Spencer vs Climate Deniers

May 6, 2014


War has broken out on noted climate change skeptic (“Official Climatologist of the Rush Limbaugh Show”) Dr. Roy Spencer’s blog.
All because Dr. Spencer is tired of hearing the same nonsense over and over, afraid it might make folks (like him) look, well, …naive, uninformed, gullible, and paranoid.
Well, yeah, ya think?

So, he wrote a post titled “Skeptical Arguments that Don’t Hold Water” (to which I might add “..as well as a warmer atmosphere.”)

It’s a little like watching Sean Hannity and Fox News try to distance themselves from the racist Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy.

Hilarity ensued with 600  outraged screams from Dr. Spencer’s naive, uninformed, gullible and paranoid readers. And counting.

Dr. Roy Spencer’s blog:

There are some very good arguments for being skeptical of global warming predictions. But the proliferation of bad arguments is becoming almost dizzying.

I understand and appreciate that many of the things we think we know in science end up being wrong. I get that. But some of the alternative explanations I’m seeing border on the ludicrous.

So, here’s my Top 10 list of stupid skeptic arguments. I’m sure there are more, and maybe I missed a couple important ones. Oh well.

My obvious goal here is not to change minds that are already made up, which is impossible (by definition), but to reach 1,000+ (mostly nasty) comments in response to this post. So, help me out here!

1. THERE IS NO GREENHOUSE EFFECT. Despite the fact that downwelling IR from the sky can be measured, and amounts to a level (~300 W/m2) that can be scarcely be ignored; the neglect of which would totally screw up weather forecast model runs if it was not included; and would lead to VERY cold nights if it didn’t exist; and can be easily measured directly with a handheld IR thermometer pointed at the sky (because an IR thermometer measures the IR-induced temperature change of the surface of a thermopile, QED)… Please stop the “no greenhouse effect” stuff. It’s making us skeptics look bad. I’ve blogged on this numerous times…maybe start here.

2. THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT VIOLATES THE 2ND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS. The second law can be stated in several ways, but one way is that the net flow of energy must be from higher temperature to lower temperature. This is not violated by the greenhouse effect. The apparent violation of the 2nd Law seems to be traced to the fact that all bodies emit IR radiation…including cooler bodies toward warmer bodies. But the NET flow of thermal radiation is still from the warmer body to the cooler body. Even if you don’t believe there is 2-way flow, and only 1-way flow…the rate of flow depends upon the temperature of both bodies, and changing the cooler body’s temperature will change the cooling rate (and thus the temperature) of the warmer body. So, yes, a cooler body can make a warm body even warmer still…as evidenced by putting your clothes on.

3. CO2 CANT CAUSE WARMING BECAUSE CO2 EMITS IR AS FAST AS IT ABSORBS. No. When a CO2 molecule absorbs an IR photon, the mean free path within the atmosphere is so short that the molecule gives up its energy to surrounding molecules before it can (on average) emit an IR photon in its temporarily excited state. See more here. Also important is the fact that the rate at which a CO2 molecule absorbs IR is mostly independent of temperature, but the rate at which it emits IR increases strongly with temperature. There is no requirement that a layer of air emits as much IR as it absorbs…in fact, in general, the the rates of IR emission and absorption are pretty far from equal.

4. CO2 COOLS, NOT WARMS, THE ATMOSPHERE. This one is a little more subtle because the net effect of greenhouse gases is to cool the upper atmosphere, and warm the lower atmosphere, compared to if no greenhouse gases were present. Since any IR absorber is also an IR emitter, a CO2 molecule can both cool and warm, because it both absorbs and emits IR photons.

5. ADDING CO2 TO THE ATMOSPHERE HAS NO EFFECT BECAUSE THE CO2 ABSORPTION BANDS ARE ALREADY 100% OPAQUE. First, no they are not, and that’s because of pressure broadening. Second, even if the atmosphere was 100% opaque, it doesn’t matter. Here’s why.

