Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stones into Schools

I just finished Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson. After reading his book, I feel guilty that I took any of his time attending his lecture earlier this month. Let me just say: Good work Greg!

I've never been a big fan of being a tourist, and as a result have traveled little. I did have the opportunity to live in Brazil for 16 months and work in Switzerland and Wales for a few weeks. I enjoy getting inside a culture, spending time with real locals in their everyday habitats, as opposed to the scurrying through the usual tourist facade. That's why I enjoyed both "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools". I was able to read about a real person having real experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan (if they aren't real, then I must say Greg is very creative). I trust very few sources to give me the same insights provided by Greg.

We are usually bombarded by an endless supply of people over-selling us on stuff that we end up becoming cynical. There is this rare moment however when you interact with or observe someone and you realize that you are experiencing something real. This was one of the main reasons I married my wife. I had never met anyone so real. Next book: "Hold Me Tight"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Global Warming: Leave CO2 Alone!

I find it confusing when I see groups with strong positions in direct opposition to each other. Somewhere between the two extremes is some version of the truth, and I wish more than anything to discover the truth. With Global Warming I think I'm getting closer to the truth.

First, I think I should disclose that I have sympathized more with the Global Warming deniers. This comes partially from distrust and discomfort with phrases like "the debate is over", "everyone knows", "if we don't do something now...", etc. However, I decided that in my quest for truth, I needed to be willing to accept the truth, whatever it might be. I have therefore put on my objectivity hat making myself willing to accept the truth.

I've tried to make my analysis as simple as possible, since global climate is extremely complicated. My focus is on the question: Are humans increasing the emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and are CO2 emissions causing the planet to warm up?

To save you time from reading this whole posting, I'll give you my conclusions up front, with the analysis after. I found some surprises.

Global Warming Conclusions:
  1. CO2 levels have been rising for the last 50 years.
  2. Humans may be responsible for CO2 rising (CO2 growth appears to match population growth).
  3. CO2 DOES act as a greenhouse gas with a warming effect (this was a surprise to me).
  4. The CO2 warming effect is much weaker than reported by the media.
Besides CO2, I think that humans are affecting the environment and we should be serious about monitoring what we are doing. Still, draconian measures are not yet justified.

CO2 levels have been rising for the last 50 years

The primary support for this are the CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii [1] [2] These show a steady rise in CO2. Although this might be expected near an active volcano, other data from around the world show the same trend [3]. The data before 1959 are not as reliable, but an interesting study has been done by Beck [4].

Man may be responsible for CO2 rising

This required a little more analysis. I tried to find reliable data for CO2 from fossil fuel emissions and finally settled on data from the CDIAC [5]. The fluctuations in the fossil fuel data don't show up in the atmospheric CO2 data. The atmospheric CO2 data does look suspiciously like an exponential growth curve. The world population also follows a exponential growth, so this is included as well. It's reported that people exhale about 1 kg of CO2 per day (by my calculations, people breathing produces about 30% as much as fossil fuel use).
This chart (click to enlarge) shows the CO2 from fossil fuels, atmospheric CO2 concentration above 265 ppm (since we are talking about an increase over some supposed baseline), and world population. Both CO2 levels are scaled (normalized) to the 1959 population data. I purposely picked a 265 ppm baseline since it shows how closely atmospheric CO2 and population growth are correlated. The most important note is the fluctuations in fossil fuel consumption are not reflected in the atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

This chart of the Carbon Cycle [5] also shows that CO2 from fossil fuels is only a small part of the overall carbon cycle (Though there is no reference to where the numbers come from).

The chart below shows the fluctuations of CO2 concentrations derived from ice core data for the last 400,000 years. It would be interesting to know what caused these fluctuations (volcanoes, natural climate change cycles, etc.). These numbers are used to show that we are currently at the highest levels in 400,000 years, although it is disputed whether or not the ice core data accurately show peaks in CO2 occuring, this site attempts to dispel this as a myth [6].

CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas with a warming effect

Much of the "proof" that CO2 is a hazardous greenhouse gas comes from complex computer models of the climate. While I don't have the expertise to critique these models, I do have enough experience to be suspicious of the claim that CO2 is a problem.

