How Peter Ward’s Climate Calculation Misfires

Introduction

Debating with climate skeptics can be an uphill battle. Unlike scientists, skeptics find it easier to spread misinformation than for experts to explain the intricacies of climate science. This challenge stems from two primary factors.

The Scientists’ Struggle

People’s Unwillingness to Listen to Scientists

Understanding global warming isn’t inherently complex. However, grappling with the numerous details can be overwhelming. Sometimes, people are thrown off when scientists admit to not comprehending certain nuances within a broader issue, even though they possess a solid grasp of the overarching problem. On other occasions, scientists struggle to effectively communicate with non-experts. These hurdles can significantly hinder the delivery of the core message.

To illustrate this point, consider a recent personal experience. When purchasing a car, the salesman confidently listed a plethora of appealing features. It turned out he was mistaken, but I failed to question his assertions. In contrast, scientists strive to present only well-founded facts, often feeling obliged to acknowledge areas of uncertainty. Salesmen, on the other hand, do the opposite. Since scientific work inherently involves uncertainty, scientists are comfortable discussing what they don’t know. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t lend itself well to effective sales pitches.

People’s Love for an Underdog Story

Climate skeptics, despite lacking climate science expertise, can captivate audiences with their “rocking the boat” narratives. Similar to how political outsiders attract attention, skeptics have found traction with their unconventional perspectives. Furthermore, the news media gravitates toward compelling stories, leaving typical scientists with less attention-grabbing narratives.

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An article caught my eye this morning, featuring a climate skeptic named Peter Ward. He dedicated a book and two websites to explain his theory on global warming. Hyperlink: 5 WS

Ward’s intriguing hypothesis suggests that global warming is unrelated to CO2. Instead, he claims that ozone depletion, allowing more ultraviolet radiation (UV) to reach the Earth’s surface, is the true culprit. According to him, CO2 is essentially harmless.

Let me clarify my stance:

His theory is unpersuasive nonsense.

While Ward’s insights on the consequences of ozone depletion aren’t entirely erroneous, they are grounded in well-established scientific principles. Ozone loss naturally leads to a warming effect.

However, my criticism of Dr. Ward’s theory rests on his attempt to “prove” that increased CO2 cannot cause global warming. His claims are fundamentally flawed in multiple ways. Allow me to provide a few examples.

“[Models assume] there is more thermal energy contained in Earth’s infrared radiation absorbed by greenhouse gases than in the solar ultraviolet-B radiation that reaches Earth when ozone is depleted. Common experience… confirms that this is not true: you feel hotter standing in … radiation from the Sun than you do standing outside at night with infrared radiation welling up from Earth’s surface.”

This statement contains numerous flaws, showcasing how one can misconstrue anthropogenic global warming and its place within the climate system’s energy budget. The relative insignificance of the warming caused by CO2 compared to other factors does not imply its harmlessness. Accounting for all feedback loops, the change in the Earth’s radiative budget due to increased CO2 amounts to approximately 4 W/m² of additional downward radiation. Imagine a 4W incandescent light bulb warming a square meter of the Earth’s surface. It wouldn’t be immediately noticeable on your skin, especially when standing under direct sunlight. Nonetheless, over time, this cumulative effect results in a significant amount of extra heat within the climate system.

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Even without increased CO2, the atmosphere consistently radiates down onto the Earth’s surface. If this downward radiation were to cease at night, you would undoubtedly feel much colder!

“Greenhouse warming theory also assumes that the heated air radiates energy back to Earth’s surface, and that this return flow of heat energy warms Earth. The problem with this is that the [lower atmosphere is] colder than Earth’s surface. Heat cannot physically flow from cold to hot. You do not stand next to a cold stove to get warm.”

Heat “flows” in different ways, with radiation being one of them. While it’s accurate to say that the net “flow” of heat is always from warm to cold, downward radiation from the atmosphere significantly slows down the planet’s overall cooling rate. This downward radiation plays a crucial role and is a key reason why Earth is not a lifeless, icy object. Dr. Ward seems to be confused about the workings of global warming since nobody suggests a net gain of heat through downward radiation. Instead, the concept revolves around CO2 slowing down the net loss of heat from the surface, naturally leading to warming.

(less radiation output) + (same radiation input) = (more internal energy)

Several other instances exist where Dr. Ward misinterprets basic atmospheric physics. It is evident just how flawed his understanding of global warming is.

While his ideas on ozone-related warming also possess inherent issues, it is unnecessary to dwell on them extensively. One significant flaw is Dr. Ward’s claim that ozone depletion can explain polar amplification, especially when the loss of ozone is most pronounced at the poles. However, observations show that polar amplification occurs most strongly at the North Pole, primarily due to the vast expanses of sea ice. Ironically, the South Pole, which experiences the most substantial ozone depletion, has seen less warming.

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In conclusion, Dr. Ward’s theory is utterly flawed. By shedding light on these shortcomings, I hope to steer people away from his misguided ideas.

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