Non-sequisantorum

The following are statements from Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, juxtaposed with images of the scientific evidence. See how long you can keep your brain from hemorrhaging. These statements were made at the Colorado Energy Summit on Monday, Feb. 6.

Polluted water near Dakshinkali Temple.“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.

“We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create.” (Rick Santorum)

 

 

 

Total heat content of oceans, ice, atmosphere, and land. Overlaid is the change in atmospheric CO2 levels during the same time period.

“I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face. And yet we have politicians running to the ramparts — unfortunately politicians who happen to be running for the Republican nomination for president — who bought into man-made global warming and bought into cap and trade.” (Rick Santorum)

 

Quotes from Rick Santorum are from [1]. The photo of polluted water is from [2]. The data for the total change in Earth’s heat content since 1961 is from [3], and the CO2 data (which I overlaid on the heat content plot) is from [4].

[1] http://www.realaspen.com/article/1039/On-the-campaign-trail-Santorum-calls-climate-change-a-hoax-Gingrich-a-self-described-amateur-paleontologist

[2] http://www.flickr.com/photos/ankraut/538294558/sizes/m/in/photostream/

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/petergleick/2012/02/05/global-warming-has-stopped-how-to-fool-people-using-cherry-picked-climate-data/2/, with original data from http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL048794.shtml

[4] ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccg/co2/trends/co2_annmean_mlo.txt

From the Texas Freedom Network: 2011 Anti-science Quotes

Fresh from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), here are their favorite anti-science quotes of the year: http://tfninsider.org/2011/12/26/2011-in-quotes-the-war-on-science/. By “favorite,” I of course mean the quotes that probably ensaddened the staff at TFN.

TFN ” . . . is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 50,000 religious and community leaders. Based in Austin, the Texas Freedom Network acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders.” (http://www.tfn.org/site/PageServer?pagename=TFN_homepage)

PoliSci: Galileo Galiperry

In the most recent Republican Presidential Candidate debate [1], moderator John Harris from Politico put candidate John Huntsman on the spot about his criticism of many fellow Republicans as “a bunch of cranks.” Harris then said,

HARRIS:  . . . You yourself have said the party is in danger of becoming anti- science. Who on this stage is anti-science?

Huntsman then responded:

HUNTSMAN: Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I’m saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science.

In Huntsman’s other comments, he didn’t name any names. But afterward Harris turned to Governor Perry to confront him on his boldly anti-science statements.

HARRIS:  . . .  Governor Perry, Governor Huntsman were [sic] not specific about names, but the two of you do have a difference of opinion about climate change. Just recently in New Hampshire, you said that weekly and even daily scientists are coming forward to question the idea that human activity is behind climate change. Which scientists have you found most credible on this subject?

Perry then responded (I’ve removed text where he stumbled or stuttered in his response, but preserved entirely  the meaning of his response):

PERRY: Well, I do agree that . . .  the science . . . is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at . . . jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is. . .  is nonsense . . . just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell. . . . Find out what the science truly is before you start putting the American economy in jeopardy.

Harris then took Perry to task on his process of finding out the science:

HARRIS: Just to follow up quickly. Tell us how you’ve done that . . . Are there specific . . .  scientists or specific theories that you’ve found especially compelling . . . ?

Perry responded with a kind of half-answer, half policy statement, without really answering the question (he doesn’t name a single scientist):

PERRY: Let me tell you what I find compelling, is what we’ve done in the state of Texas, using our ability to regulate our clean air. We cleaned up our air in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the nation during the decade. Nitrous oxide levels, down by 57 percent. Ozone levels down by 27 percent. That’s the way you need to do it, not by some scientist somewhere saying, “Here is what we think is happening out there.” The fact of the matter is, the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we’re going to put America’s economics in jeopardy.

Perry is dead wrong on the science which is, in fact, completely clear:

  1. The average global temperature has risen about 1.0 degree Celsius since the mid-1800s. This is only an average. Some areas have risen more, some less. To put this in perspective, if your body temperature increased by about 1.0 degree Celsius you would be running a fever of 101F and would require medical attention. A 1.0 degree Celsius rise  is about the same as a 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in your body temperature from 98.6F. Temperature increases always have serious consequences, just as temperature decreases have serious consequences.
  2. CO2 has increased in concentration in the atmosphere since the mid-1800s, which coincides directly with the period when humans began using the high energy content of fossil fuels to power our industrial revolutions.
  3. The CO2 which has been added to the atmosphere has a nuclear fingerprint that tags it as having come from sequestered carbon sources, such as buried coal and oil deposits. Carbon from near the surface of the Earth has a different fingerprint. The amount of sequestered-carbon-based CO2 in the atmosphere is the primary component of CO2 which is increasing.
  4. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Increased CO2 traps more heat and raises the temperature. This causes more water to enter the vapor state. Water vapor is a much stronger greenhouse gas. The added water vapor amplifies the warming effect of the CO2. More heating and more CO2 continues to add more water vapor to the air, further amplifying the warming.

