Global Warming is REAL but NOT a Big DEAL

Guest essay by Dr. Ira Glickstein

We’ve reached a turning point where it is hard for any Global Warming Alarmist to claim (with a straight face) that the world as we know it is about to end in the coming decades unless we stop burning fossil fuels. Anyone deluded or foolish enough to make such a claim would be laughed at by many audiences.


Yes, the world has warmed 1°F to 1.5°F (0.6°C to 0.8°C) since 1880 when relatively good thermometers became available. Yes, part of that warming is due to human activities, mainly burning unprecedented quantities of fossil fuels that continue to drive an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. The Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect is a scientific fact!



Alarmist Theory is Handcuffed to High Estimates of Climate Sensitivity

As the animated graphic clearly indicates, the theoretical climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are handcuffed to inordinately high estimates of climate sensitivity (how much temperatures are expected to rise given a doubling of CO2). Since the advent of good satellite-based global temperature data in 1979, observed temperatures have risen at a fraction of the IPCC predicted rate even as CO2 continues to rise.

Relax, there is not and never has been any near-term “tipping point”. The actual Earth Climate System is far less sensitive to CO2 than claimed the IPCC climate theory, as represented by their computer models. Global Warming since 1880 is mainly due to Natural Cycles and Processes not under human control. Yes, the same Natural Cycles and Processes that were responsible for the many Ice Age cycles that repeatedly occurred about every 100,000 years or so.


Last week, by a stroke of good fortune, I happened to be scheduled to present “Visualizing the Atmospheric ‘Greenhouse’ Effect – Global warming is real, but how much is due to human activities and how big is the risk?” to the Philosophy Club in the Central Florida retirement community where I live.

Everyone in the highly interactive and supportive audience was aware of newspaper and TV reports of the drama of those ill-fated Global Warming “Research” activists whose Russian ship, the Academik Shokalskiy, got stuck in the summer ice of the Antarctic. (Fortunately, those people are safe, having been rescued by a helicopter from a Chinese icebreaker.) In addition to the Antarctic adventure gone wrong, in the week leading up to and following my talk, the media was overrun by stories of the “polar vortex” literally freezing large parts of the US and even causing Florida temperatures to drop below 30°F (0°C).

Of course, everyone knows that the cold wave is only anecdotal evidence and “weather is not climate”. However, photos and videos of researchers stuck in the Antarctic summer ice as well as scenes of American life frozen in place for days on end, when combined with clear and irrefutable evidence of a slowdown in warming since 1979 and no statistically significant warming since 1996 (as depicted in the graphic above), has considerable emotional impact. Audiences often react more to emotions than their reason.

My animated PowerPoint Show, which should run on any Windows PC, is available for download here. (NOTE: I knew that many members of the Philosophy Club audience, while highly intelligent and informed, are not particularly scientifically astute. Therefore, I kept to the basics and invited questions as I proceeded. Since most of them think in Fahrenheit, I was careful to give temperatures in that system. By contrast, my 2011 talk to the more scientifically astute members of our local Science and Technology Club Skeptic Strategy for Talking about Global Warming was more technical. Both presentations make use of animated PowerPoint charts and you are free to download and use them as you wish.)

My presentation is based on my five-part WUWT series entitled “Visualizing the ‘Greenhouse Effect'” – 1 – A Physical Analogy, 2 – Atmospheric Windows, 3 – Emission Spectra, 4 – Molecules and Photons, and 5 – Light and Heat.  The series, which ran in 2011, generated tens of thousands of page views at WUWT, along with thousands of comments. I wrote the series this website attracts some viewers who reject the basic physics of the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect.


I explained how a real physical Greenhouse works and how that is both similar and different from the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect. The Greenhouse descriptions I learned in high school, as well as those available on the Internet, consider only the RADIATIVE effect. The glass roof of the Greenhouse allows visible light to pass through freely, heating the soil, plants, and air, but is opaque to the resultant infrared radiation, which is partly re-radiated back down into the Greenhouse, warming it further.  That part is true, but far from the whole story. The MAIN reason a Greenhouse stays warm is that it is airtight to restrict CONVECTION and it is insulated to restrict CONDUCTION. In fact, it is possible to construct a successful Greenhouse using a roof made from materials that allow both visible and infrared to pass freely, but is impossible to make a working Greenhouse that is not both airtight and insulated.


All warm objects emit radiation at a wavelength dependent upon the temperature of the object. The Sun, at around 10,000 °F, emits “short-wavelength” infrared radiation, centered around 1/2 micron (one millionth of a meter). The soil, plants, and air in the Greenhouse, at around 60°F to 100°F (15°C to 40°C), emit “long wavelength” radiation, centered around 10 microns (with most of the energy between 4 and 25 microns).

The Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect works because:

  1. Short-wavelength radiation from the Sun passes freely through the gases that make up  the Atmosphere,
  2. About a third of this Sunlight is reflected back by white clouds, dust, and light-colored objects on the Surface, and that energy is lost to Space,
  3. The remaining two-thirds of  the Sunlight energy is absorbed by the Sea and Land Surface and causes it to warm,
  4. The warm Surface cools by emitting long-wavelength radiation at the Bottom of the Atmosphere, and this radiation passes towards the Top of the Atmosphere, where it is ultimately lost to Space,
  5. On the way to the Top of the Atmosphere, much of this radiation is absorbed by so-called “Greenhouse” gases (mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide) which causes the Atmosphere to warm,
  6. The warmed Atmosphere emits infrared radiation in all directions, some into Space where it is lost, and some back towards the Surface where it is once again absorbed and further warms the Surface.
  7. In addition to the RADIATIVE effects noted in points 1 through 6, the Surface is cooled by CONVECTION and CONDUCTION (thunderstorms, winds, rain, etc.)


