Carbon Taxes “No Scientific Basis” as IR Thermometer Makers Debunk Radiation Claims

Some climatologists still wrongly say that any hand held IR thermometer will prove global warming back radiation heating. But as we see below, real world experts from both thermometer manufacturing and the ‘hard’ sciences (better skilled in the laws of thermodynamics) have proved this  claim wrong.

Handheld Infrared Thermometer courtesy:

Handheld Infrared Thermometer courtesy:

To lay readers, please be assured, this is not some arcane scientific dispute of no great significance to you and your family. It is a fundamental paradigm shift – the collapse of the greenhouse gas theory (GHE) –  the very “science” that underpins man-made global warming and global carbon taxation policies. Recent progress in these matters is in no small part due to a few climate scientists with the gumption to come out and debate. Kudos to them for that despite wagon-circling by their colleagues and the public opprobrium witnessed since the Climategate fiasco.

As such, an important discussion on the supposed greenhouse gas theory has ensued. Top climate experts, Roy Spencer and Judith Curry came out to cross swords with skeptical experts at Principia Scientific International aiming to slay that GHE “sky dragon.” At issue were claims about whether trace gases like carbon dioxide can cause infrared radiation to “back radiate” and add/delay heat at the Earth’s surface making our planet “33 degrees warmer than it would otherwise be.”

As was demonstrated in my prior article, the “33 degrees” claim is well and truly refuted. PSI analysis found that this number is the product of a botched 1981 equation by NASA’s James Hansen who fatally mixed a scalar temperature value with a vector temperature value. Nonetheless, GHE diehard Roy Spencer  has followed the lead set in 1990 by his colleague, Dr Richard Lindzen.  Spencer claims Hansen’s number fudge offers a “real-world observed “radiative-convective equilibrium” case.”

But this article isn’t about Spencer and Lindzen being duped by Hansen’s dodgy doings. It’s about the very concept that the supposed greenhouse gas effect can “back radiate” heat to our planet’s surface. And to Spencer’s credit he boldly faced up to my colleague, Dr. Pierre Latour, an industry expert in thermodynamics, to test claims for and against this assertion. Their private email debate is published online and it’s not good reading for Spencer fans.

To affirm Latour’s victory colleagues at Principia Scientific International (PSI) contacted the world’s leading manufacturer of hand held IR thermometers, Mikron Instrument Company Inc., for confirmation of Spencer’s  misunderstandings that IRT’s prove CO2 and GHE warming. Sure enough Mikron affirmed that IRT’s are set “to evade atmospheric moisture over long path measurements.” This, they say, is necessary to “avoid interference from CO2 and H2O.”  [1] Sadly for Roy, these thermometers therefore aren’t even measuring the gases he claims they are!

Thus, from the “horse’s mouth” the hand held thermometer gambit is well and truly busted.  Professor Claes Johnson thereafter also persuaded Dr. Curry to abandon “back radiation.” But unlike Curry, Spencer  did not renounce his “back radiation adds more heat” claims. So Latour pressed home the point to explain to Spencer:

“My radio antenna detects and absorbs cold radio waves but it does not re-emit them with higher intensity than it intercepted them. My 1200 w microwave oven heats coffee to boiling; when I turn it off the boiling stops abruptly, within a few seconds. I suppose coffee re-emits some intense (hot) microwaves converted to IR for a while. I think the IR rate drops very quickly when the oven stops and equalizes with my kitchen IR as I drink it. I am not able to determine how long the coffee continues to radiate above background T.

I accept radiation detector surfaces need not be colder than the incident radiation to detect and measure cold radiation. My eyes see ice. My eyes do not re-radiate ice light. Penzias & Wilson detected CMBR = 3.7 K in 1964 with a radio telescope in a warmer NJ. Radio telescopes do not re-radiate CMBR. I suppose warm IR thermometers can indeed measure radiating temperature of colder refrigerators, without absorbing refrigerator radiation and warming further. What does that have to do with whether warm radiators get warmer from cold re-radiation?”

In short, Latour and other PSI researchers argue climatologists need to drop the unphysical term “back-radiation” and more correctly explain that what they mean is “downward” radiation. But  that does not per se add to, or delay heat transport. Any such downward radiation can be composed of two or more sources; remember the atmosphere is heated up also by solar radiation. The air absorbs 14% of solar radiation before it touches the surface. Oxygen, water vapor, and dust are the components of the air that absorb directly part of the incoming solar radiation.

As Latour said to Spencer,

“We cannot count the whole percentage of solar energy absorbed by the atmosphere as energy emitted towards the surface as a warm wrapper because it is dispersed immediately to winds, in the form of kinetic energy, to space like thermal radiation, and to other systems like unusable potential energy. However, the main reason other systems do not absorb thermal radiation from the atmosphere is that the wavelength of the emitted electromagnetic energy does not correspond to thermal energy, i.e. it cannot be transferred as heat to other systems, because of redshift. Downward radiation exists, but it cannot warm up systems that are warmer than the air.”