What bothered me most about his response was his invocation of Galileo to defend his thinking. As an educator, and an armchair lover of science history, his complete ignorance of both science and science history was striking. Why invoke something you clearly don’t understand to defend your ignorance?

The one thing Perry has right is that Galileo was definitely going against the status quo. The science debate about whether or not the Earth was the center of the universe was not purely a science debate, however; it was informed in Europe by Biblical literalism, which meant that the common belief that the Earth was the center of the universe was the prevailing belief. However, that belief (like many others about the universe at the time) was held absent any actual data, or at least absent strong and convincing data.

Galileo was one of the first to turn the telescope to the sky and study astronomical bodies. What he observed became the first CONCLUSIVE evidence that the Earth could not possibly be the center of the universe. He saw the moons of Jupiter for the first time, and those moons clearly orbited Jupiter and NOT Earth. He studied the phases of Venus and interpreted their pattern to mean that Venus orbited the Sun, and not the Earth. If the moons of Jupiter and the planet Venus was not orbiting the Earth, why would the Sun or all the other stars be orbiting the Earth?

Galileo used a version of what we now call the scientific method. He gathered evidence. From this data he discerned that the hypothesis of a Sun-centered cosmology was a better explanation than the Earth-centered cosmology. He wrote up his findings in a book, the prevailing method of disseminating scientific evidence at the time. The book couldn’t be printed fast enough. His colleagues consumed his ideas, gathered more evidence, argued about the implications. But his method of argument, and his conclusions, angered the Pope. Galileo was dragged before the Inquisition, forced to confess, and then imprisoned in his house for the rest of his life.

Galileo used experimental methods to gather evidence, compared two hypotheses, and discerned that one was a much better explanation. Today’s practicing scientists use the same approach.

They gather data. Global land and sea temperature measurements overwhelmingly tell us the Earth has been warming at an increasing rate since the 1800s. That warming is in the lower atmosphere; the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) is cooler, telling us heat is trapped down here by the surface. They have measured CO2 levels and observe they have risen ahead of warming. They have measured the nuclear properties of the CO2 and learned that it came from carbon originally sequestered deep in the earth, rather than surface carbon.

The best hypothesis that explains all the data is human burning of originally sequestered fossil fuel, trapping more heat and warming the Earth. 98-99% of active climate researchers not only agree with this conclusion, they routinely use it to predict the outcome of climate disruptions across the Earth. Those researchers are the descendants of Galileo, using science to understand the world.

People like Rick Perry don’t understand science, and they certainly do not practice it. They think that when people put their ideas on the internet, YouTube, or in a self-published book that this amounts to science. It does not. Skepticism without reference to actual data is not actual skepticism; it’s denialism.

Certainly, Perry or the “scientists” he did not name and who deny climate change are not Galileos. They are Inquisitors, lacking an understanding of science as a means to understand the natural world. They stand in judgment of scientists. They try to poison the public against scientists and the scientific method, and when they fail they try to redefine science. But like the Pope and the Inquisitors, all that will be remembered is that they stood against the truth, and fell before it.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/08/us/politics/08republican-debate-text.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

The Greenhouse Effect Part 2: Hot Car, Hot Earth

High temperatures in Texas have been above 100 for over a month. When we park our car to go shopping, there is rarely any tree shade in which to place the car. As a result, the car is left in the direct glare of the sun, with windows closed (since we don’t like the idea of car theft). We go shopping. When we step from the mall to the parking lot, we experience a temperature difference of about 35 degrees Fahrenheit (going from an air-conditioned building at around 70 degrees to a local atmospheric temperature of 105). When we open the door of the car and jump inside, our bodies experience a FURTHER 25-degree temperature difference, this one between the ambient outdoor temperature (105) and the inside of the car (about 130 degrees). But wait . . . hasn’t the car been sitting in the air, coming into thermal equilibrium with the surroundings? Yes, but the total heat energy in the car is not simply that due to the energy entering the vehicle from the sun or from thermal contact with the atmosphere; it’s much higher, due to the heat-trapping action of the greenhouse effect.

Let us explore how the greenhouse effect works in a car. Solar radiation passes through the windows in the car and is absorbed by the materials in the car – the seats, the dashboard, the carpets, etc. Light is made from photons. For each photon, there is a direct relationship between energy and wavelength:

E = h/λ

Here, h is Planck’s Constant: h = 6.626 x 10-34 J ⋅ s. If, in a beam of solar radiation, you have more photons present with short (small) wavelengths, then the beam of light carries more overall energy than if it is composed primarily of long (large) wavelength photons. What is the composition of wavelengths of light before it enters the glass?