6. LOWER ATMOSPHERIC WARMTH IS DUE TO THE LAPSE RATE/ADIABATIC COMPRESSION. No, the lapse rate describes how the temperature of a parcel of air changes from adiabatic compression/expansion of air as it sinks/rises. So, it can explain how the temperature changes during convective overturning, but not what theabsolute temperature is. Explaining absolute air temperature is an energy budget question. You cannot write a physics-based equation to obtain the average temperature at any altitude without using the energy budget. If adiabatic compression explains temperature, why is the atmospheric temperature at 100 mb is nearly the same as the temperature at 1 mb, despite 100x as much atmospheric pressure? More about all this here.

7. WARMING CAUSES CO2 TO RISE, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND The rate of rise in atmospheric CO2 is currently 2 ppm/yr, a rate which is 100 times as fast as any time in the 300,000 year Vostok ice core record. And we know our consumption of fossil fuels is emitting CO2 200 times as fast! So, where is the 100x as fast rise in today’s temperature causing this CO2 rise? C’mon people, think. But not to worry…CO2 is the elixir of life…let’s embrace more of it!

8. THE IPCC MODELS ARE FOR A FLAT EARTH I have no explanation where this little tidbit of misinformation comes from. Climate models address a spherical, rotating, Earth with a day-night (diurnal) cycle in solar illumination and atmospheric Coriolis force (due to both Earth curvature and rotation). Yes, you can do a global average of energy flows and show them in a flat-earth cartoon, like the Kiehl-Trenberth energy budget diagram which is a useful learning tool, but I hope most thinking people can distinguish between a handful of global-average average numbers in a conceptual diagram, and a full-blown 3D global climate model.

9. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GLOBAL AVERAGE TEMPERATURE Really?! Is there an average temperature of your bathtub full of water? Or of a room in your house? Now, we might argue over how to do the averaging (Spatial? Mass-weighted?), but you can compute an average, and you can monitor it over time, and see if it changes. The exercise is only futile if your sampling isn’t good enough to realistically monitor changes over time. Just because we don’t know the average surface temperature of the Earth to better than, say 1 deg. C, doesn’t mean we can’t monitor changes in the average over time. We have never known exactly how many people are in the U.S., but we have useful estimates of how the number has increased in the last 50-100 years. Why is “temperature” so important? Because the thermal IR emission in response to temperature is what stabilizes the climate system….the hotter things get, the more energy is lost to outer space.

The UAH (University of Alabama Huntsville) Temperature graph from satellite Data. Dr. Spencer and his close associate Dr. John Christy manage this data set,  a favorite for climate skeptics, which nevertheless shows consistent global warming.

10. THE EARTH ISN’T A BLACK BODY. Well, duh. No one said it was. In the broadband IR, though, it’s close to a blackbody, with an average emissivity of around 0.95. But whether a climate model uses 0.95 or 1.0 for surface emissivity isn’t going to change the conclusions we make about the sensitivity of the climate system to increasing carbon dioxide.

I’m sure I could come up with a longer list than this, but these were the main issues that came to mind.

So why am I trying to stir up a hornets nest (again)? Because when skeptics embrace “science” that is worse that the IPCC’s science, we hurt our credibility.

NOTE: Because of the large number of negative comments this post will generate, please excuse me if I don’t respond to every one. Or even very many of them. But if I see a new point being made I haven’t addressed before, I’ll be more likely to respond.


27 Responses to “Spencer vs Climate Deniers”

  1. So, the other shoe that needs to drop is for Mr. Spencer to tell us what he thinks *is* happening; now that he has cleared up what is not happening.

  2. redskylite Says:

    Will Anthony Watts publish and support this blog entry in WUWT ? he usually follows the University of Alabama’s Principal Research Scientist, I think not…

  3. dana1981 Says:

    Spencer also listed what he thinks are the top 10 good ‘skeptic’ arguments, which turned out not to be so good, to put it kindly.


  4. “…CO2 is the elixir of life…let’s embrace more of it!”

