

Or the time when a Christian fundamentalist claimed the Victorian bushfires were his god’s revenge for the state’s “incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb”.

Then there was the time when US free market think-tank the Heartland Institute said that “the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

To me, the odd thing about these instances is not that they actually happened or that there are people with enough arrogance and ideology to believe their own fantasies. What’s odd, is that people in positions of influence still associate themselves with them.

Ken Ring, the “pawmistry” guy, still gets slots on Channel Seven. He was on again just a couple of months ago.

The fundamentalist Christian Pastor Daniel Nalliah recently hosted climate science denier extraordinaire Lord Christopher Monckton, who is also favoured by the world’s richest woman Gina Rinehart.

The Heartland Institute may have paid the price for its billboard campaign comparing acceptance of climate science to the unabomber, but it didn’t stop Institute of Public Affairs science fellow Professor Bob Carter concluding the campaign was a good idea.

And so with all this in mind, we come to the latest episode where Queensland’s currently in-power Liberal-National Party has accepted a motion that climate science shouldn’t be taught in schools. The proposer of the motion, which was accepted unanimously (but may not be taken up by the parliamentary wing of the party), is a Dr Richard Pearson, from Noosa.

It now appears that Dr Pearson has been running his own climate science experiments at home, in his kitchen, with results that some may find remarkable. Armed only with thermometers, two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film, Dr Pearson believes he may have disproved the greenhouse effect (you may now pinch yourself).

We know this becuase he wrote about his experiment on the website of the climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement – patron, radio presenter Alan Jones. Dr Pearson’s conclusion?

 The Greenhouse Effect theory is not confirmed by this experiment and may be disproved by it.

Now, even though the notion that a guy in his kitchen in Noosa armed with two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film could single-handedly disprove the greenhouse theory may seem a little fanciful (because I acknowledge that to some it may), I thought I’d waste the time of an actual atmospheric scientist.

Because after all, I don’t presume to be a scientist even though I did once make one of those volcanoes from bicarb of soda, vinegar and food colouring. My experiment was a success and also falsified the outrageous claim that my mum’s tablecloth was “stainless”.

I guess though that there’s an extraordinarily slim chance that a Nobel prize could be winging its way to Dr Pearson’s residence (he could put it in his fish cooler box for safe keeping). So I asked Professor Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre to review Dr Pearson’s experiment. This is his response. Settle in.

This request falls at an interesting time, as I just finished lecturing about the greenhouse effect to students who have no background in science  – they’re mostly arts majors.  At this point I would expect – or hope – these students have sufficient understanding to see why this “experiment” by Dr. Pearson did not work.  In fact I may use this as a test question or follow-up question to see if they understood the lecture.  Also, if Dr. Pearson would spend even one hour studying the greenhouse effect he would learn why this test does not work.

The greenhouse effect is determined by the difference in temperature between the added infrared absorber (in this case, CO2) and the surface.  Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere radiate to space at an average temperature of about 250K (-23C).  It is because they are so cold that they exert a greenhouse effect.  Absorbers at temperatures matching those of the surface would exert no greenhouse effect.

In his film-covered boxes, the temperature is essentially uniform.  Thus there is no greenhouse effect, no matter what substance he puts into the box.  Incidentally for a number of years I had students build such boxes(not filled with CO2) and they can be a good way to learn about radiation — for example, if he places this (air-filled) box outside at night he will see that the temperature falls below the surface temperature.  This is because of emission of infrared radiation which is not balanced by sunlight.

In fact, Dr. Pearson could mimic the true greenhouse effect if he could build a several-layer system and put CO2 in the top layer, but thermally insulate it from the lower layer.  This would be quite a bit more difficult to build, and the performance could be severely compromised by diffusion of heat within the apparatus and to the outside, but in principle could begin to reveal the greenhouse effect.

By the way, the greenhouse trapping of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not a theory as Pearson falsely claims but is directly observed by satellites.  It is an observed fact, and the warming follows from the principle of conservation of energy, which is as close to observed fact as one gets with theories in physics.

So there you go.  If only Dr Pearson had checked with an actual expert in atmospheric physics, then he could have saved himself some time and the cost of some Glad Wrap.

