Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

Manuel Garcia, Jr.
7 December 2011



Open Cycle Industrialization

– Defining Sciences of Heat in Continuous Matter
– Heat Engines, Thermodynamic Cycles and the 1st Law
– The 2nd Law, and the Heat Gradient Across a Cycle
– Waste Heat, and the Cold Point Infinite Heat Sink
– Disorganization, Irreversibility, Entropy and the 2nd Law

Chemical Thermodynamics of the Biosphere
– The Civilization-Producing Heat Engine
– Complete Heat Engine Cycle of the Biosphere
– Industrial Heat Engine Cycle

The Global Heat Balance
– Incident Solar Energy
– Conversion of Light to Heat by the Earth
– Radiated Heat Energy
– Converting Absorbed Radiation into Atmospheric Heat
– Biosphere and the Surface Temperature of the Earth
– General Equation for the Global Heat Balance
– Sources of IR Absorbing Gases in the Atmosphere
– IR Absorption Coefficient Depends on Temperature
– Defining Global Warming


Closing The Cycle: Energy and Climate Change

(Toward Naturally Stable Energy Cycles For Enduring Societies)



Global Warming is a fact. What are we going to do about it?
This article is intended to prompt responses to that question.

The plan of this article is to proceed through a sequence of topics:
– global warming is the environmental response to open cycle industrialization
– a combination of heat flow physics and chemistry produces global warming
– the politics of deciding on forms of energy between options with uncertain futures
– international energy-climate conflicts reflect disparities in levels of development.

Global closed cycle industrialization will require equalizing levels of development:
– assistance from “high” to “low,” of value comparable to reparations for colonialism
– move from “open cycle” politics to morally “closed cycle,” domestic & international
– global warming can be seen metaphorically as the entropy of economic warfare
– the inertia of self-interest will resist halting humans’ stimulation of global warming.

Open Cycle Industrialization

Industrialization concentrates energy into mechanized work to build up civilization.

Industrialization is organized as capitalism predominantly powered by fossil fuels.

Capitalism is open loop economics in either of two forms:
– “the free market,” financial speculation by massed private capital; or
– “communism,” state-directed centrally-planned economic investment.

Open loop economics is Resource, Labor, Social and Environmental exploitation:

Resource: the extraction or seizure of assets from the environment and society:
– mining, forestry, farming, herding, land seizures, water, air, public subsidies.

Labor: purchase labor at minimum cost by exploiting human survival needs:
– fragment work into small repetitive tasks, for efficiency with low-cost low-skill labor

Social: dump wastes on and shift liabilities to society, “socialize costs” as in:
– dumping wastes, instead of recycling the usable, and reprocessing the unusable
– avoiding taxes, even through buying political influence to weaken democracy
– evading regulations, increasing risks to the public, for privatized gains
– shielding owners from responsibility by legalism, corporate personhood (or state)
– bailing out corporate bankruptcies with public funds (or by nationalization).

Environmental: expect the environment to complete the industrial cycle, to:
– endlessly supply “natural resources”
– steadily maintain society that supplies labor & profits, absorbs production & costs
– have infinite capacity to disappear wastes, both material and heat; to be a sink.

The open cycle pretends to be closed by depending on the environmental sink as:
– “free”
– infinite
– unchanging.

Global warming disproves the infinite sink assumption about the environment.

The naturally stable alternative is closed cycle industrialization:
– closed loop economics
– mutually supportive resource, labor, social and environmental interactions
– full cycle responsibility coincident with cycle ownership.

“Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions.”

Energy and Climate Politics
is how we make collective decisions about closed cycle industrialization.


Defining Sciences of Heat In Continuous Matter

Thermodynamics is the science of:
heat causing, and being released by, the mechanics of chemically inert matter.

Chemical thermodynamics is the science of:
heat causing, and being released by, the mechanics of chemically reactive matter.

Thermodynamics: a full tea kettle heated so boiling water spills out, and steam flies.
Chemical thermodynamics: rocket fuel and oxidizer reacting to form a jet exhaust.

Heat Engines, Thermodynamic Cycles and the 1st Law

Heat engines produce mechanical work from absorbed heat.

A heat engine has a working fluid (gas, liquid) that makes a thermodynamic cycle:
– fluid temperature and pressure increase by absorbing heat from a heat source, it
– returns heat by doing work, exerting pressure against a movable surface (motion),
– finally, it rejects unused heat to the environment (cooling) to begin a new cycle.

Cyclic change in the internal energy of the working fluid equals the difference of:
– the heat absorbed, and
– the work done plus heat lost as waste.
– This is the 1st Law of Thermodynamics.

The 2nd Law, and the Heat Gradient Across a Cycle

Spontaneously, heat flows only:
– from higher temperature zones
– to lower temperature zones.
– This is an observable effect of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

In a thermodynamic cycle typical of industrial heat engines, the working fluid is:
– heated and compressed from an initial low temperature, low pressure state, then
– expanded as it does work, cooling to that low temperature and pressure state;
– work done (+heat lost) equals the heat flow from cycle’s high to low temperatures.

Heat engines operate in either a closed or open cycle:
– closed cycle: the same mass of fluid repeats the same thermodynamic cycle,
– open cycle: a fresh mass of fluid is used for each cycle, then expelled.

Engine efficiency and output increase with a larger cycle temperature difference:
– to release more heat, burn fuels with higher chemical potential energy,
– cool the low temperature site of the thermodynamic cycle.