I use a simple model. Consider a sphere just slightly larger than the earth and its atmosphere. If more energy goes into the sphere than comes out, the inside heats up. The energy going in is solar radiation and the energy coming out is reflected solar radiation and thermal (infrared) radiation from the earth. CO2 doesn't absorb the solar energy but it does absorb some of the infrared energy. See my post on Black Body Radiation for more info.

My suspicion comes for the fact that CO2 absorbs 100% of that thermal radiation (energy) over a short distance and increasing CO2 shouldn't result in more absorption.

An analogy for this is a car parked in direct sunlight. The car gets hot inside since the sunlight goes through the window and heats up the interior. The thermal or infrared radiation from the interior is then blocked by the window glass (glass is opaque in the infrared). Making the glass in your windshield slightly thicker is similar to increasing CO2 levels and unlikely make your car hotter.

Luckily we don't have to depend on my hunches or an analogy to show whether CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas. There is a computer model (MODTRAN) that has been well verified for computing the transmission of radiation through the atmosphere. MODTRAN can be run using a simple web interface that allows setting atmospheric CO2 concentration and surface temperature of the earth [7]. This is much better than many of the crude calculations I've seen on the Internet [8][9] The chart below shows the MODTRAN output for a Mid-Latitude Summer Day, 375 ppm CO2. The red line is the energy leaving the earth's atmosphere. The big dip in the middle (between wave numbers 600 and 800) is due to CO2 absorption.
The next chart is the same results with no atmospheric CO2. You can see the dip is missing, which means with no CO2, the energy is escaping the earth's atmosphere.
The next chart shows the difference in radiation leaving the earth for 375 ppm and with CO2 doubled at 750 ppm.
The total area under the blue curve is the radiant energy at 375 ppm. The red curve (mostly overlayed by the blue) is for 750 ppm. There are small differences at the edges of the CO2 absorption band. Though small, this does show that CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, blocking some radiant energy.

The CO2 warming effect is much weaker than reported by the media.

Two questions need to be answered:
1. How much energy is trapped due to the CO2 greenhouse effect?
2. What is the effect on temperature?

Update Jan. 20, 2010: The IPCC refers to this as "radiative forcing" or "the change in net (down minus up) irradiance (solar plus long-wave; in Wm-2) at the tropopause AFTER allowing for stratospheric temperatures to readjust to radiative equilibrium, but with surface and tropo-spheric temperatures and state held fixed at the unperturbed values".IPCC definition of "Radiative Forcing"

I will show that the IPCC definition is flawed, since allowing the surface temperature to change significantly offsets the green house effect.

MODTRAN can be used easily to demonstrate this. The next step is to balance the radiative forcing (solar in, thermal out) while assuming solar irradiance is constant. As the earth heats up from the green house gas, it emits more thermal radiation, which is only partially absorbed by CO2. So the earth only needs to heat up slightly to create a balance.

The table below shows calculations for various CO2 concentrations. The Radiant Intensity is how much energy (Watts) is leaving the surface of the earth per square meter (300 Watts is the same as three 100 Watt light bulbs). The surface temperature was determined by running MODTRAN with various surface temperatures until the radiant intensity matched the baseline. As you can see, the temperature changes are not as severe as those predicted by the experts [10].

Atmospheric CO2 (ppm) Radiant Intensity (W/m2) Surface Temperature (Kelvin) MODTRAN
Temperature Change due to CO2 (C)
Measured and Predicted (p) Temperature Change (C)
Baseline 265 281.093 290 -0.21-0.25 (m)
1959 316 280.371 290.21 0 0 (m)
2007 375 279.648 290.41 0.20 0.35 (m)
Double 750 276.791 291.27 1.062.5-3.5 (p)
Worst Estimate of CO2 in 2100 1000 275.598 291.64 1.43 4.4 (p)


