Positive feedback from water vapour

New paper rips the global warming thread

    • by Richard Treadgold — based on an article published in Tool Magazine, March 2009.

The voices urging us to “change the climate” are shrieking louder than ever. Perhaps they see themselves losing ground against the global cooling of the last seven years. Those sceptical of urgency are insulted more hatefully, science and reason are abandoned and society trembles at the talk of catastrophe.

It’s the biggest alarm of all: the planet is threatened with destruction because of man-made warming. It couldn’t get any worse than that, could it? The whole planet? Wow!  

Slay the global warming dragon

There is hope: if we put the alarmists in charge, they promise to spend all our money to slay the global warming dragon, introducing nifty new “carbon credits” that we can make money from by selling to each other. What fun! It just doesn’t have much connection with the climate.

Oh, and we’d have to abandon some of the little freedoms we’ve got used to—like affordable electric power, affordable air travel, a large car, having children if we want to, choosing our own light bulbs and leaving the television with that dinky little red light on, but they’ll save us. They’ll change the very climate—they promise.

But listen: there’s no need for all that now, because a little scientific paper has just chopped the dragon’s head completely off.

On 26th February, in the Journal of Theoretical and Applied Climatology, two Aussies and an American published a paper called “Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data.” (NCEP: National Centres for Environmental Prediction – US National Weather Service office.)

What does that mean? Well, they (Paltridge, Arking and Pook) pulled out old weather balloon observations and had another look at them. They discovered that over 35 years, instead of rising, the humidity in the high atmosphere has been falling. We should not underestimate the significance of this discovery because, if true, it destroys the possibility of catastrophic man-made global warming. Really, it’s that important!

Let me repeat that: if this is true, our alarm over greenhouse gases is ended and the IPCC can safely be disbanded.

No molten wasteland

You see, the theory was that, upon a small temperature increase, more water evaporates and humidity increases, most significantly in the high atmosphere, where it most affects the heat radiating into space. Water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas, so it could (theoretically) cause catastrophic temperatures.

But the new paper says that humidity above 18,000 ft is not rising, it’s not even stable—it’s actually falling. Data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows specific humidity at an altitude of 30,000 ft declined by about 15% between 1948 and 2008. So by the end of this century we won’t all be living in Antarctica because the rest of the world has become a molten wasteland!

Water vapour may not be the positive feedback that the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims. Instead, it’s likely that H2O is a negative feedback—it makes the temperature go down, not up.

The authors say the data should be treated with caution because it might not be accurate. Fair enough. But if this paper is confirmed, it rips the single thread on which the global warming scare stories are hanging and they all come crashing down. You remember how the greenhouse effect works, don’t you? Let’s go through it again briefly.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are natural and they affect the heat the Earth radiates to space — some of the heat that the Earth gets from the Sun. Molecules of GHGs absorb and then re-radiate energy, meaning they slow the escape of the heat, so the Earth warms up, like there’s a blanket over it. Without GHGs, the Earth’s average temperature, now about 14°C, would be between 0°C and -16°C.

From tiny numbers to catastrophe

Water vapour is the main GHG, at about 95% of the greenhouse effect (Man contributes 0.001% of that). You might be surprised to learn (unless you’ve been following these articles) that carbon dioxide contributes only about 3.6% of the greenhouse effect. That’s a tiny influence. Man contributes about 3.2% of that 3.6%—a minuscule influence.

But how do we get from such small numbers to catastrophe? Ah, enter the scary positive feedback theory! The theory says that, with his small amount of extra CO2, man raises the temperature a bit. That is uncontroversial, everybody agrees with it. But the higher temperature evaporates more water, increasing the humidity, and that’s what does the damage.

Because that extra humidity (remember, water vapour’s a strong greenhouse gas) magnifies the initial warming and boils us. That’s the positive feedback theory. Many scientists don’t accept it, pointing out that it’s never happened before in the whole history of the Earth, even when CO2 has been much higher, so (they say) there must be negative feedback somewhere, pushing down on the temperature. This new paper shows that negative feedback is indeed active, stopping the temperature from ever rising dangerously.

UPDATE: Willis Eschenbach has since described a thermostat that controls the global temperature. It works by increased humidity creating more tropical clouds and thunderstorms.

The point—the thread-ripper—is this: if humidity is declining it cannot magnify temperature, which then won’t be dangerous, since even if you doubled CO2 we’d hardly notice the temperature rise (see graph above). The temperature rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide seems to be about 1.5°C. So to talk up the importance of CO2 in the greenhouse effect is entirely spurious; it is an untruth, a lie; the greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour and little else (see graph below).

What’s in it for me?

Why has it come to this? What motivates people: scientists, environmentalists, industrialists, economists, politicians, scholars, the UN, most nations, government departments and local bodies, to promote the idea of catastrophic man-made climate change when it’s not true?

It’s quite simple, really: everybody wants something for themselves. Some want the lovely warm feeling that comes from saving the world (and don’t we all want that?). Some love to control society. Many are motivated by money: people want an increased budget for the work or research they do, so they discover, magnify or invent a connection with global warming to get it. Manufacturers beat green drums to sell their products—that’s becoming more and more successful as “fighting climate change” achieves popularity. Others see a chance to make money just buying and selling thin air—quite literally.

But it’s a scam that increases the cost of just about everything we buy and sell—for what do we produce that requires no energy? The tragedy in this affair is that the ordinary citizen will bear the burden of the taxes, the emission licences and the profits of the new class of “carbon” dealers.

The money will be extracted from our wallets without affecting the climate one jot. We’ll have the same effect on the world’s temperatures as we would have commanding the incoming tide to withdraw.

To stop the scam, the truth must be known. Sustained attention on reality is the only antidote for misinformation. We must learn what is actually happening and spread awareness of that. The scary imaginary future does not describe reality, so it is easily refuted by reference to reality, past or present.

The Damocles sword of global warming hangs by one slender thread—the future effects of man-made emissions of CO2. If these don’t cause dangerous warming, there’s no crisis. Computer models predict dangerous warming, but that’s not evidence, it’s just a possibility. There is no scientific evidence showing that our emissions will dangerously affect the climate. If any existed, you can be sure that we would have been told about it many times. We wouldn’t be allowed to forget it.

Climate changes, but remember that it always changes. If someone says humans did it, ask for the evidence.

When someone says we must protect the environment, that’s not hard to agree with; the question is, what, precisely, is the threat to the environment and how do we guard against it?

The earth will not be destroyed by the carbon dioxide from our engines and power stations. CO2 is not a problem—it’s a vital plant food.

Let’s put our government back on the right track. They’re wasting our money.


When he’s not editing Tool Magazine, Richard is Convenor of the Climate Conversation Group.

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