Postma Debunks Skeptical Science Greenhouse Gas Defense
I have been asked to write a brief overview on the errors and misconceptions as presented on the so-called “Skeptical Science” blog. I’d first like to point out that the term “skeptical science” is an oxymoron and so it immediately calls into question what kind of person might use such a term.
It's attempted debunk of my paper states: “Joseph Postma published an article criticizing a very simple model that nonetheless produces useful results.”
In fact, what I showed is that the model cannot even be called “simple” because it doesn’t even represent anything that can be equated with reality. The Earth isn’t flat and the Sun isn’t cold, for goodness’ sake, yet this is what the model pretends. In and of itself and for many other reasons, which were specified in the paper, it is clear that the “simple” model doesn’t actually produce any useful results at all because all it is, is fiction.
Skeptical Science: “The claims are of course extraordinary, along the lines of Gerlich and Tseuchner’s alleged falsification of the atmospheric greenhouse effect. As is often the case with these types of “skeptics,” the more extravagant the claim, the more obscure the publishing venue; in this case the host is Principia Scientific International, which according to the website “…was conceived after 22 international climate experts and authors joined forces to write the climate science bestseller, ‘Slaying the Sky Dragon: Death of the Greenhouse Gas Theory.’” Most rational people would stop here…”
It is not rational at all for science to not be open to skepticism, so it makes little sense that they’re making a statement here implying that rational people operate via ignorance as a matter of policy. It’s a contradiction in terms. You also see a bullying tactic being employed here via an implied ad-hominem, attempting to corner you into a state of ignorance as to what is actually written in the paper, such as to keep the unwary from informing themselves of the truth by reading the paper. They’re trying to imply that you’d be irrational to read something, which would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. So, we’re already becoming quite familiar with what kind of people we’re dealing with here, and you can be assured that they have nothing to do with rational climate science.
Skeptical Science: “…but this is the Americanized age where we need to glorify everyone’s opinion and must provide rebuttals for everything, so here it goes”
This is some sort of a slight against the nation of America, and you can read in to it whatever motives might drives such statement as you wish; but it is pretty obviously biased in some fundamental aspects, to say the least.
“Most of Postma’s first 6 pages are actually correct. He describes the greenhouse effect through the so-called layer model, which is a simple way to break up the planet into a “surface” and an “atmosphere,” with outer space overlying the top layer. This model is described in many climate books such as Dennis Hartmann’s Global Physical Climatology, David Archer’s Understanding the Forecast, Marshall and Plumb’s Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate Dynamics, and radiation books like Grant Petty’s First Course in Atmospheric Radiation. I will say that I do not particularly like this model as a suitable introduction to the greenhouse effect. It is useful in many regards, but it fails to capture the physics of the greenhouse effect on account of making a good algebra lesson, and opens itself up to criticism on a number of grounds; that said, if you are going to criticize it, you need to do it right, but also be able to distinguish the difference between understood physics and simple educational tools.”
In “The Model Atmosphere” paper, we had a reference link listing over 60 references to the standard greenhouse model as what was subsequently developed and presented to the reader. In the statement above, we witness equivocation over whether the model is physically relevant or isn’t…Skeptical Science can’t seem to make up it’s mind. What is certain is that this model IS presented as the mechanism of the greenhouse effect in numerous textbooks, weblinks via NASA and other climate institutions, and is presented in undergraduate physics classes as a real phenomenon in physical principle.
So, is it the real greenhouse effect model, or isn’t it? Nowhere else in physics education do we use a “toy-tool model” to teach as physics reality something which only a fictional “toy” model is capable of demonstrating. When we learn physics in university we learn physics that is actually real and we do not need to equivocate over whether the physics we are learning is fictional-toy-model or real world. It is ALL real world.
Imagine that in every physics classroom in the world, the professor had to inform the students whether they were going to be learning real physics today, or physics which isn’t actually demonstrably real physics and only a toy. It never happens. But apparently, it is happening in climate science with the greenhouse effect, as admitted in the text above. So there is only one question which remains: if this model isn’t the real greenhouse effect, then please present us with the real greenhouse effect, the mathematics which describes it, the graphical model which represents it, and the software code you use to model it.
This has actually been the greatest “strength” of the greenhouse effect, in that they do not actually have a concretely defined version of it. If you criticize one aspect or version of it, then they just change the way the physics works and the language used to describe it, and slip out of the argument. We witness this time and time again.