Waste Heat, and the Cold Point Infinite Heat Sink

Not all the heat released from the fuel enters the working fluid:
– engine efficiency is always less than 100%, often much less,
– some of the heating is lost into the mass of the engine, and conducted away,
– some of the heating is lost with the expulsion of hot exhausts from open cycles,
– some of the heating is lost into the mass of passing external coolant streams.

Where does this waste heat “conducted away,” “exhausted,” and “cooled” go?
– to an infinite heat bath, or heat sink,
– also known as an infinite heat reservoir at constant temperature.

An infinite heat bath can:
– absorb any amount of heat from a hotter body, without a rise in temperature,
– release any amount of heat to a colder body, without a drop in temperature.

The environment is assumed to be the infinite heat sink for practical heat engines.

Global warming seems to show:
the environment is a finite heat bath to industrialization’s accumulated waste heat:
– but waste chemicals are crucially involved to produce observed global warming
– so, will show later that the environment is a finite chemical thermodynamic sink.

Disorganization, Irreversibility, Entropy and the 2nd Law

Consider a thermodynamic system with three elements:
– hot source at temperature T-hot, produced by combustion (internal or external),
– heat engine,
– infinite heat bath defining the cold point, T-cold, of the thermodynamic cycle.

In its initial state, this system is highly organized:
– only a few chemical forms of matter (fuel, air, working fluid if different), and
– potential energy is well-confined in the form of chemical bonds of fuel molecules.

System organization degrades through the thermodynamic cycle (1-4):

1. At the beginning of one cycle:
– a charge of fuel and oxidizer is injected into the engine
– the working fluid is in a cool relaxed state
– none of the chemical potential energy of the charge has been used or lost.

2. During the cycle’s transition from heat absorption to working:
– chemistry produces heat by breaking up fuel molecules into numerous species
– the working fluid is hot, compressed, in motion and agitated
– waste heat has been released to the environment.

3. At the end of performing work:
– combustion has produced many species with less total chemical potential energy
– the working fluid is too cool and expanded to produce more work in this engine
– any remaining heat in the engine walls and working fluid is lost as waste.

4. The rejection of waste heat and mass to the cold infinite sink resets the cycle:
– closed: the working fluid is cooled and expanded to initial conditions,
– open: the working fluid of warm combustion products exits, replaced by cool air.

This cycle is not perfectly reversible (5-8):

5. It is not possible to recreate the initial degree of organization of:
– chemical energy stored in a well-defined single molecular species of fuel mass,
– a charge of cool air,
– working fluid in a cool relaxed state…

6. … By “starting” with:
– the end products of combustion drawn back from the cold infinite reservoir
– through the engine operating in reverse
– by applying an equivalent amount of work to it, as was produced earlier,
– (remember the losses to waste heat)…

7. … And compressing the working fluid:
– so as to convert the work being applied into heat,
– which the working fluid is to release to the hot source point
– by a sudden and spontaneous cooling, so it returns to its initial cool relaxed state.

8. Some reversibility may be possible (work into heat), but never completely:
– some of the “organization” or “information” of the initial state is irretrievably lost
– we can never recreate the initial state by a reverse cycle given the same energy
– to reconstitute the initial state from the final products requires more energy
– a reversible cycle is one with no heat lost to waste (or work lost to friction).

Entropy is the thermodynamic property that quantifies system disorganization:
– the more disorganized the state of a system, the higher its entropy.

The increase of entropy over a cycle quantifies its degree of irreversibility:
– there is zero net entropy change over a reversible cycle.

For every thermodynamic cycle of any thermodynamic system:
– the entropy always increases,
– or at a minimum remains unchanged; it never decreases (macroscopically).
– this is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

One lesson in irreversibility, preserved as the memory of a famous “top egg,” is:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Chemical Thermodynamics of the Biosphere

The Civilization-Producing Heat Engine

Humanity is a Heat Engine that Digests Energy to Produce Civilization.

Parallel statements of the civilization-producing heat engine (1-6):

Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use (1), degrading from its pristine state of sharply defined natural organization (2), as (primarily) fossilized storage and photosynthetic cycling (3), as it cascades through our industrial forms (4), to wash out into a stagnant and disorganized global heat sink (5). It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source, to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions (6).

Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use (1), entropy increasing (2), from a “hot” reservoir and/or an initial state of concentrated energy/information (3), through humanity’s motor (4), exhausting to global warming, the “cold” reservoir, high entropy end of the cycle (5). It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source, to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions (6).

(1) Natural energy is tapped to flow down the gradient of human energy use,

– degrading from its pristine state of sharply defined natural organization
– entropy increasing,

– as (primarily) fossilized storage and photosynthetic cycling
– from a “hot” reservoir and/or an initial state of concentrated energy/information,

– as it cascades through our industrial forms
– through humanity’s motor,

– to wash out into a stagnant and disorganized global heat sink.
– exhausting to global warming, the “cold” reservoir, high entropy end of the cycle.

(6) It is left to Nature to be both an infinite waste sink and infinite fuel/heat source,
to absorb the waste output, and reset the cycle to its initial conditions.

Complete Heat Engine Cycle of the Biosphere

The Life Cycle has 2 complementary processes that are the reverse of each other:
– photosynthesis
– aerobic respiration

Photosynthesis (simplified reaction):
6CO2 + 6H2O + light (energy) -> C6H12O6 (sugar) + 6O2
carbon dioxide + water + solar energy -> sugar (food) + oxygen

Aerobic respiration (simplified reaction):
C6H12O6 (aqueous) + 6O2 (gas) -> 6CO2 (gas) + 6H2O (liquid) + energy
sugar (food) + oxygen (breath) -> carbon dioxide + water + metabolic energy

Autotrophs (self-feeding organisms)
– like plants, algae and many bacteria
– carry out photosynthesis
– producing organic compounds (food) from inorganic matter (CO2, H2O)
– by absorbing sunlight; or
– carry out geochemical synthesis
– producing organic compounds (food) from inorganic hydrogen compounds (H2S)
– by absorbing heat and, e.g., hydrogen sulfide from vents submerged in darkness.

