Post-Normal Science: Deadlines, or Conflicting Values?

August 5th, 2012 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

Never have so many scientists forecast so far into the future such fearful weather with so little risk of consequence for being wrong.” – I just made that up.

There is an excellent essay over at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. blog by Steven Mosher entitled Post Normal Science: Deadlines, dealing with the factors involved in so-called post-normal science, which as Steve summarized, is science where:

1. Facts are uncertain
2. Values are in conflict
3. Stakes are high
4. Immediate action is required

Not all scientific problems are created equal. Some physical processes are understood well enough to allow their routine use to make predictions which invariably turn out correct. We can launch a mission to Mars based upon our knowledge of the gravitational force exerted by the planets, or predict the future position of the planets many years in advance.

But many other scientific problems are not understood with enough certainty to make accurate predictions. If those problems also have huge societal impacts where policy decisions must also be made, we enter the realm of post normal science (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991).

Why the Urgency?

I must admit, I have a problem with the need for such a distinction as “post-normal science”, other than to be an excuse for one set of values to attempt to beat another set of values into submission. All science involves uncertainty. That is nothing new. Also, all policy decisions involve uncertainty, and even without uncertainty there will be winners and losers when policies are changed.

After all, who is to decide whether decisions are urgent? I know that politicians might urgently desire to make new policies in a certain direction which typically favor a certain constituency, but there are abundant examples where decisions are made by government which later turn out to be bad.

The first one that comes to mind is the ethanol mandate. I don’t care if it was well intended. Millions of people throughout history have been killed through the good intentions of a few misguided individuals. Too often, policy decisions have been knee-jerk reactions to some perceived problem which was either exaggerated, or where the unintended consequences of the decisions were ignored — or both.

And it’s not just the politicians who want to change the world. I have related before my experience in talking with “mainstream” climate scientists that they typically believe that no matter what the state of global warming science, we still need to get away from our use of fossil fuels, and the sooner the better.

To the extent that fossil fuels are a finite resource, I would agree with them we will eventually need a large-scale replacement. But in the near-term, what exactly are our policy options? You cannot simply legislate new, abundant, and inexpensive energy sources into existence. We are stuck with fossil fuels as our primary energy source for decades to come simply because the physics have not yet provided us with a clear alternative.

And since poverty is the leading killer of humans, and everything humans do requires energy, any policy push toward more expensive energy should be viewed with suspicion. I could argue from an economic perspective that we should be burning the cheapest fuel as fast as possible to help spur economic growth, which will maximize the availability of R&D funding, so that we might develop new energy technologies sooner rather than later.

Why the need for either “normal” or “post-normal” categories?

Post-normal science follows on Thomas Khun’s 1962 concept of “normal science” in which he claimed science makes the greatest advances through occasional paradigm shifts in the scientific community.

Now, a paradigm shift in science is something which I would argue should not occur, because it implies the scientists were a little too confident (arrogant?) in their beliefs to begin with. If the majority of scientists in some field finally realize they were wrong about something major, what does that say about their objectivity?

Scientists should always be open to the possibility they are wrong — as they frequently are — and it should come as little surprise when they finally discover they were wrong. But scientists are human, gravitating toward popular theories which enjoy favored status in funding, persuasive and even charismatic leader-scientists, and routinely participate in “confirmation bias” where evidence is sought which supports a favored theory, while disregarding evidence which is contrary to the theory.

Anthropogenic global warming

Which brings us to global warming theory. I currently believe that, based upon theory, adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere should cause some level of warming, but the state of the science is too immature to say with any level of confidence how much warming that will be. If even 50% of the warming we have seen in the last 50 years is part of a natural climate cycle, it would drastically alter our projections of future warming downward.

Or, it is even theoretically possible that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will have no measureable impact on global temperatures or weather, that basically for a given amount of sunlight the climate system maintains a relatively constant greenhouse effect. I’m not currently of this opinion, but I cannot rule it out, either.

So, we are faced with making policy decisions in the face of considerable uncertainty. As such, global warming theory would seem to be the best modern example of post-normal science. Funtowicz and Ravetz argued we must then rely upon other sources of knowledge in order to make decisions. We must look beyond science and include all stakeholders in the process of formulating policy. I have no problem with this. In fact I would say it always occurs, no matter how certain the science is. Scientific knowledge does not determine policy.

The trouble arises when “stakeholders” ends up being a vocal minority with some ideological interest which does not adequately appreciate economic realities.

Deadlines…or Conflicting Values?

In Mosher’s essay he eloquently argues that it is the deadlines which largely lead to not-so-scientific behavior of climate scientists.

But I would instead argue that the deadlines were only imposed because of competing values. Some political point of view had decided to misuse science to get its way, and those supporting the opposing point of view are then dragged into a fight, one which they did not ask for.