If you bother to read Dr Pearson’s “experiment” then it could sound vaguely plausible to non-experts, such as the vast majority of the general public. At the end of his experiment, Dr Pearson recounts how his daughter had questioned how a man with cling film could “disprove a theory that hundreds of climate scientists around the world say is true”. “That my darling is science”, was Dr Pearson’s response. Is it really?

“When Dr. Pearson says, “that’s science,” he is I am afraid kidding himself,” adds Professor Sherwood. “The way a real scientist interprets an observation is to write down the equations governing the system.  This is what my students have done.  They are not hard, and for the type of system Dr Pearson is putting together do not involve, for example, calculus – only the ability to solve a coupled system of linear equations.  Only then do you know whether you are interpreting it correctly.”

Professor Matthew England, of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre and also chairman of the Australian Climate Commission’s science advisory panel, says the motion which Dr Pearson managed to get passed at the LNP’s state conference could have broad ramifications, if only for the state’s reputation.

If the proposal to remove greenhouse science from the school curriculum is enacted, Queensland’s education system will become an international joke overnight.  Basic greenhouse gas physics has been established with around 200 years of scientific progress – any move to muzzle climate science facts from being taught at schools will be condemned as world’s worst practice in scientific education.
So if the Queensland Education Minister John Paul Langbroek does act on the motion from his party, then Prof England says the  state will be a laughing stock.
Until then, we’ll just have to settle for the majority of the members of the LNP.
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Wild weather is a welcome to the rest of our lives

Peter Sinclair, of Climate Denial Crock of the Week, looks at the recent record-smashing weather events in the United States.

New research put together by more than 400 scientists from across the world, published this week, finds that greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels are increasing the chances of extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts and floods happening.

Left sounding especially hollow and irresponsible in this video are the interspersed comments from Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who says the world can “adapt” to what he says is an “engineering problem”.

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Donna Laframboise and The Delinquent Think Tank

This post was orginally published at DeSmogBlog.

CANADIAN blogger and climate science sceptic Donna Laframboise has flown off for a tour of Australia to tell anyone willing to listen that the world’s foremost body on climate change, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is something resembling a shambling mess.

Laframboise’s trip has been organised by free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which has a long history of promoting doubt about the science of human-caused climate change and the risks of the unmitigated burning of fossil fuels.

The blogger, who describes herself as an investigative journalist, gets to visit Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to promote her book “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken For The World’s Top Climate Expert – IPCC Expose.

The IPA describe’s Laframboise as a “world renowned author” which is stretching credibility to breaking point. This “world renowned author” has written just two books. Her first was about feminism published in 1996. The Delinquent Teenager is her second, and is currently ranked #17952 in the book seller Amazon’s Kindle store [#41,202 in the U.S. Amazon Kindle Store.]

Essentially the book makes three central claims. The first is that the IPCC has engaged several young scientists which Laframboise says goes against the IPCC’s claims that they use the world’s top scientists. A second is that some of the scientists working on some of the reports have links to environmental groups which are not always made clear. A third is that the IPCC reports use too much non-peer reviewed literature.

All of these arguments are used as a proxy to question the science. Yet the IPCC’s main climate change reports (the latest being the 2007 Assessment Report 4, the next being AR5 currently being worked on by more than 800 authors and expected some time in late 2013 or early 2014) don’t actually do any science.

They are reviews – albeit almighty ones – of research being conducted at institutions around the world and of scientific papers published in journals.  This means that even if the IPCC was found to be run by a small group of mentally-challenged llamas, this wouldn’t affect the science on human-caused climate change. In essence, Laframboise’s book is one giant strawman argument.

Continue reading “Donna Laframboise and The Delinquent Think Tank”

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Gina Rinehart’s bid for Fairfax leaves its newspapers’ credibility staring down a mineshaft

This blog first appeared at DeSmogBlog.

WHEN you think the news stories just aren’t going your way – when parts of the media just refuse to toe your particular ideological line – what are your options?

For most people, the choices are limited. You could perhaps write a letter to the editor or maybe even pen an opinion piece or start your own blog.