If not for the warming effect of “Greenhouse” gases, the Surface of the Earth would average below 0°F (-18°C), which would prevent life as we know it. This effect is responsible for about 60°F (33°C) of warming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Earth Surface has warmed about 1.5°F (0.8°C) since good thermometer data became available around 1880. Some skeptics (including me) believe the actual warming is closer to 1°F, and that government agencies have adjusted the thermometer record to exaggerate the warming by 30% or more. However, it doesn’t really matter whether the actual warming is 1°F or 1.5°F (0.6°C or 0.8°C) because we are arguing about only 0.5°F (0.2°C), which is less than 1% of the total warming due to the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect.


The IPCC claims that the majority of the warming since 1880 is due to human activities. It is true that we are burning unprecedented amounts of fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas), and that we are making land use changes that may reduce the albedo (reflectiveness) of the Surface. Most of the increase in Atmospheric CO2 (a 40% rise from about 270 to nearly 400 parts per million by volume) is due to human activities.

The IPCC claims that Climate Sensitivity (the average increase in Surface temperatures due to a doubling of CO2) is between 3°F and 8°F (1.5°C and 4.5°C).  Some skeptics (including me) believe they are off by at least a factor of two, and possibly a factor of three, and that Climate Sensitivity is closer to 1°F to 3°F (0.5°C to 1.5°C). As evidence for our conclusions, we point to the fact that virtually ALL of the IPCC climate models have consistently over-estimated future temperature predictions as compared to the actual temperature record. Indeed, for the past 17 years as CO2 levels continue their rapid climb, temperatures have leveled off, which is proof that Natural Cycles, not under human control or influence, have cancelled out warming due to CO2 increases. Thus, Natural Cycles must have a larger effect than CO2.


As I noted above, I wrote the “Visualizing” series for WUWT (1 – A Physical Analogy, 2 – Atmospheric Windows, 3 – Emission Spectra, 4 – Molecules and Photons, and 5 – Light and Heat) because some WUWT viewers are “Disbelievers” who have had an “equal and opposite” reaction to the “end of the world” excesses of the Global Warming “Alarmists”.  By failing to understand and accept the basic science of the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect, they have, IMHO, “thrown the baby out with the bathwater”.

1 – A Physical Analogy

Albert Einstein was a great theoretical physicist, with all the requisite mathematical tools. However, he rejected purely mathematical abstraction and resorted to physical analogy for his most basic insights. For example, he imagined a man in a closed elevator being transported to space far from any external mass and then subjected to accelerating speeds. That man could not tell the difference between gravity on Earth and acceleration in space, thus, concluded Einstein, gravity and acceleration are equivalent, which is the cornerstone of his theory of relativity.  Einstein  never fully bought into the mainstream interpretation of quantum mechanics that he and others have called quantum weirdness and spooky action at a distance. He had trouble accepting a theory that did not comport with anything he considered a reasonable physical analogy!

So, if you have trouble accepting the atmospheric “greenhouse” effect because of the lack of a good physical analogy, you are in fine company.

Well, getting back to the Atmospheric “Greenhouse Effect, a “disbelieving” commenter on WUWT suggested we think of the Sunlight as truckloads of energy going from the Sun to the Earth Surface, and the infrared radiation from the Surface as equal truckloads going the other way. How, he asked, could these equal and opposite truckloads do anything but cancel each other out as far as the amount of energy on the Surface of the Earth? In reply, I posted a comment with an analogy of truckloads of orange juice, representing short-wave radiation from Sun to Earth, and truckloads of blueberry juice, representing longwave radiation between Earth and the Atmosphere and back out to Space.

That thought experiment triggered my creativity. I imagined the Sun as a ball-pitching machine, throwing Yellow balls towards the “Earth” Surface (representing short-wave radiation) and Purple balls (representing long-wave radiation) bouncing back towards Space and interacting with the Atmosphere. The graphic below is one of my depictions of the physical analogy. Follow this link for more graphics and detail.

I imagined the Earth as a well-damped scale. The Yellow balls would bounce off the Surface and turn into Purple balls (representing long-wave radiation as the Earth absorbed the short-wave radiation and then emitted an equal quantity of long-wave radiation). The scale would read “1” unit.

If there was no Atmosphere, or if the Atmosphere contained no “Greenhouse” gases to obstruct the flight of the Purple balls, they would fly out towards Space.

I then imagined the Atmosphere as an obstacle that absorbed the Purple balls, split them in two, and emitted half of the smaller balls to Space and the other half back towards the Earth. The balls going towards Earth would be absorbed, further heating the Earth, and the warmed Earth would emit them back towards the Atmosphere. The process would be repeated with the balls being absorbed by “Greenhouse” gases in the Atmosphere, and then emitted with half going out to Space, and half back to the Earth. The sum of 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 +1/16 … = 2 (approximately), so the scale reads “2” units.

Thus, in my simplified analogy, the “Greenhouse” gases in the “Atmosphere” cause the scale reading to double. So, the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect causes the Earth Surface to be warmer than it would be absent the “Greenhouse” gases. I think Einstein would be pleased!  Read more detail, including the 340 responses.

2 – Atmospheric Windows

A real greenhouse has windows. So does the Atmospheric “greenhouse effect”. They are similar in that they allow Sunlight in and restrict the outward flow of thermal energy. However, they differ in the mechanism. A real greenhouse primarily restricts heat escape by preventing convection while the “greenhouse effect” heats the Earth because “greenhouse gases” (GHG) absorb outgoing radiative energy and re-emit some of it back towards Earth.

There are two main “windows” in the Atmospheric “greenhouse effect”. The first, the Visible Light Window, on the left side of the graphic, allows visible and near-visible light from the Sun to pass through with small losses, and the second, the Longwave Window, on the right, allows the central portion of the longwave radiation band from the Earth to pass through with small losses, while absorbing and re-emitting the left and right portions.

Sunlight Energy In = Reflected Sunlight Energy Out + Thermal Energy Out

The graphic is an animated depiction of the Atmospheric “greenhouse effect” process.

