Digital Diatribes

A presentation of data on climate and other stuff

Archive for the ‘Greenhouse Gases’ Category

Carbon Dioxide and Feedback (Guest Post)

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on April 20, 2009

The following post was submitted by Bob Heiderstadt. This is outside my area of expertise, so I make no warranties regarding all the salient points in the article.  I do have a basic understanding of the dynamics of what is discussed (I have some background in Physics), and felt it to be a worthy contribution.  Bob has an engineering background, and has been kind enough to correspond occasionally via e-mail with different insights or articles that he has offered for potential use on my blog. I thank Bob for his contribution. It is posted as submitted. I have only formatted it for presentation.

Carbon Dioxide and Feedback

Guest post by Bob Heiderstadt

Perhaps I’m just letting my education and training as an engineer getting in the way, but I can’t see how the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) crowd can possibly prevail based on science since their main contention is that CO2 is the primary driver of climate and we are in a heap of trouble.  In general, the models the AGW advocates use purport that CO2 has a positive feedback.  What follows is a discussion of feedback.


In any kind of system, there can only be three kinds of net feedback possible: Positive, Negative, or None.  Let’s begin with positive feedback.  In a system with positive feedback, the system will be bistable, that is to say the system will peg at the extremes and stay there until the source is either removed or made more negative that the original cause.  For an example of positive feedback, consider a speaker moved in front of a microphone in a concert hall.  A loud squeal very quickly follows and continues until either the microphone or the speaker is moved.


If a system has no feedback, then the system is inherently unstable and unpredictable and would likely peg at either extreme.  This would correspond to a switch, albeit a random one.


If a system has negative feedback, then the system is inherently stable.  Nature and man-made devices are replete with negative feedback systems.  Here’s a man-made example: your car – if you add fuel to the engine (assuming it is already running) more power is generated which moves the pistons faster, turning the crankshaft faster, until equilibrium is achieved.  Of course, when the fuel is removed, there is less energy to push the pistons, and the engine slows.  In nature, especially during the summer, mornings tend to start out clear, as the ground and air warm, clouds start to form, masking the lower atmosphere, and thereby cooling things.  If there is enough water vapor in the air, and it warms up fast enough, then thunderheads form, and rain follows, cooling the ground and lower atmosphere.  Clearly, even the AGW advocate has to admit that the climate has been stable in the past, since earth is neither an ice cube (sphere) or a uncontrolled hot house (Figure 1).

Figure 1


If CO2 is the primary driver of climate and we are headed for oblivion as the AGW advocates contend as a result of positive feedback, and since the climate has been stable in the past, then it stands to reason that the “tipping point” level of CO2 had not been reached in the past.  This would mean that we would have to reach at least the previous highest level of CO2 before we have anything substantial to worry about.  During the Cambrian Period (550 million years ago) the CO2 levels floated somewhere between 3000 and 8000 ppm with a probable peak around 7000 ppm; during the Early Carboniferous Period CO2 levels were around 1800 ppm.  The current level of CO2 is about 400 ppm.  Since the climate was stable with CO2 levels around 7000 ppm, we can safely assume that we have a long way to go to get to the “tipping point” the AGW advocates are worried about.  The source of the CO2 is irrelevant, only the total CO2 is significant.  If the AGW climate models are correct that we are quickly reaching the “tipping point”, then it suggests the climate is much more sensitive to CO2 levels than it was in the past.  The mechanism for this increased sensitivity has yet to be explained.  Oh, by the way, when the CO2 levels peaked at around 7000 ppm, the average global temperature was around 22º C (72º F).  While undoubtedly not good for the existing low-lying coastal areas, the overall effect wouldn’t be disastrous for the planet.


