It’s been ten years since I addressed this issue in a specific blog post, so I thought it would be useful to revisit it. I mention it from time to time, but it is so important, it bears repeating and remembering.
Over and over again.
I continue to strive to simply these concepts, so here goes another try. What follows is as concise as I can make it.
- The temperature change in anything, including the climate system, is the result of an imbalance between the rates of energy gain and energy loss. This comes from the First Law of Thermodynamics. Basic stuff.
- Global warming is assumed to be due to the small (~1%) imbalance between absorbed sunlight and infrared energy lost to outer space averaged over the Earth caused by increasing atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuel burning.
- But we don’t know whether the climate system, without human influence, is in a natural state of energy balance anyway. We do not know the quantitative average amounts of absorbed sunlight and emitted infrared energy across the Earth, either observationally or from first physical principles, to the accuracy necessary to blame most recent warming on humans rather than nature. Current best estimates, based upon a variety of datasets, is around 239-240 Watts per sq. meter for these energy flows. But we really don’t know.