On the left side:

(1) Sunlight is shortwave radiation with a wavelength centered around 0.5μ (microns, millionths of a meter). That energy streams through the Atmosphere towards the surface of the Earth.

(2) A portion of the Sunlight is reflected by clouds and other high-albedo surfaces and heads back through the Atmosphere towards Space. The remainder is absorbed by the Surface of the Earth, warming it.

(3) The reflected portion is lost to Space.

On the right side:

(1) The warmed Earth emits longwave radiation with a wavelength centered around 10μ towards the Atmosphere. This consists of thermal energy from about to about 25μ. For convenience in description, I have divided this range into three bands: ~7μ, ~10μ, and ~15μ.

(2) The ~10μ portion passes through the Atmosphere with litttle loss. The ~7μ portion gets absorbed, primarily by water vapor (H2O), and the 15μ portion gets absorbed, primarily by H2O and CO2. The absorbed radiation heats the H2O and CO2 molecules and, at their higher energy states, they collide with the other molecules that make up the air, mostly nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), ozone (O3), and argon (A) and heat them by something like conduction. The molecules in the heated air emit radiation in random directions at all bands (~7μ, ~10μ, and ~15μ). The ~10μ photons pass, nearly unimpeded, in whatever direction they happen to be emitted, some going towards Space and some towards Earth. The ~7μ and ~15μ photons go off in all directions until they run into an H2O or CO2 molecule, and repeat the absorption and re-emittance process, or until they emerge from the Atmosphere or hit the surface of the Earth.

(3) The ~10μ photons that got a free-pass from the Earth through the Atmosphere emerge and their energy is lost to Space. The ~10μ photons generated by the heating of the air emerge from the top of the Atmosphere and their energy is lost to Space, or they impact the surface of the Earth and are re-absorbed. The ~7μ and ~15μ generated by the heating of the air also emerge from the top or bottom of the Atmosphere, but there are fewer of them because they keep getting absorbed and re-emitted, each time with some transfered to the central ~10μ portion of the longwave band.

Read more detail, including the 489 responses.

3 – Emission Spectra

The Atmospheric “Greenhouse” effect has been analogized to a blanket that insulates the Sun-warmed Earth and slows the rate of heat transmission, thus increasing mean temperatures above what they would be absent “greenhouse gases” (GHGs). Perhaps a better analogy would be an electric blanket that, in addition to its insulating properties, also emits thermal radiation both down and up. The graphic below, based upon actual measurements of long-wave radiation as measured by a satellite LOOKING DOWN from the Top of the Atmosphere as well as from the Surface LOOKING UP from the Bottom of the Atmmsphere, depicts the situation.


Description of graphic (from bottom to top):

Earth Surface: Warmed by shortwave (~1/2μ) radiation from the Sun, the surface emits upward radiation in the ~7μ, ~10μ, and ~15μ regions of the longwave band. This radiation approximates a smooth “blackbody” curve that peaks at the wavelength corresponding to the surface temperature.

Bottom of the Atmosphere: On its way out to Space, the radiation encounters the Atmosphere, in particular the GHGs, which absorb and re-emit radiation in the ~7μ and ~15μ regions in all directions. Most of the ~10μ radiation is allowed to pass through.

The lower violet/purple curve (adapted from figure 8.1 in Petty and based on measurements from the Tropical Pacific looking UP) indicates how the bottom of the Atmosphere re-emits selected portions back down towards the surface of the Earth.  The dashed line represents a “blackbody” curve characteristic of 300 K (equivalent to 27ºC or 80ºF). Note how the ~7μ and ~15μ regions approximate that curve, while much of the ~10μ region is not re-emitted downward.

“Greenhouse Gases”: The reason for the shape of the downwelling radiation curve is clear when we look at the absorption spectra for the most important GHGs: H2O, H2O, H2O, … H2O, and CO2. (I’ve included multiple H2O’s because water vapor, particularly in the tropical latitudes, is many times more prevalent than carbon dioxide.)

Note that H2O absorbs at up to 100% in the ~7μ region. H2O also absorbs strongly in the ~15μ region, particularly above 20μ, where it reaches 100%. CO2 absorbs at up to 100% in the ~15μ region.

Neither H2O nor CO2 absorb strongly in the ~10μ region.

Since gases tend to re-emit most strongly at the same wavelength region where they absorb, the ~7μ and ~15μ are well-represented, while the ~10μ region is weaker.

Top of the Atmosphere: The upper violet/purple curve (adapted from figure 6.6 in Petty and based on satellite measurements from the Tropical Pacific looking DOWN) indicates how the top of the Atmosphere passes certain portions of radiation from the surface of the Earth out to Space and re-emits selected portions up towards Space. The dashed line represents a “blackbody” curve characteristic of 300 K. Note that much of the ~10μ region approximates a 295 K curve while the ~7μ region approximates a cooler 260ºK curve. The ~15μ region is more complicated. Part of it, from about 17μ and up approximates a 260ºK or  270ºK curve, but the region from about 14μ to 17μ has had quite a big bite taken out of it. Note how this bite corresponds roughly with the CO2 absorption spectrum.

Read more detail, including the 476 responses

4 – Molecules and Photons

In this part, we consider the interaction between air molecules, including Nitrogen (N2), Oxygen (O2), Water Vapor (H2O) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2), with Photons of various wavelengths. This may help us visualize how energy, in the form of Photons radiated by the Sun and the Surface of the Earth, is absorbed and re-emited by Atmospheric molecules.

The animated graphic has eight frames, as indicated by the counter in the lower right corner. Molecules are symbolized by letter pairs or triplets and Photons by ovals and arrows. The view is of a small portion of the cloud-free Atmosphere.

