Greenhouse theory violates the laws of thermodynamics

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

The so called "Greenhouse Effect" which is the underpinning of the entire theory of anthropogenic global warming claims that greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere absorb outgoing long wave radiation from the surface and reradiate it back, thereby warming the climate. But the upper atmosphere is colder than the lower atmosphere and the surface and the second law of thermodynamics clearly requires that heat flow from warmer areas of a system to colder ones, the opposite direction that greenhouse theory requires. The cooler atmosphere can not radiate energy to the warmer surface. The greenhouse effect is a myth because it violates the second law of thermodynamics!

Answer:

No argument with the second law of thermodynamics here, that one seems to be on pretty solid ground! But the train of logic above has a subtle problem in its over statement of the constraints this law places on energy flow. Given a warmer and a cooler body exchanging energy either through convection or through radiation, the fact is, energy is constantly being exchanged in both directions. The second law of thermodynamics does not apply to individual photons, it applies to the net flow of energy in the entire system. How could it be otherwise?

When an excited molecule of CO2 releases a photon, it does not somehow "know" which way to send it. It can not aim it towards a cooler body. It is simply released in a random direction. In the case of CO2 in the atmosphere, having absorbed some of the energy radiating towards space from the surface of the earth, this random choice of direction means that, roughly speaking, half of that energy is sent back. An individual molecule is not influenced at all by the temperature of the earth’s surface, be it warmer or cooler.

Where the second law does apply is in the net flow of heat, and this happens because a warmer body will send out more energy overall than it is receiving from the cooler one. Lots of energy going back and foth, but on balance more is leaving the warmer body.

The IPCC has provided this nice graphic of what is going on. They have also used the analogies of a blanket and a garden greenhouse in their FAQ sections.

(click for a slightly larger image. Courtesy of the IPCC)

In the case of the simplified earth-atmosphere system, the Earth’s surface warms from the sun’s incoming shortwave radiation. As it is now a warm body floating in cold space, Earth radiates long wave energy back out at a rate that is dependent on its temperature. If that were the whole story, the earth would have balanced its incoming shortwave with its outgoing long wave radiation at an average surface temperature of roughly -18oC and it would be a rather inhospitable place. As it is, the content of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere absorb some of that outgoing long wave radiation and send it back down where we all live. The earth must balance this by warming enough so that it can radiate this additional energy back out again. The totality of this natural effect is around 33oC, bringing our average surface temperature to a comfortable +15oC.

So, it is not really like a blanket, which inhibits convection in both directions, or like an actual greenhouse, which lets in the sunlight and then also inhibits convection, but both are reasonable analogies as far as they go. The scientists in the IPCC know this, they are only using these analogies to help laypeople understand the very general principals. If you hear someone attacking climate science by attacking these analogies, they are attacking a strawman.

As we have added to the greenhouse efect, the planet’s surface must now warm until it reaches a new equillibrium temperature high enough to radiate out as much again as it is now receiving.

This is all very well established and long standing physics. No basic ignored mysteries, no violations of fundamental laws, just great explanations of naturally observed phenomena all over the solar system and beyond.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“Greenhouse theory violates the laws of thermodynamics” is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

246 thoughts on “Greenhouse theory violates the laws of thermodynamics

  1. Too old?

    Sorry, not good enough.

    You asked for a science paper, you got one. It was, indeed, here all along. Along with others.

    And, having been given what you demanded, you discard it as “too old”.

    Sorry, the science doesn’t age unless you have new science replace it.

    Like

  2. Your “science references” reminds one to the beginning of homeopathy early in 1800. Tyndall loved mountaineering and was a pre-science guy. Your “references” are ridiculous.

    You must provide studies from modern times, i.e. the last 19 years. So try again and don’t be lazy

    Like

  3. wow, after your defeat in countless climate discussions, another climate finding without signs of anthropgenc warming due to CO2: the overall ice masses in the antarctic have substantially increased in the last 3 decades although some small glaciers in the northern antarctic peninsula (the tiny appendix of real antarctica where most of the AGW hysteric weather stations are located and AGW tourists travel in antartactic summer time to worship occasional temperatures above 0deg Celsius there when the sun is shining) show symptoms of decreasing, however totally irrelevant considering the increase of real antarctic ice masses.

    wow, beware of AGW fuckwitted cherry picking for once, your preferred personal trait!! try it, boy

    Like

  4. “the overall ice masses in the antarctic have substantially increased in the last 3 decades”

    No they haven’t, kaiboi.

    I take it you’re admitting that you were wrong on IR absorption, right? As you were on countless other claims you’ve made. Or have you forgotten that already? Among the other countless numbers of claims you’ve forgotten you got wrong?

    Like

  5. wowtroll, sorry your crap is completely wrong:

    No they haven’t, kaiboi.

    I take it you’re admitting that you were wrong on IR absorption, right? As you were on countless other claims you’ve made. Or have you forgotten that already? Among the other countless numbers of claims you’ve forgotten you got wrong?

    Do you know why or should I leave you stupid ?

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  6. John, before i may give you a hint on how to solve your problem, can you please indicate whether you are a member of the climate warming church or a realist with a sense of scientific objectivity, something guys like wow are completely deprived?

