The Crusade Against Carbon Dioxide is Wrong

Aug. 20, 2009

Chemical Processing reader Gerry McDonald, a retired petrochemical engineer, sent us an article on carbon dioxide. Gerry granted permission to post his entire article as submitted. The article appears below:

Chemical Processing reader Gerry McDonald, a retired petrochemical engineer, sent us an article on carbon dioxide. Gerry granted permission to post his entire article as submitted. The article appears below:

Global warming is real.  Retreating glaciers, shrinking ice caps and the melting Arctic Ocean leave no doubt. But the phenomenon is poorly understood and politicians and scientists have rushed to questionable conclusions.

It is widely, but erroneously, believed that the "Greenhouse Effect," is caused by the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that Global Warming can be reduced by removing CO2. That belief is wrong, and its pursuit is a serious waste of financial and political resources.

The principal cause of Global Warming is "Thermal Pollution."
When we drive our car and consume one gallon of gasoline, 113,400 Btu (The engineers' unit of energy) is released. 70% of that energy is dissipated directly to the atmosphere through the radiator and exhaust pipe (we all know how hot those get!). The remaining 30% drives the wheels but all of that 30%, in the end, is also dissipated as heat through braking and friction. The same principle applies to airplanes, power plants, factories, even lighting our homes.  Every single Btu or calorie that is released from any source ends up causing Thermal Pollution that heats up our globe.  But is that amount of heat enough to cause global warming ?

The answer is a resounding YES:

• Every day we burn fossil fuels equivalent to more than 230 million barrels of oil, which release over 500 "Quads" of heat (Quadrillion Btu per year.)
• The weight and heat capacity of the earth's crust, atmosphere and oceans, which are affected by this release of heat, are well known.
• By applying basic physics we find that 500 Quads will cause a temperature increase of 1.6 F° per century - very close to the 1 to 2 °F of global warming actually observed by climatologists.

Global warming is explained by Thermal Pollution without invoking questionable arguments about CO2.

(You can e-mail me for the full calculation: [email protected]. It could be noted that the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration predicted by the Thermal Pollution calculation also corresponds closely to that actually observed every winter.)

The Greenhouse Effect

The publication "Real Climate" states that water vapor causes 66%-85% of the effect and the American Meteorological Society concurs: "water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas accounting for 60% of the total".   Water vapor is the dominant cause yet we see no campaign to remove the clouds or dehumidify the atmosphere. Why are we barking up the wrong tree?

It is claimed that the apparent correlation between the increased atmospheric CO2 and the increased global warming demonstrates cause and effect.  That is not the case.  These are independent effects of Thermal Pollution and would be expected to correlate.   The baseball season begins in the spring and birds nest in the spring but it can hardly be argued that birds nest because the baseball season starts.

Much of the support for the Greenhouse Effect is based on sophisticated mathematical weather models that have not been very accurate in predicting weather one month ahead, let alone one century.  Eminent experts (Nigel Thomas: "An Appeal to Reason", Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King: "The Hot Topic", Bjorn Lomborg: "The Skeptical Environmentalist".) and others have noted "flawed arguments" and the need to "tweak" the data to produce the desired results. One author talks of "computerized storytelling". Mathematical models, that have to be "tweaked", are highly suspect (Our current global economic problems are probably due to "tweaked" models.) 

Our natural senses give clear evidence of the greenhouse effect due to water vapor. After a hot day we can enjoy a cool clear night with brilliant stars when the absence of water vapor in the dry air permits the earth to radiate heat back into space.  Daytime in tropical deserts with blistering heat is often followed by chilly, even cold, nights when the dry air permits radiation of heat back into space. Nature does not provide similar evidence of greenhouse effect due to CO2.

Water vapor, humidity, is a greater polluter than carbon dioxide.  Global warming due to water vapor is progressive since an increasing temperature increases the water vapor in the atmosphere and causes more warming – positive feed-back.

The Kyoto Accord

The Kyoto accord is an attempt to reduce global warming by curtailing CO2 emissions and reducing the greenhouse effect.  While the Accord's intentions are good they will have little effect. Lomborg, after extensive analyses, shows that world wide implementation of the Kyoto restriction will reduce global gross product by as much as $350 Billion per year and is predicted to lower global temperature by only 1°F in 2100.  This is a waste of global resources that could be applied to improving our world's health, education, and living standards.

