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Greenhouse warming 100 times greater than waste heat

What the science says...

The contribution of waste heat to the global climate is 0.028 W/m2. In contrast, the contribution from human greenhouse gases is 2.9 W/m2. Greenhouse warming is adding about 100 times more heat to our climate than waste heat.

Climate Myth...

It's waste heat

"Global warming is mostly due to heat production by human industry since the 1800s, from nuclear power and fossil fuels, better termed hydrocarbons, – coal, oil, natural gas. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2 play a minor role even though they are widely claimed the cause." (Morton Skorodin)

When humans use energy, it gives off heat. Whenever we burn fossil fuels, heat is emitted. This heat doesn't just disappear - it dissipates into our environment. How much does waste heat contribute to global warming? This has been calculated in Flanner 2009 (if you want to read the full paper, access details are posted here). Flanner contributes that the contribution of waste heat to the global climate is 0.028 W/m2. In contrast, the contribution from human greenhouse gases is 2.9 W/m2 (IPCC AR4 Section 2.1). Waste heat is about 1% of greenhouse warming.

Radiative forcing from waste heat vs anthropogenic greenhouse gas radiative forcing

What does these numbers mean? They refer to radiative forcing, the change in energy flux at the top of the atmosphere. Or putting it in plain English, the amount of heat being added to our climate. Greenhouse warming is currently adding about 100 times more heat to our climate than waste heat.

Last updated on 27 July 2010 by John Cook.

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 198:

  1. Thank you Tom for steering this in the right direction. The two "theories" are probably outliers even in the bizarre world of pseudoscience.
  2. Tom Curtis Fist up I'm not here to disrail anything as you know I've just created my first post here and had you guys jump all over it and If you were to take the time to see were I'm coming from you may get a clearer picture I do see and have a basic understanding of the green house effect and in NO way am I dissputing the theory I also lived through the 70's when our emissions were even more toxic to our health and the enviroment and if we kept going on like we were back then and didn't clean up our lead and sulfur emissions when there was only a third of the population then who knows were we would stand today. Anyway I was just about to watch a movie that has to go back But I do want to get back to you after it finishes with a heap more info I'll leave you with this. I'm more concerned about our com's and radar systems affecting the weather patterns then creating global warming I would like it if you would read this so we can create some common ground It's not the absorption but the exitement Do you remember when man had to re enter the atmosphere for the first time the fear was all about the angel of re entry to shallow and they would bounce off and to steep and they would burn up well thats what I'm getting at HOT spots created by forcing And the higher the frequencies the less is absorbed and can be reflected I'll get back to you And as you can see I'm not that well educated but I do pride myself on being smart enough to learn Cheers be back soon (-Snip-)

    [DB] Inflammatory snipped.  Please focus on the science.  And a suggestion:  Paragraph breaks and periods at the end of sentences would add to the readability of your comment.

  3. TomC: You are being very charitable in calling these 'theories.' No such formal structure exists in that world: Microwaves scatter THROUGH the atmosphere whereas solar radiation does not. As the microwaves penetrate to the surface, the water, ice, and atmosphere have microwave frequencies passing through them. This causes friction in the ice and water at the molecular level. This friction causes heat which is called Radio Frequency Heating. This is the basic principle behind the Microwave Oven. Speaks for itself. Perhaps we should put microwave towers in corn fields ... and grow popcorn already popped!
  4. muoncounter @103, what can I say? I'm a charitable person ;). I particularly liked the claim in one of the links that microwaves heated the ice and water, and IR did not, because IR was absorbed by the ice and water, while microwaves passed through them. (Your quote expresses a similarly bizzare sentiment.)
  5. jmorpus @102: 1) You claim that:
    " I do see and have a basic understanding of the green house effect and in NO way am I dissputing the theory"
    but in an earlier post on another thread (now deleted) your wrote:
    "You state in your last paragraph that CO2 is the primary driver for global warming Well I cant see it as the main driver it is only reacting to the radio waves that are ejected from the sun and man has been pumping man made noise into the atmosphere for more then a centuary When you guys start looking down the radiated electromagnetic path then I'LL start taking you seriously."
    Ergo, your claim to have not disputed the theory of the greenhouse effect is proven false; as also is your claim to understand it. 2) I make no apology if I have misunderstood your theory, because to the extent that I have it is because you have refused to elaborate it. Instead you have merely posted unexplained links and made cryptic comments without further elaboration. The former is in clear contravention of the comments policy which states:
    "No link or pic only. Links to useful resources are welcome (see HTML tips below). However, comments containing only a link will be deleted. At least provide a short summary of the content of the webpage to facilitate discussion (and show you understand the page you're linking to). Similarly, images are very welcome as they can be very useful in explaining the science. But comments with pictures in isolation without explanation will be deleted."
    (My emphasis) That has been explained to you several times, but still you persist, with your most recent post being the most recent example. What is more, failing to elaborate your theory is a doubly obnoxious behaviour. Obnoxious because it wastes the time of anybody who attempts an honest discussion with you. Obnoxious also because it constitutes a cowardly method of protecting your theory from criticism. Left to your devises you can always claim we have misunderstood your theory whenever the rebutal destroys what that theory appears to have been. Given my very low opinion of people who resort to such tactics (-snip-), unless your next response is a clear and direct statement of your theory, I would suggest moderators simply bar you from polite company, as you would clearly not belong in it. 3) Finally, having read your link, I can again report that it has no relevance to any theory that can be reasonably comported of the few vague hints you have deigned to let out. If you disagree, quote the relevant passages, and explain why they are relevant to your theory. 4) Given that past evidence indicates that you will not explain your theory, I will simply observe that the connection between the effects of cosmic rays and radio waves that you believe to be important in climatology is not so. Cosmic rays form precursors to cloud condensation nuclei because they ionize atoms with which they collide. In contrast, microwaves and radiowaves are not ionizing radiation. Therefore they can have no meteorological effect other than through transfer of energy, and as we know the energy they transfer is to slight to be of consequence.