Heterotrophs (organisms that feed on others)
– like animals, fungi and many bacteria
– carry out aerobic respiration
– releasing food energy and then storing it as adenosine triphosphate, ATP,
– while also producing organic and inorganic (CO2, H2O) wastes;
– ATP is stored metabolic energy, which can drive cellular processes like:
— biosynthesis (the formation of more complex molecules, like enzymes),
— locomotion (the movement of structures, like proteins, within cells), and
— transportation of molecules across cell membranes.

The Stable Energy Cycle of the Biosphere (the Life Cycle):
Autotrophs process inorganic matter and heterotroph waste into food and O2,
– food is solar energy captured in organic chemicals (carbon-hydrogen bonds).
Heterotrophs consume food and O2 to produce metabolic energy stored as ATP,
– waste products are CO2, H2O and organic matter.

Industrial Heat Engine Cycle

Industrial use of heat is loosely analogous to aerobic respiration by heterotrophs.

Combustion of methane (CH4) is shown here as a representative heat source:
CH4 + 2O2 + ignition -> CO2 + 2H2O + heat
– actually, create many C, H and N oxides, and nitric acid, by burning CH4 in air,
– we depend on nature (autotrophs) to reprocess industrial CO2, and supply fuel,
– there is no re-organizing/re-concentrating of waste heat: entropy only increases.

The Global Heat Balance

Incident Solar Energy

Insolation: solar constant (source)

Milankovitch Cycles (distance and local incident angle):
Describe the collective effects of changes in Earth’s movements on climate.
Gravitational interactions in the Solar System cause long-term periodic changes of:
the distance and orientation of the Earth with respect to the Sun:
Orbital Shape (eccentricity)
– change in the elliptic shape (variation from circular) of Earth’s orbit
– with an approximately 100,000 year period (cycle).
Axial tilt (obliquity)
– a 2.4 degree shift of angle between Earth’s axis and orbital plane, and a return,
– with a 41,000 year period.
– trend in the direction of the axis of rotation relative to fixed stars,
– with a 26,000 year period.

Transmission (filtration of insolation by atmosphere):
– atmosphere is transparent to visible light (radiation)
– absorption of ultra-violet (UV) in the high altitude ozone layer

Reflection (Earth’s albedo, its net reflection coefficient for visible light):
– ice sheets and snow (extent of the area has long term stability; Milankovitch cycle)
– clouds (extent of the area is highly variable over very short time; unpredictable)

– oceans and land absorb visible light (reflectivity is low)

The Conversion of Light to Heat by the Earth

– Atoms and molecules absorb incident light, and redistribute it in matter as heat.
– Matter holds heat as the agitation, rotation and vibration of molecules (& atoms).
– Motions of positive and negative parts of molecules launch electric waves.
– Wavelengths are set by molecule sizes and deflections: infrared radiation (IR).
– IR radiation is that portion of the electromagnetic spectrum we sense as heat.
– IR radiation is emitted by the surface of the Earth (land, oceans and organisms).
– Typical frequency of thermal radiation increases with the emitter temperature.
– Quantity of thermal (Black Body) emission increases with emitter temperature.

Radiated Heat Energy

Transmission through the atmosphere:
– gases made up of symmetric molecules (N2, O2) are transparent to IR radiation
– gases made up of atoms (Helium, Neon, Argon) are transparent to IR radiation

Absorption by the atmosphere (reflection is negligible):
– gases of asymmetric molecules (have positive and negative ends) absorb IR
– IR absorbing gases also emit thermal radiation characteristic of their temperature
– IR absorbing gases are: H2O, CO2, NOx (pollution) and volatile organic vapors
– trapped IR is continuously absorbed and radiated within the mass of atmosphere
– the greater the mass of IR absorbing gases, the greater the capacity to store heat.

Converting Absorbed Radiation into Atmospheric Heat

Kinetic theory of gases:
– Gases are mainly empty space with a huge number of small particles in motion.
– These particles are the atoms & molecules of gaseous elements & compounds.
– The faster a particle’s speed, the higher its kinetic energy, its energy of motion.
– The sum total of particle kinetic energy in a gas volume is its heat content.
– Temperature is defined as the ratio: [heat content in volume]/[mass in the volume].
– Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles.
– Moving atoms and molecules in a gas collide frequently, randomizing directions.
– Particles transfer kinetic energy by collision, from energetic to lethargic particles.
– Collision frequency is high, so most particles have comparable kinetic energy.
– Also, the high collision frequency diffuses a “hot spot” into a larger volume.

The positive & negative poles of asymmetric molecules make them IR antennas.
Received (absorbed) IR radiation can be stored:
– internally: bending and vibration of the atom-to-atom chemical bonds
– internally: rotations of the entire molecule (rolling, spinning, flipping)
– kinetically: linear motion through the space between particle collisions.

Molecules can transfer some of their internally stored energy during collisions:
– internally stored IR energy can be transferred into kinetic energy by collisions
– one species’ internal energy can be spread kinetically to all other gas species
– collisions distribute IR radiation absorbed by one species into uniform gas heat.

Adding vapors to the atmosphere that increase IR absorption will cause it to heat.

