Quantum mechanics and the IPCC report on climate

Well, the new IPCC climate report is out and folks on both sides of the debate wasted little time claiming that this report supports their own, personal worldview. Once again largely absent from the discussion — which focuses on statistical trends — are the physically provable facts and logical deduction that should have made this entire debate moot long ago.

Fact 1: carbon-containing compounds absorb and re-emit infrared energy (in all directions)

Fact 2: so does water vapor (in all directions)

Fact 3: molecular nitrogen and oxygen do not

Fact 4: sunlight heats the biosphere which then emits infrared energy in all directions

Fact 5: the atmosphere contains mostly molecular nitrogen and oxygen with small amounts of other stuff including water vapor and carbon-containing compounds.

Fact 6: burning hydrocarbon fuels gives off carbon-based compounds as well as water vapor

The first four facts come from simple laws of quantum mechanics (and can be experimental demonstrated in a laboratory). The fifth comes from direct measurement of the atmosphere. The sixth is simple chemistry (and also provable with any automobile). Here’s the logical deduction we can make from them:

Deduction 1: water vapor and carbon-containing compounds in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit this energy in all directions

Deduction 2: deduction 1 implies that some of that energy gets re-radiated back down to earth further heating it

Deduction 3: add more carbon-based compounds and water vapor and more energy is re-radiated

Fact 7: more infrared energy = more heat (this is the principle behind night vision goggles so it is well-proven)

Deduction 4: deduction 3 + fact 7 = the atmosphere heats up

Whatever side of the debate you are on, the above is a mix of supported facts and pure logical deduction (as in it follows the known rules of formal logic). If you don’t believe in man-made global warming, then you are required to point out the flaw in my deduction and/or the incorrect fact. If you do but like to argue the statistics side of things, I have to ask: why? There’s no need to explain random dips in charts or the nuances of statistics which is a notoriously fuzzy subject. It’s simple quantum mechanics + formal logic.


9 Responses to “Quantum mechanics and the IPCC report on climate”

  1. Right on, Ian. I opted out of the climate warming debate years ago, after having collaborated with Pat Frank in publishing doubts about the physical meaning of computer models. In no way were we denying evidence that the Earth is getting warmer — just that models of infinitely adjustable parameters are hardly very useful tools on which to base climate change predictions (let alone social policy). Yet even the mere suggestion that one does not “believe in” the AGW predictions is enough to trigger an avalanche of “global warming denier” that stymies any reasonable debate.

    All best,


    (P.S. — congratulations on your meaningful content; nice blog format, too.)

    • quantummoxie Says:

      Yep. Drives me nuts. They’re just killing their own cause. Hell the American Physical Society even took the wrong track on this. Stop talking about computer models and fuzzy statistics and start talking about physically verifiable facts.

      (Thanks for the complements! Glad you like it! 😀 )

  2. The missing fact in your deduction is the exact, or estimated, relationship between pounds of carbon based compound released and degrees that global temperature rises. The climate change debate exists because of the question of scale.

    • Sujoy,

      You bet. As I understand, carbon to temperature correlation seems to hold only on a selected Goldilocks scale excluding very long and very short intervals. That could tell us either that the current trend is an outlying fluctuation in a very short interval of climate change, or a punctuation in a very long interval of fluctuating temperatures. In either case, why should one jump to concluding AGW?


      • quantummoxie Says:

        Well, there I disagree with you. Based on the hard-core facts I laid out, when you then add in the very obvious simultaneous upward trends of both global temperature and global carbon, it’s pretty conclusive. And, whether AGW is real now, it will be if we keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

        But aside from that, there are other compelling reasons to address energy issues: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

  3. Ian, I don’t disagree that we need to address energy issues. I don’t disagree that adding more carbon to the atmosphere will increase the greenhouse warming effect for the present.

    I also don’t disagree that the oceans are polluted; that chemicals are tainting our groundwater; that the deterioration of food supplies at such fundamental levels as algae, plankton and krill threatens the top of the food chain; that factory farming and unregulated machinations in the world financial markets hoard resources and destabilize distribution.