In summary, we find that climate scientists are proven to have grossly erred in perpetuating the myths about the so-called greenhouse gas theory. They were misguided to seek to prioritize their version of radiative transfer theory at the expense of real, complex physics. The delusion over “back radiation” heating is shown to be just another example of how that infant branch of science blew a fuse in seeking to short-circuit Earth’s entire atmosphere to fit the nonsensical greenhouse gas hypothesis.

Until more climate researchers come out of their ivory towers and consult with industry experts better grounded in the hard sciences, then climatology will be condemned as a second rate discipline. But more pointedly for you and me, any “green” taxes based on limiting carbon emissions are now  shown to have a very dodgy scientific basis.

[1] [1.] Mikron Instrument Company Inc., ‘Infrared Temperature Measurement Theory and Application,’, (accessed online: September 20, 2011).


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6 responses to “Carbon Taxes “No Scientific Basis” as IR Thermometer Makers Debunk Radiation Claims

  1. Pingback: Infrared Thermometer Manufacturer Debunks Back Radiation Heating « Skeptics Chillin'

  2. Edmonton Al

    I like it. I have NEVER liked the GHE and all the energy budget cartoons.
    I hope that this get accepted real soon. But that is probably wishful thinking.

  3. Leonard Weinstein

    I am a strong skeptic of CAGW and a ScD in Aerospace Engineering with a strong optics and thermodynamics background. Spencer is basically correct, and you are basically wrong that CO2 (and water vapor and other gases, and also water droplets and aerosols) does not back radiate and thus slow energy removal from the surface, thus causing an increase in equilibrium temperature. It matters not if the atmosphere directly absorbs solar energy (aerosols, water droplets, and even some gases), or if the surface absorbs the solar energy and radiates at longer wavelength, if there is any significant absorption of radiation energy at the ground, the ground will be warmer than it would be if the atmosphere were totally transparent to thermal wavelengths, and this can be called a greenhouse gas effect (although it is not in anyway related to how greenhouses heat up). The amount of back radiation is not a simple function of the greenhouse effect due to the mixture of energy transport mechanisms (conduction, convection, radiation directly to space , and radiation intercepted and absorbed by the various absorbing media). There is also some long wave radiation from the atmosphere to the ground.

    • johnosullivan

      Thanks for stopping by. I’d be more inclined to believe what you say if you could cite me references from a reputable textbook on thermodynamics that affirms the term “back radiation” and that it can cause molecules in the atmosphere to get more than one go at imparting heat at the surface. Sadly for your position I can call on many experts who hold PhD’s in fields demanding high caliber expertize in thermo and none can affirm the “back radiation” concept of heating you propose here.
      Indeed, respected climatologist, Dr Judith Curry, after debating the issue with my colleague, Dr. Claes Johnson, has abandoned the “back radiation” argument. What say you to that?

  4. To me it is true that back radiation from GHGs exists and can be absorbed at the Earth’s surface. Back radiation from non GHGs (e.g. O2, N2 etc..) also exists and this can also be absorbed at the Earth’s surface (and in both cases converted to thermal energy).

    The point is that forward radiation (i.e. into space) from all gases also exists.but that from GHGs is much greater (in any direction) than that from non GHGs. Remove GHGs from the atmosphere and the outgoing radiation budget from the planet falls drastically and the Earth’s surface warms until the thermally radiating non GHGs and approximately black body surface of the Earth can make up the difference. Their radiative outputs are temperature dependent.

    We see now that GHGs cool the planet and back radiation is just a measure of the inefficiency of the Earth’s cooling GHG radiator.


    please see for a slightly fuller explanation with not an equation in sight.

    • johnosullivan

      That’s a bold assertion by you that “back radiation” exists and adds thermal energy at the Earth’s surface. That you boast your blog has “a slightly fuller explanation with not an equation in sight” doesn’t surprise me. That’s because you won’t find any such equations in any standard thermodynamics textbook for “back radiation” heating, the term itself doesn’t even exist. “Back radiation” as a concept was created by the UN’s IPCC in their literature a decade ago. Dr Judith Curry, herself once a staunch believer in all things global warming has now admitted publicly that it’s junk science. Get over it. But if you’d like to come back here and post some actual equations citing the textbooks where you found them we’d all be delighted to check them over.

      Unlike you, my colleagues apply the standard laws of thermo plus both the Maxwell relations and Onsager’s reciprocal relations in our detailed debunk of the GHE. If you’d care to try to refute them you can find them online here: under “publications.”


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