Friday, February 20, 2009

Sir Frank Whittle on climate change

Some decades ago I was a young engineering student and my father send me a copy of a letter that Sir Frank Whittle was to send to the Washington Post. A few weeks ago I came across it in a box, along with the letter my late Father sent me. That letter was dated 1988, so the letter on the greenhouse effect must be earlier or the same date. What stuck me was how a man in the later part of his life could see so clearly to the weak points of the argument, then know as "the greenhouse effect" ( now its Climate Change after being rebadged from the Global Warming title, due to the need to explain why its getting colder - but of course its still our fault ). Anyway, whilst perhaps some elements of the letter can be challenged, I was particularly impressed by how he went straight for the obvious uncertainties and weak points in the warmists argument.


Almost every day we read about the "Greenhouse Doomsday Scenario (headline in "The Washington Post" of 31 July), i.e. the alleged trap ping of heat by 'greenhouse gases', chiefly carbon dioxide. We are told, that within a mere 50-60 years or so, all sorts of unpleasant-things will happen as a result of a world-wide rise in temperature: Holland, Bangladesh, and large areas of other lowlying land will be submerged by the rise in sea level, due in turn to the melting of the polar icecaps: droughts of increasing severity will occur, and so on. This sort of thing is being taken so seriously that two bills have been introduced in Congress relating to the subject.

All this is the kind of science fiction we can do without.

The whole business seems to be based on some very sloppy thinking. A N.A.S.A. scientist recently stated on TV that the world's average temperature has risen by six tenths of a degree centigrade in the last one hundred years. It would be interesting to know who measured the temperatures to this degree of accuracy over, say, the whole the Pacific Ocean, at all heights above it,at all hours of the day and night,and at all times of the year. Ditto for the rest of the earth's 197 million square miles. To measure the average temperature to this degree of accuracy over a single state of the U.S.A. would be quite a feat.

The use of the word 'greenhouse' is very misleading. The glass of a greenhouse does not block outgoing radiation as the so-called greenhouse gases are supposed to do: it prevents the loss of heat by convection by enclosure, and, being a very bad conductor, it prevents heat loss by conduction. If glass blocked the longer waves of radiation the sunset would appear a different color when viewed through it.

The doomsayers seem to be blind to some major fallacies in their arguments: for one thing they seem to overlook completely the fact that the oceans contain many times more carbon dioxide than the' atmosphere and therefore tend to act as a 'buffer' to •regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide. They never mention (in anything I have seen) that the carbon dioxide produced in the combustion of petroleum, coal, etc. is merely returning to the atmosphere some of the carbon dioxide taken from it many millions of years ago. They assume that all the carbon dioxide so produced, stays in the atmosphere,which it does not. They do not stress sufficiently that carbon dioxide is the main 'food' of all vegetation and that, without it there would be no plant life. Indeed, since all food chains begin with vegetation, all life (except, perhaps, anaerobic bacterial depends on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean. Much of the carbon dioxide consumed by vegetation is, of course, returned to the atmosphere by the respiration of plants and animals, and by decay, but not all of it, because some is dissolved in ground water and ends up in the ocean.

One writer stated that there is now nearly twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there was during the last ice age. This just cannot be true: the very opposite is much more likely because carbon dioxide is continuously going out of circulation for ever by ending up in carbonate rocks (limestone, dolomite, chalk, etc.) coral etc. (it is. said that, on the Great Barrier Reef alone, coral is forming at the rate of twelve tons per acre per year; which means that more than five tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year is permanently removed from the atmosphere and ocean). The weathering of rocks is another mechanism by which carbon dioxide is permanently removed because it is caused mainly by the acidic effect of carbon dioxide dissolved in rain. The carbonates formed in the process being eventually carried off th-the<-»eceafc Us tVic Carboniferous period,atmospheric carbon dioxide must have been hundreds of times more than it is today, because vast quantities now 'locked up' in carbonate rocks were then in the atmosphere and ocean, and yet, then, there were great ice sheets over India, Africa, etc. I wonder how the doomsayers would explain that. Some greenhouse effect!!

Our use of fossil fuels (petroleum, etc.) may have temporarily suspended or even reversed, the long term depletion of the carbon dioxide, but when these run out ( and this will take a lot longer than other doomsayers predict) the net depletion will resume, It may well happen that in, say, rather less than a million years, mankind, if still around, may be driven to growing all his food in greenhouses artificially supplied with carbon dioxide produced by heating limestone- for which he would have to use nuclear or solar heat.

While one group is stressing the greenhouse effect, another is predicting another ice age. How confusing for the man in the street!! (to anyone who has experienced the last three summers in England, this latter prediction seems more believable).

Some people seem to think that recent record high temperatures in the U.S.A. confirm the greenhouse effect, overlooking the fact that there have been some record lows at night, which is opposite from what one would expect because the night-time loss of heat by radiation ought to be blocked by the greenhouse effect.

There are other questions the doomsayers might find it difficult to answer: has the color of the sky or sunset changed during the last few decades? Has there been a world-wide rise in sea level in the recent past?

Since there is no evidence that the dire events now predicted ever happened in the distant past when there was quite certainly far more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there is today, it seems certain that they will not happen in the future.


marksany said...

FW was a great man and a great engineer, but he should know better. That is a very poor argument. FW is pointing out that there is a Carbon cycle with various routes in and out, and he is correct in that. No "warmist" denies that plants and oceans absorb atmospheric CO2. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere depends on the rates of movement in the competing stages of the cycle. The only way to determine which part of the cycle is gaining or losing is to get some data. FW doesn't provide any.

Man in a Shed said...

The uncertainties are massive. the unknowns unknown. Plenty of people can fit models to past data, but as has been shown over the last decade they don't work.

What impresses me about FW is that he latches on quickly to the problems, the uncertainties and the key issues of measurement ( where he has been shown to be prophetic ).

Not bad for a man who was in the last few years of his life. ( I met him around the same time in Maryland where he seemed to be living in sheltered accommodation with his wife ).

If only other today showed the same scepticism and thoroughness then we might actually get somewhere. Instead we have a faith based movement backed by good looking computer graphics.

I work in the simulation area, and I know how easy it is to give people the impression that everything is fully understood and predictable. Generally it isn't.

Anonymous said...


an ex-apprentice said...

Dear Mr Shed,

Very good post. I agree, fantastic grasp of the essentials and an ability to make his argument in a manner, both clear and concise, very few can emulate. His letter would be completely relevant today, which goes to show what little progress the "catastrophics" have made in 30 years; apart, of course, from their ability to insult, denigrate and sneer.

To say, as your earlier poster did, that this is poor argument is to argue night is day. Mind you, he probably can't tell the difference.

Clunking Fist said...

"what little progress the "catastrophics" have made in 30 years; apart, of course, from their ability to insult, denigrate and sneer."
And consume taxpayer funds...