Skeptical Science: “The atmosphere in Postma’s paper is just a single slab, so he has two layers (atmosphere+surface), but in general you can have many atmospheric layers. He goes on to solve for the energy balance of each layer (see equations 11-14). RealClimate derived the same result in less than a page here.”
To be clear, this is not “my” model; it is the standard model alarmist climate science uses and is found in almost all of their writing on the subject.
Skeptical Science: “Postma actually doesn’t get the atmospheric radiative flux right. The emission is not σTa4, it is fσTa4, where f is the atmospheric emissivity/absorptivity (following his notation) and Tais the atmospheric temperature. … Both right hand sides of equations 11 and 12 are thus wrong, but it turns out that those errors cancel each other out and he gets equation 14 right.”
This was a minor typo in the equation and as they pointed out, it didn’t matter. I didn’t notice it because the term cancels out in the final equation, so it’s quite inconsequential if you understand what’s happening, which they do not.
Skeptical Science: “The factor of 2 in Equation 12 comes about because the atmosphere emits both up and down, although Postma clearly doesn't know how to derive this result formally, based on later statements he makes about this.”
This is funny. The factor of two isn’t “formally derived” anywhere, in any of the models upon which was presented you. This is exactly what I pointed out in my “later statements…” so, they’ve simply copied my criticism of their model and tried to blame me for it! Whatever…
Skeptical Science: “Postma then goes on to describe fictitious “boundary conditions.” In particular, he seems to have serious objections to the averaging of the solar radiative flux over the Earth. In essence, he would prefer we had one sun delivering 1370 W/m2 of energy to the planet, with a day side and a night side, noon and twilight, etc. instead of the simple model where we average 1370/4=342.5 W/m2 over the planet (so that the whole Earth is receiving the appropriate "average" solar radiation).”
So here they are objecting to the reality I presented that there is “one sun delivering 1370 W/m2 of energy to the planet, with a day side and a night side, noon and twilight”. Why would they object to something like that? They literally admit to prefer to think of the Earth as flat and without night and day…they’re criticizing my position that the Earth is round and the Sun is hot. Amazing.
Skeptical Science: “The factor of 4 is the ratio of the surface area to the cross section of the planet, and is the shadow cast by a spherical Earth. It is therefore a geometrical re-distribution factor; it remains “4” if all the starlight is distributed evenly over the sphere; it is “2” if the light is uniformly distributed over the starlit hemisphere alone; with no re-distribution, the denominator would be 1/cosine (zenith angle) for the local solar flux.”
Here they are seen to be repeating exactly what was described about how the mathematics works out from my previous paper, which was linked in this paper and which they obviously must have read.
Skeptical Science: “In simple textbook models, we like to prefer explanations that get a point across, and then build in complexity from there (see Smith 2008 for descriptions on a rotating Earth).”
What is presented in the Smith reference has no similarity or likeness whatsoever to the standard greenhouse model, so this statement is completely out of bounds. Newtonian physics, for example, actually does an excellent job at describing gravity, even though the general theory of relativity has subsumed it. But the general theory of relativity reduces to Newtonian physics automatically, while the work of Smith (2008) has no relation to the flat-Earth greenhouse model at all, as can be seen in his equation (2).
And so in fact, there is no valid “complexity-building” going on here at all when going from the fictional flat-Earth model to a reality-based model. My current work in bringing reality to climate science and the greenhouse effect is actually highly correlated with the Smith (2008) paper. However, we will be improving upon Smith’s simplistic treatment, and our preliminary results utilizing real-world data indicate something very different from the assumptions that went into the way Smith chose to present the formulation…of course, there is no greenhouse effect.
Skeptical Science: “Postma is simply tackling a non-issue, just as how people criticize the term “greenhouse effect” for not working like a glass greenhouse. Postma objects to teaching this simple model because it is not real.”
People are very correct in their criticism of the “glass greenhouse model”. A real physical glass greenhouse operates NOTHING like what is claimed of the atmospheric greenhouse effect, and therefore it is wrong and even fraudulent for the alarmists to continually analogize the two. This is an example of how the greenhouse effect has multiple definitions, and apparently, the alarmists quite like this feature and call it a “non-issue!” Apparently it is a “non-issue” to teach as reality a model which is admitted to be not based in reality, as they’ve now admitted, and which has multiple definitions and multiple mechanisms of operation, each one being more prevalent when another is shown to be flawed.