Regarding deadlines (the need for “immediate action”), there is no reason why the objective and truthful scientist cannot just say, “we don’t know enough to make an informed decision at this time”, no matter what the deadline is. It’s not the scientist’s job to make a policy decision.

Instead what we have with the IPCC is governmental funding heavily skewed toward the support of research which will (1) perpetuate and expand the role of government in the economy, and (2) perpetuate and expand the need for climate scientists.

To the extent that skeptics such as myself or John Christy speak out on the subject, it is (in my view anyway) an attempt to reveal the evidence, and physical interpretations of the evidence, which do not support putative global warming theory.

Sure, we might have to shout louder than a “normal scientist” would, but that is because we are constantly being drowned out, or even silenced through the pal- …er… peer-review process.

Our involvement in this would not have been necessary if some politicians and elites had not decided over 20 years ago that it was time to go after Big Energy through an unholy alliance between government and scientific institutions. We did not ask for this fight, but to help save the integrity of science as a discipline we are compelled to get involved.

39 Responses to “Post-Normal Science: Deadlines, or Conflicting Values?”

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  1. John W. Garrett says:

    Just when I was beginning to believe that common sense had entirely disappeared from the face of the earth, along comes this eminently sensible statement.

  2. David Appell says:

    As Dr Spencer writes, “you cannot simply legislate new, abundant, and inexpensive energy sources into existence.” But you can incentivize and encourage them, by:

    (1) having the price of a product reflect not just its value but also the damage it does to the property of others, instead of socializing that damage as we do today,

    (2) putting a tax on something you want less of, thereby encouraging the development of replacement products without that negative cost,

    (3) having governments fund research and development into alternative technologies.

    #1 is the main problem — fossil fuels only look cheap if you consider the number on your monthly bill. But they cause damage elsewhere than many others have to pay for.

    Why shouldn’t someone whose use of a product causes damage to the property of others not have to somehow pay for that damage? Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, has admitted that fossil fuels cause warming, and we will have to “adapt.” So why shouldn’t the manufacturers and users of those products have to pay the adaptation costs?

  3. Menns says:


    The oil sands producers do seem to be paying for the true costs of oil production – and more. Just look at the drama over adding a pipeline through B.C.. The oil company pays for the pipeline, they pay for the rent seekers who have an interest in the land (having an unproven land claim is enough). There is no doubt that the oil companies are on the hook for cleanup costs and now the Premier of B.C. is extorting the companies for more money. The oil companies are getting the least return relative to the value that they supply in this deal. Good negotiating. Sharp business sense you say. But they still don’t pay the true cost?

    Well what of the environmental cost of birds. The cost is now fixed at $2000 a duck in the oil sands. So be it. I also see that a local clean energy producer in Ontario, Bullfrog Power, manages to kill 1400 birds and bats a month with its wind turbines.

    What about the dozens of dead birds that litter the ground near high rise condos? Are the owners also to pay the true environmental cost of thier homes?

    In the name of fair and equitable solutions David let me know where you have lectured “clean power” companies on paying thier true environmental cost.

  4. Phil Cartier says:

    “(2) putting a tax on something you want less of, thereby encouraging the development of replacement products without that negative cost,” There are NO replacements for fossil fuels for transportation. None. None of the technologies under test(electric, biofuels, solar, wind) come anywhere close to producing enough energy to subsitute for oil, coal, or natural gas. Even with huge subsidies they make no economic sense. And as to unintended consequences, just look at the fiasco of ethanol in gasoline. This year, if the EPA does not grant a waiver, several millions of people will starve to death because much of the little corn available will go into ethanol instead of feeding people. Food prices are already rising rapidly. Using farmland to produce fuel is the ultimate in stupidity. Photosynthesis only converts ~1% of the sunlight into chemicals.

    “(3) having governments fund research and development into alternative technologies.” This simply does not work. With no economic motive the government cannot choose between technologies. Government research has paid dividends in very basic research with no immediate economic payoff on the horizon. I believe diamond making, carbon fiber, zeolite catalysts, and other significant technical discoveries were initially funded by the government as basic research. The spinoffs from the space program are another good example.

    “(1) having the price of a product reflect not just its value but also the damage it does to the property of others, instead of socializing that damage as we do today,” Save the biggie for the last. The various Clean Air acts have done an excellent job of minimizing the true , toxic pollutants from fossil fuels. The EPA’s current ventures are aimed at eliminating coal as an electricity fuel, preventing deep-drilled gas and oil from developing, and will have catastrophic effects on the economy. As Pres. Obama plainly said ” Electricity costs will necessarily skyrocket”.That means many deaths from either cold or heat when poor folks cannot afford to mitigate with heating and airconditioning. Large slowdowns in portions of the economy, making peoples lives even more difficult. The unintended consequences are enormous( or else they are fully intended to get more people on the government dole).