The Biosphere and the Surface Temperature of the Earth

Biosphere is from the top of the stratosphere (50 km above sea level) down to:
– about 5 km below the surface of the land (at 124°C, too hot for bacteria), and
– about 11 km below the surface of the oceans (just below the deepest ocean floor).

The heat content of this outer region of the Earth is affected by Milankovitch cycles.

Earth’s temperature increases with depth (land) at an average rate of 22.1°C/km
– but the flow of interior heat out through the Earth’s surface is negligible.

Global Warming refers to the average temperature of the atmosphere and oceans:
– assumed here: a layer of the biosphere bracketing “the elevation at sea level”
– from 20 km up, the top of the troposphere, including nearly all atmospheric mass
– to 10 meters below ground, which day/night and seasonally temperature cycles,
– and also the fluid mass of the oceans, whose currents redistribute heat energy;
– this layer’s temperature is set by the balance of solar heating and radiant cooling.

Earth’s average surface temperature during 1901-2000 was 13.9°C = 57°F.


T = average surface temperature of the Earth
H = the heat content in the surface layer (the essential layer of the biosphere)
C = the heat capacity of the mass of the surface layer (average material property)
ΔH = a change in the heat content of the biosphere layer (a gain or loss)

The relation of heat content to temperature is:

H = C•T

When a quantity of heat ΔH is added to the surface layer then:

H(new) = H(old) + ΔH

T(new) = T(old) + (ΔH)/C

When, in the above:
ΔH is positive, heat was added, and the new temperature is higher,
ΔH is negative, heat was lost, and the new temperature is lower.

General Equation for the Global Heat Balance

Global warming is determined by the balance of solar heating and radiant cooling.

The general equation for this global heat balance is:

ΔH = S•(1-A) – Q•(1-F)

ΔH = change in the heat content of the biosphere/surface layer
S = incident solar energy (light reaching the top of the atmosphere)
A = albedo: reflection coefficient of the Earth (0 < A < 1)
Q = radiated heat energy (infrared emitted by Earth’s surface)
F = IR absorption coefficient of the atmosphere (0 < F < 1).

A (albedo), F (IR absorption), Q (thermal emission) depend on Earth’s temperature.

Change in Biosphere Heat Content =
(Incident Solar Energy) • (1-Albedo) +
– (Radiated Heat Energy) • (1 – IR absorption coefficient of the atmosphere)

Heat flow from Earth’s interior to the surface is negligible, equal to about S/10,000.

During a period of stable climate:
ΔH = 0, incoming (light energy) and outgoing (heat energy) flows balance.
Q•(1-F) = S•(1-A), thermal emission into space = solar irradiation at Earth’s surface.

For an interval during which climate changes:
ΔH ≠ 0, incoming (light energy) and outgoing (heat energy) flows are not balanced.
Q•(1-F) > S•(1-A), thermal flux to space > solar irradiation if the Earth is cooling
Q•(1-F) < S•(1-A), thermal flux to space < solar irradiation if the Earth is heating.

Sources of IR absorbing gases in the atmosphere

Aerobic respiration
Terrestrial emission of organic plumes from:
– volcanic and geothermal venting
– methane outgassing caused by rising temperature (tundras and oceans)
Industrial emission of organic plumes from:
– chemical, mining and manufacturing facilities
– concentrations of agricultural and livestock activities
Air pollution from combustion-derived heat energy for industrialized civilization.

IR absorption coefficient depends on temperature

Evaporation of liquid H2O, and organic vapor plumes increase with temperature:
– cloud dynamics and distribution is the most contentious aspect of climate models
– terrestrial outgassing of IR absorbing gases increases with Earth’s temperature.
Hotter wetter eras may also be cloudier with both higher albedo and IR retention,
– compensating effects, which slow rate of heating.
Colder drier, large ice sheet eras may have higher albedo and lower IR retention,
– mutually amplifying effects, which accelerate rate of cooling.

Defining Global Warming

“The environment” is the 20-31 km thick surface-of-the-Earth layer of the biosphere.

Global warming shows that:
– the environment is not an infinite chemical thermodynamic sink,
– it cannot endlessly absorb waste heat and IR absorbing chemicals isothermally.

Global warming is:
– the increase of entropy in the environment.
– the degradation of organization of the environment.


The above is the outline of the physical science half of my never-to-be-finished book on the politics of climate change. Some of the energy-use policies and technologies that could be implemented in response to climate change were described in my article

The Economic Function Of Energy
27 February 2012

“The Economic Function Of Energy” covers the topics listed as the third and fourth lines itemized in the preface (at the start).

The last four lines itemized in the preface are discussed in a haphazard fashion in several of my articles posted on the Internet (see or, most recently in “AGW And Malthusian End Times.”

I think that today everybody understands that Anthropogenic Global Warming will not be addressed, nor resource and energy conservation practiced, until capitalism is rejected globally, and that humanity will never reject fossil-fueled capitalism.


AGW And Malthusian End Times

The US Chamber Of Commerce finally endorses global warming, saying “this is the greatest development in the effort to sell iceboxes to Eskimos.” (April Fools)

Homo sapiens is the first species known to have developed the intellectual sophistication to anticipate its own self-inflicted extinction, but it gives no indication of having the ability to advance its social behavior so as to prevent that outcome.

Our extinction will be a monument to our greed.

The last article intended for an Internet journal, which I contributed to, is “AGW And Malthusian End Times,” with Dr. Daniel P. Wirt, M.D., on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). We consider the impact of human-caused global warming on the well-being of the world’s poor, the political motivations of some global warming contrarians, and the prospects for global cooperation in response to the species-wide climate change crisis of probable human extinction.

