Tuesday, November 26, 2013 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Hiroshima, global warming, and wakalixes

If you open the URL sks.to/heat or 4hiroshimas.com, you will reach the web page of this ugly widget:

The five buttons at the bottom allow you to express the total energy (satisfying some additional extra conditions that are not specified) collected by the whole atmosphere of the Earth in several additional "evil units of energy".

This ugly widget that doesn't even scale the fonts properly was created by the activists around John Cook and the doubly ironically named "Skeptical Science". Every second of this weblog's existence, we are pumping several Hiroshimas into the climate.

The Guardian gave some space to these jerks to promote their "work". I agree with Anthony Watts that it is a propaganda of the worst kind.

I don't have to be too original in order to explain why this widget and the meme behind it is utterly irrational from a scientific perspective.

An explanation has already been written by someone much more famous than myself. Here it is:

...The answer was, for the typhoon, "Energy from global warming caused it." And for the torrential rains in Sardinia, "Energy from global warming caused it." For everything "Energy from global warming caused it."

Now that doesn't mean anything. Suppose it's "Wakalixes." That's the general principle: "Wakalixes causes it." There is no knowledge coming in. The child doesn't learn anything; it's just a word.

What they should have done is to look at the typhoon, see that there are pressure gradients inside, learn about pressure, learn about flow of the air, and never mind "energy". Later on, when the children know something about how the atmosphere actually works, they can discuss the more general principles of energy.

It is also not even true that "energy makes it go", because if it stops, you could say, "energy makes it stop" just as well. What they're talking about is concentrated energy being transformed into more dilute forms, which is a very subtle aspect of energy. Energy is neither increased nor decreased in these examples; it's just changed from one form to another. And when the things stop, the energy is changed into heat, into general chaos.
Who wrote it? Well, yes, it was Richard Feynman. I've added "from global warming" behind the word "energy" to make his comments more relevant for the present. I've also replaced a wind-up toy (and related phrases) by tropical cyclones (and related mechanisms).

The key point is unchanged. The total energy is conserved – at least in the nearly flat space or spacetime around the Earth. That's why it is untrue if someone says that "energy caused it". Huge amounts of energy are arriving from the Sun in the form of radiation – they are equivalent to many, many Hiroshimas per second. But this energy never disappears, one may just transform it from one form to another.

One must be a complete idiot to consider the energy to be a "quantification of evil" and one joule or one Hiroshima to be a "unit of evil". There is absolutely nothing wrong in general about energy. And indeed, decades ago when Feynman was judging the very bad textbooks for schoolkids, energy was at least considered to be a "good thing". Everyone who pays for energy and who is not a loon knows that to "own energy" is a pretty good thing. But the transfer or conversion of energy from one place to another or from one form to another may be both good and bad. There's obviously no law that would correlate "energy" and "good" or "energy" and "evil" in general.

For the hacks around John Cook including himself, energy itself is evil. But even it if were evil, it doesn't matter because it is conserved and you can't do anything about the "amount of evil" in the world.

John Cook according to his admirers.

In Feynman's case, there at least existed an explanation of the wind-up toys that were using similar words (such as "energy") as the bogus "explanation" proposed in the book ("energy makes it go"). In the case of global warming, there exists no explanation at all because the total energy (in all forms) accumulated in the atmosphere or anywhere has nothing to do with the phenomena we actually care about – like the typhoons or torrential rains.

It's really the gradients of pressure, temperature, and humidity that are the primary drivers of similar weather phenomena and these gradients – quantities expressing the degree of non-uniformity – are not detectably influenced by anything such as "global warming". Myths about "global warming" behind any of these things not only add a scientifically invalid meme to the ears of the kids and the public; these deliberately spread lies are designed to actively prevent people from understanding how these phenomena actually work according to science.

BTW to a person who understands that the Earth is rather large, it shouldn't be surprising that the energy flows related to the whole Earth are equivalent to many Hiroshimas per second. Hiroshima released 12-14 kilotons of TNT which is \((5\times 6)\times 10^{13}\) joules. The 130 trillion squared meters of the Earth's cross section multiplied by 1,300 watts per squared meter from the Sun gives you \(1.7\times 10^{17}\) joules per second which is about 3,000 Hiroshimas per second. That's the energy we're receiving from the Sun. So of course that even a small fraction of it manifested as an imbalance easily gives you several Hiroshimas per second. The Hiroshima blast was impressive but it was no global event when it comes to its actual physical impact; it was an important event in a circle of radius 5 miles which is very, very small relatively to the Earth's radius.

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