    Fossil fuels are cheap because they have enormous energy densities that make them economic to collect and use. The negative effects have been show to be fairly cheaply correctible as long as they are limited to things which have been shown to actually be deleterious.

  5. David Appell says:

    Menns, I am not talking about paying for the cost of producing the oil, but the damage costs its use does to other’s property.

    Environmental economists attempt to put a value on that damage; a 2010 study from the National Academy of Science found $156 B/yr in health costs from fossil fuels: “Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use.”

    Yale economist William Nordhaus — a favorite of climate skeptics in other contexts (cap-and-trade), wrote:

    Muller, Nicholas Z., Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus. 2011. “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy.” American Economic Review, 101(5): 1649–75.

    To summarize that paper’s findings: for every $1 in value that comes from coal-generated electricity, it creates $2.20 in damages.

    Total damages: $70 billion per year (in 2012 dollars).

    Petroleum-generated electricity is even worse: $5.13 in damages for $1 in value.

    We are all subsidizing fossil fuels by a huge amount through worse health, higher medical costs, and ecosystem damage. (And maybe wars.)

  6. David Appell says:

    Phil Cartier wrote:
    > There are NO replacements for fossil fuels for transportation.

    There are electric cars, and hybrid cars, and cars that run on natural gas. There are ways to increase the efficiency of existing gasoline cars.

    The point is to incentivize the development of such cars. One good, fair way to do that is to make users of gasoline cars pay for their damage. If the cost of driving reflected its true cost, people could choose to drive less, drive smaller cars, and investors and entrepreneurs would have a larger market for alternative vehicles, infrastructure, and other innovations (such as Zip cars).

  7. David Appell says:

    Phil Cartier says:
    >> “(3) having governments fund research and development into alternative technologies.” This simply does not work. With no economic motive the government cannot choose between technologies. <<

    It has already worked. The US government gave AT&T a monopoly on telephone service for decades, in exchange for AT&T providing universal access and a guaranteed (tariffed) profit. AT&T used those profits to build a robust network, significantly improve telephone technology, and incidentally, fund basic research via Bell Labs that developed very important technologies. When the time was right — after service was universal — the monopoly was abolished.

    Likewise the government funded much of the work that lead to the Internet, because no private company would ever build such a network on its own. It funded research into space technologies, which private companies adapted (satellites, SpaceX, etc.) Its funding fusion research, and (IMO) should fund more. Government has large resources, and when it turns its eye toward a specific outcome good things often happen.

    Government does not have the wisdom to, as you put it, "choose between technologies," but it has many other options for getting results — by creating an environment favorable for innovators to do the job.

  8. David Appell says:

    Phil Cartier wrote:
    >> As Pres. Obama plainly said ” Electricity costs will necessarily skyrocket” <<

    You are essentially arguing that users of a product should not have to pay for its damages.

    If coal-based electricity is causing damages — the 2010 NAS report finds an average damage of 3.2 cents/kWh for nonclimate damages — then why *shouldn't* users of that technology pay it — especially affluent users?

    Would you like if your neighbor dumped his garbage on your front lawn? It would save him the cost of a monthly pickup.

  9. Joseph says:


    I have had a look at the paper you cited and found that the values for CO2 impact come from a second paper (Richard S. J. Tol 2005; IPCC 2007; Nordhaus 2008b)so I looked up that paper and found that the impact for CO2 looks into the future to 2100 and applies damages that it assumes will be caused by AGW such as the building of dikes and loss of land due to sea level rise, Increased damage by more extreme weather events and the assumed value of the loss of life due to the rampant spread of disease. I don’t see how they could come up with an anything other them a wild guess since they cannot possible know any of those values. Therefore I conclude that the 5.13 is nothing more then a number that they hope nobody will bother checking. I am sure that people such as yourself will spread it to as many people as you can until by weight of belief it becomes truth.

  10. Tim Wells says:

    Didn’t Nicolas Tesla come up with a form of energy that was totally sustainable and free, but because it couldn’t be exploited, it wasn’t used.

  11. Nonoy Oplas says:

    Superb, well-written, thank you Dr. Spencer. I especially like the last two paragraphs, and this one, “We did not ask for this fight, but to help save the integrity of science as a discipline we are compelled to get involved.”

    Here in the Philippines, there was a debate on further raising our already expensive electricity costs (we have the highest power rates in the whole of Asia) via subsidizing renewable energy like wind and solar, through the feed in tariff (FIT) scheme. The rent-seekers and planet saviors won. Woe upon us.

  12. Stephen Wilde says:

    I share and applaud Roy’s general stance on these issues.

    One minor quibble though is that it is economically in the interests of Big Energy to cooperate with Big Government and Environmental Activism on these issues at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer.

    Their assets become more valuable the more clearly it becomes obvious that alternative energy prices are far higher and their resources will last longer if rationed.

    There is a good deal of cooperation between those three global monolithic entities and we will have to pay for it with our lives and the products of our day to day labour.

