Basic Science For Dummies

Insulators can both increase the temperature, and reduce the amount of heat.

That is why people have warmer houses and lower utility bills – after they insulate their house (and before Obama makes electricity prices skyrocket.)


About stevengoddard

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44 Responses to Basic Science For Dummies

  1. HankH says:

    R = W·m−1·K−1 (Heat Transfer Resistance)

  2. Truthseeker says:

    Having an atmosphere makes a difference. The composition of it doesn’t.

    • That is complete nonsense. The climate of the tropics is very different than the climate of Antarctica, largely because the tropics have far more greenhouse gases.

      • davidswuk says:

        ……and they have more GHG because????

        • Curt says:

          Warmer air can hold more water vapor (technically it has a higher saturation water vapor level), which means it absorbs more of the thermal IR emitted by the surface. In the humid tropics, most surface radiation is absorbed within a few meters of the surface.

    • Insulating your house makes a difference. The composition of the insulation doesn’t. Fiberglass, rocks, iron filings, it makes no difference what you put in your walls.

  3. mkelly says:

    The link graph shows the CERES IR satellite measurement of overall cloud impact on GHE.

    The discussion should include what is the starting surface temperature. Without that we talking by each other.

    What Steve says is true about insulation in general. I agree with much of what he says, but the word “warmer” seems to mean differs things to people.

  4. KevinK says:


    “Insulators can both increase the temperature, and reduce the amount of heat.”

    I guess that is why we insulate the walls of our refrigerators to; “increase the temperature”.

    Just an FYI, nobody knows how to; “reduce the amount of heat”. Savvy engineers have figured out how to move heat (HVAC, heat pumps, etc), and how to slow the velocity of heat (insulation) and how to speed up the velocity of heat (copper heat sinks versus aluminum heat sinks). But no engineer worth their salary has yet figured out how to “reduce the amount of heat”. That would violate the first law of thermodynamics.

    Perhaps you can explain (in detail with actual measurements) how you have “reduced” the amount of heat ???? Where did it go ??? The deep oceans perhaps ??? Maybe you “dissipated” it without noticing that it simply showed up elsewhere ???

    Have you ever even designed a simple thermostat/furnace/insulated house ?

    Cheers, Kevin.

  5. edonthewayup says:

    Reblogged this on Edonurwayup's Blog and commented:
    Buy only high efficiency and highly energy conserving equipment and let him have all the electricity he wants.

  6. richard says:

    Remember, when in the middle east to cover as much as your body with one of these , it helps to take away the heat from your body.

  7. davidswuk says:

    most thermal insulation materials work on the basis of preventing the entrapped air from circulating and thereby helping heat move from warm materials to colder ones…..the rest is largely b`x.

  8. richard says:

    Lordy , what would we have called it we had the hot, humid, sealed , imagery of a greenhouse to relate to.

  9. richard says:

    not had the hot….

  10. PeterMG says:

    Steve/Tony. I think this is how a glasshouse works. Energy in the form of sunlight enters the glass house and heats the interior. This warms the ground and the plants inside and the air temperature rises. If all the glass windows and doors are closed the air temperature continues to rise because the temperature is a measure of kinetic energy. This kinetic energy cannot get through the glass quickly so the temperature inside the glasshouse will rise faster than the temperature outside. I hope no one disagrees with this simple observation. I hope that you can all see that that the processors at work are conduction and convection and not radiation other than the incoming energy.

    For the purposes of simplicity we will assume that the glass is transparent to all incoming sunlight and outgoing radiation. Now as anyone who has one of the said glasshouses in their garden will know it doesn’t take too much sunlight to make it too hot in your glasshouse especially in the summer so we open vents which allows the air inside with the high kinetic energy to escape and mix with air of lower kinetic energy and thus control the temperature. In an agricultural glasshouse this is usually done via a thermostat. Another way of lowering the temperature if the ventilation cannot be opened is to spray water very finely from the top of the glasshouse. This water reduces the temperature as it turns into a vapour. At no point will this water cause the glasshouse to warm via IR back radiation.