  1. During the daytime, Solar energy enters the Atmosphere in the form of Photons at wavelengths from about 0.1μ (micron – millionth of a meter) to , which is called “shortwave” radiation and is represented as ~1/2μ and symbolized as orange ovals. Most of this energy gets a free pass through the cloud-free Atmosphere. It continues down to the Surface of the Earth where some is reflected back by light areas (not shown in the animation) and where most is absorbed and warms the Surface.
  2. Since Earth’s temperature is well above absolute zero, both day and night, the Surface radiates Photons in all directions with the energy distributed approximately according to a “blackbody” at a given temperature. This energy is in the form of Photons at wavelengths from about to 25μ, which is called “longwave” radiation and is represented as ~7μ, ~10μ, and ~15μ and symbolized as violet, light blue, and purple ovals, respectively. As noted above, the primary “greenhouse” gases (GHG) are Water Vapor (H2O) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). The ~ Photon is absorbed by an H2O molecule because Water Vapor has an absorption peak in that region, the ~10μ Photon gets a free pass because neither H2O nor CO2 absorb strongly in that region, and one of the 15μ Photons gets absorbed by an H2O molecule while the other gets absorbed by a CO2 molecule because these gases have absorption peaks in that region.
  3. The absorbed Photons raise the energy level of their respective molecules (symbolized by red outlines).
  4. The energized molecules re-emit the Photons in random directions, some upwards, some downwards, and some sideways. Some of the re-emitted Photons make their way out to Space and their energy is lost there, others back down to the Surface where their energy is absorbed, further heating the Earth, and others travel through the Atmosphere for a random distance until they encounter another GHG molecule.
  5. This frame and the next two illustrate another way Photons are emitted, namely due to collisions between energized GHG molecules and other air molecules. As in frame (2) the Surface radiates Photons in all directions and various wavelengths.
  6. The Photons cause the GHG molecules to become energized and they speed up and collide with other gas molecules, energizing them. NOTE: In a gas, the molecules are in constant motion, moving in random directions at different speeds, colliding and bouncing off one another, etc. Indeed the “temperature” of a gas is something like the average speed of the molecules. In this animation, the gas molecules are fixed in position because it would be too confusing if they were all shown moving and because the speed of the Photons is so much greater than the speed of the molecules that they hardly move in the time indicated.
  7. The energized air molecules emit radiation at various wavelengths and in random directions, some upwards, some downwards, and some sideways. Some of the re-emitted Photons make their way out to Space and their energy is lost there, others back down to the Surface where their energy is absorbed, further heating the Earth, and others travel through the Atmosphere for a random distance until they encounter another GHG molecule.
  8. Having emitted the energy, the molecules cool down.

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5 – Light and Heat

As noted above, Sunlight Energy In = Reflected Sunlight Energy Out + Thermal Energy Out ! That’s old news to those of us who understand all energy is fungible (may be converted to different forms of energy) and energy/mass is conserved (cannot be created nor destroyed).

Answering Some Objections to the Atmospheric “Greenhouse”Effect

Some WUWT commenters seem to have been taken in by scientific-sounding objections to the basic science behind the Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect. Their objections seemed to add more heat than light to the discussion. This section is designed to get back to basics and perhaps transform our heated arguments into more enlightened understanding :^)

The main scientific question for me, is how much does the increase in human-caused CO2 and human-caused albedo reduction increase the mean temperature above what it would be with natural cycles and processes? My answer is “not much”, because perhaps 0.2ºC to 0.4ºC (0.1ºC to 0.2ºC) of the supposed 1.5ºF (0.8ºC) increase since 1880 is due to human activities. The rest is due to natural cycles and processes over which we humans have no control. The main public policy question for me, is how much should we (society) do about it? Again, my answer is “not much”, because the effect is small and a limited increase in temperatures and CO2 may turn out to have a net benefit.

So, my motivation for this Visualizing series was not to add to the Alarmist “the sky is falling” panic, but rather to help my fellow Skeptics avoid the natural temptation to fall into an “equal and opposite” falsehood, which some of those on my side, who I call “Disbelievers”, do when they fail to acknowledge the basic facts of the role of H2O and CO2 and other gases in helping to keep temperatures in a livable range.

Objection #1: Visual and near-visual radiation is merely “light” which lacks the “quality” or “oomph” to impart warmth to objects upon which it happens to fall.

Answer #1: A NASA webpage targeted at children is sometimes cited because they say the near-IR beam from a TV remote control is not warm to the touch. Of course, that is not because it is near-visual radiation, but rather because it is very low power. All energy is fungible, and can be changed from one form to another. Thus, the 240 Watts/m^2 of visible and near-visible Solar energy that reaches and is absorbed by the Earth System, has the effect of warming the Earth System exactly as much as an equal number of Watts/m^2 of “thermal” mid- and far-IR radiation.

Objection #2: The Atmosphere, which is cooler than the Earth Surface, cannot warm the Earth Surface.

Answer #2: The Second law of Thermodynamics is often cited as the source of this falsehood. The correct interpretation is that the Second Law refers to net warming, which can only pass from the warmer to the cooler object. The back-radiation from the Atmosphere to the Earth Surface has been measured (see lower panel in the above illustration). All matter above absolute zero emits radiation and, once emitted, that radiation does not know if it is travelling from a warmer to a cooler surface or vice-versa. Once it arrives it will either be reflected or absorbed, according to its wavelength and the characteristics of the material it happens to impact.

Objection #3: The Atmospheric “Greenhouse” Effect is fictional. A glass greenhouse works mainly by preventing or reducing convection and the Atmosphere does not work that way at all.

Answer #3: I always try to put “scare quotes” around the word “greenhouse” unless referring to the glass variety because the term is misleading. Yes, a glass greenhouse works mainly by restricting convection, and the fact that glass passes shortwave radiation and not longwave makes only a minor contribution.

Thus, I agree it is unfortunate that the established term for the Atmospheric warming effect is a bit of a misnomer. However, we are stuck with it. But, enough of semantics. Notice that the Earth System mean temperature I had to use to provide 240 Watts/m^2 of radiation to Space to balance the input absorbed from by the Earth System from the Sun was 255 K. However, the actual mean temperature at the Surface is closer to 288 K. How to explain the extra 33 K (33ºC or 58ºF)? The only rational explanation is the back-radiation from the Atmosphere to the Surface.