    Big Energy wants us to pay far more for our fuels and if Big Government and Greenies help them to achieve it they will enthusiastically assist them.

    Indeed, they always have done.

    Meanwhile I’ll just keep trying to work out how the climate really works with the aid of new data as it accumulates.

  13. You did not read Dr Spencer’s article. No one knows for certain if fossil fuels cause any harm.
    It has been shown by measurement that CO2 changes lag temperature change in both short time frames (daily, seasonally) and long time frames (800 years for interglacial cycles. It is likely that CO2 does not cause global warming.
    CO2 is necessary for plant growth. There is evidence that land plant growth has increased in the last 50 years (more CO2, more rain and maybe slight increase in temperature in some parts of the world)
    Finally, it has been shown by many that adaption is gives a better financial outcome than wasted (and fraudulent) expenditure on alternatives energy.

  14. Thomas says:

    Phil “There are NO replacements for fossil fuels for transportation. None.”

    Bikes and railways, just to take two examples. Cities that makes walking and biking easy are a lot nicer to live in than those catering only to cars IMHO.

    • Joseph says:

      I will let you come here and ride to work on your bike during a blizzard. I aways find it annoying when biking to work is brought up as an option. It is not an option for a large part of the population. If it is an option for you and you want to do it then good for you, but don’t go telling the rest of us that we are bad people for not doing it.

  15. chris y says:

    David Appell writes-

    “Phil Cartier wrote:
    > There are NO replacements for fossil fuels for transportation.

    There are electric cars, and hybrid cars, and cars that run on natural gas.”

    So you agree with Nancy Pelosi that natural gas is a clean, plentiful alternative to fossil fuels?

    There are more than 100 million Americans who share your faith in the dangers of carbon dioxide and CACC. As you point out, there are alternatives to fossil fuels available today. The costs of BAU are claimed to be essentially infinite (game-over, Venus runaway, no England by 2000, NYC underwater by 2030, Katrina every year, Grapes of Wrath every year, etc), so no price is too high for these alternative energy sources. Its time for the carbon hand-wringers to stop being overt hypocrites, embrace your own beliefs and aggressively reduce your personal carbon footprint to zero.

    This example will shame the remaining “climate deniers” (whatever that is) into action. We await your personal commitment to your faith.

  16. steve says:

    What we need is special roads to and from the suburbs to the city that only allow small,lightweight, speed controlled vehicles on them.

    I would have not problem driving a super lightweight “golf cart” type of car to the city and back if I could use one of these roads. Otherwise safety is too much of an issue for me.

  17. Jay Kay says:

    I agree completely, Dr. Spencer.

    I would add that, in my opinion, as fossil fuels become used up and less available, prices for those fuels will rise, and finally, alternative energy sources will become competititive without the need for artificial inducements and subsidies by the government. I think it will be a long time before that happens.

  18. Dr. Spencer, is on the right track, but still believes WRONGLY ,that CO2 had some kind of a factor, in the warming that took place last century. How that conclusion can be made is beyond me, when past data and evidence says otherwise.

  19. charlesH says:

    The Nordhaus paper cited by Appell above uses the assumption that a human life is worth $6M in the US. This number is inflated. A more realistic true economic number is $1.5M. Thus the damage/benefit ratios cited by Appell are 4x to high. Thus coal is not as bad as presented by Appell.

    Now consider the economic value of damage/benefit in countries like India/China. A factor of 10 lower? Thus it is easy to see why these countries still see burning coal as making a lot of economic sense.

    What is needed is a “game change” that will undercut coal. Fortunately there is one on the shelf that needs to be updated an put into service.

    Game changer:

    “China has officially announced it will launch a program to develop a thorium-fueled molten-salt nuclear reactor, taking a crucial step towards shifting to nuclear power as a primary energy source.”

    “The project was unveiled at the annual Chinese Academy of Sciences conference in Shanghai last week, and reported in the Wen Hui Bao newspaper (Google English translation here).”

    “If the reactor works as planned, China may fulfill a long-delayed dream of clean nuclear energy. The United States could conceivably become dependent on China for next-generation nuclear technology. At the least, the United States could fall dramatically behind in developing green energy.”