Skeptical Science: “All that is done, however, is to use a brilliant and sophisticated technique, taught only to the geniuses among us, called averaging! And of course, simple models are used in any classroom...it is how we learn.”
But they just admitted that it is not just a simple model, but that it is in fact a model which isn’t real at all. The comment about averaging is quite funny, because I spent a great deal of time describing how averaging needs to be physically interpreted if you want it to correspond with reality.
Skeptical Science: “But, in actuality, the globally averaged solar re-distribution approximation is not bad when we use it to describe the temperature for planets like Earth or Venus. These planets have an atmosphere or ocean that transport heat effectively, especially Venus with virtually no day-to-night or pole-to-equator temperature gradient. The atmosphere and/or ocean help smooth the diurnal temperature difference very well. Therefore, when coming up with a temperature estimate, it is a great first approximation.”
Here, they don’t actually seem to be aware of what the only thing the solar insolation distributed average is good for, which is calculating the expected planetary blackbody temperature, and it works not just for Earth or Venus, but for all other planets as well whether an atmosphere is present or not.
For Earth, the blackbody temperature works out to 255K (-18C), and in fact, this is exactly what the temperature of the planet Earth is! The temperature of the Earth is exactly the temperature it is supposed to be. But what the alarmists do is mix up two different physical metrics and phenomena: they compare the blackbody temperature of the Earth to its surface temperature, when these are completely different phenomena.
We already know why the surface temperature of the Earth should be warmer than the blackbody temperature and that it has nothing to do with the greenhouse effect in the various manifestations they try to present it, as I laid out in my papers. Of course this is beside the point because we already know that the agenda-makers will do whatever they can to try to make a problem out of a completely natural and beneficial gas that all animals breath out and which the biosphere requires more of, not less of.
Skeptical Science: “On Venus, the variability is even less, and most of the planet is at around 735K.”
This is a very good demonstration on their part of not distinguishing what physical metrics they’re actually talking about: “planet” can have many different connotations. The “planet” Venus actually has a temperature of 184K, not 735K! It is the surface temperature of Venus that is 735K, and such a temperature is expected to be so independent of any greenhouse effect. It is likely that they are either unaware or they are complicit in this type of obfuscation. They can get away with it because most of their leftist supporters are immune to science education. Thankfully, the rest of the population hasn’t been.
Skeptical Science: “To summarize so far, Joseph E. Postma did not like a simple model of Earth’s radiative balance where we approximate the Earth as a sphere with uniform solar absorption. Of course, this is never done in climate modeling or in more detailed analyses appropriate for scholarly literature, so it is more an exercise in complaining about undergraduate education than an attempt to correct what he calls a “paradigm” in climatology.”
Of course they are ignoring the fact that the flat earth model does indeed establish the paradigm for climatology and the greenhouse effect.
Skeptical Science: “Nonetheless, the 0-D energy balance model is a useful approximation on Earth when coming up with an average emission temperature (~255 K), since air circulations and oceans tend to even out the diurnal temperature gradient on Earth, in addition to the thermal inertia provided by the system.”
Air circulation and oceans and thermal inertia all have exactly nothing to do with the blackbody emission temperature of 255K, so this statement is just completely nonsensical.
Skeptical Science: “In essence, Postma stretches a simplified model to areas that it was never designed to go to, and then declares that its failure to work means the whole paradigm of the greenhouse effect is wrong. The incompetence is overwhelming.”
This statement is risable nonsense. Physics works universally. Skeptical Science presents the admitted fictional model greenhouse as if it is a logical principle borne out of physics, and as soon as it breaks down, they say that the same physics and the same idea isn’t supposed to be used anymore. This is the multiple personality disorder of greenhouse effect alarmism. The paradigm is wrong because it isn’t scientific in the first place, and we have admission that the models used to teach the paradigm are based on fiction. What more do you need? I think the incompetence, or should we call it the obfuscation level here, has been clearly demonstrated.