    [DB] Inflammatory snipped.

  6. Tom C: "Given my very low opinion of people who resort to such tactics (-snip-), unless your next response is a clear and direct statement of your theory . . ." Unless, of course, jmorpuss decides to begin asking questions (on the appropriate threads) about AGW or criticisms of the "radio wave hot spot" proposition, and those questions are asked with the intention to learn and engage rather than to make accusations and protect his/her existing assumptions. If not, I agree: any engagement with jmorpuss is a waste of time.
  7. Tom @105 would you say that this thread is more about Blackbody radiation that follow the 2nd law of thermodynamics The way radiated heat is gobbled up and dispersed by a cooler atmosphere. What I'm trying to bring to the table doesn't fall into this thread, it's more about greybody radiation that is capable of on going heating as it passes through the air because most of the energy is not absorbed rather it vibrates the molecule and causes heat through friction. Also does the CO2 molecule have 3 sharp points (none linear)and has no real rest state unlike H2O which is linear and can spin like a top as well as tumbelling end on end. DSL @106 I'll try and engage but as you can see writing doesn't come easy to me and I'm a slow reader so try and be patient. Remember ladies and gents life is like a mirror you will always get back what you put out so be nice.
  8. jmorpuss @107: 1) You have the molecular configurations exactly backwards. CO2 is linear, with the oxygen atoms aligned 180 degrees from each other relative to the carbon atom. In contrast, in water the hydrogen atoms form a 120 degree angle relative to the oxygen atom. 2) Nearly absorption of energy from radiation by molecules is by alteration of the vibrational pattern or rotation of the molecule. In particular the absorption of microwaves by H2O is due to changes in the rotational state. A summary of this information can be found here. Information on the vibrational absorption patterns (IR absorption) can be found here. Also of interest are the following: General discussion CO2 H2O 3) Even if less energy was absorbed in microwaves, the consequence would be less heating. If that where not the case your theory would violate the conservation of energy. 4) You still fail to adress the very low energies involved in transmitted microwaves relative to incoming solar radiation, and outgoing IR radiation. To repeat, the total energy use of humans represents less than 100th of the additional warming due to CO2 as a result of the greenhouse effect. Total energy transmitted as microwaves is a very small fraction of that total human energy use. Therefore the total energy involved in your theory would be indistinguishable from noise (probably even indistinguishable as noise) relative to the enhanced greenhouse effect. 5) Finally, you have not as requested provided a clear statement of your theory, as per my point 2 in post 105. I therefore suggest to the moderators that we no longer entertain your nonsense.
  9. Tom @107 thanks for clearing up my mistake about linear thing.My theory is based around the greenhouse effect and how man has observed and replicated nature I mean of a night the only thing that ratiates into the atmosphere is blackbody radiation from the surface the moon and stars But man needs to communicate and detect 24/7 so the planet dosen't get time to rest. So the atmosphere is allready warmer then would be when the sun comes up Just one example is our mobile phone network with about 4 million towers and 4.5 billion subscribers. What sort of accumulative effect does this calculate to. The towers put out about a 100 watts and the phone about 2 watts and I haven't even looked at TV and radio, If you start to look at this you can see that there are many many things that add to this night time forcing process that would not be happening if you take man out of the equation. So the effect this has of a night is a thousands times more energy being released then the sun creates of a night.

