Global Warming vs Man-Caused Global Warming

an op-ed by
Ruth McClung
December 2009

Global warming exists.  The question is, "Is man-caused global warming a significant factor in our environment?"  I don't think so, and I am in good company with a number of other scientists.  To understand why I believe this, we need to know a little about the physics of global warming.

We live on a relatively warm planet.  If we didn't, then life could not exist on the earth.  The background temperature of space is roughly 3 or 4 degrees Celsius above absolute zero, or about 270 degrees Celsius below the freezing point of water.  If the earth was not near the sun (or some other star) the earth too would be very cold – basically the background temperature of space.  But since the earth is near the sun (about 93 million miles away) we live on a relatively warm planet.

The temperature on the earth is also affected by our distance from the sun.  Mercury and Venus are both closer to the sun, and their temperatures are much hotter than the earth.  Mars, Jupiter, and the rest of the planets are further from the sun, and their temperatures are much colder than the earth.  In fact, if the sun was just 1% closer to the earth, about 2% more energy would fall on the surface of the earth, and if the sun was just 1% further away, the earth would receive about 2% less solar energy.  The earth would then be warmer or cooler respectively.

The amount of solar energy that falls on the earth also affects the temperature.  It is colder in the winter than in the summer because less solar energy falls on the earth's surface in that hemisphere.  The days are shorter in the winter.  Also the sun is lower in the sky, so less light hits the ground directly.

So this leads me to my first rule on global warming:   

The number 1 factor contributing to global warming is the sun!

(In physics, we would consider the sun to be a first order effect.)  

Since this is true, and no physicist would disagree with any of the above paragraphs, we need to account for the sun in any global warming model.  There are some other implications of this rule.

One implication is that the earth's distance from the sun is not constant.  We think of the earth being in a circular orbit around the sun, but it is not.  It's orbit is slightly elliptical, so sometimes we are nearer to the sun, and at other times we are further from the sun.  This occurs on an annual basis.  Also the outer planets in our solar system (Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune) are all large and produce tidal effects on the earth's orbit, and therefore our distance from the sun.

A second implication is that since the sun's output is not constant (the sun goes through various cycles itself where sometimes its energy output is greater than at other times), the temperatures on the earth are at times warmer than at other times.  We know through geology and archeology that this is true.  The earth has been through several ice ages.  Even in written history, there are times when crops could be grown in places and times when they could not be; there are records of advancing and retreating glaciers on mountains; there are records of long term droughts and wet seasons; etc.  There are even summers which never came, and winters that were very mild.  Scientists talk about a "Midieval Warm Period"  

and a "Mini Ice Age"  

The climate is always changing, and it on the most part has not been caused by human activity.  

The fact that the sun and changes in its output are the number 1 factor in global warming can also be seen from the fact that the warming and cooling periods on Mars mirror those on earth.  Here are a few quotes from some articles I have collected:

Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet's recent climate changes have a natural—and not a human-induced—cause, according to one scientist's controversial theory....
....In 2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide "ice caps" near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.
Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun....
Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.
Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.
Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance," Abdussamatov said.
By studying fluctuations in the warmth of the sun, Abdussamatov believes he can see a pattern that fits with the ups and downs in climate we see on Earth and Mars.

from:  Kate Ravilious, Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says   see  

Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.
Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.
Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.

from:  Climate change hits Mars   see  

And there is direct evidence that the sun is the culprit behind the global warming we have seen on the earth lately:

Climate changes such as global warming may be due to changes in the sun rather than to the release of greenhouse gases on Earth.
Climatologists and astronomers speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Philadelphia say the present warming may be unusual - but a mini ice age could soon follow.
The sun provides all the energy that drives our climate, but it is not the constant star it might seem.
Careful studies over the last 20 years show that its overall brightness and energy output increases slightly as sunspot activity rises to the peak of its 11-year cycle.
And individual cycles can be more or less active.
The sun is currently at its most active for 300 years.
That, say scientists in Philadelphia, could be a more significant cause of global warming than the emissions of greenhouse gases that are most often blamed.
The researchers point out that much of the half-a-degree rise in global temperature over the last 120 years occurred before 1940 - earlier than the biggest rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

from:  Scientists blame sun for global warming   see


Up until now, I have not really mentioned the atmosphere, or the oceans, or the earth's surface, and their effects on global warming.  If we were trying to model the earth's temperature, we would next need to add the atmosphere, the oceans, and the reflectance of the surface of the earth in our models.  

About three-fourths of the earth's surface is covered by water.  Water is an absorber of light, especially in the infrared (wavelengths of light longer than the visible red that our eyes see).  It also adds a lot of thermal mass to the earth (it takes a lot of time to heat up or cool off the oceans.  And the ocean currents do a lot in spreading out energy around the earth.  (The Gulf Stream is a major reason that Europe has a relatively mild climate, even though it has the approximate latitude of Canada.)  In addition to this, freezing and melting and vaporization and condensation of water take in or liberate huge amounts of heat.