AGW And Malthusian End Times
13 January 2014 (finalized 21 November 2013)
Dr. Daniel P. Wirt, M.D., and Manuel García, Jr.

Daniel Wirt (DW):

I am having trouble understanding why lefties and libertarians would see Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) as a conspiracy to promote “Malthusianism” (blaming poverty, misery, disease and famine on the poor because unchecked population growth among the poor outstrips resources — and taking measures to limit population growth among the poor). Critics of Malthus on the left blame the plight of the poor on capitalist exploitation.

If AGW is seen as a consumption problem, then why does controlling consumption necessarily fall on the backs of the poor? One could argue that the burden should be on the largest per capita consumers of fossil fuels — like the U.S., with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of consumption. If AGW science is accepted, then there are implications for disruption of habitat and agricultural production which will impact the poor more than the rich, and likely lead to even more imperialism and militarism in the scramble for increasingly scarce resources.

I suspect that AGW will lead to the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions in the not too distant future, from starvation, disease, wars for resources, and catastrophic weather-related events (e.g., Typhoon Haiyan, *). It may not be possible to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and perhaps it is already too late, but it seems to me that the only hope for mitigating massive morbidity and mortality that will disproportionately burden the poor is to embrace AGW and radically reduce consumption, with per capita consumption limits for the rich and population control that is not class or race-based (like radically empowering women to control their fertility). I suspect that if the seeds of doubt and denial planted by left/libertarian AGW deniers take hold they will lead us to a more rapid and more adverse outcome.

* Growing Clamor About Inequities of Climate Crisis
By Steven Lee Myers and Nicholas Kulish
November 16, 2013

Manuel García, Jr. (MG):

The clock for a public policy response to the “energy crisis” (now enlarged to AGW) started ticking in October 1973 with the First Arab Oil Embargo (1973 Oil Crisis), and we’ve yet to get off our asses in response to the alarm (40 years later).

Four years later, the energy problem was serious enough for President Jimmy Carter to address the nation about it on the 202nd anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride (18 April 1977). See

Peak Oil was the fear in 1977, not AGW, even though science had been certain about AGW since 1955-1957.

What follows is a very brief synopsis of the scientific development of AGW knowledge, along with incidents of the parallel world energy crisis. Quotes are noted as from one of:

(JEA): John E. Allen, Aerodynamics, Hutchinson & Co. LTD, London, 1963.

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to be an increase in surface temperatures of 5-6 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, another Swedish scientist, Arvid Högbom, had been attempting to quantify natural sources of emissions of CO2 for purposes of understanding the global carbon cycle. Högbom found that estimated carbon production from industrial sources in the 1890s (mainly coal burning) was comparable with the natural sources. (HCCS)

In 1938 a British engineer, Guy Stewart Callendar, attempted to revive Arrhenius’s greenhouse-effect theory. Callendar presented evidence that both temperature and the CO2 level in the atmosphere had been rising over the past half-century, and he argued that newer spectroscopic measurements showed that the gas was effective in absorbing infrared in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, most scientific opinion continued to dispute or ignore the theory. (HCCS)

In 1955 Hans Suess’s carbon-14 isotope analysis showed that CO2 released from fossil fuels was not immediately absorbed by the ocean. (HCCS)

In 1957, better understanding of ocean chemistry led Roger Revelle to a realization that the ocean surface layer had limited ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (HCCS)

In a seminal paper published in 1957, Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, **, argued that humankind was performing “a great geophysical experiment,” calling on the scientific community to monitor changes in the carbon dioxide content of waters and the atmosphere, as well as production rates of plants and animals. (HS)

** Roger Revelle and Hans Suess, “Carbon dioxide exchange between atmosphere and ocean and the question of an increase of atmospheric CO2 during the past decades.” Tellus 9, 18-27 (1957)

AGW became common knowledge among aerodynamicists and atmospheric scientists by the 1960s, as witnessed by the following passage from John E. Allen’s 1963 book surveying the field of aerodynamics “for the non-specialist, the young student, the scholar leaving school and seeking an interest for his life’s work, and for the intelligent member of the public.”

Scientists are interested in the long-term effects on our atmosphere from the combustion of coal, oil and petrol and the generation of carbon dioxide. It has been estimated that 360,000 million tons of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere by man’s burning of fossil fuels, increasing the concentration by 13%. This progressive rise in the CO2 content of the air has influenced the heat balance between the sun, air and oceans, thus leading to small but definite changes in surface temperature. At Uppsala in Sweden, for example, the mean temperature has risen 2° in 60 years. (JEA)

22 April 1970: On this first Earth Day, MG,Jr decides to aim for a career in energy research, for a brave new future.

October 1973 – March 1974: The first Arab Oil Embargo (formally known as the 1973 Oil Crisis) erupts in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973 Arab-Israeli War, October 6–25, 1973).

Evidence for warming accumulated. By 1975, Manabe and Wetherald had developed a three-dimensional Global Climate Model that gave a roughly accurate representation of the current climate. Doubling CO2 in the model’s atmosphere gave a roughly 2°C rise in global temperature. Several other kinds of computer models gave similar results: it was impossible to make a model that gave something resembling the actual climate and not have the temperature rise when the CO2 concentration was increased. (HCCS)

18 April 1977: President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the Nation on Energy.

The 1979 World Climate Conference of the World Meteorological Organization concluded “it appears plausible that an increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can contribute to a gradual warming of the lower atmosphere, especially at higher latitudes….It is possible that some effects on a regional and global scale may be detectable before the end of this century and become significant before the middle of the next century.” (HCCS)

1979-1980: The 1979 (or Second) Oil Crisis erupts from the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution, and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980.