Skeptical Science: “He claims that observations of the atmospheric lapse rate (the rate at which temperature declines with height) disallow the greenhouse effect. His reasoning is that the atmosphere is at a fixed height. When greenhouse gases warm the surface, and cool the upper atmosphere, that height still remains fixed, but obviously the temperature difference between the bottom and top of the atmosphere must increase. Postma then claims that this necessarily implies that the lapse rate must have a greater slope than the theoretical value that he derived of about -10 K per kilometer (which is about right for a dry air parcel ascending). That is, if the atmospheric height remains fixed, and the temperature difference between bottom and top is increased, then the rate at which air cools with height must increase. Since this is not observed, then we have a problem, right? In actuality, the atmospheric height is a distraction. The adiabatic lapse rate does not extend beyond the point where convection breaks down, which is the tropopause. The whole point of the greenhouse effect is that increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases does increase the “average” height at which emission to space takes place (and the tropopause increases in height too), so one IS allowed to extrapolate further down the adiabat to reach a higher surface temperature. On Venus, the optical thickness forces the tropopause to some 60 km altitude.”
The point, which they curiously missed, is that we should occasionally be able to see lapse rates larger in magnitude than that set by thermodynamics alone because the action of the greenhouse effect that is supposedly continually acting everywhere would have exactly this effect. The climate and weather systems are never (never have and never will be) in equilibrium and so we should be able to see natural perturbations above the adiabatic rate due to the action of the greenhouse effect as the system tries to return to an equilibrium state after some natural short-term fluctuation. But in fact, the fastest observed rate is the 10K/km that is seen for dry air, as expected. The average observed lower rate of 6.5K/km is due to the typical presence of water vapour which returns latent heat to the air column via condensation and it rises and cools, thus slowing the rate of temperature decrease as compared to an absence of water vapour.
This is well known and can probably be modelled to first order relatively easily. The thick atmosphere on Venus doesn’t mean there’s more ambiguously-defined greenhouse effect, it simply means that there’s more atmosphere and more atmospheric pressure at the surface, and therefore from thermodynamic physics alone, such as the adiabatic lapse rate, we expect much higher temperatures.
Skeptical Science: “Perhaps just as crucial to all of this, Postma cannot get around the surface energy budget fallacy, which says that increased CO2 causes surface warming by just increasing the downward infrared flux to the surface. This problem is described in standard treatments of the greenhouse effect, which he does not seem to know exist, such as in Ray Pierrehumbert’s recent textbook. The primacy of the top of the atmosphere budget, rather than the surface energy budget, has been known at least since the work of Manabe in the 1960s (see also Miller, 2011 submitted)”
Well first of all, linking to “RealClimate” (energy-budget-fallacy link) is hardly doing the author a favour. Of course, we already identified what type of non-science we are dealing with here, and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find links to blogs or websites run by what many of us regard as pseudo science peddlers. Moreover, we again witness an equivocation as to what the real greenhouse effect actually is and how it actually works. The fact is that it works in whatever way they want it to depending on how the criticism is exposing the flaws, which of course means their arguments are veritable sophistry.
Skeptical Science: “Postma runs into this mistake again when he claims that the low water vapor in hot deserts is a problem for greenhouse theory, but this is largely due to the lack of evaporation cooling, which is just one component of the surface energy budget, and nearly absent in a desert. This is one scenario where a detailed consideration of the surface budget is critical, as well as in other weakly coupled regimes.”
But it couldn’t be clearer: In the desert there is very little water vapour, and water vapour is the strongest heat-amplifying so-called greenhouse gas, especially considering it’s overwhelming radiative properties as compared to CO2. Yet in the desert, much higher temperatures are reached than are achieved at similar latitudes in areas where there is an abundance of water vapour. If the greenhouse effect was really in operation, regions with more water vapour in the air should get much hotter than regions without, yet the reverse is seen to be the truth. It doesn’t get any simpler and clear cut than this: where there should be a stronger greenhouse effect, the opposite is what is actually found.
In fact, recent scientific findings by independent researcher Carl Brehmer has shown that water vapour, the strongest "greenhouse gas" according to climate theory, actually behaves as an ANTI-greenhouse gas because of its strong negative-feedback effects upon temperature increases. This is therefore a double-whammy to alarmist climate irrationality, because in addition to requiring water vapour to act like a heat-amplifying greenhouse gas, it also requires water vapour to act as a positive feedback factor! The data clearly shows that water and water vapour is a strong negative feedback factor in the climate, and that its presence reduced temperature, not increases it.