    Conversely in the winter if you live in a continental climate with temperature extremes, you may decide to double-glaze your glasshouse so that there is a vacuum between the layers of glass. This further slows the transfer of kinetic energy to the outside so it is possible even on days with temperatures below zero to maintain a temperature above zero inside the glasshouse without an internal heat source. The vacuum makes no difference to inward radiation yet having it there makes a difference to the temperature in the glasshouse suggesting that radiation does not warm the glasshouse, or at the very least its effect is negligible.

    Now many people refer to a glasshouse as a greenhouse. Colloquially these terms are interchangeable. What I have described above is NOT how the atmosphere works. Our atmosphere has no barrier to convection and conduction. However convection and conduction are the processors at work in the lower atmosphere, not radiation or back radiation. To call the way our atmosphere works a glasshouse would be seen as ludicrous, but no more so than calling it a greenhouse, where IR back radiation is purported to be what keeps the temperature up. That no one can measure this IR back radiation, and that it is the subject of much rancour is no surprise. Those who fervently believe in back radiation need to take step back and do some real thinking rather than call all those who question it idiots. We are not idiots; we simply don’t see that case for back radiation to be proven. In fact I don’t even see it demonstrated let alone proven.

    • Curt says:

      The “greenhouse effect” when applied to the atmosphere is a freaking metaphor! Get over it!

      The downwelling longwave radiation from the atmosphere (aka “back radiation”) has been measured innumerable times. We know its spectrum as well as its magnitude very well, which you would know if you had done even a modicum of reading on the topic. And that spectrum shows that the bulk of it comes from the absorption/emission bands of H2O and CO2.

      • PeterMG says:

        Curt I have obviously done more reading than you over a far greater period of time and I’m not going to “get over it” any time soon. Whilst you ask me to get over a metaphor I’m trying to illustrate why this discussion goes absolutely nowhere whilst people use this metaphor as you call it. I don’t know how many ways we have to show that it is one of the poorest metaphors in all of science before people understand this.

        • usJim says:

          Help! Back Radiation has Invaded my Backyard!
          August 6th, 2010 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

          One of the claims of greenhouse and global warming theory that many people find hard to grasp is that there is a large flow of infrared radiation downward from the sky which keeps the surface warmer than it would otherwise be.

          Particularly difficult to grasp is the concept of adding a greenhouse gas to a COLD atmosphere, and that causing a temperature increase at the surface of the Earth, which is already WARM. This, of course, is what is expected to happen from adding more carbon dioixde to the atmosphere: “global warming”.

          Well, it is one of the marvels of our electronic age that you can buy a very sensitive handheld IR thermometer for only $50 and observe the effect for yourself.

        • usJim says:

          For instance, last night I drove around pointing this thing straight up though my sunroof at a cloud-free sky. I live in hilly territory, the ambient air temperature was about 81 F, and at my house (an elevation of 1,000 feet), I was reading about 34 deg. F for an effective sky temperature.

          If the device was perfectly calibrated, and there was NO greenhouse effect, it would measure an effective sky temperature near absolute zero (-460 deg. F) rather than +34 deg. F, and nighttime cooling of the surface would have been so strong that everything would be frozen by morning. Not very likely in Alabama in August.

        • PeterMG says:

          UsJim It is unfortunate that you ignore the atmospheric pressure. A lot of work is being done by the force we know as gravity and this increases the kinetic energy of the gases and is what we feel as temperate, and what we measure as temperature with a thermometer. This kinetic energy far outweighs any IR back radiation you can see with an IR device. We use this compression and expansion of gases in so many of the everyday devices that make our modern world what it is yet some people just can’t conceive that this is exactly what makes our atmosphere warm at the surface. This kinetic energy will not go away and the earth freeze over because of a lack of so called greenhouse gases.

        • Curt says:

          Peter: Do you object to the term “gate” to refer to the control terminal of a transistor? It doesn’t function at all the way that a real gate does, mechanically swinging open and shut. Think of all the confusion this lousy metaphor has caused!

          You add nothing to the discussion by pointing out the obvious fact that glass greenhouses reduce heat loss by inhibiting convective losses. But the “atmospheric greenhouse” metaphor is actually reasonable (not perfect of course) in that the “greenhouse gases” overwhelmingly let solar power through, but reduce thermal losses to ambient, resulting in higher temperatures than if they were not there. That GHGs do this by reducing radiative losses, not convective losses, is what makes it a metaphor.