    What I mostly do disagree with, however, is that current trends predict future outcomes. If historicism had value, the Marxist-Leninist paradise would be thriving instead of extinct.

    Science is a wonderful enterprise. The jewel in humanity’s crown of rational understanding, to help increase and propagate objective knowledge. I can’t think of any instance, however, where co-opting science for socioeconomic policy has led to anything good, from Marx’s scientific socialism to Murray & Herrnstein’s *Bell Curve* recommendations. The Nazis also dishonored science by employing it as a political weapon.

    In my opinion, we need to stop the hand-wringing and the PowerPointing — and act on global solutions more permanent than keeping a finger in the dyke. We learned something from the cold war about equilibrium, in the form of mutually assured destruction. What if we were to instead prepare for mutually assured prosperity? We already do send aid overseas for disaster and conflict relief — what if, instead of simply reacting to every crisis, we permanently emplaced the resources in a connected network that assures worldwide mobility? A robust net-centric system would seem to provide the means to respond to needs for relief before they become festering sores that make the whole world sick.

    The critical issue of AGW is something I rarely hear discussed — that people overuse energy resources because they want a better life. Half the world lives in poverty, and a significant portion of the other half clings to the fallacy that it’s to their advantage to keep them there. We won’t ever get an enforceable global agreement on carbon emissions, because competing interests resist having someone else’s will imposed on them, if they can help it. There is in evidence, though, that prosperous populations have the motivation to prevent overpopulation, stem pollution, regulate competition. I think that making the world a better place to live in is requisite to reducing carbon emissions — and science can’t tell us how to achieve that positive goal, because science can only say what not to do: don’t increase carbon output, don’t let mercury loose in the environment, don’t handle food with dirty hands.

    Everyone wants more. More wealth, more well being, more peace. When everyone has more, we won’t have to worry about having more of the things we don’t want.

    • quantummoxie Says:

      Right, but those are emotional arguments which aren’t bad, necessarily, but in order to have “more” we need to make sure we’re here as a species in order for people to have more to begin with.

      Anyway, you make a lot of good points and I’ll respond in detail in a bit. But at the moment I have another post that needs to be written…

      • Ian, your touching article on what it means to be a teacher reminds me of when my mother was dying near the holidays in December 2003. While she lay unconscious (or not, I’ve always suspected) in the hospital bed, I watched my sister — a public school math teacher — quietly grade a stack of papers at bedside. She had come from out of town, with a substitute teacher in charge, yet she insisted on bringing along all the uncorrected papers from all her classes. She is the kind of teacher who inspects the work in sufficient detail to follow the chain of reasoning and gives partial credit for taking the right direction toward an answer — though it would be so much easier to simply check right or wrong. (Isn’t that the conventional attitude toward mathematics teaching in secondary school? — the answer is the only thing.) Our mother, though — a social worker by profession — would be proud of the extra effort it takes to look at work through the student’s eyes and to appreciate that individual’s struggle to understand.

        I look at the AGW controversy in much the same way. While limiting carbon emissions may be the “right answer” it is the wrong strategy. To punish the struggling poor of the world for the overconsumption of the wealthy does not improve the lot of the poor nor stem consumption by the wealthy. It’s simply a hand-wringing solution that will still be a hand-wringing solution when the world economy collapses and carbon flows unchecked into the atmosphere. Chinese leaders are already beseeching a “befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world,” (see today’s New York Times) as our stupid and incompetent politicians play their fiddle of partisan politics.

        The species won’t survive long term, no matter what we do. The best we can do is to assist our own evolution toward a better species. Science may inform and guard the path against taking wrong directions; science cannot motivate rational emotions toward making the right choices. Those are entirely in our hands, and in our capacity to judge the success of a society by the well being of its weakest members.

      • quantummoxie Says:

        The thing is I don’t think we necessarily *have* to punish *anyone*. If we spent the time and money, we could easily move to more sustainable fuels and power technology. It’s simply a matter of political will. There was a study done somewhere that said that wind power could, theoretically, power the entire planet if we made the investment. But we’ll never make the investment.

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