    [DB] "My theory is based around the greenhouse effect and how man has observed and replicated nature"

    First of all, what you are doing is trying to formulate a hypothesis.  Things that are theories are robust, supported by observational evidence and are testable, having survived countless experimentations by scientists who have documented their work through thousands of research papers in reputable journals.

    One such theory is the radiative physics of greenhouse gases.  Another is AGW.  Centuries of research document and quantify their effects and they are well-supported.  Since you have not even properly quantified the effects of what you propose (like the next two comments already have), let alone support it with research of your own or citations to pre-existing research in the field, what you propose fails to rise to the level of hypothesis yet.

    Read the post at the top.  Learn.  Read the comments on this thread.  Learn more.  Work out the maths.  Read through the links in the OP and in the comments.  Learn more.  If you gain support for what you propose, write it up as a plausible hypothesis complete with maths and citations to other established work which you can then use to support your position.  Then bring the completed homework back here.

    Until then you waste everyone's time here.  And that is putting it nicely (Mr. Curtis has the paitence of a saint, and when he runs out of patience it is due to the intractability of the individual he is trying to help).

  10. jmorpuss you really need to put numbers in your theory, if not I may say that to have a pleasant swim this winter you can just drop a cup of tea in the swimming pool. 4 million 100 W towers plus 4.5 bilion 2 W subscribers sum up to 9.4 GW. That's a lot, sure, but the earth is huge; it's surface area is about 500 million Km2. Dividing the two you get about 2e-5 W/m2. Compare this number to, say, 4 W/m2 of CO2 forcing; it is 200 thousand times smaller. Do we really need to take it into account? The amount of waste heat is known, it's there but it's small.
  11. According to wikipedia, worldwide energy use was about 15 TW in 2008 which equates to 0.03 W/m2
  12. Flanner 2009 says:
    "Utilizing the second law of thermodynamics, it is assumed that all non-renewable primary energy consumption is dissipated thermally in Earth’s atmosphere. Country specific data of energy consumption from non-renewable sources (coal, petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear) were obtained from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ( for year 2005."
    Presumably human energy consumption has increased since then. However, the US EIA 2011 World Energy Outlook put human primary energy consumption in 2008 at 13.56 Terrawatts including renewables, which is approx 0.027 W/m^2. NOAA places 2008 greenhouse forcings at 2.74 W/m^2. Clearly the numbers are not precisely known, but are known well enough to be certain that the enhanced greenhouse effect contributes approximately 100 times the effect of waste heat per annum to warming the Earth's surface.
  13. There's another tiny point relevant to cell phone signals: If atmospheric gasses absorbed those wavelengths, they wouldn't be much use for communication. And isn't that what these devices are designed to do? But in the internet era, every idea, no matter how devoid of substance, gets its own website. A close cousin are the folks who think that microwaves are the culprit. All that effort in support of an 'idea,' despite readily available science to the contrary. Now that's what I call waste heat! Hey, here's an idea which could use a website: Energy from the sun warms the earth's surface, which in turn radiates long wave IR back towards space. Something in the atmosphere absorbs that IR and ...
  14. Muoncounter @113, LOL. Your last idea is obviously too far fetched. It has none of the clean elegance of the Homeopathy for climate that is the microwave theory of global warming.
  15. I dunno. I'm still romantically involved with Hapgood's Crustal Displacement "Theory"; an affair that is unrequited due to the extreme paucity of evidence in favor of it and that damning thing called reality... Not that the paucity of evidence ever gets in the way of a good romance; the id-eology wants what the id-eology wants.
  16. Tom @112 Your link to 2011 world energy outlook states in the second line that it's about the energy market, so I prosume it only takes into account metered power or power that is taken from the grid. How I see it is all that gets taken into account is the poor old public sector and the military and goverments com's and detecting are not taken into account Things like these are of grid and use enormous amounts of power I could give you many more links to antena arrays that are of grid but I've been told not to link dump so I'ii hold back.
  17. muoncounter sorry mate but you critic to the microwave theory is wrong. Maybe you do not know that microwaves heat more because they are NOT absorbed. Read: "If you put ice in the sun rays, the ice will melt eventually at very slow rate. If you subject ice to a microwave frequency, it will melt at much more rapid rate. This is because the suns wave frequency absorb into water and ice, whereas, the microwave frequency will pass through the ice and water." The less power is absorbed, the more heating you get; a nice way to create energy. Or maybe heat is not energy ... I'm a bit confused here.
  18. jmorpuss are you saying that telecom and broadcast companies are off grid?
  19. 118 - Riccardo Maybe it's Shhh ;-] ;-]
  20. Riccardo @117, exactly, the less the energy absorbed the greater the warming. Hence the homeopathy theory of climate. We'll be in real trouble when jmorpuss realized that extreme low frequency radio waves are used to communicate with subs. They carry virtually no energy at all, and very little of what they carry is absorbed by water. Therefore by the homeopathic theory of climate change, they must cause massive warming. It turns out that its the ELFs that are doing it.
  21. Wikipedia has a good, somewhat relevant reference
  22. jmorpuss @116, "primary energy consumption" is defined as:
    "Primary energy consumption refers to the direct use at the source, or supply to users without transformation, of crude energy, that is, energy that has not been subjected to any conversion or transformation process."
    That is, it is the energy capacity of all oil, gas, coal, uranium and what have you that is extracted by any means, including all energy lost as waste heat, and including even the energy of fuels lost due to spillage. Ergo, it includes all energy used by military and governments, as well as that used in the private sector.
  23. Riccardo No their part of the public sector When I came across this It is about power beaming back in 1975 and it made me think what it is being used for today. And here's what is taking place now Do you see what I see
  24. 123 - jmorpuss What do you see? And, assuming it's something to do with your claims, how many kw do you estimate based on what input? Numbers are what counts; all else is just waffle. Well, OK, numbers and physics - but the rest is waffle.
  25. jmorpuss: What about all the energy radiated by high tension power lines? They are 'hot,' carrying many megawatts, 24/7. Why else would power lines be called 'hot'? To do a complete accounting of all this warming potential, you must add that to the count of cell phone towers and microwave ovens. The microwave heating fellow's credentials are stated on his about page: I was studying the Microsoft MCSE Exam 70-058 that I discovered, what I considered, a possible explanation for the Polar Ice caps melting. In the networking essentials book, they said that the connection on a wireless network was a microwave frequency. When I learned that, I was immediately struck with the notion that wireless frequencies could cause warming. I figured if the wireless connections were microwave connections, then with an enormous use of these connections there could be a significant environmental effect over a long period of time. I wish I had such clarity of insight. I'm doing my part by shutting off my wireless router and canceling my dish network subscription.
  26. jmorpuss I see a lot of effort to move energy minimizing losses. And clearly I do not by the idea that the less energy is absorbed the more the air will warm. I belive in energy conservation, call me crazy.
  27. "Your link to 2011 world energy outlook states in the second line that it's about the energy market, so I prosume it only takes into account metered power or power that is taken from the grid. " Ah no. It is about the energy generated and measured at source. Much easier to measure.
  28. This thread starts off with the assertion that GHG's warm the earth to the extent of 2.9 w/m2 compared with .031 generated by man. (according to my calculation using 2012 energy output).  Quite a straightforward calculation shows that .031 equates to raising the entire mass of the earth's atmosphere by 1/10th deg p.a. So GHG's raise it by 10 degrees p.a. - tell that to the fairies! The amount of energy dissipated by radiation from the earth's surface is a tiny fraction of that by conduction, convection (natural) and forced as the following basic physics illustrates:

    1) Long established by theory and measurement we have values for thermal conductivity of gases at STP. Typical experiment has two horizontal parallel plates too close to allow convection and a temperature gradient. The correction for the contribution from radiation is about 5%. (Physics text books)

    2) Natural convection has been well established to obey certain rules for all gases (monatomic, diatomic etc). For air, at 300 deg. K it effectively doubles the conductivity values established in 1 above.

    3) Forced convection - the situation at the earth's surface - is where I make an informed guess. My old car boils if left idling for ten minutes with the fan off, at 30 mph, where the engine is dissipating at least ten times the energy, it is as cool as a cucumber. Perhaps the average wind at the earth's surface is less, but to bend over as far backwards as possible in favour of the GG fanatics, lets say it multiplies cooling by a factor of five rather than ten.

    4) Of this small proportion an even smaller proportion of the spectrum will find molecules with which to resonate. Whether the excited molecule simply exchanges energy with the surface or suffers a collision transfering to kinetic energy is neither here nor there, because the upshot is it will make an immaterial difference to the total energy transfer.

    5) Contrast this with the situation at the edge of space where very hot molecules become ionised and each and every single one of them that moves then becomes a e/m radiator losing its kinetic energy in the process. This is where the business of transforming kinetic into radiant energy takes place, it is the lower world's ultimate heat sink.