Read more detail, including the 958 responses


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Curious George

This should be clearly labeled as a (deserving) re-post of an older post.

On your slide of ‘400 Years of Sunspot Observations’ you mis-label the cycles. What you label SC24 should be SC23, and SC25 should be SC24. SC05 should be SC04, SC06 should be SC05. The problems seems to start at the beginning. SC01 is not the first ‘blue’ cycle [which is incomplete], but the second one [which is the first complete cycle].

Max Erwengh

Unscientific blabla, unoworthy being published here.

Leonard Jones

I have a few questions regarding EVs. One is that I am hearing fantastic claims of ranges
that I find hard to believe. The Volt claimed 40 miles per charge, yet gets between 25-35.
The Tesla is claiming 400 miles on an 85kw battery, so has Tesla managed to improve
power density on Lithium Ion batteries by orders of magnitude?
I also heard Tesla faked videos of their “90 second” battery exchange in order to qualify
for tens of millions in California’s phony carbon credits. Another question is how can an
aging infrastructure support the demand charging millions of these EVs? Is anyone
investigating these angles of the green hoax?

Thanks for the post, interesting and thought provoking.
I tend to believe Dr. Tim Ball and his essay “Dangers of Analogies: Earth’s Atmosphere Is Not Like a Greenhouse” that can be read here:

2.About a third of this Sunlight is reflected back by white clouds, dust, and light-colored objects on the Surface, and that energy is lost to Space

Puzzling, this is. Though it probably comes all the way back its near-origins in Trenberth’s oft-used flat-plate simplication of earth’s greatly-simplified radiation budget.
At temperate latitudes, – even on “perfectly clear days” with no clouds at all – some 28 to 32 percent of the incoming radiation is “absorbed” by the atmosphere itself, and by aerosols and dust and particles. All of which will subsequently heat up – but which are apparently and conveniently merged into “reflected from the clouds” type of summary used above.
True – When clouds are present, much radiation IS reflected back towards space (the upper atmosphere) and this effet can be seen from any window seat on any commercial flight at 36,000 feet above clouds. The ground is darkened below the clouds, the sky is lightened above the clouds.
But on clear days, some 30% of the available solar energy still heats the atmosphere directly, and must be re-radiated into space directly. The remainder of course gets through to heat the ground and ocean as described.
Now, one can claim that the oxygen and nitrogen and argon are “perfect transmitters” and – in the laboratory measures of a few millimeters or even meters of pure gas – they are almost pure transmitters of visible light. But over an air mass of 2, 4, 6 8, or 14 air masses (100 to 700 kilometers of real air at 50 km nominal thickness) … the real-world atmsophere DOES absorb significant energy that nver gets to the ground or ocean to be absorbed.

john kelley

the last ice age stated warming up about 15000 years ago.then the ice was 10000 feet thick whear new york is now. the temp has very gradualy getting warmer ever sence. this cycle has been going for about 2 billion 5 hundred thousand years. and will keep up the cycles for many more millions of with or with out mans indervors. the temp change is due to the change in the eliptical cange, and the tilt of the earth changing on its axis, man has nothing to do to the natural cycle.


The delusion begins with accepting a theory first postulated by a roundly debunked 19th century geologist and picked up by the father of the “scary hole in the ozone layer” (remember that my chickadees?) that CO2 generated by humankind at ground level has any effect whatsoever on the earth’s climate.
Once you buy into that preposterous theory space cadets, you are lost in hyperscience dreamworld..

Ben Wouters

” However, the actual mean temperature at the Surface is closer to 288 K. How to explain the extra 33 K (33ºC or 58ºF)? The only rational explanation is the back-radiation from the Atmosphere to the Surface.”
By just looking at that beautiful grey body in our sky we know that the sun is only capable to create an average surface temperature of around 197K (Diviner project) at our distance of it.
So the temperature difference to explain in not 33K, but over 90K.
I believe there is a much more realistic explanation than back-radiation warming the surface, and even the deep oceans according to present climatology.
Just ask yourself how a cold atmosphere with a heat storage capacity equal to ~ 3 meter of water could warm the deep oceans over 70K above what the sun is capable of doing.

Dr Burns

“Yes, part of that warming is due to human activities, ”
Perhaps you’d like to share the evidence for that with us ?

Gentle Tramp

A little hint to the picture of the section “4 Molecules and Photons”:
It might not be very important in this context but never the less: CO2 Molecules are linear…

Mike Jowsey

How come there is no hotspot over the tropics? If the atmosphere is warming due to a “greenhouse effect”, the atmosphere between 8 and 12 kilometres above the tropics should be warmer – it isn’t.

You are assuming that some of the “warming” is due to humans/ Well as a scientist with 4 higher degrees in statistics I am assuming that you are 100% wrong you do not have the faintest clue whether it is or not/ Sorry I am now a 100% denialist and proud of it. I think time will vindicate me.


Are you suggesting that humans are responsible for 40% of the rise in C02? That is highly unlikely. I think the main debate is how much CO2 is good and at 400ppm we are still on the low end of history. It has already been proven that CO2 has no significant impact on temperature at all. There is hardly anyone who disagrees that gases, and primarily H2O keep earth warm. It was unfortunate it was named the greenhouse effect. Burning more dense carbon based fuels is the only way to raise the 3rd world out of abject poverty and despotism, and the more the better for their quality of life. Your attempt is admirable but misses the mark. The human footprint in regards to CO2 and albedo has had no effect on climate or weather. It may effect the local environment and quality of life, especially in regards to the stripping of tropical forests for date palm plantations; as well as chemical dumping and strip mining. But nothing in regards to climate or weather.
Kind regards, Tim

David Wells

What a load of blx! Just 1% of which 96% is natural is a determining factor bit it doesnt stop ice ages and if believed to be true temp rises before co2. The truth is no one has a clue and even if they did they couldnt do anything about it, one side of the argument is corrupt as the other the only difference is that Al Gore and his mates have made millions and the other side have not, who dares wins!