Skeptical Science: “The way CO2-induced warming really works in a well mixed atmosphere is by reducing the rate of infrared radiation loss to space.”
This just doesn’t make any sense. The rate of infrared radiation loss to space is exactly the rate it should be, at about 240 W/m^2. There is no reduction in the rate of energy loss to space due to CO2.
Skeptical Science: “The back-radiation will indeed increase in part because of more CO2 and water vapor, but also simply because the atmosphere is now at a higher temperature. But if the lower atmosphere was already filled with water vapor or clouds to the point where it emitted like a blackbody (at its temperature), increasing CO2 would not directly increase downward emission before temperature adjustment, but would nonetheless warm the planet by throwing the TOA energy budget out of whack.”
The TOA blackbody energy budget results in the same value independent of anything which happens with a planet’s atmosphere; for the Earth, it is always 240 W/m^2, and this is true if it has an atmosphere or not. Unfortunately, this simple fact escapes the hyperreality of climatism.
Skeptical Science: “…nonetheless, the educational tools are useful for their purpose, and in no way does Postma undermine the existence or necessity of the greenhouse effect.”
What has been clearly demonstrated is that the so-called “educational tools” are admitted “toys” which have no basis in reality. It can’t be more evident that these “educational tools” are therefore tricks of sophistry designed to obfuscate reality and support a pre-arranged political agenda, as was demonstrated by the intimations of the author.
Skeptical Science: “Without a greenhouse effect, multiple studies have shown that the Earth collapses into a frozen iceball (Pierrehumbert et al., 2007; Voigt and Marotzke 2009, Lacis et al 2010) and indeed, after an ice-albedo feedback, plummets below the modern effective temperature of 255 K.”
But the Earth HAS “collapsed” into a frozen ice-ball several times in its history! What warms it back up is the hot Sun, but climate science is incapable of understanding this and must therefore attribute this warming to the greenhouse effect, because they treat the Sun as if it is cold and as if it has little effect on warming the planet. The paradigmatic irrationality and incompetence is just amazing.
Skeptical Science: “This work makes extraordinary claims and yet no effort was made to put it in a real climate science journal, since it was never intended to educate climate scientists or improve the field; it is a sham, intended only to confuse casual readers and provide a citation on blogs. The author should be ashamed.”
What scientists should be ashamed of is supporting policy-driven science for it’s own benefit. We are left with the perception that alarmist bloggers like Skeptical Science are probably paid by individuals in the government who have previously determined a policy initiative that they wanted supported by some science. The result of that is billions of dollars worth of sophistry and obfuscation, as witnessed daily but what comes from alarmist-policy agenda setters. Take my field of astrophysics for example: what we produce has no consequence to public policy or political excuses for austerity whatsoever - we can do whatever research we please and we won’t lose funding for it. But the alarmist climate community feels compelled to produce alarming results to back political policy to ensure their future funding and job security.
All in all, skeptics are fairly concerned that there is a fundamental conflict of interest that such "science" could never be trusted. It's like giving the power to create money to the counterfeiters. It is also most telling that the only scientists who are the most alarmist appear to be those who benefit most from the political policy funded it. Yet, typically any other scientist from any other field becomes “a skeptic” when they take the time to review the actual data for themselves.
Nothing could be more clear: a scientifically literate person who doesn’t know any of the details of climate facts might support the alarmist cause, but once a scientifically literate person informs themselves of the actual science, they invariably become more skeptical. The only scientifically literate enclave still supporting alarmist climate science is the one paid to do so.
These links are suggested for further reading:
The Model Atmosphere (PDF)
The first two are long papers although they make for very good reading, while the latter two links are brief summary articles. The last link is particularly interesting for the philosopher of science and reason, and gives a good overview on the abuse of philosophy being engaged by climate alarmism.
Like my colleagues at Principia Scientific International I suggest there needs to be wider realisation that science has been hijacked by policy and that this policy is not in the public interest. Life adapts to the natural rhythms of planetary climate change and humanity’s real science improves its teleological evolutionary function in the biosphere and noosphere. Let's be clear: we’re going to have more climate change in the future, and we’re going to utilize it, and we will create more of it when and where it serves the teleology. It is the definition of ludicrous insanity to be afraid of climate change, and to think that political and monetarist austerity will somehow negate that fear.