Science Shows Why Cows Don’t Cause Global Warming
A rancher waited patiently at the recent Schachter Energy Conference in Calgary, Canada, while I spoke to a businesswoman about why methane was not the dangerous greenhouse gas that Canada’s government says it is.
She wasn’t buying my argument and left without buying my book.
Having overheard my unsuccessful pitch, the rancher suggested that I watch this video by Dr. Thomas Sheahen based on this presentation.
He’s concerned because Canada is signaling it will follow the Netherlands and Sri Lanka in significantly reducing both methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from agriculture.
As his cattle feed on crops grown with nitrogen-based fertilizer (the fertilizer produces N2O and then produces CH4 in their digestive tracts), the rancher’s livelihood is threatened by the proposed new regulations.
He asked me to get back to him with a layman’s explanation of Dr. Sheahen’s message so he could share it with his ranching community. He then bought a copy of my book, and now I’m getting back to him.
This changes everything.
Dr. Sheahen’s video is a scientist-to-scientist summary of a paper written by two eminent physicists, Dr. W. A. van Wijngaarden and Dr. W. Happer.
They determined that the current greenhouse-gas effect of methane and nitrous oxide is negligible, and still would be even if there were many more multiples of them in the atmosphere.
Their calculations are confirmed by data observed from satellites, which makes their equations compliant with the scientific method.
Wijngaarden and Happer’s calculations and method are in stark contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Government of Canada’s claims that methane and nitrous oxide are significant contributors to global warming.
What Wijngaarden And Happer Did
Wijngaarden and Happer developed the mathematics to accurately calculate the greenhouse-gas effect for the five most important greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide.
The paper was written by PhDs in physics for PhDs in physics, and most of the 59 pages of content consist of complicated calculus that can be followed and understood only by an elite few (I’m not one of them, and I would like to thank Mark Ramsay, P. E., for his valuable insights and clarifications).
But we don’t have to understand the equations to understand the concept they describe, because the proof is that physical observations support their results.
Wijngaarden and Happer knew from previously established science that the Earth absorbs short-wavelength radiation from the sun and releases it as longwave infrared radiation, i.e., heat energy.
They also knew how much of each wavelength of infrared radiation is released, and how that differs around the planet.
They cited the Sahara, with lots of infrared radiation released over the hot landscape and very little humidity; the Mediterranean with less radiation given off over warm water and high humidity; and Antarctica, which has little infrared radiation released over ice.
Satellite measurements show how much of each wavelength of infrared radiation generated by each region escapes the Earth’s atmosphere into space. The overall difference between the Earth’s heat radiation and what escapes into space is what is absorbed by greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and that’s called the greenhouse-gas effect.
It’s what makes the surface of the Earth warmer (plus 15°C) than the surface of the moon (minus 19°C).
The Wijngaarden and Happer calculations predicted with remarkable accuracy the infrared radiation absorption for each of the five greenhouse gases over the Sahara, the Mediterranean, and Antarctica. It almost perfectly matched the observed satellite data.
This is extremely important because matching a computational model to observed data is how the scientific method works. The satellite data verify the computational model.
The IPCC models, and there are over a hundred of them, fail to do that. They consistently forecast higher global warming compared to physically observed temperatures over time.
What it Means
In the current mixture of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, water makes up most of the greenhouse-gas effect, carbon dioxide is the second largest at about 25%, and all the other gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, are insignificant.
[Note to reader: Often water is quoted as a much higher contributor to the greenhouse-gas effect. That’s because the subject calculations and satellite measurements were done in a clear-sky situation. In a separate
lecture, Dr. Happer confirms that when clouds (which largely consist of water molecules attached to aerosol particles) are added the water contribution is 90 to 95 percent of the total greenhouse-gas effect.]
The IPCC would like you to ignore water vapor and think that if carbon dioxide was a garden hose feeding global warming, then methane and nitrous oxide would each be a fire hose.
The reality is that when it comes to the greenhouse-gas effect, if carbon dioxide is a garden hose, then methane and nitrous oxide are each a dripping tap, and water vapor is a fire hose.
Winjgaarden and Happer acknowledge that methane is 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, similar to the IPCC stance of 25 times as powerful.
But that is on a per-molecule basis, and there aren’t a lot of methane molecules in the atmosphere to contribute meaningfully to global warming.
They also calculated how much of an increase in the greenhouse gas effect there would be if the concentration of each gas were doubled:
Doubling each of the current concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide increases each of the greenhouse gas effects by only a few percent.
In a lecture on the same paper, Winjgaarden gave a range of what doubling the greenhouse gas effect for carbon dioxide and methane means in terms of increased surface temperature.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently about 410 parts per million, and is increasing at a rate of 2.3 parts per million each year; it will take 180 years to double.
Using the clear-sky calculations this should equate to a ground temperature increase of between 1.4°C and 2.3°C, depending on how humidity changes. The midpoint is 1.8°C over 180 years, resulting in a warming trend of 0.1°C per decade.
[Note to reader: This matches Dr. Roy Spencer’s satellite-based warming trend of the last four decades of 0.1C per decade.]
The concentration of methane in the atmosphere is currently about 1.8 parts per million and is increasing from all natural and human sources at a rate of 0.0076 parts per million each year. It will take 240 years to double.
For every new molecule of methane going into the air, there are 300 molecules of new carbon dioxide emissions, but the methane molecule is 30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.
That means when the amount of methane is doubled, it will produce only one-tenth (30/300) of the global warming that occurs when carbon dioxide is doubled. This amounts to 0.18°C over 240 years or 0.008°C per decade.
Adding the 30 times more powerful methane molecule to the atmosphere but at 1/300th the rate of carbon dioxide results in a ground-level warming trend of only 8% of that caused by carbon dioxide. And carbon dioxide would take one century to raise global temperatures by 1°C.
It would take methane well over 1,000 years to warm the planet by 1°C, longer if we happen to have clouds.
In a subsequent paper, Happer and Winjgaarden released comparable numbers for nitrous oxide. N2O is 230 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (that is also the IPCC and media-scare headlines).
It is currently at an atmospheric concentration of 0.34 parts per million and increasing by 0.00085 parts per million each year. It will take 400 years to double, resulting in a warming trend of 0.006°C per decade.
It would take nitrous oxide well over 1,500 years to warm the planet by 1°C; that’s the number the media doesn’t tell you. It would take even longer if we happened to have clouds.
To The Rancher Near Calgary (Or Anywhere)
You don’t have to understand the math to accept the results when independent observations verify the mathematical model. Unlike the IPCC models, the calculations are compliant with the scientific method.
The layman can feel comfortable accepting the message of Dr. Sheahen’s video—that the greenhouse gas effect of methane and nitrous oxide is negligible—because satellite data confirms that.
This changes everything: Cows don’t cause global warming. Neither does nitrogen-based fertilizer.
The complete Climate Change Dispatch article, authored by Ron Barmby and originally published November 25, 2022, can be accessed here.
Ron Barmby (www.ronaldbarmby.ca) is a Professional Engineer with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, whose 40+ year career in the energy sector has taken him to over 40 countries on five continents. His book, Sunlight on Climate Change: A Heretic’s Guide to Global Climate Hysteria (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), explains in layman’s terms the science of how natural and human-caused global warming work.