Earth Hour

Today is March 31, 2012. During the first period of the hockey game, I am going to turn on all of my lights, microwave some popcorn, self clean my oven, freeze 10 trays of ice cubes, do two loads of laundry and vacuum the house. All things that are possible because of electricty.

I’ve an opinion on Earth Hour. However, Ross McKitrick has already expressed a similar view. Some would state that his saying women have been able to leave the house to work is sexist. That may be, though I doubt it. What is not sexist is that electricity has made it possible for there to be two income houses. Women have always been able to leave the home, IF they were very rich and had servants. Anyway, here is Ross’s answer about earth hour:

Earth Hour: A Dissent

by Ross McKitrick

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, Univer...

Ross McKitrick, Professor of Economics, University of Guelph, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Image via Wikipedia

In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour.

Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick
Professor of Economics
University of Guelph

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Sky Dragons

Just came across a book about slaying dragons, greenhouse gases, yada yada yada. Then I read Dr. Spencer’s post ( and the comments in it. Just one question for the CO2 can’t absorb energy crowd. How pray tell can I balance the heat in a blast furnace and come up with the right mass of coking coal to add without this absorption? Because without it, my theoretical carbon balance does not match the real carbon balance. Please show your math in the comment. Well Ok. Provide a link to the math. Last time I did one of those balances it took 6 pages of foolscap.

For a bit on the actual math, from a CO2 absorption point of view see:

For why the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is actually a lot of CO2 see:

I won’t even get into some of the more esoteric stuff like “you can’t add gas to the atmosphere” which would fall under the category of arguing with fools.

Radiant heat absorption by CO2 is a well known phenomenon. It is essential in many many areas besides climate. To deny it exists in climate is to deny it exists in all of the myriad of other fields that must take it into account. That is OK, if you can provide another explanation for the reduction in radiant heat loss that occurs as the proportion of CO2 increases in the intervening gas.

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Methane that is sequestered in permafrost and deep sea clathrates has been alleged to be (a) potential serious source of positive feedback from global warming. Accepting this, I propose that we start a program immediately to mine these clathrates and burn them to CO2 and water, hence reducing the potential impact. There is very little methane in the atmosphere, hence small increases in methane will have a major impact on climate. There is a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere, hence large increases in CO2 are required to have any impact on climate.

Yes, yes, this post is short on links to sources. Google is your friend. Don’t take my word for any of this.

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On Models

I have seen a number of comments over the years disparaging models. Here are two models:


Did you know that, ultimately, all models are mathematical relations?

So here I’ve shown two models. Very simplified, but still models. Both wrong by the way. BUT both are very usefull because they are predictive. I’ve been told that all of mechanical engineering can be summarized as “F=ma and you can’t push on a rope, everything else can be derived”. THAT is the measure of a model. Can you use it to predict an outcome successfully?

Don’t disparage models. Generally, there is nothing wrong with models, even wrong models. Disparage instead the inability of a model to predict. THAT is the problem with the general circulation models. They are not particularly successfull at prediction.

HEY. Wait a minute! What’s wrong with F=ma? To understand that, google special relativity. As for PV=nRT, that is the “ideal” gas law. All gases deviate from this in extreme conditions. So. Both are, in an absolute sense, wrong. Extremely useful, but not exactly right, hence, strictly speaking, wrong.

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We’d better be right

A number of years ago I posted a comment on slashdot that “as scientists, we had better be right about global warming, because if we are wrong, it will provide ammunition to every crank and huckster who would demean science”. In all of the following, the “They” is us. Scientists. If we, the science communithy, are wrong about global warming, what will be our defence when Jenny McCarthy says “see! they were wrong about global warming and they are wrong about vaccines too!” or a fundementalist says “see! they were wrong about global warming and they are wrong about evolution too!”. Yes. We the science community had better be right because in this case, and only in this case, science has said: There is NO doubt. This is truth. We can argue about the rest mass of a proton, but we brook no argument about the chaotic impacts on climate of increasing one of hundreds of variables that impact climate. Such certainty is hubris, pure and simple. Science will out. The truth will be known. If it assures us that increasing carbon dioxide increases temperature, hooray! We are safe. If it does not. . . Who knows.

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More on “Why Is The Ocean So Cold?”

I need some help here. In particular, I’m looking for people who have at least an undergraduate level of training in thermodynamics generally and energy flow specifically, or self taught equivalent. (I have studied energy transfer in a number of university courses, but that was many years ago now. I’m pretty confident in my ability to perform an energy balance, but I’m stumped by this one).

Here, in a nutshell, is my conundrum:

Why is the ocean so cold?

Our friends at BEST, CRU, GISS, etc. going all the way back to Fourier, all agree that the “surface temperature” of the earth is more than 10 celcius or 283 kelvin. Further, it is  hypothesized that the “surface temperature” of the earth has always been at least 10 celcius and often more.

So how is it that the temperature of the ocean, which is in direct contact with this “surface” is at least 6 degrees colder than the “surface temperature”? Not only is the ocean in direct contact with this “surface”, but the earth itself is constantly shedding thermal energy into the ocean from the crust.

If someone can show me a complete energy balance that allows the ocean to be at a steady state temperature that is lower than the “surface temperature”, I would be grateful. If there isn’t such a balance, one of two things must be true. The “surface temperature” is colder than estimated or the laws of thermodynamics don’t apply to the oceans.
Just to be clear, it is an absolute certainty that the laws of thermodynamics
apply to the oceans.

No hand waving allowed. I’ve seen a number of debating point style arguments. I would like to see some math on this. I’m working on my math on this. My first run approximation has the oceans boiling away a few billion years ago, so something is not right. If you are not sure how the oceans should have boiled away billions of years ago, add 0.1 W/m² of energy to a 4 km column of  water for 1 billion years and determine what the temperature that of the water should be. That is lower than the approximation of the rate of energy transfer from the crust to the bottom of the ocean.


I’ve had two exchanges with Dr. Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate. Thanks Dr. Schmidt. His short answer is there is no short answer. In order to understand the mechanisms for the heat transfer that occurs, I must first learn a GCM. This answer is exactly correct and exactly useless. So it seems the answer is: The ocean is so cold because of reasons that are too complicated to explain.

I am going back to my little explanation of the greenhouse effect using engineering methods for now. When that is done I’ll look at the ocean again.

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Carbon Sinks

I was thinking about carbon sinks and the like in the universe. On our planet, it took about 5 billion years for life to get to the point that it could communicate with the universe. At this time, a spectacularly large amount of carbon is tied up in limestone and hydrocarbons. Consider what would have happened without humans. Eventually, the amount of carbon, naturally sequestured, would have reached the point that photosynthesis would no longer be possible. I think, prior to man, the planet was very close to that point. If CO2 levels drop to the point that photosynthesis stops, then life on the planet is hooped. Especially the more evolved forms of life, such as man. Could this be why there are no other civilizations in the universe? Death from lack of CO2?

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