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Greenhouse Gases: The Laboratory Fallacy

It is often said that the greenhouse effect by anthropogenic CO2 emissions is an established fact, as laboratory studies have been showing the interaction between CO2 and infrared radiation since before the times of Arrhenius.

That’s not necessarily true.

I am not saying that all those experiments have been wrong or that there is an international cover-up on the lack of greenhouse properties by carbon dioxide. That’s obviously not true, or else there’s something very wrong with quantum physics…

What I am referring to is the logical fallacy of stepping from the laboratory to the real world.

For an example of established chemical reactions that fail to live up to expectations outside of the laboratory, just look at the history of “Antioxidants“, an entire class of molecules supposed to slow down aging and prevent diseases.

Only, they don’t. Or if they do, it’s hard to tell. Perhaps some of them might even shorten one’s life.

This has not prevented the birth and sustainance of a whole industry of dietary supplements, just as the complexity of the real atmosphere mean nothing to those trying to take advantage of the carbon taxes or markets.

The underlying tragedy is that there may be something important about antioxidants/micronutrients, under specific conditions, but the true knowledge about it has been buried for decades by too quick claims disseminated for public health concerns: yet another analogy with CO2-based greenhouse warming…

3 replies on “Greenhouse Gases: The Laboratory Fallacy”

[…] I am pretty sure most scientists of all sorts (but not climatologists, as it seems) would find it peculiar to see the physical impacts of a scientific theory relegated in the background so that people can celebrate their “relatively mature” science. And no, the belief that understanding some physical mechanisms means understanding what happens in the real world is a naive, dangerous fallacy. […]

Typo: “radiative” in the first line should be “radiation”.

Another way to state the ideas above would be to admit that the IPCC radiative transfer calculations are ok provided the surface thermal emissivity is zero. In reality it is close to one nearly everywhere, so the surface cannot be neglected. Misholzci has also pointed out that one cannot neglect the surface.

A simple analog to the above would be to imagine trying to heat a mirror with a flashlight. It wouldn’t be effective. Ditto for any greenhouse gas that only absorbs in part of the spectrum.

Let’s put it this way: the IPCC does calculations of radiative for perturbations in the atmosphere alone, exactly like an absorption tube in laboratory spectroscopy, and they ignore the effects of the surface.

Since CO2 contributes with its specific wavelengths (mostly around 15 microns) to the radiation energy received by the surface, and then the blackbody surface emits it again over the whole Planck spectrum, thus intensifying the flow through the atmospheric window at wavelengths where the window is still open. The net result is less total absorption and less heating.

About 40% of the incident 15 micron radiation will be dispersed over the entire far infrared spectrum by any wet surface that closely matches a blackbody and the sent through the infrared windows directly to space. Call this loss rho, since it is the loss only upon the first interaction of the atmospheric radiation with surface.

There will be multiple interactions between the surface and atmosphere and the initial rho will be amplified to be rho/(1-rho) to give a total loss to the system of 67%. Thus, the net warming will be one third of the IPCC figure if this neglected physics were to be included in their models.

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