    Like

  7. Note John you’re only given two options, both of which boil down to “Agree with me or be wrong”.

    Reality: AGW is real. Ask India or Washington.

    Like

  8. John, I really am able to help you and willing to, but before I do this I want to know whether you believe in global warming and the dangerous role of the life-supporting gas CO2 and if you want detrimental actions to fight against CO2. Please reply asap

    Like

  9. No, kaibottroll, you’re here to bullshit and whine about what you don’t know anything about.

    Hell, you make claims like “I can show how the earth is cooling!” and then hide away when you’re asked “Go on, so you’re saying that you CAN measure the global temperature now?”.

    PS Watch Apollo 13 for what “life supporting CO2” does to humans…

    Like

  10. who has talked to you, wow moron? nobody! so stay calm, idiot!

    your unpleasant text is one big offense to humanity and honesty, every single word a big lie. So shut up an leave this blog, arselick.

    unemployed people like you which waste the money of decent taxpayers should be better controlled for internet access with offending bullshit of yours

    Like

  11. Oh, as to your lies, asswipe, your whining claims have been debunked here and you have demonstrated that you will not hesitate for a second to claim a thing never happened if you find it inconvenient when caught out in your bullshit claim.

    Like

  12. John, anything new from your trials to bind in a youtube clip?

    Of course wowbaby cannot help you with this as he is plainly illiterate regarding computer technology. He is not even able to serve as decent multiplikator of the global warming ideolgy, as he is devoid of any basic science skills to understand what’s really going on in climate science. Apart from this deficiency, can he speak any other language apart from his dialect? NO, has he any special abilities in any kind kind of attractive sport?, NO, as he is too fat and physically untalented. So he compensates for all his deficiencies with permanent nasty rantings as an internet addict and unemployed who wastes decent taxpayer’s honestly earned money. Please don’t give a shit on what he is blathering all the time again and again, without any success.

    Like

  13. John, nothing heard from you since, everything okay? Do you still fight with the tiny problem you reported and where wow is uncapable of giving you advice ass an computer illiterate?

    Like

  14. Freddy, nothing heard from you that YOU Were asked to provide.

    Do you still fight with the problem of finding proof of your asinine and insane claims?

    Or have you never worried about truth, only what you can get away with?

    Like

  15. wow, I remember correctly that you once here admitted that you are no scientist at all. You are just an ideology-driven layman with xtremely strong beliefs which you cannot reconcile with physical reality. This isYOUR problem, not mine.

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  16. You’re a non-stop fountain of bloody wrong, aren’t you, fredski?

    Not one statement there wrong, and so many crammed in.

    I am a scientist. Astrophysics.

    YOU are ideology driven, as proven with your drivel about “Oh, you either agree with me or you’re an alarmist shill making money from the climate scam” with zero evidence for it..

    Xtremely strong beliefs with your unshakeable insistence that it’s all a scam.

    And physical reality which shows the temperatures increasing is “discarded” with a “it’s all faked, and anyway there’s no such thing as global temperature”.

    Those are your problems.

    Not mine.

    Like

  17. And fredski, note that you have never said you were a scientist. This must mean you are a ideology-driven layman with xtremely strong beliefs which you cannot reconcile with physical reality.

    Obviously this is YOUR problem and not MINE.

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  18. Damn, wow, horrible what I have heard from your stinkmouth at deltoid to would kill Lord Monckton and the Koch brothers. You are truely a psychiatric case and should be prosecuted and put under custody for your own protection. I already knew that you are insane, but you are even physically dangerous and should be arrested as quickly as possible. Hang rather yourself you fuckwit instead of killing other people who are inifintely more worth than you morally and ethically. Be ashamed, moron, and fuck off from the internet immediately.

    Like

  19. [kai and freddy are the same poster – coby]

    solarmanke, you have certainly recognized that the hiatus has changed its characteristics: since the repeated upward corrections of newer temperature records by Karl (NOAA) but also GISS and CRU, as well the artificial down correction of older temp records, the climate church is embarassed by its low performance to convince the public of its data fraud.

    Like

  20. So you got tired of typing out all those letters in freddy, so gone for the lower workload of kai.

    What an embarrassment to the congregation of Wattsuppia you must be.

    Like

  21. wow, again nobody has talked to you, but kai has addressed solarmanke [freddy, you are kai. Stop that. – coby]. Therefore your stupidity is irrelevant.

    Like

  22. Well, good evidence of the duplicity and lying nature of deniers, kaifreddyborisvernontroll.

    freddykaiborisvernongtroll: “Hey, kai was someone completely different, not me at all!”.
    owner of the site (who gets the ip address of the source of the comment and other identifying information): “No it wasn’t, and stop it”.

    Like

  23. “was not really intentional”

    What?

    So who wrote “nobody has talked to you, but kai has addressed solarmanke “? Or did you not notice that you’d used your wrong name in typing rather than input “from the cache” and used it in the third person?

    How did your cache manage to make you type kai in the third person rather than use “I have”?

    Nope, it was intentional, wasn’t it, and you’ve just done another blatant lie.

    Like

  24. wow troll, the problem you have is that you are completely illiterate in computers, therefore your utmost stupid comment and you don’t even understand why.

    Like

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