Bill Kininmonth knows a lot about climate science, he is a meteorologist and he was the head of Australia’s National Climate Centre from 1986 to 1998. He is also a well known global warming skeptic and is particularly critical of the idea that the principles for sustaining the greenhouse effect are well understood. While this may seem like a ridiculous proposition, indeed the greenhouse effect is the underpinning science for the hypothesis of dangerous global warming, in a recent letter to the Federation of Australian Scientists and Technologists (FASTS) he explains how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are neither consistent in their explanation for the greenhouse effect nor provide a mechanism that accords with the global average earth energy budget.
Mr Kininmonth’s letter to FASTS follows their issuing of a media release on climate change including comment that:
“The scientific evidence is compelling that global policy objectives must remain squarely focused on returning greenhouse gas concentrations to near pre-industrial levels through the reduction of emissions.”
The media release was accompanied by a statement that included comment:
“The physical principles of the greenhouse effect are well-understood. Without greenhouse gases, clouds or aerosols, the surface of the Earth would have a mean temperature of about 18oC below zero. While the natural atmospheric composition varies over time, the observed warming in the late 20th century can be attributed with a very high degree of confidence to additional human emissions of greenhouse gases.
The statement was developed and published without input from rank and file member of FASTS and indeed not everyone agrees that the scientific evidence is compelling. Mr Kininmonth explains why in the following open letter:
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
In the “Statement on Climate Change” issued by FASTS on 4 September is included the sentence, ‘The physical principles of the greenhouse effect are well-understood.’
I would be grateful if you would provide a summary of the physical principles of the greenhouse effect. In making this request I do not doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect, only that the scientific principles for sustaining the greenhouse effect are well understood.
The IPCC, in its most recent (2007) report has the statement (Frequently Asked Question 1.1):
“The reason that the Earth’s surface is this warm (14oC) is the presence of greenhouse gases, which act as a partial blanket for the longwave radiation coming from the surface. This blanketing is known as the natural greenhouse effect.”
There are two problems with this statement. Firstly, a blanket acts as an inhibitor of conduction and not radiation; oxygen and nitrogen are equally as good insulators as water vapour and carbon dioxide and adding greenhouse gases does not materially affect the conducting properties of the atmosphere. Secondly, net upward longwave radiation increases with altitude (according to the IPCC global average data, from 66 Wm-2 at the surface to
235 Wm-2 at the top of the atmosphere); the increase is due to the greenhouse gases and can hardly be described as inhibiting (ie, blanketing) radiation loss to space!
In an attempt to clarify the situation, the IPCC has an additional explanation (Frequently Asked Question 1.3):
“Much of this thermal radiation emitted by the land and ocean is absorbed by the atmosphere, including clouds, and reradiated back to Earth. This is called the greenhouse effect.”
As the IPCC’s global average data clearly show, there is more longwave radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface than is emitted by the atmosphere back to the surface. The net effect of longwave radiation is to cool the Earth’s surface, not to warm it.
The above two explanations from the IPCC are quite different and neither accord with the data presented on the global average Earth energy budget. As you will appreciate, the greenhouse effect is the underpinning science for the hypothesis of dangerous global warming from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by human activities. If we cannot get the underpinning science as a clear and logical construct then the edifice is no more than a house of cards! Also, if it is not possible to explain how the Earth’s greenhouse effect is sustained then how can we be confident that the computer models used to project global warming are adequately representing the greenhouse effect?
As FASTS claims that the physical principles of the greenhouse effect are well understood I presume FASTS has a different explanation than what IPCC has presented. I would be grateful for a summary of the FASTS principles of the greenhouse effect.
As long as institutions and organisations like FASTS demand that governments impose new taxes and regulations on the basis that the science is settled, they must be prepared to publicly engage in discussion on the same. Indeed I look forward to posting the response from FASTS to Mr Kininmonth’s open letter.