Congress has already passed "Cap and Trade" program, whereby emitters purchase pollution entitlements.  This program will not reduce CO2 emissions - merely redistribute them.  The only beneficiaries will be the promoters, entrepreneurs, and traders who will establish a market for trading entitlements and the resulting derivatives.  Gas-fired utilities will enjoy windfalls of millions of dollars of unearned income by selling pollution entitlements. The cost of such programs will fall on every citizen in increased cost of electricity, gasoline and every other commodity and will produce little or no environmental benefit.


There are practical solutions.  Global Warming is principally caused by Thermal Pollution from the burning of fuels.  Burn less and there will be less global warming – and we can easily burn less.  The U.S. releases about 93 Quads of Thermal Pollution each year and globally the figure is 460 Quads. This can be reduced by the use of more efficient autos, trucks, power plants supplemented by solar and wind energy and other "green" sources. The technology is already available and our prolific inefficient use of energy provides abundant further opportunities.

A gasoline engine is about 23% efficient but a modern diesel engine can be over 45% efficient and therefore produces about half of the Thermal Pollution of a gasoline engine, while yielding twice the miles per gallon.  Enforcement of a mandate that all passenger cars produced after 2010 yield 45 mpg (as attained by full-sized diesel-hybrids) would do more for the global environment than the Kyoto proposals.  Thermal Pollution in the U.S. would be reduced by at least 8 Quads (~10%) by this single action. Redesigning our automobile fleet, and related activities will revitalize the industry and put thousands back to work – probably the best application of stimulus funds. Transitioning oil refining from gasoline based to diesel based will provide further employment.

50% of the fuel burned in the U.S. is for electric power generation.  Modern gas-fired combined cycle plants operate at close to 60% thermal efficiency while older plants operate in the 30% to 35% class. Conversion of coal plants to gasification processes could double efficiency and half Thermal Pollution.  Enhanced efficiency plus contributions from wind and solar sources can reduce Thermal Pollution from power generation by 15 Quads (~16%).

Proponents of the CO2 greenhouse effect do not have to abandon their devotion to reducing CO2 emissions since increased efficiency of any form of energy conversion will effectively reduce both CO2 emissions and Thermal Pollution. The Mauna Loa observations show CO2 levels increasing by 5ppm every northern hemisphere winter and decreasing by 4ppm every northern summer due to photosynthesis in the heavily vegetated northern land masses,  To maintain the present CO2 levels we need to lower CO2 by only 1 ppm per year – easily attained by conservation.


Our nation, and the globe, is in a severe economic depression.  In the U.S. our foreign trade deficit is about minus $675 Billion per year.  Of that over half of that deficit is due to the purchase of 5.0 Billion barrels of crude oil per year costing, at $60/bbl, over $300 Billion.  Increasing the efficiencies of our cars would reduce crude oil imports by almost 2 Billion barrels per year and reduce the outflow of U.S. dollars by $120 Billion per year and our foreign debt by the same amount.  The very threat of a reduction in U.S. purchases of oil will depress the price of oil and further increase the benefit.  The whole world will gain.

Efficiency is not merely a desirable virtue.  It is a necessary and sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.  Opportunities for conservation abound and all pay handsome dividends.  Such projects can generate jobs now and yield economic benefits for the future

Our Nation's Credibility can be Restored

There is a foreign policy implication.  Our nation has been ostracized for having refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord for the good reason that it unfairly penalizes the U.S. and its people. Part of that treaty and its requirements are based on the false assumption that CO2 is the principal cause of global warming. If the United States would enthusiastically embrace the concepts of Thermal Pollution and Enhanced Efficiency we would have a scientific, non-political, basis for modifying Kyoto and an opportunity to present realistic alternative, solutions and targets.  These would benefit both environmentally and economically, the developed and the developing nations. Instead of standing aloof from the global community the U.S. could regain its credibility as a world leader.

We should boldly abandon our belief that CO2 is the principal cause of the Global Warming and initiate a program to reduce Thermal Pollution by more efficient utilization of global resources.  The forthcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen will presents the U.S. with an opportunity to take the lead in the second (2012 to 2016) Kyoto period and recover our nation's credibility and prestige.

Gerry McDonald

Gerry McDonald is a retired petrochemical engineer with 50 years' experience in energy management. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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