Solar irradiance spectrum above atmosphere and at surface
Solar irradiance spectrum above atmosphere and at surface

Light which has reached the surface of the earth has a composition as shown left [1]. Focus on the red-colored distribution; we see that a great fraction of the spectrum is concentrated in the visible portion of the spectrum, between 450-700 nm. Most of the spectrum lies in the infrared – the portion of the spectrum whose energy we feel as heat. These are wavelengths above 700nm. The remainder of the spectrum is ultraviolet – short wavelengths, below 450nm.

Absorption and transmission of glass
Curves show the absorption and transmission coefficients for glass as a function of the wavelength of light. Blue indicates ultraviolet, yellow visible light, and red indicates infrared or heat energy.

This is the spectrum of solar radiation that reaches our windshield and our passenger and rearview windows. These transparent materials are really transparent only to what we consider “visible” light, as illustrated by the graphic on the left [2].

Since most of the solar radiation enters as heat, and glass strongly absorbs heat, this leads to the glass re-radiating heat energy in all directions; some of it enters the car, the rest returns to the environment. Visible solar radiation is readily transmitted through the glass; this is absorbed by the materials in the car, while some of it (the colors we see) are reflected as visible light. The energy absorbed by materials in the car is re-radiated as heat energy (infrared). Some of this reaches the glass and is again primarily absorbed rather than transmitted. The glass then re-radiates the heat energy in all directions, some re-entering the car and some leaving the car.

We see how the equilibrium situation reached by the inside of the car is not represented by the external temperature; most of the sun’s radiation enters the car as heat, and most of that is trapped by the glass. The visible light that enters the car is primarily re-radiated as heat, and most of that is also trapped by the glass. So there is more heat energy trapped in the car than would be without the physical and chemical tendency of glass to absorb and trap heat energy. This is why a hot car on a hot day is at a higher internal temperature than the ambient air, and this is the essence of the greenhouse effect.

So where does this leave us with our great automobile, the planet Earth, on whose skin we ride in an endless waltz around our central star? There is no glass that surrounds Earth, but there is an atmosphere. What are the radiation transmission and absorption coefficients of our atmosphere?

Transmittance of radiation by atmospheric gases as a function of wavelength in the UV, visible, and infrared parts of the spectrum.
Transmittance of radiation by atmospheric gases as a function of wavelength in the UV, visible, and infrared parts of the spectrum.
Absorption of radiation by atmospheric gases as a function of wavelength in the infrared.
Absorption of radiation by atmospheric gases as a function of wavelength in the infrared.

The graphs above show the transmittance (top) and absorption (bottom) of radiation as a function of wavelength [3].Transmittance is shown for many common atmospheric gases all the way from UV to thermal infrared. Absorption is shown for these same gases, but only for the thermal infrared portion of the spectrum (heat energy). Keep in mind that the sum of transmittance and absorption must equal 100% (1.0); that is, when light strikes a material it must either be absorbed or transmitted – there are no other options. So if a gas has a high transmittance, it necessarily will have a low absorption.

Let’s choose a single gas and discuss its measured properties. Let’s choose water (H20). Water transmits nearly all visible wavelengths of light. It transmits parts of the infrared spectrum, but absorbs wide portions of that spectrum; it therefore is a good “greenhouse gas”  – one which readily absorbs infrared (heat). Looking closely at the absorption curves in the infrared, we see this property reinforced (the absorption is highest when the curve is near the bottom of each graph).

How about CO2? We see that CO2 transmits a lot more of the infrared portion of the spectrum, but it has segments where its absorption is very strong. Looking closely at the absorption, we see this confirmed. CO2 is less strong of a greenhouse gas compared to water, but it’s a good contender. But, except for methane (CH4), it’s a vastly superior greenhouse gas compared to other things in the atmosphere: CO, O2, O3, etc.

We need no glass to cause absorption of the heat energy re-radiated by the surface of the earth; we have greenhouse gases, which fill the same purpose as the glass in our car windows. What is the gas composition of the earth’s atmosphere? It is as follows [4]:

  • N2: 78.084%
  • O2: 20.946%
  • Ar: 0.9340%
  • H20: ~0.4% (varies with height in the atmosphere – closer to the surface it varies between 1-4%)
  • CO2: 0.039%

and other gases. Of the greenhouse gases, CO2 is second in concentration only to water. Water vapor clearly plays an overall larger role in the fact that our surface is warmer than expected due to incident solar radiation.

Let’s consider one last question before we close this post. If H20 is such a stupendous greenhouse gas, surely a little CO2 can’t be causing all this warming?

We’ll explore that question in the next post.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunlight#Composition

[2] Mitalas, G. P. and Stephenson, D. G. “Absorption and Transmission of Thermal Radiation by Single and Double Glazed Windows.” 1962.  http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/obj/irc/doc/pubs/rp/rp173/rp173.pdf

[3] http://www.heliosat3.de/e-learning/radiative-transfer/rt/Lecture-7.pdf

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Earth