The Engineer

One little thing – does your theory explain how, in the 800.000 year icecore data CO2-levels almost always lag temperature by up to 800 years.
While I dont doubt the premise that the earth has an atmosphere that contains heat reflecting gases, I find the claim that minute changes in the levels of one of these gases changes the thermal equilibrium of the planet unproven.

Although I respect Dr Roy Spencer I think also he is wrong on this one (humans have some influence on global temperatures). Humans have NO effect whatsoever on climate and never will. The natural negative feedbacks completely outweigh any other effects we would have fried thousands of years ago if it were not so duh.


If I understand the ‘Janet & John’ explanation in the above presentation, the sun can’t heat us warmer than -18C. That would mean that ice wouldn’t melt, water wouldn’t evaporate and there would be no water cycle on this planet. Unless, that is, the surface can heat itself up by +33C, using the same energy it just radiated, only some of which has returned from a brief trip to a colder sky.
If someone cares to advance me unlimited streams of research money I’ll mix all the above together, put some echo on it, and blame trace quantities of a vital atmospheric gas.
Nobel prize please.

Werner Brozek

Thank you for an excellent summary! Just 2 small typos:
“because perhaps 0.2ºC to 0.4ºC (0.1ºC to 0.2ºC) of the supposed 1.5ºF (0.8ºC)” should be:
“because perhaps 0.2ºF to 0.4ºF (0.1ºC to 0.2ºC) of the supposed 1.5ºF (0.8ºC)”


Thanks for taking the time to post this, Ira.
You’ll probably catch hell, in fact I see it beginning.
Good stuff.


Certainties about the existence or absence of man-made global warming have been expressed in this thread. I write to summarise what we know about the matter.
Unless our understanding of radiative physics is wrong then increased greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the air must induce some additional warming all things being equal. But the climate system is constantly changing “all things being equal” never happens.
We do not know to what degree human activities have altered GHGs in the atmosphere
we do not know to what degree altered GHGs in the atmosphere have contributed to the natural global warming which is recovery from the Little Ice Age.
Claims that humans have or have not added to the observed global warming are equally false because nobody can know the truth of the matter in the absence of any evidence.
What can be said is that to date there is no evidence for discernible global warming from human activities so any human contribution to observed global warming is trivial if it exists.

george e. smith

Yes, the world has warmed 1°F to 1.5°F (0.6°C to 0.8°C) since 1880 when relatively good thermometers became available. …….”””””””
Well I don’t know what a relatively good 1880 thermometer looks like; but I’m quite willing to believe that quite good ones, did in fact exist.
Well ho hum ! so what ? A relatively good thermometer, can likely make relatively good measurements, of the temperature, of a relatively good thermometer.
But what was apparently desired, was in fact a relatively good measurement, of the temperature of the entire earth; and of course relevant to some actual point in time.
Just because a thermometer is relatively good, or even bloody accurate, is no cause to believe it is actually measuring the temperature of something else; excuse me; make that anything else, even something very local to it.
I seem to recall, that when I actually bought a good mercury in glass thermometer (which I really did), it was intended for measuring the temperature of a liquid; and it was stated that the calibration accuracy was only guaranteed for the thermometer being immersed in that liquid for some fixed distance. For some idiotic reason, I’m inclined to believe that immersion length was 76 mm, which is damn close to three inches; but I can’t swear that my memory of that is correct.
In any case; quality of thermometers, is not a guarantee of good temperature measurement, of anything important.
And then there is that annoying Nyquist theorem for sampled data systems, that says whether you are actually measuring real data or simply noise, from which no real information can be recovered..
So maybe earth has warmed since 1880; maybe not; how about since 1080 (or 1066 if you prefer important dates ?
Like I said; ho hum !

Although the average temperature of the earth would be 33K colder without the green house effect, could it be warm enough at the equator to support life?
The temperatures may have risen since 1880, but it is generally acknowledged in the climate science community that CO2 levels were not of significant levels until starting around mid 20th century, i.e. natural warming then matching rates of modern warming in later half of 20th century.
It would also appear that thermometers were invented about the same time the earth was coming out of the little ice age. Long term records in England, including proxies for temperature show no global warming.
Some day some what soon I will have an app, that will let me explore many of these questions so I don’t have to try to recall from memory or try to hunt down sources of information (Colossus-in-a-Box | part of the code named Wattson project):

P@ Dolan

In two places, the author as claimed as fact that mankind’s unprecedented burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of the increase in atmospheric CO2 (” Most of the increase in Atmospheric CO2 (a 40% rise from about 270 to nearly 400 parts per million by volume) is due to human activities.”).
This assertion is unproven, and as far as I know, largely unexplored. We know that there are a number of undersea volcanos which spew incredible amounts of CO2 into the seas, but how much? How many volcanos? How long for any of that CO2 to reach the atmosphere? Plus, how much atmospheric CO2 is due release from other sinks due to post LIA warming?
The article in general is very informative, and well done to put across a complex subject to non-scientists, but still hypes that man-made CO2 meme which is unproven, and one used by the Green Machine to whip their brainwashed masses into action against the “evils” of “mankind” (e.g., websites of evil ‘Deniers’ like our host…).
Let’s not help them spread nonsense, and insist upon scientific rigour, and whatever our own convictions, stick to the facts: as yet, no one can explain the source or primary cause of the rise in atmospheric CO2, whether man made or natural.


People who are looking for “warming” due to the greenhouse effect are barking up the wrong tree.
The greenhouse effect slows the rate of cooling.
As calculated by Lord Kelvin over a century ago the earth should be frozen. It is not because of radioactive energy in the core. The greenhouse effect slows the rate of energy loss.