  20. Bevan says:

    My experience from a career in practical science, namely, geophysics applied to mineral and oil exploration, has not led me to consider Post Normal Science as the modern paradigm from which to judge the current anthropogenic global warming debate. After a considerable search for evidence of the various claims, the proposition that I present is as follows:-

    All of the heat that generates changes in the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere originates from the Sun.
    The Greenhouse Gas Global Warming theory declares that outgoing radiation from the Earth’s surface is intercepted by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Part of the energy from this is radiated back to the surface thereby making it hotter. Specifically, the temperature of the Earth’s surface is said to be 33 degrees hotter than it would be if there were no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
    Furthermore, the theory claims that any increase in concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will cause an increase in back-radiation towards the Earth. Once again this is said to increase the surface temperature.
    However those same greenhouse gases must also cause incoming radiation from the Sun to be back-radiated into space. This energy is thus not available to heat the Earth. As the Sun is the prime cause of the surface temperature, that loss of energy must cause the temperature of the surface to be less than it otherwise would be if there were no greenhouse gases present. Also any increase in greenhouse gas concentration will cause an increase in the back-radiation into space and again result in a decrease in the Earth’s surface temperature. This will result in less outgoing radiation from the surface which, in turn, means less back-radiation and thus an even lower surface temperature.
    Over the past 50 years, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 23%. As this has not caused a decrease in the Earth’s temperature, the logical outcome of the theory, and as the conjecture is self-contradictory, incoherent and illogical, it must be rejected as an explanation for changes in the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. It has no relevance to the science of meteorology or any other aspect of science, being purely fictitious.

    end of proposition.

    The rebuttal that I get from this proposition is that the Sun does not radiate infrared, only ultraviolet and visible light. How can this be? In the early part of the 20th century, it seemed that everyone knew that sunshine consisted of ultraviolet, visible light and infrared, commonly referred to as heat. Now in the 21st century we have people with a science background denying infrared as part of the Sun’s radiation.

    My bleak assessment is that the anthropogenic global warming theory was a deliberate fraud by very powerful people in order to gain even more power and priviledge in politics, industry and academia. That scientists have allowed themselves to be part of this action is a disgrace, as is the position taken by their professional institutions, and displays an appalling lack of integrity.

  21. David Appell says:

    CharlesH: Muller et al used the value of a statistical life (VSL) of $6M per premature mortality. As they write, it’s “the mean of 28 studies reviewed by the US EPA…”

    Right after the 2009 Massey Energy mine disaster that killed 29 men, the company offered each family $3M. (We can assume the company thought that was a good deal for itself.)

    There were civil settlements, too; this puts a total value on the miners’ life at $4.5M

    Given that these men were rooughly halfway through their lives, $6M/SL is hardly unreasonable. In any case, I trust professional economists have a better handle on this than you do.

  22. David L. Hagen says:

    I heartily endorse Spencer’s post.

    David Appell
    Christopher Monckton shows the costs of adaptation to be much cheaper than the cost of mitigation. He quotes:

    “As they say on the London insurance market, ‘When the premium exceeds the cost of the risk, don’t insure.’”

    For the science ignored by the IPCC, see the NIPCC. reports.

    Government has a strong DISincentive to shift from oil because it receives 25% royalty on all oil produced, but O% on all sustainable fuel produced.
    Note current Ethanol from grain is NOT sustainable, requiring about as much fossil fuel in its production as delivered in the fuel. 40% of US corn now goes to ethanol – strongly enhancing export prices that harm the poor the most. See
    Calls to scrap ethanol mandate intensify with drought

    For more moral and rational policies see the Cornwall Alliance and the Copenhagen Consensus

  23. Glenn davis says:

    “And since poverty is the leading killer of humans, and everything humans do requires energy, any policy push toward more expensive energy should be viewed with suspicion. I could argue from an economic perspective that we should be burning the cheapest fuel as fast as possible to help spur economic growth, which will maximize the availability of R&D funding, so that we might develop new energy technologies sooner rather than later.”

    Dr. Spencer excellent observation and a great insertion of common sense. So for all of you who say we need government money for research and development to create to new replacement for fossil fuels do you realize that the person/company that discovers the next great cheap energy source will instantly be worth a trillion dollars? Do you not think this alone is incentive enough to motivate inventors and companies? There are thousands of great minds worldwide trying to solve this very problem and they have been doing it since the industrial revolution. Just because the Manhattan project worked to create a viable A bomb doesn’t mean it will instantly work for an energy source. Maybe government can help move along a proven base idea but my bet is a small company that has a viable energy idea can get venture capitalist to fund a good idea. No public money is wasted and it weeds out crony capitalism.

    This system of invention is what made america the greatest economic engine the world has ever seen and we are now seeing what happens when the private sector is taken over by a “government can do it better” leader.

  24. Arthur Dent says:

    The earth’s population is increasing. Demand for food is increasing. Food and energy is becoming more expensive as the population grows. Have we reached our limit of food production and our limit of population? Not even close. Add some CO2 and watch it soar.

    The earth is an intricate, balanced system, designed to support life. There are many natural controls in place to make sure that life is supported. Nature is a beautiful, perfect thing. But remember nature is lazy and will naturally tend towards equilibrium in every case.

    The very fact that we exhale CO2 should be a clue that this is an extremely useful substance. We create it so life can continue to be sustained. A perfect balance.

