People send me stuff. This makes Bill Nye’s recent CNN fail look almost forgivable.
My friend Lars Larson, who runs a nationally syndicated radio show out of Portland, OR sent me this audio clip today. I had to listen to it to believe his claim, because who would guess that a credentialed scientist who is lecturing a national audience on climate change issues could misunderstand the greenhouse effect so badly. Here is the audio clip, with Dr. Laurie Johnson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Have a listen:
The relevant passage starts at about 8:20 into the interview.
When you get in your car in summer, your car is hot because it has greenhouse gases in it. That’s why its hot.
I’ll have to hand it to Lars Larson, because after the obligatory “hold on a second….” he proceeded to explain how the greenhouse effect works in an automobile, though he mispoke and said “shortwave” instead of “longwave”, but he had the physical premise right.
After explaining that, he asks:
Are you telling me my car heats up because there is more CO2 in the atmosphere?
Unfazed, she insists:
I’m telling you your car heats up because there are greenhouse gases in your car.
And, she goes on to say, after Lars uses the example of sunlight streaming through the open windows of his home, making it hotter, and asks:
Is my house filled with greenhouse gas as well?
Yes! It has carbon dioxide in it!
Are you telling me my house now gets hotter than it it would 20 years ago because there’s now more carbon dioxide in it?
Dr. Johnson responds with:
I don’t know the exact temperature of your house, what I’m going to say is that the scientists…
And then goes on to talk about how “the military is concerned about it”, “scientists everywhere are concerned about it”, “12,000 peer reviewed papers” (channeling Cook et al) and other consensus building statements.
She seemed totally oblivious to the fact that she had just been pwned.
What does real empirical science say about why your car is hot when exposed to sunlight? It says nothing about the role of CO2 (or other greenhouse gases) of course which have a negligible effect at this scale.
From the Georgia State University physics department:
Greenhouse Effect Example
Bright sunlight will effectively warm your car on a cold, clear day by the greenhouse effect. The longer infrared wavelengths radiated by sun-warmed objects do not pass readily through the glass. The entrapment of this energy warms the interior of the vehicle. The trapping of the hot air so that it cannot rise and lose the energy by convection also plays a major role.
|Short wavelengths of visible light are readily transmitted through the transparent windshield. (Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see through it!)|
Shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet light are largely blocked by glass since they have greater quantum energies which have absorption mechanisms in the glass. Even though you may be uncomfortably warm with bright sunlight streaming through, you will not be sunburned.
Of course, the role of convection gets immediately stunted when you roll all the windows down.
It is mind blowing that this PhD, doesn’t understand the basic elements of the greenhouse effect (as it applies to actual physical greenhouses, of which your automobile is a small working model) enough to realize when she’s made a major embarrassing blunder, yet persists to lecture the radio audience about the certainty of her position.
Maybe she should have taken some science to go along with that economics training. You’d think a learned individual would train themselves on the basics, apparently not.
For more on how automobiles heat up dangerously, please see the study by my friend Jan Null, who has quantified the effect and danger to children and pets. And remember, don’t leave kids and pets in the car, not even for a minute.
Hint: the hyperthermia danger isn’t from CO2.
Every year dozens of children tragically die due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) after being left unattended in cars, trucks and vans. Over the past five years in the United States 160 deaths of this type have been documented (Kids and Cars and 4 R Kids SakeTM, 2003). [For the current year see 2003 Hyperthermia Fatalities (Children in Vehicles)]. Hundreds of other children left in similar situations suffer great bodily harm and these numbers do not include similar consequences to infirm adults or animals.
UPDATE: Dr. Johnson responds with an admission of error.
The approach of hurricane season has raised public interest in a recent NRDC analysis showing that the U.S. government spent nearly $100 billion in 2012 responding to damage related to climate change. As an NRDC economist, I helped make sure the analysis was sound.
In discussing this recently with Lars Larson, I got outside of my area of expertise and made a mistake. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are accelerating climate change, but cars get hot in summer when the sun warms the interior and closed windows trap the heat.
I regret that I misspoke. I apologize for any confusion I might have created. And I hope we can move forward, as a nation, with the action we need to reduce the industrial carbon pollution that is driving climate change and threatening our future.
Laurie T. Johnson, Ph.D.
Chief Economist, Climate and Clean Air Program
Natural Resources Defense Council
1152 15th St NW Ste 300
Washington D.C., 20009