          And when you say that “no one can measure this IR back radiation”, you show that you are not familiar with the scientific literature at all. As I pointed out in my original response to you, it has been measured many, many times. You can see the spectra of this radiation and how it varies with location on earth, what the atmospheric conditions are, etc. from many, many sources.

        • usJim says:

          PeterMG, probably the ‘thickest’ individual one can encounter in one’s lifetime …

        • usJim says:

          re: Curt November 17, 2014 at 9:36 pm

          PeterMG is the reason the term moron exists; even he could perform the experiment Dr. Roy Spencer performed, using a fifty dollar (US) ‘IR thermometer’:

          Well, it is one of the marvels of our electronic age that you can buy a very sensitive handheld IR thermometer for only $50 and observe the effect for yourself.

          Again, link here:

        • Curt says:

          Peter: You write, “A lot of work is being done by the force we know as gravity and this increases the kinetic energy of the gases and is what we feel as temperate, and what we measure as temperature with a thermometer.”

          Oh dear, oh dear. For a force, including gravity, to do work it must act over a distance. That is, it must move the substance being acted on over a distance to do work on that substance. This is very basic high school physics stuff:

          Work = Force x distance

          Power = Force x velocity

          Now, in hydroelectric power stations, we exploit the force of gravity to do work, but the water has to fall to do this. That is what provides the distance and velocity for the force to provide work and power.

          But the atmosphere has already fallen. There is no vertical distance or velocity to create ongoing work or power. Any local updrafts and downdrafts cancel each other out globally.

          Until you can get this very basic stuff straight, you cannot even begin to analyze the more complicated issues.

        • PeterMG says:

          USJim I would rather not descend into name calling or calling anyone thick. You don’t know me or what I do. Do not embarrass yourself by assuming you do. I’m well aware of what Dr Roy Spencer has done and at one point thought he was the last word in this stuff. But the world moves on and other work is far more realistic and compelling. I work in the real world not the make believe world. What you measure as IR radiation is not the physical temperature. I’m not convinced by any of the science, and that is my right as it is you’re right to believe what you believe.

          Amongst other things I’m a keen photographer. Blue light is said to have a higher temperature than red light. But when you paint something blue it is said to have a cool look with red said to be a warm colour. Just think about it for a bit before you call someone thick again. I have thought long and hard about this stuff unlike most commenters here who parrot stuff that just can’t be in the real world

        • You came here launching very aggressive attacks. What did you expect in return?

  11. davidswuk says:

    Curt- greetings, but solar comprises ~50i% IR radiation I believe and of which ~20% is reputedly absorbed by the atmosphere and so adds up roughly to a non too cool 130W/m2 of REAL day-time atmospheric heat which, if humid and/or containing water droplets, will cling on to it well into the (still) night and so requires no support from LWIR which is irrelevant to discernible temperature changes in any case.- indeed, radio waves can be very powerful in their own respect but I am not aware of them having toasted any nuts as yet never mind having rattled them about!

    • Curt says:

      david: The earth’s surface absorbs about 160 W/m^2 from the sun, averaged over time and area; the atmosphere absorbs about 80 W/m^2 from the sun, again averaged. Since the surface absorbs more, it transfers to the atmosphere on an ongoing basis significant power through convective, evaporative, and radiative processes.

      But this is not relevant to the fundamental question of what would happen if the atmosphere were transparent to the surface radiation, neither absorbing nor emitting in these wavelengths. In that case, the surface would radiate directly to very cold space, and could not come close to maintaining the temperature levels we actually see.

      • davidswuk says:

        Don`t give me Trenberth Curt – averages are derivatives and not the definitives we need to be considering here……
        The Earth emits a vast amount of heat under the HEAT of the Sun that so-called GHGs just cannot hold on to but minimal heat during hours of darkness when the leakage is in the longer IR range that OK balances up the theoretical energy exchange but is insignificant compared to the HEAT lost .from the surface by the convection and conduction caused by WEATHER.
        We do not live in a Greenhouse never mind the test-tube some of you would wish to shoe-horn us into.

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