March 28, 1979: A nuclear reactor meltdown occurs at the Three Mile Island power station in Pennsylvania.

July 15, 1979: President Jimmy Carter addresses the nation on its “crisis of confidence” during its 1979 energy crisis (oil and gasoline shortages and high prices). This address would become known as the “malaise speech,” though Carter never mentioned “malaise.” See Have you seen as honest an American presidential speech since? “Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation.”

November 4, 1980: Ronald Reagan is elected president and the “big plunge” (the neo-liberal shredding of the 1945 postwar social contract) begins. Poof went all my illusions about an American energy revolution.

April 26, 1986: A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine explodes, spewing radioactivity far and wide, and the fuel core melts down. The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident until the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.

1986: Ronald Reagan has the solar hot water system removed, which had been installed on the roof of the White House during the Carter Administration. The official US energy policy was obvious to me: solar energy and conservation are dead.

In June 1988, James E. Hansen made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (HCCS)

All that AGW scientific research has done since 1988 has been to add more decimal places to the numbers characterizing the physical effects. That was a quarter century ago. So, I take it as a given that the American and even World consensus is in favor of probable extinction sooner (by waste heat triggered climate change) rather than later (by expansion of the Sun into a red giant). And, yes, the course of the extinction will proceed inequitably. Not what I want, but what I see as the logical consequences of what is.

For more along this gloomy vein see these four by MG:

Changing Climate For Unchanging People
28 January 2013

Climate Change Mental Inertia
29 November 2012

Obama’s Less Bad Arctic Oil Drilling
30 May 2012

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012

Humanity will continue for a long time after both you and I are gone, but it won’t continue as efficiently, happily and equitably as we each know is possible.


OK, [on all the above]…But still I wonder, if the adverse effects of AGW will disproportionately affect the poor, why would those on the left who say they are for social justice be hostile to AGW science, when embracing AGW would be a potential mechanism for protecting the poor? In other words WHY do some on the left see AGW as a conspiracy to harm the poor, when letting AGW proceed unchecked is very likely to increase harm?

I think this is something more than just their idea that AGW is a conspiracy to promote nuclear power. But I cannot understand their AGW-Malthus link…

For example, see the excerpt quoted below from:

A Defense of Alexander Cockburn’s Libertarianism,
John V. Walsh (16 August 2013),

Walsh’s article is a response to this line in a Vijay Prashad review (August 9, 2013) of Alex Cockburn’s last book: “Alexander would take contrary positions that were totally inflexible (I once tried to raise the climate issue with him, only to be swatted away impatiently).”

On the second point, global warming (GW), Alexander [Cockburn] is characterized as skeptical, the proper attitude for a radical or scientist, but now a term of opprobrium. He was put off by the stench of Malthusianism in the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) movement and its flirtation with the gravest environmental danger of all, nuclear energy. And he quite rightly pointed out the decade long pause in warming, grown to 15 years by the time of his death [21 July 2012]. The pause was not predicted by the models used to justify the ill-defined “Catastrophe,” and it means that the direst predictions of the CAGW crowd are, let us say, a fantasy. And if [Vijay] Prashad feels that Alex was inflexible on this count, I have found that discussing the issue with the CAGW gang elicits the same level of open mindedness as mentioning the virtues of blood transfusion with a hawker of Watch Tower.

A fantasy? Not. Here is an interesting graphic (global surface temperature change versus year):

“The Escalator”

The psychology of the merchants of doubt and science deniers is fascinating. Why would those presumably trained in the scientific method [e.g., John V. Walsh, M.D.] be so motivated to deny AGW science?

Why would Cockburn and Walsh see it as a Malthusian attack on the poor?


DW: “If the adverse effects of AGW will disproportionately affect the poor, why would those on the left who say they are for social justice be hostile to AGW science, when embracing AGW would be a potential mechanism for protecting the poor?”

Because they are doctrinaire. They hold a principle, or doctrine, to be more important and to be maintained as an absolute, than any practical effect such rigidity (if implemented in policy) might have on individuals.

That assumed absolute is: “the gravest environmental danger of all, nuclear energy.”

Is this true? No. But to those for whom this is an absolute, whatever happens to people as a result of blocking all avenues of thought and action that might lead to the use of nuclear power, is by definition better than the feared alternative.

The elevation of an absolute idea above individual human needs is religion. Raymond Aron wrote a famous book about the Marxist religion, called The Opium Of The Intellectuals (1955 in French, 1957 in English, reprinted by Transactions in 2001).

The fact is that however clumsy, mismanaged, and wasteful the nuclear power industry is, and however dangerous and unnecessary nuclear power is (we could do solar on a big scale ***), it could be implemented with more care, and combined with better conservation to keep the modern lifestyle going without the burning of coal for quite some time. I would prefer pure solar and really imaginative (practical, not sci-fi) conservation. But regardless, the gravest environmental threat is the possibility of losing both livable environments and climate within a period (of uncertain beginning) lasting only decades.

*** MG’s most extensive effort to make suggestions about that is:

The Economic Function Of Energy
27 February 2012

DW: “Why would those presumably trained in the scientific method be so motivated to deny AGW science?”

With or without scientific training, some people view everything in society “politically” and very much dualistically (either-or). With such thinking any situation always has two teams of combatants, one in power pulling the strings, and one in opposition. It is the exception rather than the norm for such thinking to be critical of conspiracy theories.

DW: “Why would Cockburn and Walsh see it as a Malthusian attack on the poor?”

The concern for “the poor” is determined by the guiding absolute doctrine.