     We inhabit the coolant of an enclosed air-cooled machine, the heat source, the sun (and man), the heat sinks comprise moving media - the oceans - the poles and the unlit side of the earth. But, there must be another sink which provides a route out by radiation. Just as the sun's surface temperature determines the solar spectrum, so does the surface skin - the upper atmosphere ionised shell- of the atmosphere. 


    [TD]  At least you are on some other thread than the one you started on.  But the bulk of this comment by you belongs not on the waste heat thread, but on the other thread that Tom Curtis pointed you to earlier.  Before you comment on that other thread, you really, really should read the orginal post there.

  29. Old sage, as others have indicated, you are working from an absurdly incorrect understanding of what greenhouse house assets. It has nothing whatsoever to do with conductive properties, and everything to do with radiative properties of the gas. These are lab determined, first observed by Arrhenius. Downwelling radiation is also something that you measure (so you can check observation against theory). Your arguments are a nonsense strawman - a argument about something that science does not claim. You need to read up on what radiative physics actually asserts and how it is experimentally verified before trying to continue a conversation. I would recommend this excellent series for the text book background to the subject.

  30. old sage - " informed guess"

    Why guess? Trenbert et al 2009 is a fine place to start, to look at actual (measured) numbers for convection, evaporation, radiation, etc.:

    Trenberth et al 2009 Energy Budget

    I consider this particular diagram a basic starting point for energy balance discussions, regardless of whether or not you agree with all the numbers listed. 

    Thermals (convection) account for some 17 W/m2 leaving the Earths surface, evaporation/transpiration another 80, and IR radiation the majority at ~396 W/m2. The references on that paper (as well as similar works) lead directly to descriptions of how these quantities were measured. 

    That heating of the near-surface atmosphere results in an IR emission of ~333 W/m2 back to the Earth (again, a measured quantity). Absorption of IR at GHG frequencies occurs within a few 10's of meters at sea level - the effective radiating altitude (high up, much cooler) where emitted IR can escape to space is where GHG concentrations drop to a density allowing that escape. 

    Convection indeed has an important role - radiative transfer isn't terribly effective in comparison to convection/evaporation, and the convection in the troposphere allows much more of that near-surface energy to reach effective radiating altitudes - without convection the GHG would make the Earth much much warmer. 

    On the other hand, without GHGs and near-surface atmospheric radiation, all of the IR radiated from the surface would travel directly to space - 240 W/m2 from the surface, rather than the atmosphere as a whole. And that would correspond to a radiating suface temperature of about -18C, some 33C cooler than present. 

    "...tell that to the fairies!" - Looking magnitudes, 2.9 W/m2 imbalance from atmospheric change is roughly 100x the 0.031 W/m2 from our energy release. Waste heat is therefore a near-trivial influence on current warming. I would suggest you listen to the measurements rather than your intuition. And note that Arguments from Incredulity are a logical fallacy; the actual data disagrees with your statements. 


    In short: Your estimates are wrong, the numbers show otherwise. Waste heat is a trivial influence with respect to GHG changes, convection is more than 15x smaller than radiation in terms of energy, GHGs don't need to be ionized plasma to radiate, and there is no missing energy sink. There is, in fact, absolutely nothing correct about your last post - all of your (qualitative, I'll note, not numeric) claims are contradicted by the data. I would suggest doing some reading before making additional claims (as you have been) that all of the science is wrong. 

  31. old sage.

    Your argued position here appears to rest on the method used to measure themal conductivity in fluids as described in your physics text book. Radation and convection effects are something such a method would require to reduce to insignificance because if not the measurement method would need amending to account for them.

    Thus when you say radiation is only 5% the effect of conduction, that simply demonstrates a well designed method (although 5% due to radiation is actually pretty rubbish, to be honest).

    But you are taking this 5% figure and asserting it to be some universal ratio of the relative importance of conduction and radiation. Such a use is nonsensical.

    I would suggest you read the rest of that physics text book. This will allow you to make some very basic calculations for the size of radiative energy fluxes through the Earth's atmosphere and you will quickly discover that the 5% figure is entirely inappropriate.

  32. Very interesting chart that KR, it rewrites the laws of physics replacing that of conservation of energy with conservation of radiation and as for the kinetic theory of gases, forget it.  Hardly a joule from conduction and not an erg from the radiative shell surrounding earth.

    Hey ho.


    [TD] Put your comments about the energy budget somewhere more appropriate, such as the post by Trenberth.  Put your comments about the basics of the greenhouse gas mechanism somewhere more appropriate such as the post Tom Curtis pointed you to.  In all cases, you really need to read the original posts before commenting.

  33. Old Sage, I have replied to your comment on an appropriate thread. If you want to continue this conversation, do so over there, not here.