    If CO2 is spiking abnormally you can be sure that something will come along to bring it back to equilibrium. Spikes and dare I say it, hockey sticks, are completely unnatural and there are natural forces that will push against these kinds of anomalies from happening by creating an equal and opposite force to counter it and return to equilibrium.

    Has anyone thought that perhaps rising CO2 is a response to more mouths to feed, and therefore perhaps the earth is retaining more CO2 in the atmosphere to result in more food production for its growing population?

    A seed grows because the soil tries to return to equilibrium. The earth floods the seed with nutrients to destroy it. The seed grows. Eventually when the plant dies, it returns its nutrients. Equilibrium.

    A baby grows in utero because the mother’s body needs to return to equilibrium, therefore floods the developing baby with nutrients and eventually expels it and returns to equilibrium.

    Have faith in the earth to support life. It will support it. The current unstable sun is what everyone should be more concerned with than a bit of life-sustaining CO2.

    Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth!

  25. Brad says:

    Dr. Spencer:
    You are much kinder to your opposition than they are to you. It is unfortunate that politics, crony capitalism, and downright corruption has dominated the scientific debate.
    In my opinion, the CO2 based greenhouse theory should have been thrown into the ash heap of failed theories back in the 90’s. As I remember, the theory stated that due to CO2 build up, outgoing long-wave radiation would be partially reflected back toward the Earth causing increasing temperature. The telltale signature of this effect would be a hotspot over the tropics at about the 10Kmeter elevation. After decades of weather balloon sensors and satellite measurements failing to find this phenomenon, that should have been the time to call it a failed theory. Adding to the detriment of the theory is the ice core research indicating CO2 is a lagging indicator of temperature through geological time and I have yet to see any credible research that indicates that we are experiencing anything extraordinary relating to weather or climate.
    I agree that more CO2 in the atmosphere contributes to higher temperature but, it being just a trace gas at less than .04% of the content, it seems comparable to lighting a candle in an auditorium to raise the temperature. I also agree on the need for research to find better ways to obtain and utilize energy, the key word being better. I find it appalling looking at all my wasted tax dollars propping up loser industries that produce bird Cuisinarts and corn sqeezin’s that are detrimental to the environment without an offsetting benefit to us. Opportunistic scam artists have found the ideal shell game to take in the suckers. These political opportunists don’t seem to care about human life. Without an ample energy supply, life would be brutal and short.
    Thank you for fighting the good fight. I hope that good sense and decency win out.

  26. Bevan says:

    Brad, the rebuttal of the Greenhouse Global Warming theory is more obvious than you state. My effort at explaining this in the posting above (August 7, 2012 at 3:44 AM), obviously was not read and/or understood. An attempt to make it clearer is as follows:

    If greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause back-radiation of the outgoing Earth’s heat then it must also cause back-radiation of the incoming Sun’s heat at the same wavelengths. That means there is less heat impinging on the Earth’s surface which implies less heat radiating from that surface to maintain a balance between incoming and outgoing energy. That is achieved by the Earth having a lower temperature – the complete reverse to the claims of the warmists. As the Earth is not showing any sign of cooling in spite of a marked increase in CO2 concentration, the Greenhouse Global Warming theory is falsified, discredited, not true, garbage.

  27. D. J. Hawkins says:

    I notice David Appell sidesteps Joseph’s deconstruction of the alleged damages. They inhabit the real of wild fantasy as far as I’m concerned.

  28. Trevor says:

    At the risk of coming off as an alarmist, or as being thought to disagree with anything the learned Dr. Spencer said, I have to point out the flaw in Bevan’s argument about “back-radiation”

    Bevan, yes it is true that some part of the incoming solar radiation is infrared. If you were told otherwise, either you misunderstood, or the person who told you was simply lying (or ignorant). However, infrared is only a small part of the total incoming solar radiation, the spectrum of which is centered on visible light.

    The radiation that reaches the surface (of whatever wavelength) is absorbed, then RE-radiated back up into the atmosphere. But the radiation coming from the surface is centered on the INFRARED part of the spectrum. I don’t know the physics behind it all, and if someone cares to explain it, be my guest. But the radiation coming from the sun is fundamentally different, in terms of its distribution across the spectrum, than the radiation emitted by the surface. If it wasn’t, then there would be NO greenhouse effect. The same radiation that got through from the sun to the surface without being absorbed by the atmosphere would pass right back out unmolested.

    A numerical example might help clear it up for you (though I freely admit I’m just making up these numbers). Say that 10% of the radiation coming from the sun is infrared. And say that the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are sufficient to “reflect” half of that infrared radiation back the way it came. That would result in just 5% of all incoming solar radiation being prevented from reaching the surface (this is a vast oversimplification – there a lot of other chemicals in the atmosphere, and even the earth’s magnetic field combine to keep well over half of the solar radiation from reaching the surface, but we’re just talking about greenhouse gasses and infrared). Now, once that remaining 95% of the solar radiation reaches the surface, it is absorbed and re-radiated back into the atmosphere, this time at, say, 50% infrared. Those same greenhouse gasses reflect the same 50% back toward the surface, only now, that’s 50% of 50%, or 25%, far more than the 50% of 10% (or 5%) of incoming radiation reflected.