Political direction set by a doctrinaire vanguard intelligentsia is the same as that in a theocracy: “the people” must be made to conform to the guiding principle rather than allowing the monolithic principle to be fragmented into streams of deviation so as to accommodate the myriad needs and divergent wants of a diverse population.

The lack of concern for the diversity of human needs (and desires) as compared to hewing to “principles,” which really only serve the elites that enunciate them and are always justified as being in the public interest, is characteristic of both the far right and hard left. That is where the “far” and “hard” come from: uncompromising. Hence, religion: the opium of the intellectuals.

Your problem is that you are a medical doctor, with a concern to “do no harm” and then measure success on the basis of reducing individual human suffering regardless of whether an original hypothesis and diagnosis was preserved as an absolute truth or rejected as flawed. Doctrinaire doctors must surely be less successful. Doctrinaire politicians, on the other hand, are not motivated by the Hippocratic Oath.

MG discusses Raymond Aron in:

Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011


Have you seen this by John W. Farley? I just discovered it today while taking a break between cases.

The Scientific Case for Modern Anthropogenic Global Warming
July-August 2008
John W. Farley

From Farley’s article:

Most Americans today believe that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming, but not everybody agrees…as a physics professor who has lectured on global warming since 2001, I emphatically disagree with [Alexander] Cockburn’s perspective on global warming…[Farley’s] article consists of: (1) a summary of the scientific case for modern anthropogenic global warming, (2) a summary of the contrarian case advanced by Cockburn, (3) an assessment of global warming in greater depth, and (4) my detailed critique of the contrarian arguments advanced by Cockburn. The scientific case is not dependent on citation of authority, no matter how distinguished the authority may be. The case is dependent upon experimental evidence, logic, and reason.

I’m glad Dr. Farley did this. And he updated the article in a 2010 essay:

Cockburn on Global Warming: A Rebuttal
John Farley

For Walsh to write his 2013 article despite the massive scientific consensus and the ready resources, including Farley’s 2008 article (and 2010 update), indicates strong doctrine overrunning science reality.


I saw the escalator graph you cited, and a very good visual it is.

My version of Farley was posted in 2007, it is a description for a general audience of the physics and chemistry of AGW.

Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007 2007/06/climate-and-carbon-consensus-and-contention/

I originally wrote my AGW article with Alex Cockburn in mind, and sent it to him before it went anywhere else. But, I have learned that people believe what they want to believe.

Here is my own memorial to Alex Cockburn, where I discuss his views on AGW (and my AGW article in response):

Memorial to Alexander Cockburn (MG,Jr.)

There are lots of people out there with preferences at variance to reality, and a will to bend everyone to their views. [I have to remind myself of this periodically, to keep my own sense of balance.]


Some view AGW as a ruse to promote Malthusianism. But, I think it is exactly the other way around: global warming science denial ensures unmitigated Malthusian catastrophe.

Anyway, as you say, we’re done for. That is Guy McPherson’s thesis. Have you seen this:

Sleepwalking to Extinction
14 November 2013
Richard Smith

I find it interesting that Richard Smith does not mention nuclear power.


Smith’s article is spirited, but without any new suggestions. It recommends a global insurrection leading to socio-economic and energy nirvana. I poured water on this topic (at heart an appeal to marxist-religious fantasy) in a recent article (for which one of the faithful called me “the misanthrope”):

Black Gold, Maximum Entropy
21 October 2013

The difficulty for most people is as Smith describes, we have to keep up our roles in the system (capitalism) in order to survive on a daily basis, but the system as a whole is toxic. So given a choice between voluntary immediate social suicide of the individual, and a gradual slide to the distant extinction of our whole species, perhaps past our own lifetimes, the natural choice is: I’ll burn fuel to live as I like and climb the social ladder now, and let everybody else die all together later.

I referred to the collapse of the ancient city-building Maya civilization (1000 years ago) to make the point that if the individual has the option to move out of the society — drop out, leave the rat race — and that option gives him/her a BETTER chance of preserving and propagating his/her family, as opposed to doing so within the organized social-economic system, then individuals will gladly move to “simpler” lifestyles. Our problem is that we have not found, or been able to imagine, such individual “simplicity” options ( for ourselves that would be able to function independently despite the omnipresence of the existing industrial paradigm. That is, as individuals we can’t see how it is possible to “leave” the system; there are no isolated islands or planets for us to become Pacific Island or Star Trek pioneers. We are on a global Titanic without any lifeboats, and jammed at full-speed-ahead, with icebergs at every heading (and despite AGW the icebergs in this metaphor won’t melt in time to save the ship).

If seeking a worldwide consensus for abandoning fossil fuels quickly and radically conserving energy to significantly reduce CO2 production does not advance, then it might be better to urge people to seek international agreement to quell political disturbances and equalize economic/human development (as measured by the Human Development Index, worldwide by liberally applying the world’s fossil fuel resources for social betterment, so we can enter the end-times in as homogeneous a socio-economic condition as possible, so that our species’ extinction is minimally fraught with strife. In other words, plan for our extinction by equalizing its experience. There were people trapped by fires in the upper stories of the doomed World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, who jumped to their deaths holding hands. I suppose if we can’t be disciplined enough to individually and collectively change our energy-use behaviors permanently (as in successful weight loss), to rein in carbon dioxide production and share out energy resources with equitable frugality, then the next best option would be to share a big bonfire of an industrialized world economy to make everybody as comfortable as possible for a while, and then hold hands all around when our time is up and it’s “lights out.”

Not being an optimist, I suspect humanity will be obdurate in sticking with the “not sharing” option, and that regardless of the specific sequence and distribution of economic developments, political entanglements and natural catastrophes, that humanity will ensure for itself the most painful, lingering and inequitable demise possible given the resources.