Actually, I should have said the greenhouse effect slows the rate of energy loss.
Beg pardon.

Mario Lento

I enjoyed this post very much. Thank you Ira!
Who is Elizabeth – the link to your name was not found.


Not a helpful title, Ira.


Ira, what is the contribution of each GHG to the 60 degree warming? If you could do an experiment where you kept all variables constant and then eliminated each particular GHG, where does the 60 degree warming end up. How much of the 60 degrees is H20?, how much is due to CO2?, how much is CH4?, etc.


Liking your posts. NB: your ‘active’ Elizabeth name returns a dead link in my browser.


Hmmm – Some examples of what the greenies would term deniers of climate change have chimed in. Didn’t see that coming.

Leonard Jones says:
January 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm
Stuff about EVs (not electron volts which might be on topic, but electric vehicles which definitely are not).
1) I consider it very rude of commenters to hijack a thread immediately after it’s up. Please pick a thread that’s a couple days old or wait for an open thread. When I take a few days to write a post, an OT comment feels as disrepectful as grafitti.
2) On the quick change battery packs see I found the link by using the search window in the nav bar to look for |tesla battery|.


The headline says:

Global Warming is REAL but NOT a Big DEAL

Why plead? It should say:

Global Warming is REAL and a BENEFICIAL Big DEAL

Can you please list the benefits next time? Like lower heating bills, an ice free North West Passage (LOL), reduced Antarctic sea ice extent (Huhhh!), bigger Scottish sheep, smaller birds, dead lizards, frogs croaked it, un-busy bees, Earth to explode. (All appear in the peer review of course).

Abstract – 31 May, 2013
CO2 fertilisation has increased maximum foliage cover across the globe’s warm, arid environments
[1] Satellite observations reveal a greening of the globe over recent decades. …….Using gas exchange theory, we predict that the 14% increase in atmospheric CO2 (1982–2010) led to a 5 to 10% increase in green foliage cover in warm, arid environments. Satellite observations, analysed to remove the effect of variations in rainfall, show that cover across these environments has increased by 11%.…..
Abstract – May 2013
A Global Assessment of Long-Term Greening and Browning Trends in Pasture Lands Using the GIMMS LAI3g Dataset
Our results suggest that degradation of pasture lands is not a globally widespread phenomenon and, consistent with much of the terrestrial biosphere, there have been widespread increases in pasture productivity over the last 30 years.
Abstract – 10 April 2013
Analysis of trends in fused AVHRR and MODIS NDVI data for 1982–2006: Indication for a CO2 fertilization effect in global vegetation
…..The effect of climate variations and CO2 fertilization on the land CO2 sink, as manifested in the RVI, is explored with the Carnegie Ames Stanford Assimilation (CASA) model. Climate (temperature and precipitation) and CO2 fertilization each explain approximately 40% of the observed global trend in NDVI for 1982–2006……
Abstract – May 2013
The causes, effects and challenges of Sahelian droughts: a critical review
…….However, this study hypothesizes that the increase in CO2 might be responsible for the increase in greening and rainfall observed. This can be explained by an increased aerial fertilization effect of CO2 that triggers plant productivity and water management efficiency through reduced transpiration. Also, the increase greening can be attributed to rural–urban migration which reduces the pressure of the population on the land…….
doi: 10.1007/s10113-013-0473-z
Abstract – 2013
P. B. Holden et. al.
A model-based constraint on CO2 fertilisation
Using output from a 671-member ensemble of transient GENIE simulations, we build an emulator of the change in atmospheric CO2 concentration change since the preindustrial period. We use this emulator to sample the 28-dimensional input parameter space. A Bayesian calibration of the emulator output suggests that the increase in gross primary productivity (GPP) in response to a doubling of CO2 from preindustrial values is very likely (90% confidence) to exceed 20%, with a most likely value of 40–60%. It is important to note that we do not represent all of the possible contributing mechanisms to the terrestrial sink. The missing processes are subsumed into our calibration of CO2 fertilisation, which therefore represents the combined effect of CO2 fertilisation and additional missing processes.

April 2013
Terrestrial satellite records for climate studies: how long is long enough? A test case for the Sahel
As an example, the Sahelian drought and the subsequent recovery in precipitation and vegetation will be analyzed in detail using observations of precipitation, surface albedo, vegetation index, as well as ocean indices.


Other than the statement that green house gasses absorb radiation, I agree with very little of what you said in this post.
For folks like me, it’d be nice to provide links to science papers backing up the various points you’re making rather than just declaring them to be true or reasoning by analogy.

Mario Lento

Elizabeth says:
January 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm
Although I respect Dr Roy Spencer I think also he is wrong on this one (humans have some influence on global temperatures). Humans have NO effect whatsoever on climate and never will. The natural negative feedbacks completely outweigh any other effects we would have fried thousands of years ago if it were not so duh.
Elizabeth: Maybe you’re wicked smart. Maybe there’s something you could say that adds to the conversation. I’m interested in hearing it.
But, your post is confusing and assumes we all know what you know. I read it as somewhat contradictory –could be my interpretation.
You say it’s wrong that humans have some influence in one sentence. And then say negative feedbacks outweigh them [the influence that they have?]. So they have some influence then?
Anyway – who are you, your link seems to have an alias -youareassu8mingtha.???


Co2 is a greenhouse gas. Absolutely correct. 10x higher levels of co2 in the past resulted in humans still here. Co2 has done most of its stuff, that’s it. There will never be runaway warming for well over a million years. It will not happen. The past says it will not happen.

Mario Lento

Jimbo says:
January 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm
Great points. But I believe the post stayed very even keeled on telling a story without trying to give pros and cons of benefits and potential problems associated with warming.