But if you’re the world’s richest woman with a penchant for climate science denial and a coal and iron ore empire to maintain, then your options are considerably broader.

This week, the Australian oligarch Gina Rinehart took the logical step for someone with a personal fortune approaching $30 billion and bought the opposition.

The mining magnate now holds 19 per cent of all the shares in Fairfax – the Australian media organisation which owns the country’s most respected newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne) and the Australian Financial Review.

Rinehart has been increasingly vocal in her opposition to taxes on mining and the Labor Government’s carbon price legislation, while backing and promoting climate science doubt mongerers – even going as far as to appoint one to the board of two of her companies.

Beyond the publicly-funded ABC, in Australia Fairfax provides the only mainstream centre-left balance to much of the anti-environmental, climate sceptic rhetoric offered by the columnists in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Ltd papers.

Rinehart is understood to be asking for three seats on the Fairfax board, one of which would likely be taken by her Canadian-born advisor Jack Cowin, the owner of the Hungry Jacks burger franchise who has said that Rinehart should be allowed to help set the group’s news agenda. Cowin is also a board member of Channel Ten alongside Rinehart, who owns a near 13 per cent stake in the television network. Continue reading “Gina Rinehart’s bid for Fairfax leaves its newspapers’ credibility staring down a mineshaft”

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Premier Newman Can Do Climate Science Denial

JUST in case anyone was in any doubt, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman reminded Australia earlier this week that his state was most certainly “in the coal business” and that protecting the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t come before fossil fuel exports.

But as well as being “in the coal business”, it appears that Premier Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell are taking their first steps into the business of climate science denial.

Minister Powell repeated a statement he had made to ABC’s Radio National that he was not convinced that humans were having an impact on climate change, a position which immediately puts him at odds with every national scientific academy in the world, the advice from his own chief scientist and the position of the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Nations.

While Minister Powell made a point of saying that the environment should be protected (what else could the environment minister say, after all) his boss, Premier Campbell Newman, decided his minister’s view on climate change was “refreshing“. I’d choose a different word.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, Mr Powell said his views were “fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population” as if this was a valid excuse.

Fortunately in this case, the general public are not the ones studying the complex nature of positive feedbacks in the climate system or taking meticulous observations of global temperatures to find we’ve just had the warmest decade since records began as levels of heat in the atmosphere and oceans continues to climb.

The Premier’s “scepticism” comes down to ignorance of the scientific process and entirely unrealistic expectations of the climate science community. Take these quotes as exhibits.

I mean, the sea level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years… we don’t know what the impacts are precisely. We don’t. The scientists don’t…. But in terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change, anybody who says they know is having a lend of you, and it’s about time people started to tell the truth… We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, the scientists don’t know and there’s a lot of scientists arguing about the actual precise impacts.

Newman’s statements might seem reasonable to the majority of Queenslanders disengaged from the climate change issue, but they show an abject failure to understand how climate change science works.

Take the Premier’s mention of sea level rise. Of course the projections have changed in the last 15 years, because the issue of sea level rise isn’t yet a closed book. Few scientific endeavours ever are. Sea level rise projections in the last IPCC report came from research which took place around 2005. Depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level would be between 18 and 59 cm higher by the end of this century than it was in 2000, but the report had a very important caveat.

The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.

In other words, there was still lots of work to be done to give policy makers and planners a better idea of what to expect. And there was still uncertainties that could push the sea level to much higher levels. Today, as the research effort has continued, even the most conservative climate scientists talk of sea level rises of a metre or more.

The Queensland Government’s own Office of Climate Change, which Premier Newman is in the process of closing, outlined the impact of sea level rise on the state in it’s “Climate Change in Queensland” report two years ago. A half metre rise in sea level would likely increase the chances of extreme events such as flooding from occuring once every 100 years to several times a year. As a former mayor of Brisbane, which experience devastating floods a little over a year ago, you might think the Premier may have taken some interest.

Being the complex system that our world’s climate is, the estimates of how high temperatures will go, how high sea levels will rise, how rainfall will change or how many extreme heatwaves and super-cyclones we might get, always come with an uncertainty range. Anyone who has ever read a peer-reviewed climate science paper knows this.

