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Monday, June 24, 2013

Anthony Watts is a Scaredy Cat - and Wrong Too

Sou | 4:35 AM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

One thing I've noticed from Anthony Watts on his blog WUWT is the number of times he talks about being scared.  Monckton has done the same thing in the letter sent around ahead of his recent dismal tour of Australia.

More and more the literature shows that the conservative brain is ultra-sensitive to 'scared'.  Maybe that's why his brain doesn't work most of the time.

For example, today Anthony started off saying that the notion of Hiroshima bombs as used by John Cook and James Hansen is false.  He was writing about a talk given by John recently, in which he was quoted in The Australian saying "our planet has been building up heat at the rate of about four Hiroshima bombs every second".

He used the word "scare" or a variation eight times in his fairly short article.  Then Anthony wrote some sums and decided it was "only six tenths of a watt per square metre."  so "nothing to worry about".  We'll come back to that later.

John Cook didn't plagiarise James Hansen's idea

Anthony accuses John Cook of plagiarising James Hansen.  Hansen used the Hiroshima bomb analogy in a Ted talk in May 2012 that Anthony read about.  The thing is, if Anthony ever visited any science sites like, he'd know that John Cook has been measuring energy in terms of Hiroshima bombs (or Hiros) for a long time.  Back in March 2011, John republished this article by Mike Sandiford on  Professor Sandiford may have coined the term "Hiro".   This is well before the May 2012 Ted talk given by James Hansen that Anthony accuses John Cook of plagiarising.

I'm not about to go looking to see whether Mike Sandiford was the first to use the comparison.  I wouldn't be surprised if it was first used before then but perhaps the credit should go to Mike Sandiford.  Whatever, I bet Professor Sandiford wouldn't be as petty about the matter as is Anthony Watts.

Here is how Mike Sandiford presented it at The Conversation article with the headline: Our effect on the earth is real: how we're geo-engineering the planet.  (Mike Sandiford iDirector of the Melbourne Energy Institute and Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne.) Some extracts:

So how do we compare?

Our best estimates place human industrial emissions of sulfur dioxide and CO₂ at five and 100 times natural volcanic emissions, respectively...

...Anyone who has seen film of a volcano erupt or those horrific scenes of devastation from the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami can intuitively appreciate the immense energy involved in the natural processes that shape our planet as it vents heat stored deep within its interior.

The rate heat is released from the earth – a measure of its natural “metabolic rate” – is well understood. It’s about 44 trillion watts, and reflects the average rate of energy transferred in moving all the continents, making all the mountains, the earthquakes and the volcanoes on our planet in a process we call plate tectonics.

By way of contrast, the International Energy Agency estimates our human “energy system” operates at a rate of some 16 trillion watts.

So we are already operating at one-third the rate of plate tectonics, and with our energy use doubling every 34 years we are on course to surpass plate tectonics by about 2060.

Climate scientists talk about the climate sensitivity in terms of a “radiative forcing” – an obscure term that accounts for the rate of heat energy gain or loss due to a change in a climate parameter.

The radiative forcing of a doubling of CO₂ is about 1300 trillion watts – or 28 times the energy released by plate tectonics.

And we are well on the way to doubling CO₂. In the past hundred years we have added almost 40%, and warming that can only plausibly be attributed to a greenhouse effect is not only heating the atmosphere, but is also pumping heat into the oceans and the crust at a phenomenal rate.

When my students measure the temperature in boreholes across Australia they invariably see that almost as much heat is now going into the upper 30-50 metres of the Earth’s crust as is trying to get out – a result entirely consistent with the surface temperature rises measured by climate scientists.

Recent measurements suggest the oceans have been heating at 300 trillion watts over the last few decades.

The scale of our energy use is truly mind-boggling. In fact, the sheer size of these numbers makes it difficult for most people to grasp and comprehend their significance; few of us have any useful reference frame for comparison.

To put these numbers into a more human context we need a a new measure for our energy use. The “Hiro” is one. It is the equivalent to the energy released by detonating one Hiroshima “Little Boy” bomb every second. One Hiro equals 60 trillion watts.

In these terms, our human energy system operates at a rate of 0.25 Hiros, or one Hiroshima bomb every four seconds. That is the equivalent of more than eight million Hiroshima bombs going off each year.

And we are on a trajectory towards the one Hiro mark by 2100, equivalent to the energy release of one bomb each year for every five-square kilometre patch of land on the planet.

The ocean heating is at 5 Hiros over the last few decades – the energy equivalent of detonating more than a 150 million Hiroshima bombs in our oceans each year.

And the radiative forcing of the CO2 we have already put in the atmosphere in the last century is a staggering 13 Hiros. The equivalent in energy terms to almost half a billion Hiroshima bombs each year.