Gloomy. Better drink more wine tomorrow, and read Mad Magazine, to cheer up.


Actually, what I hear you describing in your response is the possibility/probability of mitigation. That is why I used the word “unmitigated” in my sentence, “global warming science denial ensures unmitigated Malthusian catastrophe.”

Nor am I an optimist. But, I am nearly through the 5 stages of grieving of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). In fact, I think that many of those on the left who deny global warming science are stuck in the denial stage, stuck in the psychological defense mechanism of denial. They cannot accept AGW because it runs counter to their guiding ideology and doctrine (or so they think). Instead they view AGW as a ruse perpetrated by the elite to further oppress and exploit the poor in the context of capitalism and imperialism (Malthusianism).

Paradoxically and ironically, AGW is perhaps the greatest sin of capitalism, the greatest crime of capitalism, and mitigating AGW is perhaps the most monumental anti-capitalist task in human history. So, AGW really does fit within the ideological framework of the leftist deniers of global warming science — they just fail to recognize it. AGW is the capstone of capitalist exploitation, adversely affecting all classes of humans (and hundreds of thousands of other species), but disproportionately affecting the poor. I think Karl Marx would agree.


People believe what they want to believe. That, more than anything else, will be the ultimate cause of humanity’s passing.


To paraphrase Derrick Jensen, being out of touch with reality is the most basic definition of insanity, ****. With regard to AGW, the bottom line description of reality has been written by a physicist, Arthur P. Smith ( In the end, physics trumps the small fringe group of global warming science deniers of all political stripes and rigid political doctrines who create much heat and smoke, but no light.

Proof of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect (PDF)
29 February 2008
Arthur P. Smith

**** A psychological disorder is: “Any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.” — George Alexander Kelly (1905-1967), Kelly’s definition is the oldest likely source of the several quotes that have been blended into the well-known saying attributed to Albert Einstein (1879-1955): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>[end of AGW & Malthusian…]

Some recently published items related to AGW are noted below.

Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’
(Industry expert warns of grim future of ‘recession’ driven ‘resource wars’ at University College London lecture)
23 December 2013
Nafeez Ahmed


Dear Arctic News (

Your interesting website posted the article

Act Now On Methane
21 December 2013
Malcolm Light

in which a scheme to break down the methane bubbling out of the ocean surface, by oxidizing it with OH radicals created by crossed beams of lasers and microwaves, was described.

The argument was made that if such a scheme were applied on a large scale (over a wide area of the Arctic Ocean) it might succeed at mitigating (neutralizing?) the global warming potential (the infrared absorptivity) of the erupting plumes of organic vapors.

Some years ago, I conducted an experiment that attempted to produce OH for the purpose of breaking down trace amounts of NOx in moist air (idealized auto exhaust pollution). Part of that work was a chemical kinetics model of the proposed system. The paper describing this work is here:

OH Generation In Steam-Air Pulsed Corona
21 August 1995

Our findings hinged on two facts:

– the target pollutants (whether NOx or organic vapors) occur in trace amounts, molecules of N2, O2 and even atmospheric moisture are far more numerous, and

– OH is so extremely reactive.

OH is formed very promptly upon the occurrence of ionization (from an electrical or electro-optical pulse). Because of the extreme reactivity of OH, and the overwhelming abundance of N2 and O2 molecules, dissociation occurs producing N and O atoms, and other radicals like HO2 and hydrogen atoms.

Subsequent reactions between this soup of many species has the atoms recombining (the dominant species being N2, O2, H2O), and the intermediate radical species diminishing (H, OH, HO2, O3, etc.), so that the ultimate trace products are NO (and NOx), CO, CO2, HNO3 (nitric acid), H2, and H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). Over a long time scale these stable species reduce to NOx, CO2, H2O, and HNO3 bound to water molecules.

While it is true that OH combining with a pollutant trace species (NOx or a hydrocarbon vapor) will oxidize it, such molecular collisions are rare events. Each OH molecule has a much higher probability of collision with a dominant species (N2, O2, H2O). So the chemistry that determines the fate of the atoms initially bound into pollutant molecules is overwhelmingly determined by the intermediate radicals produced by the OH oxidation of N2, O2 and H2O. For NOx pollutants this leads to an ultimate chemical sink of nitric acid; for hydrocarbon pollutants this leads to an ultimate chemical sink of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water.

So, I don’t think chemical kinetics will favor the scheme described in Malcolm Light’s article.

Another difficulty with the proposed crossed-beam sea-surface ionization scheme is that the production of OH molecules is very energy intensive. For the conditions of our experiment (a steam-air mixture at 1 atmosphere), it required 456 joules/cc to produce 3 to 4 ppm of OH. The ionization streamers in our experiment were of 38 kV and 60 A for 20 ns, and of volume 10^-4 cc. This pump energy density is equivalent to 456 MJ/m^3 (delivered at the ionization volume). If such an ionization volume could be formed as a sheet 1 mm thick then its area would be 1000 m^2 (requiring 456 MJ). The pump energy required to ionize a 1 mm thick sheet of 1 square kilometer would be 456 GJ (giga-joules). The electrons liberated by an ionizing pulse (~20 ns) would disappear by recombination and attachment (forming molecular negative ions) within 100 ns.

I think it would be very difficult to produce ionization volumes of sufficient size, and with sufficient frequency, to intercept most of the methane continuously billowing out of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding coastal areas.

Much as I would like to see the development of an efficient technology to neutralize the arctic methane plumes, I do not think the scheme suggested in Light’s article will succeed.