    So yes, Bevan, without contradicting your understanding of the composition of incoming solar radiation, it is quite obvious that the NET effect of greenhouse gasses is to increase the surface temperature of the planet. It is your understanding (or lack thereof) of the relative composition of surface-emitted radiation that is incorrect.

    That said, I agree with Dr. Spencer 100%, and am able to do so because I understand that carbon dioxide’s ability to absorb infrared radiation has a logarithmic shape, i.e., as more and more CO2 is added to the atmosphere, each incrememtal unit has a smaller and smaller effect on the total absorption. If the relationship were linear, then yes, we would have a problem brewing, and it would be wise to do something about it.

    Even the alarmists admit that the (direct) relationship between carbon dioxide and warming is logarthmic. However, because they have a political agenda, they have to come up with something that makes the threat seem worse. So they emphasize FEEDBACKS in their arguments. While the DIRECT effect of CO2 on temperature is something on the order of 1 degree C per doubling of atmospheric CO2, the alarmists contend that that 1 degree will cause increased evaporation from oceans, and that the addtional water vapor, itself a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere will supplement the warming caused by CO2, causing an INDIRECT effect of another 2-3 degrees C, for a total impact of 3-4 degreees C per doubling of atmospheric CO2.

    Of course, it’s all a bunch of rubbish. There are lots of things besides evaporation going on, and the “climate scientists” don’t understand most of them. But It (the feedback multiplier effect) “worked” in their models, meaning that, with enough tweaking, they were able to get their models to (kinda sorta) reproduce the “rapid” temperature increases (according to the DEEPLY FLAWED instrumental record) of the 70s, 80s, and 90s by assuming a feedback multiplier of 3 or 4. But those models completely failed to predict the much slower temperature increases (decreases according to some) of the first decade of the 21st century.

    But what was really going on was that, throughout the last 40 years, artificial heat sources have been gradually encroaching upon the weather stations that provide the instrumental records that go into computing the global average temperature. Initially, these stations were set up according to very reasonable siting standards designed to eliminate the effect of artificial heat sources. But the people responsible for maintaining them didn’t understand the importance of the standards, and didn’t do anything to prevent their being violated by encroachment of artifical heat sources. And so, since 1975, over 90% of the US Historical Climate Network of temperature-recording stations has succumbed to the influence of nearby artificial heat sources, biasing temperature READINGS in a uniformly postive way, some by over 5 degrees C. So, much of what the global warming alarmists perceive to be a “temperature increase” is actually a temperature READING increase, caused not by actual global warming, but by the gradual encroachment of artificial heat sources influencing individual stations.

    If I could put 90% of the world’s temperature-recording stations inside refrigerators, I could “prove” that we are in the middle of the coldest part of the worst ice age this planet has ever experienced.

  29. Bevan says:

    Trevor the infrared is not “a small part of the total incoming solar radiation”. For a Sun at 5780 degrees Kelvin, the spectral distribution is :-
    Ultraviolet, wavelength 0 to 380 nm, intensity 10 %
    Visible light, wavelength 380 to 760 nm, intensity 44.8 %
    Infrared, wavelength 760 nm to infinity, intensity 45.2 %.
    The ratio of the intensities of the incoming sunshine and the outgoing ground radiation is 3.46 with the incoming infrared from the Sun being a multiple of 1.6 times the intensity of the outgoing Earth’s infrared radiation, for an Earth at 288 degrees Kelvin.

    Yes, the maximum of the Sun’s radiation is at about 500 nm well offset from that for the Earth at about 10,000 nm. However it does not matter where on the spectrum, the absorption takes place, that is set by the properties of the absorbing molecule to lie at specific wavelengths. Absorption takes place at those wavelengths regardless of the source of the infrared, be it the Sun, the Earth or any other source of heat.

    The absorption bands for CO2 fall within the range 1,000 nm to 20,000 nm with four or five main recognised maxima and quite a number of minor amplitude maxima. For all but the longest wavelength absorption peak, 15,000 nm, the spectral radiance from the Sun exceeds that from the Earth.

    However what matters is the amount of energy impinging on the Earth as that determines the resulting temperature of the surface. Cutting bits out of the incoming spectrum means less energy in which means a lower surface temperature which means less outgoing radiation in order to balance the incoming and outgoing energy. Thus if the Greenhouse Global Warming theory is correct in stating that greenhouse gases cause back-radiation of the outgoing Earth’s infrared then they must equally cause back-radiation of the incoming Sun’s infrared which means less energy in and a lower surface temperature – the very reverse of the Warmists claim.