  • My analysis does not address the hypothesis for the potential magnifying effects of CO2 (i.e., slight CO2 warming causes more water vapor in the atmosphere. The water vapor acts as a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.). See The Climate Effects of Water Vapour
  • Besides energy transfer outside the earth's atmosphere, there is also transfer at the earth's surface (land and oceans). There are many potential processes here (geothermal, ocean warming/cooling, etc). The only human activity that I could think of was mining/drilling and then burning fossil fuels (converting chemical energy into thermal energy). I calculated this effect to be less than 1% of the greenhouse effect.
  • Melting glaciers and polar ice caps cools the atmosphere (Most likely by a very small amount).
  • Water (clouds and humidity) have a much greater greenhouse effect than CO2
  • Other gases (Methane, etc.) from human activities were not included in my analysis. If they are the real problem, than I think we should stop talking about CO2 and focus on emissions of these other gases.
  • Climate change addresses local variations, global warming addresses thermal energy being added to the whole system.
Cosmic rays the real cause of Global Warming?
Update Jan. 16, 2010: Climate experts divided on implications of brutal cold spells
Evidence of Arctic Warming
Update Dec. 2, 2011: The climate may not be as sensitive to carbon dioxide as previously believed
Update Oct. 14, 2012: Global warming stopped 16 years ago
Update Oct. 17, 2012: No, Global Warming Hasn't Stopped
More info at the Petition Project
Update Jan. 20, 2018: Worst case global warming scenarios not credible study

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Greg Mortenson in Person

Thursday night I went to hear Greg Mortenson speak. I was moved by his book, "Three Cups of Tea" and I luckily got tickets before they sold out. He shared many great thoughts, which I should probably share, but I've been a little obsessed by Global Warming (trying to understand it) and Greg mentioned something that started me thinking.

I will point out one thing: Greg is passionate that educating girls is the key to bringing peace to the world. It makes sense. There are many reasons and statistics to back up his stance. I agree with him 100%.

Greg said “In the holy Koran when a young man goes on a jihad he first has to get permission and blessing from his mother. If a woman has an education she is much less likely to condone her son to get into violence or to terrorism.”

This is the point I want to focus on. He said that Islamic extremists (Taliban, Al Queda) are going into the illiterate, uneducated villages to recruit since mothers elsewhere are getting too smart to give their sons permission to become terrorist.

So what could this possibly have to do with Global Warming?

First start by looking at the Climate Conference in Copenhagen where they are proposing that wealthy countries send billions of dollars to poor countries to help them deal with the effects of climate change.

While it seems like the right thing to do to follow this solution, I believe the backers of this solution are worst then the terrorist recruiters. It is becoming more and more difficult to squeeze money out of our prosperous country, because we are getting too smart. So "they" get smarter and design a plan to send wealth to impoverished countries. These countries are like the illiterate villages, where it will be easy to siphon off some of the GW reparation money.

I know it sounds a little like a wacko conspiracy idea, but who honestly thinks that billions of dollars will in any way be effectively spent to deal with climate change?

Here's my question to anyone that thinks a lot of money can do any good:

If I gave you $1 million, could you do something good for your community, without wasting a penny? (Most people answer yes or probably).
How about if I gave you $10 million? (Most people realize that it's a little harder to track this much money)
How about if I gave you $1 billion? (There are plenty of examples of how hard it is to insert this much money into a community to help them. Usually it results in unintended consequences like what happens to lottery winners).

Oh, and here's an interesting report from Copenhagen

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Black Body Radiation and Global Warming

Here's a quiz:

You hear about a new band called "Black Body Radiation" and you think:
a) Just another rock band with meaningless long names like "Red Hot Chili Peppers", "Bare Naked Ladies", "Stone Temple Pilot", "Nine Inch Nails"
b) A racially motivated name
c) A name based on some obscure sexual innuendo
d) A name created by science nerds

The answer of course would be d). Any other answer would be an amazing coincidence.

I remember learning about "Black Body Radiation" and scratching my head at the name. Surprising I ended up spending 10 years of my career focused primarily on this subject. So what is it?

First, I need to explain how things heat up.
  1. Touch something hot (also called "conduction"). The heat moves from the hot thing to the thing touching it.
  2. Blow hot air (also called "convection"). This is where the convection oven gets its name.
  3. Stand by the radiator (also called "radiation"). Invisible light called thermal or "infrared" radiation is put off by warm objects. This is where "Black Body Radiation" comes in.
The hotter an object, the more thermal radiation it puts out. You can test this by putting your hand close to your face with your eyes closed. Without touching your face, you can feel the heat from your hand. This is the radiation part of "Black Body Radiation".

If I take two pieces of metal and polish one to a mirror finish and paint the other with black paint, the black piece will feel hotter if I put my hand near it (without touching). This is the "Black Body" part since its black and any thing solid is called a "body". The reason scientists like "black bodies" is because then they can use mathematical formulas to figure out exactly how much energy is being radiated.

Here's an online calculator (Not the best).