  34. Old Sage:

    The Science of Doom is a "go to" website for anyone seeking to better understand the mathmetics of climate science. The site is devoted to evaluating and explaining climate science in a very structured manner. It has a 13-part series about Atmsophereic Radiation which you should carefully study. 

  35. A comment on convection and transfer of heat...

    Where there is a hot spot or heat source on the surface (from waste heat, for example) convection is a crucial way that excess heat is carried away and up into the atmosphere. As I understand it, convection is extremely effective; and it transfers heat much faster than radiation in the atmosphere -- as long as there is an energy imbalance to drive the convection.

    Convection, however, is capped; it cannot carry heat away out into space. So it will tend to bring the atmosphere into a state of convective equilibrium. This equilibrium is called the "lapse rate". This is the temperature profile of the atmosphere where there is no transfer of heat energy as a "packet" of air moves up or down. The temperature change of the atmosphere at different altitudes matches the temperature change from expansion or compression with the pressure change (and condensation, in the case of a moist atmosphere). An "unstable" atmosphere is one where convection will restore the equilibrium, and this cannot last for long before convection restores the conventional lapse rate. This is caused by heat at the surface or low altitude.

    You can also get cases where air at higher altitude is warmer than you would expect from the lapse rate; but this case is called “stable”, because convection doesn’t move hot air downwards. This condition of the atmosphere is broken up usually by winds and horizontal circulations, or else by loss of heat from radiation of the hot air – a much slower process than convection.

    This doesn’t support Old Sage’s claims; the actual energy flows from convection are pretty small by comparison with radiation. Convection is fast, but as with any spontaneous thermal process, it works to remove the conditions which drive it. Radiation works more slowly, but this energy flow is not capped at the top of the atmosphere, so there’s a continuous ongoing flow of radiation out into space.

    The lapse rate in the atmosphere – the fall in temperature with altitude – is a crucial part of how the greenhouse effect works. The capacity of the atmosphere to absorb and emit IR radiation means that a much of the Earth’s emissions to space comes from emissions high in the atmosphere; where it is cooler than the surface. In order to shed the heat Earth absorbs from the Sun, temperatures overall must be that much hotter to get a balancing emission of energy back to space.

    Summary sentence: the efficiency and speed of convection maintains the atmosphere close to conditions of a convective equilibrium – in which the major energy flows by far are from radiation.

  36. I haven't replied to my various critics here before because I despair of the disconnect between the various scientific principles others have cited and the context in which they haver been applied. What makes Physics a difficult subject for some is that what is true under some conditions can be just the opposite under others.

    For instance a factor of 100 is argued above as the difference between waste heat and GHG forcing so the former is therefore irrelevant to global warming. Given that waste heat is readily shown to equate to warming the entire mass of the atmosphere by some 1/10 deg p.a., the two numbers must be describing totally different things. Waste heat is almost entirely applied to the kinetic heat of atmospheric gases and it is trapped until transported by mass transfer down prevailing winds to cooler regions. It cannot get out by radiation. If GHG forcing is supposed to measure the rate at which GHG's are heating the atmosphere, then I'd like to know where it is going because at 100 times waste heat it is unsupportable. Gases under the conditions applying to the vast bulk of the atmosphere do not convert their kinetic energy into e-m radiation.

    The energy balance of the earth's atmosphere has been exactly zero to all intents and purposes for thousands of millions of years. The perturbation represented by waste heat applies to scales in balance by natural processes and it is large incomparison with zero. It is moreover, bang on quantum for the scale of consequences observed. 

    The emphasis on CO2 by the IPCC is tantamount to saying the carbon cycle governs Earth's temperature. In that case, how did it get to support life in the first place?  Earth has an extremely robust set of physical properties which have returned equilibrium after cataclysmic events. It could even be argued that the burning of fossil fuels by increasing CO2 and reducing O2 would cause more sunlight to be sequestered by photosynthesis according to proven chemistry principles thus tending to lower energy available for heating - given we had not swapped vegetation for concrete.

    We might understand the warming better if we took account of the physical stabilisers. Stefan and T^4 applies to the huge inertia of the global surface. Any perturbation due to an atmospheric source - eg CO2 - of tiny inertia would have to be seriously amplified before any correction kicked in from Stefan.

    An exception is water which vapourises relatively easily. Far and away the most responsive physical property to a warmer globe is more vapour. That means more condensate higher up absorbing and re-radiating near the TOA so reducing takeup of solar energy.

    Another property is the vigour of the atmosphere related to which will be activity in the plasma which floats upon it and in the earth's field. That will act as a generator as will violent electrical storms and they emit energy in the visible spectrum as well as longer. More than half of that will escape earth due to geometry.