Hinting that we should be waiting until we’re 100 per cent sure what will happen before we take firm action, is a bit like saying you’re happy to drive your car at double the speed limits because no-one can say for sure that you’ll definitely crash. And while everyone has heard the stories of a grandparent who smoked 50 cigarettes a day and lived until they were 90, most people acknowledge that smoking massively increases your chances of dying of cancer.

Perhaps the Premier’s statements are instead an attempt to offset his own cognitive dissonance – the sick feeling that you get inside when you try and hold two conflicting positions simultaneously.

Because if the Premier does believe, as he also said, that “we’re using non-renewable resources and we need to change our ways” then how can he also proudly declare that Queensland is “in the coal business” while dismissing a UNESCO report criticising the coal and gas export infrastructure being built alongside the Great Barrier Reef, risking its World Heritage status?

In 2009 while then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman – known as Can Do Campbell – was busily pushing his green credentials, the Labor opposition accused him of being a “climate change sceptic” without providing much evidence.

After all, his council had a “Plan for Action on Climate Change and Energy” and a “Climate Change and Energy Taskforce”. Newman was determined to make Brisbane Australia’s most sustainable city, said the United Nations Environment Programme, by running low-emissions buses, planting trees, having a bike share program and buying renewable energy.

The then Lord Mayor even launched the Green Heart City Smart scheme, with its ubiquitous “I [green heart] Brisbane” catchphrase and branding.

It seems now though, that Mr Newman’s heart is conflicted with coal and climate science denial.

Pic: Flickr/dale.n

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Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?

CAMPAIGNS to inject ideologically-driven climate science denial into schools are moving up a notch or two.

In Australia, we’ve had mining entrepreneur and geologist Professor Ian Plimer’s book released late last year, supported by free-market think-tank The Institute for Public Affairs and targeting school children and teachers.

In the US, the recent unauthorised release of fundraising documents from the free-market think tank The Heartland Institute revealed a plan to spend at least $100,000 to design a climate science curriculum for schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 which would focus on the “controversy” of climate science.

On the back of this revelation, the Climate Reality project has released a one-minute video that imagines what school students might say about climate science if plans such as Heartland’s (or Professor Plimer’s for that matter) were to come to fruition.

Yet in reality, it’s a campaign which has already started.

Continue reading “Climate misinformation coming to a school near you?”

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Is a misleading climate change op-ed in the Wall Street Journal really news?

WHAT’S news these days when it comes to climate change?

Could it be the news that rising temperatures could severely affect the world’s wheat crops maybe?

Or how about how human emissions of carbon dioxide have “raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations

Nah. Well, at least not if you’re The Australian newspaper, which just loves to send reality spinning down rabbit holes when it comes to climate change.

What’s news for The Australian, is that 16 “scientists” with outlying views on the risks of human-caused climate change have dusted off their previously debunked talking points for an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

So confident was The Australian about the “facts” contained in the editorial, that they didn’t bother to get a single response from an actual working Australian climate scientist. So let’s do a quick fact check for ourselves. Continue reading “Is a misleading climate change op-ed in the Wall Street Journal really news?”

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Wielding power the Rinehart way

IT was one of those “drop your bacon sandwich at the audacity” kind of stories – the sort of revelation that shows what power and influence in a democracy really means.

Australia’s wealthiest individual, Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart, loaded up a couple of Federal MPs onto her private jet and flew them to India for a wedding.  What for?

At the time, Rinehart was trying to secure a deal with infrastructure giant GVK, which had shown an interest in buying into some of her coal mine projects. Walking up the aisle was Mallika Reddy, grandaughter of GVK’s founder GV Krishna Reddy. As was reported in Crikey, the two MPs National Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop were there to “lend cachet” to Rinehart.

Actually, it wasn’t just two MPs. Unreported at the time, but buried away in the register of interests, was an alteration to Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro‘s entry. The change, recorded on 7 July, shows that Gambaro was also on the flight from Perth to India and stayed two nights in Hyderabad.

Continue reading “Wielding power the Rinehart way”

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