What about negative feedback and CO2?  Clearly the planet is a negative feedback system given the overall stability of the climate over the last 600 million years or so, oscillating between warm and cold periods.  Were it otherwise the average global temperature would be considerably higher than it is now, possibly even approaching the temperatures on Venus.  This hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons, mainly based on the physical characteristic of Earth (distance from the Sun, eccentricity of orbit, period of rotation, density of the atmosphere, and so on) differing from those of Venus.  Actually, even Venus is a negative feedback system, with just a much higher stable average temperature.  Does this mean that increased CO2 will have no effect?  Of course not, CO2 is another input to the climate, and unless all of it is absorbed, then it will increase the density of the atmosphere slightly, trap a bit more heat, and raise the temperature of the planet by some amount.  Could this be bad for Miami?  Maybe, but we don’t know enough about the climate to be sure, and the computer models are still very crude in terms of predicting the future from any single input.  Since there are multiple inputs, not the least is the Sun, outcomes are difficult to predict with any certainty.  Progress is being made and some new interesting hypothesis have been presented, with associated predictions being tested in the only lab possible…the planet’s climate.  Time and temperature will tell whose hypothesis is more correct, and whose is bunk.


In conclusion, either way it seems as though the AGW crowd is on the wrong side of the results.  If they are right, the levels of CO2 need to be much higher than at present, and if they are wrong, then there will be no significant upward rise in temperature.


Posted in Climate Change, Cycles, Earth, Feedback Effects, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, Science | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Taking a Break to Evaluate a Really Stupid Idea

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on December 5, 2008

Some people wonder why people like you and me actually care whether or not the Anthropogenic nature of Global Warming is real. Or, for that matter, whether it’s even a bad thing. After all, they argue, even if it isn’t real isn’t it a good thing that people are more aware of pollution and alternative energy and all those things, so that we are better stewards of the environment?

The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” It would be simple if you eliminated the first part of the equation and simply said that we should be good stewards of the environment. I couldn’t agree more. And I am all for research into ways to make existing fuels burn cleaner and to make alternative energy forms useful and efficient.

But the reality is that whenever you base decision-making on bad information or bad assumptions, you end up harming more than helping. Even if the goal is generally a good thing (cleaner, safer environment), it just isn’t that simple.

There is no better example of this than the agenda of AGW proponents in the sphere of politics. We all likely agree with the statement, “We should reduce pollution as much as possible, within our means to do so.” The question that needs to be clarified, though, is “What is pollution?”

The day we started accepting Carbon Dioxide as a pollutant was the day all common sense went to hell in a handbasket. The mind-boggling dollars that are being discussed as a part of the solution to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions is so numbing that most of us don’t even flinch any more with numbers in the hundreds of billions. We don’t even bother to consider the tax implications, on a global scale let alone a regional scale, of what these numbers mean. And that doesn’t even take into account lost efficiencies.

Jeff on “The Air Vent” (link to the right) has a number of posts on the impact of continuing to promote biofuels as a solution. Even if one could argue that the day will come when alternative fuels like these can be used more cleanly and efficiently, trying to do that now is not only premature, but counterproductive to efficiency, cost, opportunity cost, and the actual benefit in the end to a cleaner environment. At best, you can say that the current state of biofuels is a stepping stone in research to something better in the future, but as it stands now it is an outright lie to believe we are doing anything but hurting ourselves by this ignorant and obstinate push for biofuels. Check Jeff’s work.

So, today I open up a link on Drudge to find the following story:
Proposed Fee on Smelly Cows, Hogs Angers Farmers.

Your meat will now cost 20% more, suckers.

Your meat will now cost 20% more, suckers.

Here is an excerpt:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – For farmers, this stinks: Belching and gaseous cows and hogs could start costing them money if a federal proposal to charge fees for air-polluting animals becomes law.

Farmers so far are turning their noses up at the notion, which is one of several put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases emitted by belching and flatulence amounts to air pollution.

“This is one of the most ridiculous things the federal government has tried to do,” said Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, an outspoken opponent of the proposal.

It would require farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs to pay an annual fee of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef cattle and $20 for each hog.

The executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Ken Hamilton, estimated the fee would cost owners of a modest-sized cattle ranch $30,000 to $40,000 a year. He said he has talked to a number of livestock owners about the proposals, and “all have said if the fees were carried out, it would bankrupt them.”

Sparks said Wednesday he’s worried the fee could be extended to chickens and other farm animals and cause more meat to be imported.

“We’ll let other countries put food on our tables like they are putting gas in our cars. Other countries don’t have the health standards we have,” Sparks said.

EPA spokesman Nick Butterfield said the fee was proposed for farms with livestock operations that emit more than 100 tons of carbon emissions in a year and fall under federal Clean Air Act provisions.