The atmosphere is also an important factor in controlling the earth's temperature.  The earth is mostly nitrogen molecules, then oxygen molecules, and finally water vapor, carbon dioxide, argon, and various trace gasses.  All of these gasses absorb various wavelengths of light, but the two most important "green house gasses" are water vapor (which has some very wide bands in the infrared), and carbon dioxide (which also has some bands in the infrared which absorb light).  By the way, water vapor makes up about 4% of the atmosphere (depending on where you are on the earth), and carbon dioxide makes up about 0.5% of the atmosphere (a factor of 8 less than water vapor).  So the most important greenhouse gas is water vapor.  The winds in the atmosphere also contribute to spreading out the energy from the sun on the earth.  The poles do not get as cold as they should, and the tropics do not get as hot as they should.  

The reflectance of the earth (called the earth's albedo) or the absorption of the earth (how much light gets turned to heat when it strikes the ground) are also important effects in global warming.  Snow, water, and white sand reflect a lot of the visible light, though snow and water absorb a lot of the infrared.  Other soils and vegetation absorb light in various bands.

As you can see, any global warming model is starting to get very complicated.  How do the various factors affect a global warming model?

The sun and the earth's distance from it are first order effects in the temperature of the earth.  In other words, these are the most important aspects of any model we develop for global warming.  

Next in a global warming model, we would consider variations in the earth's orbit and in the output of the sun to be second order effects (still very important because they add perturbations to the dominant effect).  From the above quotes, we see these to be very important effects.

The oceans are probably another second or maybe a third order effect in the temperature of the earth.  (A third order effect is less important than a second order effect, but may still be important.  The higher the order, the less important is the effect.)  After the oceans, the earth's reflectance or albedo would be an important second or third order effect.  Then the atmosphere would probably be a third order effect, since it is important, though less important than the oceans, just because there is a lot less of it.  And since water vapor has much wider infrared absorption bands and makes up much more of the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide, its effect will be much stronger than that of carbon dioxide.  

The environment is a stable system instead of an unstable system.  I have already mentioned some of the buffers that stabilize the system.  Water when it freezes or melts, gives off or takes in a lot of heat.  The same is true for water when it condenses or vaporizes.  Plants actually take in carbon dioxide and water and give off oxygen and food for us.  If the levels of carbon dioxide raise, plants grow better, helping to control the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  When plant life thrives, so does animal life.  Any life takes carbon out of the environment and stores it in living cells.  The oceans also absorb carbon dioxide.  Coral reefs are built of a compound of carbon (calcium carbonate).  If the temperature of the earth goes up, more water evaporates (cooling things) producing rain and snow.  Snow raises the albedo of the earth's surface, causing less energy to be absorbed, thereby allowing the surface of the earth to cool.  This list could go on and on, but again it significantly complicates any model on global warming.  

But everything I have mentioned above is a natural effect, which would be there whether humans were in the picture or not.  Where then does man-made global warming fit in?  The effects that man has on the environment especially related to global warming are fourth, fifth, sixth, or even higher order effects.  (Remember, the higher the order, the less important is the effect.)  Why do I say this?  Because humans can change the earth's albedo in a small location (ie – a city), he can change the wind slightly in a locality (trees or wind turbines), or he may change the composition of the atmosphere slightly (adding carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels), but these are relatively small changes in the whole scheme of things.  

I cannot say that there is no man-made global warming, but I do believe changes in solar output and fluctuations in orbits contribute much more to global warming (and cooling) than does anything that humans have done.  I tend to believe much of the global warming panic we have seen over the last few decades is more driven by political agendas than it is by real science.  The big pushers of the global warming panic are the liberal politicians (socialists) and the United Nations.  They have fudged "scientific" data and suppressed and vilified contrary scientific views.  The climategate scandal which has come to light over the last few weeks emphasizes my belief.  See the summary paper by Lord Monckton:     

This does not mean we shouldn't try to do things to limit our dependence on hydrocarbon fuels.  There are plenty of economic and national security reasons why we should be moving away from our dependence on foreign oil, especially from countries in the Middle East and Venezuela.  But we should not be running headlong like Lemmings into changing our economic and political lifestyle, which will have major unintended consequences, over unproven pseudo-science.  (President Obama wants us to do this in Copenhagen this next week.)  We should be moving from foreign oil dependence to domestic sources of oil, natural gas, and coal.  And ultimately we should be moving from fossil fuels, yes in some cases to solar and wind, but in more cases, to nuclear energy and nuclear produced hydrogen.  But this is the topic of a future paper.



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