    I always thought it was H2O.

  5. the earth is far from ”black body” 2/3 is covered by water – water has ”mirror effect”

    2] Warmist tell one lie / ”Skeptics” tell hundreds of lies; here is good example about the ”skeptics” lies:


    • redskylite Says:

      There are just too many labels now, “warmists, skeptics, contrarians, deniers”.. do we really need to make it so religious, political and mystical. it is very straightforward – how about scientists, trust the consensus of trained and educated climate scientists and ignore the muddle, noise and crap.

      • redskylite, the reality is that: it is the two religions. Skeptics love to be called ”skeptics” same as Christians call themselves Christians, with pride. I referred to them as ”Fakes” I can see that after other people started referring to them as fakes; but they don’t like, get irritated by that one…

        the fact is: if somebody doesn’t have open mind / keeps repeating the same gospel == it’s religion. Cheers!

      • MorinMoss Says:

        I proposed “cooligans” some years back and stand by it. The worst of them hinder the efforts to educate & help mitigate and are therefore, at best, hooligans howling about cooling.

  6. […] War has broken out on noted climate change skeptic ("Official Climatologist of the Rush Limbaugh Show") Dr. Roy Spencer's blog. All because Dr. Spencer is tired of hearing the same nonsense over an…  […]

  7. johnrussell40 Says:

    There’s no better way to understand the thought processes of the pseudo-sceptics than to read the comment thread under Roy Spencer’s post, “Skeptical Arguments that Don’t Hold Water”. Armchair scientists one and all; each with their pet and contradictory theory, all united in a single belief that one way or another, ‘the climate scientists must be wrong’. What a bunch of losers.

    And it becomes clear that what worries them most is the way that global warming theory—and its proponents—are glued together by multiple lines of coherent scientific evidence. Something of which they can only dream.

    • redskylite Says:

      I’ve read through some of the comments and see your point, they all seem to think they know better than the professionals. The best, most educated climatologists confess they don’t know everything, but what they do know is the best we have and it is very convincing to me.

      I do not see this furore of armchair scientists in other fields, so I suspect it has all been encouraged and fuelled by think tanks and interest groups.

      What a weird f**** up world.

  8. Aren’t we over this yet? Is there still a debate over the moon being composed of Swiss cheese?

    • greenman3610 Says:

      we’re basically over it – the fact that Spencer is trying to separate himself from the mob to salvage his legacy shows something.

      • Phillip Shaw Says:

        I’m not sure that Spencer’s motivation is to salvage his legacy – it seems to me that Spencer, Watts, Curry and others of their ilk are trying to reposition themselves as the moderate middle, the ‘honest skeptics’, in order to assure themselves a place in the discussions of how to deal with AGW. With posts like this Spencer can claim he’s actively fighting disinformation from the fringe folk – and hope that people forget he’s pandered to those same chuckleheads for years.

  9. gentlemen, gentlemen; the old saying says: ”the wining general will be the one who knows what the opponents have and know”

    on ”Skeptics” blogs they are blacklisting the Warmist – on Warmist blogs are blacklisting the skeptics = proof that they are not confident in what they preach… treating their visitors as monks in monastery – repeating only their gospel…

    I already said to many Skeptics: ”When the whole truth is know – the psychiatrist will become very rich”

    the bottom line is: unless is debated by both camps together = it’s only indoctrination an brainwashing

    • johnrussell40 Says:

      Aha! The ‘nobody knows’ denial meme.

      To have a debate you need to have two parties that agree on basic scientific facts. The problem with pseudo-sceptics, as Roy Spencer points out, is that they have their own version of ‘science’: except they can’t agree between themselves what it is.

  10. Did omnology get reborn?

    • MorinMoss Says:

      Just like smallpox, it’s always lurking beneath the surface.

      • Along with the ” I am blacklisted and nobody ever let’s me comment” complaint. The lets all agree argument is a fizzle. What the heck does agreement have to do with science? How do you get data to agree? Agree with what? Or whom?

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