    So the CO2 argument is a simplification which buys time for those who worship the totem of economic growth- mostly from population increase - the real source of mans climate impact. It is far more multi-faceted than that but then the drive to claw back energy from sun and wind does indicate that despite the apparent lack of economic justification someone has worked it out.

  37. Old Sage,

    You need to go back to High School. In my High School AP Chemistry class, the students learn that heat is heat.  It does not matter if it comes from the sun or from waste heat, it is the same once it gets into the atmosphere.  When you say absurd things like: 

    "Waste heat is almost entirely applied to the kinetic heat of atmospheric gases and it is trapped until transported by mass transfer down prevailing winds to cooler regions. It cannot get out by radiation."


    "Gases under the conditions applying to the vast bulk of the atmosphere do not convert their kinetic energy into e-m radiation."

    everyone else  knows that you have no idea what you are talking about.  Please provide scientific references for your wild claims.  I note that you have provided no references, only unsupported assertions of fact.  In fact, like all the rest of matter in the universe, the atmosphere radiates black body radiation.  The energy from waste heat is radiated into space like the much greater amount of energy that is received from the sun.  What possible mechanism could differentiate the heat from the sun and the heat from waste heat?  Heat is heat.

    Keep in mind that this is a scientific board.  Other people know what they are talking about even if you do not.   

  38. "Given that waste heat is readily shown to equate to warming the entire mass of the atmosphere by some 1/10 deg p.a."

    No it doesnt. Perhaps if you show us your working, it might help pinpoint your misunderstanding but you seem to be missing the very basics of physical understanding here. You cant just turn bits of physics off (like Planck's law) and try an compartmentalize things by looking at only part of the processes at work.

  39. And just a more realistic calculation:

    With average surface temperature at 288K you have surface heat flux of 390W/m2 (see Keihl and Trenberth for measurement details - but matches Stefan-Boltzmann law pretty well - try it yourself). Increase heatflux by 0.028W/m2 and you get a temperature increase from S-B law of 0.0052, with emissivity of 1. A very long way from 1/10 degree.

  40. Michael Sweet - damnit man get your graduate level books on the kinetic theory of gases out before you get hysterical about heat transfer mechanisms you clearly do not understand. At the simplest level taking 98% of the atmosphere - N2 and O2 - is transparent to visible and i/r radiation- so poor absorbers make poor emitters at school book level. Check out the values of the virial coefficients and make an effort to understand them. Atmospheric gases pass heat around by kinetic movement, they need to get up to thousands of degrees - or break down in vacuo under high voltage - before they radiate.

    Scad:  weight of atmosphere = 5.1x10^18 kgs approx  1.7x10^20 mols

    Oil production 3.1x10^10 b/yr each giving 6.1x10^9 joules = 4.5x10^19 cals

    Specific heat of gases in atmosphere all about 6 cals/mol/deg. That equates to 4.4x10^-2 degrees rise in T. Then you must add in gas, nuclear, coal - I've done this but cannot lay hands on figures just now but it just about doubles the effect. That is using the measured and recorded outputs for sale (2012) - how inefficient are these industries so what extra would you add?


    Climate models are bedevilled by large numbers which in the absence of man's mining of surplus solar energy from millenia past, not to mention that in the nuclear atom from creation, balance.   It is a strange coincidence that this extra impost together with other impacts of man's industry is about right as explanation.




  41. Does artifact waste heat have special properties which make it selectively resistant to entropy via radiation at the top of the atmosphere? If so, the person who knows how this works should definitely keep clam until they've filed patent applications. :-)

  42. Old Sage @140, argues correctly that N2 and O2 are transparent to IR and visible light (mostly), and that therefore they are poor emitters or IR radiation.  He does not follow through and note that CO2 and H2O are strong absorbers of IR radiation, and therefore strong emitters of IR radiation if the wavelength of absorption lies within the blackbody spectrum at the temperatures of at which they absorb.  Here is the main absorption band of CO2 with respect to the black body curve of bodies at typical Earth surface temperatures:

    The CO2 absorption band at about a wavenumber of 700 cm^-1 clearly lies near the center of the blackbody spectrum, and will radiate strongly without need of ionization at normal Earth surface temperatures.  Additional absorption bands due to H2O (0-600; 1300-1600), O3 (1050) and CH4 (1300) are also visible, and will also radiate strongly at normal Earth surface temperatures.  Old Sage proves his sagacity by simply ignoring the implications of the argument he is happy to deploy whenever they are inconvenient to his position.