    It is even more incoherent than that when you consider that they claim that the Greenhouse Effect is 33 degrees, arising from the average surface temperature being 288 degrees Kelvin when their model says it should be 255 degrees Kelvin. Well, 255 deg K is the atmospheric temperature at about 5 km above sea level and the Troposphere is about 17 km thick so if the first 5 km generates the Greenhouse Effect then what does the remaining 12 km do? Shouldn’t it generate another 50 or 100 degrees or is there a glass roof to the Earth at 5 km about sea level and we have not noticed it yet?

    The world’s science community stands condemned for allowing such an illogical theory to persist.

  30. Gregg E. says:

    Dave Appell said “Government has large resources”

    Actually, government has no resources. Everything the government “has” comes from the citizens of the country a given government manages. Even in an ideal communist State where the government owns everything, all of that everything is nothing without the people to farm it, mine it, and process it.

    A government which derives its income from taxes and fees, as does the government of The Republic of the United States of America, really has nothing. It all comes from we the people.

    May as well throw in a “You didn’t build that” reference. All those roads, bridges etc, we, the citizens of the USA built all that. Without US the U.S. is nothing.

    $2,000 per duck? Is that US or Canadian dollars? Can I raise ducks and sell them to Canada for $2,000 a pop? I promise I’ll give them the best feed and raise them free range in my back yard.

  31. David Appell says:

    David L. Hagen writes:
    >> Christopher Monckton shows the costs of adaptation to be much cheaper than the cost of mitigation. <<

    That's a joke, right?

    (It's difficult to see Monckton as anything else, let alone expect that his "analysis" is supposed to compete with professional economists like Stern, Nordhaus, etc.)

  32. David Appell says:

    Bevan says:
    >> If greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause back-radiation of the outgoing Earth’s heat then it must also cause back-radiation of the incoming Sun’s heat at the same wavelengths. That means there is less heat impinging on the Earth’s surface which implies less heat radiating from that surface to maintain a balance between incoming and outgoing energy. <<

    Please look at the Planck distribution for a blackbody's radiation, and compare it for the sun's temperature and for the Earth's temperature. You will find there is very little long-wave radiation from the sun.

  33. David Appell says:

    Gregg E. says:
    >> Actually, government has no resources. Everything the government “has” comes from the citizens of the country a given government manages. <<

    So? Everyone's money comes from somewhere.

    The government has the ability to marshall large funds when it needs it, via taxation or borrowing.

  34. David Appell says:

    Bevan: Regarding your comment at August 15, 2012 at 2:07 AM — do you honestly think that scientists, who have been thinking about the greenhouse effect for well over 100 years, have not thought of your objections? And just went ahead and published hundreds (thousands?) of papers on the subject anyway?

    Science wasn’t invented yesterday, you know. One needs to understand what has come before. It’s good to ask questions and be skeptical, but not to ignore decades of work.

  35. Bevan says:

    What, David Appell, does the shape of the Planck distribution have to do with the final temperature outcome? The IPCC reports clearly tell us that the incoming energy from the Sun generates the Earth’s temperature. They then add that back-radiation from greenhouse gases adds to that incoming energy total. This is offset by a higher temperature for the Earth in order to balance the incoming with the outgoing energy. It is the sum total of energy in and energy out that sets the temperature, not the location, on the Planck distribution, of the wavelengths concerned, so they claim.

    I would guess that you are already aware of the relationship whereby photon energy is inversely proportional to wavelength. Thus the longer the wavelength, the less is the amount of energy transferred.

    As far as I can see ( I am still looking into this ), all of the greenhouse gases, including water vapour, have most of their absorption bands at wavelengths where the incoming Sun’s radiation is greater than the outgoing Earth’s radiation. However, if back-radiation occurs, then all of the greenhouse gas absorption bands must diminish the incoming amount of energy from the Sun and thus cause a decrease in the Earth’s temperature. As this has not happened, in spite of the 23% increase in CO2 concentration over the past 50 years, the greenhouse gas global warming theory is falsified.

    Or is it, David, that you are feeling overheated by the continual influx of the cosmic microwave background radiation?

    As for your claim that science was not invented yesterday, that is correct, it can be invented everyday by people thinking, forming hypotheses, testing that against known events and thereby choosing to accept or reject the hypothesis. I invite you to think instead of reacting.

  36. David Appell says:

    Bevan: First of all, you are treating spectral densities as intensities. They are different.

    Secondly, I can’t even tell if you are accounting for the Sun’s distance from the Earth.

    You write, “if back-radiation occurs….” Are you really claiming that the atmosphere does not radiate?

  37. Glenn davis says:

    Has anyone else notice the glaring omission of Al Gore and the Green team at the DNC convention? I am smelling a slow death to the global warming nonsense and we can thank Dr Roy Spencer for continuing to fight the fight of truth and common sense. Keep it up DR. so my head will not explode.

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