Am I missing something? When I step out of the ocean, or the shower, I feel much cooler than I should for the ambient air temperature, compared to when I am not wet. That would be because of the water evaporating off my skin, using my energy, to change state. Why then is there any notion that water vapour somehow heats the surface of the earth, or me? When I say ‘heats’, I mean exactly that – ie makes its source warmer than it was originally.
When the evaporated water vapour recondenses in a cloud, the latent heat is released. The net effect of evaporation at the surface is that heat is transported away from the surface to somewhere cooler, from which it must further cool. I can ‘do’ the notion of reduced, or delayed, surface cooling, but any idea that the surface’s own energy, which it has recently lost, can somehow return and make the same source warmer than when it started makes me think of inventing a self-licking ice cream which never runs out.


Richard Courtney, ” Unless our understanding of radiative physics is wrong then increased greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the air must induce some additional warming all things being equal.”
Richard, you seem to hold a vast repository of information about all things climate. Is the ability of CO2 to absorb and emit LWIR dependent on CO2 atmospheric concentration? In others words, has its’ efficacy changed as we progressed from 280ppm to 400ppm? I guess what I am asking is the ability of CO2 to absorb and emit radiation linear or logarithmic?


I should add that humans will likely not be around in 500,000 years. What is my evidence? None at all, I just look at the massive drop in fertility rates over the last 45 years and it looks like it might lead to certain issues, like to few young as opposed to the elderly. This might be a problem after 2100 (or 2060) but it is not being focused on enough.


Tom, ” Am I missing something? When I step out of the ocean, or the shower, I feel much cooler than I should for the ambient air temperature, compared to when I am not wet.”
Tom, recall that kinetic energy is directly proportional to absolute temperature. As you leave the ocean, water molecules evaporate from your skin, reducing Ke and thus temperature.


Tom 4:50 pm.
Wrong analogy. Think of yourself in bed, warm under a layer of blankets in a room that is cooler. You are not warm because the blankets draw heat from the air, but because they retain your heat.

Gary Pearse

Wholly agree that there has been warming and it is no big deal. I believe it is even less of a deal in that several tenths of a degree have been added on by impatient warmers – mainly pushing the early temps down to steepen the rise (they are constrained by satellite data from just thumbtacking 1945 and tilting the curve counterclockwise). The curve was especially steepened by Hansen’s coterie in 1997/98 to finally submerge 1937 as the all time instrumental hot year in the US (and years around this year pretty much around the world) because he felt the El Nino of 1998 may have been the best opportunity to create a new world hot temp. Look at where Hadcrut 4 has 1937 now relative to these dates!

Mario Lento

Tom says:
January 12, 2014 at 4:50 pm
If the water molecules in the air get warmed by radiation, and hold onto that energy until they warm you, they will warm you. When I step out of a shower in the tropics I do not feel colder but then my radiator is not evaporating into the saturated air. 🙂
I do believe, however, that there is ample research that agrees that in total, water vapor has acted in a negative feedback exactly as you described with the latent heat energy being released as the water changes state from gas to liquid and to solid way up high where the energy radiates into space.


P@ Dolan
“Let’s not help them spread nonsense, and insist upon scientific rigour, and whatever our own convictions, stick to the facts: as yet, no one can explain the source or primary cause of the rise in atmospheric CO2, whether man made or natural.”
Sorry, this is wrong. We do know exactly where it has come from. The burning of fossil fuels leaves an isotopic fingerprint in the CO2 it produces. There is no doubt it is us who are responsible for the 40% increase.
I really like this article. It makes some very good points. Personally I think there is little doubt we have been responsible for the recent warming. The only question from here is how much more will temps go up and how much damage will happen on the way. I have faith in the earth balancing things out which is why I am optimistic. But I am in total agreement with the point made here that the days are long gone when we can say with any credibility that the earth hasn’t warmed and we are not responsible for at least some of it. To do so just is plain ignorant.


Yaaay, Glick! Always good stuff.

Guest essay by Dr. Ira Glickstein
Thus, I agree it is unfortunate that the established term for the Atmospheric warming effect is a bit of a misnomer. However, we are stuck with it.
Dr. Glickstein
Isn’t this much more than a “bit of a misnomer”? Isn’t this in fact at the heart of the problem? We have an incorrectly labelled physical process. We are calling the “radiative warming effect” the “greenhouse effect”, when it is not at all like a greenhouse. As you yourself stated:
“it is possible to construct a successful Greenhouse using a roof made from materials that allow both visible and infrared to pass freely, but is impossible to make a working Greenhouse that is not both airtight and insulated.”
Thus, from the start, the very foundation of the science behind the “greenhouse effect” is wrong, because it is based on a false understanding of how a greenhouse works.

Leonard Jones

Sorry Ric, I must plead ignorance of the rules. As soon as I see it as a topic, I will re-post.

The Vostok ice-core suggests that the decrease in temperature since the Holocene optimum is the most gradual after the five optima in the record. It is possible that the agricultural revolution, clearing the boreal forest and the industrial revolution have been factors in surface temperature. The continuous lag of CO2 after temperature in the Vostok record, however, requires an infantile misinterpretation of cause and effect for CO2 to be considered a factor.


@Bob 4:56pm
So I have transferred some of my heat (prop to KE) to the water, which changes state, and, at some later point, changes back again. Chuck in a bit of entropy; how can these interchanges ever reappear as a net warming to me (assume for now all else is fixed)?
@lowercasefred 4:57pm
You unwittingly highlight the exact problem, lcf. The truth is obscured by inappropriate analogies. In the example I gave, I was cooling by evaporation of water in contact with me. In your reply, you raised an entirely different mechanism in heat transfer, namely, (blocked) convection – blocked by the blanket. This doesn’t happen in an open atmosphere, or even when I step out of the shower. Convection continues until the ascending air finds itself at the same temperature as the surrounding air, unlike in a physical glass greenhouse, which prohibits this. Continuing this inappropriate analogy between a glass greenhouse and a ‘greenhouse’ with no roof, or walls, really isn’t helpful.