There is simply no way to overstate how ridiculously stupid such a proposal would be. I grew up on a dairy farm. We milked 60-70 cows at any given time, and had a number of heifers that we were raising both to replace the older cows or to send to market (or butcher for ourselves.) Now, I can guarantee you that 60-70 cows is a small, family operation. My dad was great with his money and so he did well, but he certainly didn’t rake in huge dollars. This was in no way some large-scale operation.

This proposal would have cost my dad another $12,000 per year. That means that one of two things would have to happen: food costs go up in order to cover the additional cost to the farmer, or the farmer goes out of business. There is no way he could have absorbed another 12 grand.

The rest of the article burned me up, too:

The fee would cover the cost of a permit for the livestock operations. While farmers say it would drive them out of business, an organization supporting the proposal hopes it forces the farms and ranches to switch to healthier crops.

“It makes perfect sense if you are looking for ways to cut down on meat consumption and recoup environmental losses,” said Bruce Friedrich, a spokesman in Washington for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“We certainly support making factory farms pay their fair share,” he said.

PETA… need I say more? Yeah, let’s just fail to recognize that people who have invested in all the equipment and infrastructure to operate a Dairy farm can just switch to crop-raising. No big deal, right? After all, they should pay their “fair share.”


At least there was a heartening end to the article:

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Haleyville in northwest Alabama, said he has spoken with EPA officials and doesn’t believe the cow tax is a serious proposal that will ever be adopted by the agency.

I am happy to see that. But a quick note to Representative Aderholt: Assume nothing! Many of the stupid things we do today were considered to be so ridiculous a few years ago that it couldn’t possibly be a serious proposal. These things start off as trial balloons until the ballon actually starts to float. It may not be now, but these inane proposals will continue and more will be passed.

Posted in Animals, Carbon Taxes, Climate Change, Current Events, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, News, Opinion, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

And then they came for the Plasma TVs…

Posted by The Diatribe Guy on July 5, 2008

Al Gore promoting an increase to everyone's carbon footprint.  He should send me money.I’ve learned that global warming causes just about everything, and I’ve learned that it is also caused by just about everything. I’ve learned that heat waves are indicative of global warming, and also that cold spells are indicative of glob.. oh, wait… climate change (climate change meaning, of course, that it’s a bad thing and it’s all our fault). It’s one of the beautiful things about the theory. It makes it very robust.

Full disclosure: I don’t own a plasma or LCD TV. I have this huge honking box in the corner of my living room that weighs about 2 tons. It will remain there until the earlier of (1) the day it dies, or (2) my wife informs me that it has to go. Until then, a converter box and lack of high def is a small price to pay for not trying to figure out what in the world to do with this monstrosity.

I now find out how environmentally conscious I am. I’m donwright green. These plasma TVs are evil polluters. The gas used in them is thousands of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide – 17,000 times more potent, in fact. If I use my mental conversion chart, this means that despite my large family, I am still a net positive in the carbon footprint game compared to all you polluters who had to get your little toy and watch your sports and action movies in HD. Shame on all of you.

As a public service, you may contact me and find out the address in which you can send me money as an offset. I promise until further notice to refrain from purchasing a Plasma TV, and you can alleviate your conscience by forwarding a fair sum of money to me so that you can watch your TV conscience-free. You’re welcome. What the heck… I’ll even up the ante. If you include your mailing address information and the sum is at least $15, I’ll send you one of my CDs absolutely free.

Anyway, in case you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, the article is here: Newfangled TVs Owned by Selfish People Accelerating Global Warming.

A gas used in the making of flat screen televisions, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), is being blamed for damaging the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.

Almost half of the televisions sold around the globe so far this year have been plasma or LCD TVs.

But this boom could be coming at a huge environmental cost.

The gas, widely used in the manufacture of flat screen TVs, is estimated to be 17,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.

Ironically, NF3 is not covered by the Kyoto protocol as it was only produced in tiny amounts when the treaty was signed in 1997.

Levels of this gas in the atmosphere have not been measured, but scientists say it is a concern and are calling for it to be included in any future emissions cutting agreement.

Additional comment: Can someone please schedule a class for those in the newsroom on the appropriate use of the word “ironically?”

Posted in Climate Change, Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases, News, Science, Technology, Television | Leave a Comment »