Another interesting thing that happens as things heat up is that the "peak" of the thermal energy gets closer to visible light. The first color is a red, thus the term "red hot". As it gets hotter, it gets orange, then yellow. Here's an online viewer for the color of hot objects. As you slide the temperature back and forth you can see how the color goes from black (invisible radiation) to various colors. The temperature input is in Kelvin. If you want to convert it, type "convert 500 K to F" in google and it will do it for you).

A 1 sq. ft plate (black of course) at room temperature (70 F) emits (puts out) about 12.5 Watts.

To double the energy emitted from the plate to 25 Watts, the temperature has to be 170 F (40 degrees below boiling).

To equal a 100 Watt light bulb, you would have to heat the 1 sq ft plate to 430 F and it will start to glow a faint red. This is just below the 451 F required to burn books! (Just ask Ray Bradbury).

A wall (at room temperature) 8 ft tall and 10 feet long would put out 1000 Watts. In a room 10 ft by 10 ft (4 walls, floor and ceiling), 8500 Watts are being emitted! That's equal to 85 100 Watt light bulbs.

Now for Global Warming. The earth emits from its surface roughly 100,000,000,000,000,000 (100,000 trillion) Watts. If the earth heats up just 1 degree F, it will emit an additional 600 trillion Watts. What that means is the earth is losing this energy, or in other words the cooling power is almost the same as the CO2 greenhouse effect.

More on this later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hope and Faith

Which is better, hope or faith? I read an article recently that actually tried to answer that question (I don't have the reference). They argued that hope is better since it usually means actually doing something (implying that faith involves no action).

I've thought about this a little since and here's my view on hope and faith. I'll use a story to illustrate. The characters are Bob Hope and Faith Hill (No relation to famous people, just convenient names). Bob is most interested in results and the actual outcome. How he gets this isn't as important. Faith is more likely to conform to the rules. She spends a lot more time worrying how she does things than she does worrying about the results.

Bob Hope and Faith Hill are enrolled in the same class and are taking a test today.

Bob: "I sure hope I pass the test".
Faith: "I have faith that I will pass the test".
Bob: "How can you know that you'll pass the test? You and your blind faith! I heard this test is hard!"
Faith: "I didn't say I 'know' I'll pass the test, just that I have faith that I will. I took the prerequisites for this class, I go to class everyday, I've taken good notes, and I followed the study guide. In our study group, we had copies of last semesters test and we were able to go through it. Mike helped explain a couple of ideas I didn't quite understand from Chapter 1. We were able to help Steve and Karen with Chapter 2. Mike was sick when we covered Chapter 3, so we helped him and now he's up to speed.".
Bob: (sigh) "I sure hope I pass the test."
Faith: "I sure hope you pass the test too, Bob."

This little story is of course lopsided. All hope isn't this empty and true hope can be a great motivator. When it comes to long shots (making the Olympic team), hope is the way to go.

Faith is still good, but sometimes faith can be blind. When it comes to religion, faith is based on many things that can't even be seen (Heaven, God) and so religious faith is considered by many to be "blind faith". However, religious faith is also similar to preparing for a test. Religion provides proven traditions, a system of moral guidelines, and the support of a group that share common goals and values. This is all good as long as the goals are along the lines of "build and strengthen" and not "conquer and destroy". Religion can be powerful, so if you pick one, be sure to pick a good one.

I have hope that you'll understand what I've written; but not faith (faith requires a little more effort :-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Double Standards

Tonight I listened to part of Pres. Obama's speech about sending more troops to Afghanistan. I also listened to several commentaries on the radio while driving home this evening.

I was surprised to find that I agreed with the President. I am a non-interventionist and I am proud that I didn't fall into the same "somebody's got to pay for 9/11" trap that many Americans seemed driven by when we went to war with Iraq.

What I found interesting was the sharp criticism from conservative commentators. If Pres. Bush had done the same thing (carefully evaluate, determine a strategy, and then commit troops) I'm sure he wouldn't get the same vehement criticism. A double standard.

On the other hand, if I remember last years debates, Mr. Obama claimed the "surge" didn't work, and yet it sounds like he is taking the same approach. A double standard.

I would love to see the press, commentators, politicians define a standard and stick to it, or at least acknowledge that they were previously in error.

Maybe someone will read all of my blog postings and point out potential double standards. (I put this last sentence in to immunize myself from the double standard bug that seems more widespread than H1N1).