    Of course, the above graph only comes from a model.  We need an empirical test.  One possible test is that if we look up at wavelengths in the IR spectrum in which CO2 is expected to radiate, we will see a strong IR signal.  Conversely, were no constituent of the atmosphere is expected to radiate, we expect to see no such signal:


    The graph shows the IR spectrum at the same location, with one image (a) looking down from altitude, while the other (b) looks up from the surface.

    This has all been explained to Old Sage before, but confident in his own wisdom, he pays attention to neither the well worked out and confirmed theories of physicists; nor to the implications of the observations themselves. 

  43. I'd like to know why old "sage" thinks Planck's Law doesnt apply to gases? And where all that radiation cames from that satellites measure if he believes it is heat is somehow trapped in the atmosphere?

  44. And a further note - in addition to an atmosphere that doesnt radiate,  old sage's calculation requires  that somehow waste heat cant warm the ocean (the upper 2.5m having same heat capacity as entire atmosphere).

  45. Ols "Sage" has yet to supply a single reference supporting his absurd claims about heat in the atmosphere.   He is sloganeering and should be required to support his position to continue posting.  He is completely ignorant about heat transfer and he refuses to read the informed posts that Tom has, again, made for him.

  46. Old Sage wrote "I am puzzled by the fact that I am not aware of anyone who says that 250ppm or 450 ppm of CO2 is the cause of warming has put it in the context of the concentration required to render the atmosphere totally opaque."

    AFAICS, you appear to be labouring over a fundamental misunderstanding of the mechanism underpinning the enhanced greenhouse effect.  The absoption of IR emitted from the surface by CO2 is a red-herring; what matters is the temperature of the layer in the atmosphere from which IR can escape without being absorbed by the CO2.  See this RealClimate article by Spencer Weart and Raymond Pierrehumbert.

    "The only reason I can see for pinning warming on CO2 is that it is increasing and is a useful parameter for sticking in a model, well"

    Well perhaps you should read up on the basic mechanism of the EGHE before making pronouncements.  The basic mechansim was set out quite clearly by Gilbert Plass in the 1950s.  You are unlikely to convince anybody with your theories until you can show that you have at least read up on the basics of the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change.


    [JH] I deleteed Old Sage's most recent post because it was sloganeering. I am letting this comment stand because it accurately quotes statements made by Old Sage in his post. Other repsonses to Old Sage's post will be deleted.

  47. Old Sage:

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  48. I'll try and be more specific. If you take a textbook example and say ask how much will body increase in temperature if you add x extra joules to it, then looking at heat capacity is certainly the way to go. But that is not the relevant equation, because you are ignoring energy transfer out of the system. The text book is fine but you have to read all the chapters. You appear to have read the chapters on conductive heat transfer and missed the one on radiative transfer.


    Principles of Heat Transfer, Kreith (1965) or

    Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer, Incropera and DeWitt (2007) for more modern.

    Or if you are more my age, then

    Heat and Mass Transfer, by Eckert and Drake (1959)

  49. Old Sage: Your two most recent posts have been deleted for violating three prohibitions of the SkS Comment Policy, i.e., moderation complaint, sloganeering, and excessive repitition.

    If you continue to violate the SKS Comment Policy, you will forfeit your ability to post comments on SkS articles. 

  50. Despite the (as John Hart notes) excessive repetition in Old Sage's post that resulted in its being deleted, he does raise the interesting question of how much energy escapes to space due to lighting.  I am unfamiliar with the literature on lightning, so the following estimate should be taken with a grain of salt.  Never-the-less, the frequency of lightning strikes has been well surveyed (Christian et al, (2003) "Global distribution and frequency of lightning as observed from space by the optical transient detector"), with an upper limit of 50 flashes per second.  That is significantly below traditional estimates if 100 flashes per second because (as it turns out) lightning is infrequent over oceans relative to its frequency over land, leading to ground based estimates being biased.  The average energy release per lightning strike is 4 x 10^8 Joules.  I believe much of that release is in terms of electrical transfer, and in the ionization of the air, rather than actual electromagnetic radiation.  Further, most of the electromagnetic radiation will be absorbed on the Earth's surface or in the atmosphere.  Never-the-less, I will use that value.

    With the two values combined, it is easy to determine that the total global energy release by lightning averages 2 x 10^10 Joules per second, or 3.9 x 10^-5 W/m^2 averaged over the entire global surface.  That represents just 0.14% of global waste heat from human use of energy, and hardly counts as a significant factor in the global energy balance.

    Briefly, Old Sage also referred to radiation at very low frequency and ultralow frequency wave lengths.  That radiation (except for that from lightning) is thermal radiation, and included in the energy calculations of the black body radiation of the Earth already.    

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