Simple Physics – In reality my feather blew up into a tree

Originally a Guest Post at Watts Up With That (28 Dec 2010) by BWoods

All too often the ‘simple physics of CO2′ argument is presented to the public by the media, politicians, climate scientists and environmental advocacy groups, in a way that grossly simplifies the issue of the response in global temperature to increasing CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

An excellent response to the simple physics argument is to be found in the comments at Climate Etc  (Prof Judith Curry’s blog)

In reality my feather blew up into a tree

“….. which is that since CO2 is a GHG it follows that increasing CO2 must increase the temperature (of something). No matter how many times we say that the climate is a system with complex non-linear feedbacks they still love this simple principle of physics.

This is because physics works by isolating simple situations from reality. That was the great discovery of physics, that if you simplified reality you could find simple laws. So far so good.

But as every engineer knows, these simple laws often do not work when reality gets messy, as it usually is.  Simple physics says that if I drop a ball and a feather they will fall at the same rate.

In reality my feather blew up into a tree.

It is not that the simple law is false, just that there are a number of other simple laws opposing it. In the case of climate we don’t even know what some of these other laws are, so we can’t explain what we see. That is where we should be looking.”

The ‘do you deny the simple GHG physics’ argument is also often an attempt to portray anyone that asks reasonable scientific questions about AGW and the complexity of climate science, as some sort of  an ‘anti-science’, ‘flat earther’ denier.

The realities and complexities and unknowns of climate science are described in the IPCC working Group 1 reports, but somehow get ‘lost in translation’ into the Summary for Policymakers, for example (and everyone knows very few politicians even read beyond the executive summary of anything).

IPCC (Chapter 14,, Working Group 1, The Scientific Basis)

Third Assessment Report: “In sum, a strategy must recognise what is possible. In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled nonlinear chaotic system, and therefore that long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

Time and time again the media and environment groups ignore this IPCC fact that the climate is a coupled nonlinear chaotic system and that the worst case scenarios of the computer model ’projections’ or scenarios (because they know they cannot use the word prediction) latest example, 4C by 2060, are just one result of computer model ‘runs’ programmed with various extreme values of these assumptions.

The low-end ’projections’ of temperature by model runs with other values and assumptions are ignored completely by CAGW advocates, the data output or projection of a computer model transmorphs into a scientific fact, the data output of a computer model becomes evidence of CAGW.

Climate Science is often portrayed to the public in simplistic terms as a mature science, narrowed down and focussed onto one primary factor – CO2, assuming all else to be equal, and not the possibilities in this type of system that varying one parameter alone, may vary other parameters in non-linear ways, even potentially flipping some from positive to negative feedback (or vice versa)

At the time of the Copenhagen Cop 15 Climate Conference, stunts on TV, rather than the discussion of uncertainties of ‘climate science’ were the order of the day.

The classic demonstration of the ‘do you deny the simple physics of CO2′ argument  is a glass tube filled with CO2, heated and then the TV presenter or preferably a senior government scientist says ‘look it has warmed!’

As demonstrated by the BBC in their Newsnight program, Copenhagen Climate Conference time, the BBC’s apparent intellectual response to the climategate emails and documents.  Watts Up With That, gave a critique of this particular type of TV experiment and CAGW PR.

I wonder what would have happened if a member of the audience had been able to question their methodology, or even ask simple questions like:

What is the  percentage of CO2 in the jar?

ie total atmospheric is  ~0.038%, what percentage is in the glass jar – 50% plus perhaps, or more?

[Corrected typo spotted in comments – 0.038% / 380 ppm]

If you were to mention that the CO2 effect is logarithmic, then you are likely to be labelled a ‘climate change sceptic’ or worse a ‘climate change denier’ by any passing MSM media TV presenter, environmentalist group or AGW consensus minded politician, and then they will simply stop listening, because you are obviously a fossil fuel funded denier, such has been the CAGW consensus PR.

I wonder if for a sceptical  joke, someone could produce a spoof YouTube video of a feather and a cannon ball in a glass jar experiment (non evacuated)  and the TV presenter could say to the audience:

“Proof –  The Cannon Ball FALLS faster that the feather – Simple Physics clearly show this”

Someone in the audience could then ask, but you have air in the jar? and then get ridiculed by the group as an ‘anti-science’ denier, the scientist/presenter could even bring out the ‘No Pressure’ red button to use!

The simple and not so simple physics of a number of climate parameters, are programmed into the climate computer models.  Many of these parameters, it is acknowledged, are not completely understood or that there is serious contentious debate about in the scientific literature.  ie aerosols, clouds, solar pacific and atlantic oscillations, volcanoes, etc,etc

Engineers (or  economists now, perhaps) will advice  climate scientists, model are not reality, reality is often more complicated than any computer model. Take a step back, view with hindsight with respect to risk in the financial markets. At the trouble the cream of the last few decades of science graduates – turned  computer modellers – left the world’s economy in, following the modelling of credit risk amongst many other economic assumptions.

Next time anyone starts on about the simple physics of CO2, remember the feather and a cannon ball in a very large glass jar analogy, or for the classically motivated, atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Politicians could lay trillion-dollar bets, and dozens of competing scientific groups (publically funded) could even attempt to write a computer models to predict when and where the feather would land……………


There is a rather more lively discuusion about this in the comments at Watts Up With That

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3 Responses to Simple Physics – In reality my feather blew up into a tree

  1. labmunkey says:

    An excellent piece in logical reasoning and subject ‘framing’. Something climate science lacks in spades

  2. Pingback: Feather reality | ChazkSolutions

  3. Diogenes says:

    It’s not easy to be honest in a dishonest world.

    Keep up the good work!

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