The world’s human population has grown so much and so fast – trebling in one century and still rising by more than 70 million a year – that it’s perhaps not surprising that the vast scale of our geological impact is yet to sink in.

But it should not be a surprise because the realisation is not new.

An old story retold

“Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the question whether man, by his prodigious combustion of coal … is producing more [carbon dioxide] than can be eliminated by ordinary natural processes. If this production is excessive, the result eventually may be an unwelcome change in his atmospheric surroundings."

One can imagine our shock jocks rolling their eyes at this quote, proclaiming yet more “warmist” propaganda as part of an organised climate science “swindle” hell bent on undermining the modern industrial world, or securing more government largesse.

But it only sounds like it might have been written in recent times because I have altered the wording to fit the modern context.

In reality, the author did not use “carbon dioxide”. Rather he used “carbonic acid”, a term in vogue generations ago, and a dead giveaway as to its ancestry.

And I bet our shock jocks would never guess it originates from one of the most celebrated geologists of his time.

The quote is from Arthur Woodward, “keeper of geology in the British Museum”, Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the Royal Linnean society.

Woodward’s comments appeared as preface to a classic geological text by Robert Sherlock – “Man as a geological agent” – published in 1923.

Intriguingly, Woodward’s quote followed with the suggestion that, “Man … may be approaching a stage when he should pause to consider whether his use and alteration of the crust of the earth itself are for future as well as for present advantage.”

Though he didn’t use the term, Woodward was probing the implication of man’s potential to “geo-engineer” the planet, almost 90 years ago.

You can read the complete article here at The Conversation.

Doing the sums

Back to Anthony briefly.  What he did I'm not really sure but I do know I got a different answer to him.  He worked out that four Hiro every four seconds equates to 0.6 watts/sq meter.

Okay I did the sums again and I get .4 watts/sq metre.  That's 0.4 joules every second every square metre.  In the same order of magnitude.

The reason for the difference between Sandiford and Cook I'm not sure about.  I think they are talking different things.  Anyway,  here on SkepticalScience it shows net heat increase was running at 0.73 ± 0.16 watts/sq m. for the period 2002-2008, and rising.

There's a nice visual of incoming and outgoing radiation on the NASA website.

Anthony gets everything wrong

So Anthony got everything wrong again.

Firstly he got it wrong about James Hansen being the first to use the Hiroshima bomb analogy, or at least that it was used on SkepticalScience the year before Hansens' TED talk.

No delete number two -- I'm not sure if he got the sums wrong at all.  I'll replace it with - four bombs a second equates to one bomb every four square km on earth each year!  Which does make you stop and think.  Most of the effect is going into the oceans, which will have its own consequences.

Thirdly, Wotts surmises that Anthony is looking at things all wrong anyway.  Which may well be right too.  I must admit that I couldn't figure out what Anthony was going on about with his 500 watts/day business.  When earth is in balance there is no net change.  It's zero.  But what we're doing is adding energy to the system and that will come at a big cost.

Finally - isn't he a scaredy cat.  Like most disinformers, he recognises that one of the reasons people deny is to quell cognitive dissonance arising when reality clashes with world view.  And he does his best to keep that old amygdala from exploding.


  1. I did the calculation and got 0.5 Wm^-2 as being equivalent to 4 Hiroshima bombs per second (essentially the same as Willis), so I think your error might be that its 4 Hiros per second not 1 Hiro every 4 seconds. Also, I'm not sure what you mean by kWatts per sq metre a day as kWatts already has time in it :-)

    I don't think there is anything wrong with Willis's calculation. The only thing that is wrong - IMO - is his interpretation of the significance of this number.

    1. Thanks, Wotts - I was correcting my post at the same time as you made your comment. You are (both) right, I was out in the spreadsheet mixing up my joules and watts :D

    2. I replaced it with another way of looking at it. One Hiroshima bomb every four square km every year. Makes you think, doesn't it.

    3. I imagined it would be something silly. Have done the same myself many times. One Hiroshima bomb every four square kilometres every year is also thought-provoking :-)

    4. If you read Balmaseda/Trenberths or Levitus' Ocean Heat Content chart, it indicates about 0.6 to 0.7 w/m^2 sinking into the ocean in recent years.

  2. Hiroshima bombs are often used as a comparison for the amount of energy in something. After the first of the Christchurch earthquakes, which I experienced, the media told us that this was equivalent to 67 Hiroshima bombs speeding into Christchurch. No-one died in the first large Earthquake. I think it just puts it into perspective for the public.

    1. You're right Rachel. I just looked up a few, for example:

      The meteor in Russia

      An Oklahoma tornado

      Another Oklahoma tornado comparison (at a quick glance it looks to be stating the opposite to the previous one)

      More earthquake and tsunami comparisons

      Makes Anthony Watts look a bit foolish (again :D).

    2. That first earthquake btw, was September 4th, 2010.


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