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Thermal Pollution – The Real Cause of Global Warming

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Global Warming

Is Global Warming Real

Global warming is very real – retreating glaciers, shrinking ice caps, expanding deserts and changed animal migration provide undeniable visible natural confirmation of peer reviewed statistical analyses.

The most disturbing and irrefutable evidence is the 50% reduction in Arctic Ocean Ice coverage observed by satellites during the last 20 years.  The chart underestimates the global effect because the ice thickness has also decreased by 50% – the reduction is three dimensional. In 1845 the Franklin expedition lost two well-equipped ships, and their crews, in an attempt to force the Northwest Passage. But, in 2007 Canada opened the passage to commercial shipping and amateur yachtsmen have cruised through. Prestigious Cambridge Professor Wadams has predicted the possible complete disappearance of the Arctic Ice cap by the summer of 2016.

The shrinking ice cap provides positive feed-back since snow reflects 80% of solar heat whereas open water absorbs 90% of that energy.  The shrinkage can therefore be expected to continue and to accelerate. The effect is global because the latent heat of fusion of ice to water has a moderating impact on global warming. Things are going to get worse !

Arctic Ice Coverage has decreased by 50% since 1995.

The Greenhouse Effect

It is widely 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. The “Hockey Stick” graphs have been presented to support this hypothesis:

Hockey Stick Charts” have similarities

Atmospheric CO2 concentration increased from 300 ppm to 400 ppm during the last 100 years and the average global temperature has increased at a rate of 1.0 C° to over 2.0 C° during that century. But these two facts do not establish cause and effect. We have searched in vain for scientific proof.

The CO2 hypothesis is based upon the absorption of heat energy by atmospheric CO2. Selective absorption is a familiar process. In a traffic light an incandescent light source emits white light in a broad spectrum of wavelengths.  That white light passes through red glass where energy with wavelengths associated with green are filtered out and the eye sees the residual red light. The absorbed green light is converted to heat energy and the red lens becomes hotter. The CO2 hypothesis is based upon CO2 in the atmosphere absorbing and capturing infra-red radiation with a wavelength of 10 µm as did that red filter.

The Greenhouse Effect is real and is mostly due to the 4,000 to 40,000 ppm blanket of atmospheric water vapor and clouds surrounding the earth. Without this blanket the average global temperature would have stabilized at about -18°C rather than at 15°C and our planet would not sustain life as we know it. Again our natural senses confirm the humidity effect:  A 120°F day in a desert is often followed by a chilly cloudless night. But, at the coast, when a blanket of tropic cloud cover traps the heat, the nighttime temperature can often hover over 100°F. The CO2 concentration everywhere is 400 ppm and appears to be irrelevant.

The earth absorbs broad spectrum solar energy that warms the earth’s crust to a global average of ~15°C at which temperature, Weils’s law tells us that heat is radiated at a wave length of ~10 micron; which Max Planck teaches is a ~3 µm  to ~30 µm  band of radiation centered around 10 µm as illustrated in the figure.

Global Radiation peaks at a wavelength of 10 micron.

Spectroscopic studies indicate that atmospheric transmittance between 7µm  and 15 µm in the infra red is about 80%:   In fact the “Longwave Window”   ( 8 – 12 µm) is said to enable Earth to “vent off” excess energy back to space.    Some heat radiation will be absorbed by the narrow CO2 absorption lines at 14.99 µm and 4.26 µm.  This Longwave Window might be analogous to the Antarctic Ozone Hole which was brought under control by some shrewd science and unusually intelligent international cooperation which benefited all mankind.

The Longwave Window permits 10 µm global radiation to escape.

It appears that the majority of the 10µm Global Radiation can escape into space and is not captured by CO2 absorption.

Capturing and Sequestering CO2

There is a popular belief that capturing CO2 from exhaust gases and sequestering the gas in underground cavities will offset global warming. Global fuel consumption is 1.4 billion kg/hr and produces 4.0 billion kg/hr of CO2 which, even after compression into underground storage at 300 times atmospheric pressure, is still 5 times the volume of the original fuel. Capture and sequestering is clearly impractical.  Even if all the produced and natural cavities could be used capture and sequestering CO2will have a negligible effect on the concentration of atmospheric CO2. In fact natural processes almost control the increase. The Keeling curve shows that the CO2  concentration increases 7 ppm during the northern winter but is lowered by 5 ppm by increased photosynthesis during the northern summer. So our environment is close to balanced.

Carbon dioxide is still a valuable commodity. When extracted from unusual natural gases containing a high concentration of CO2 and used to re-pressure producing oil fields the result is superior to injecting raw natural gas.  But applications are limited by availability and location. More importantly CO2 is essential to photosynthesis the process that is the original source of all global foodstuffs. The 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 since 1800, together with improved agricultural practices, has contributed to feeding the rapidly increasing global population. It is fortunate that the beneficial effect of increased CO2 concentration on photosynthesis is linear while the supposed effect on global warming is logarithmic and therefore much less. Maybe we should promote increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration.

But if CO2 is not the principal cause of global warming what is?

Thermal Pollution

Changes in the earth’s orbit, axis orientation, geothermal heat, volcanic activity, moon induced tides and other natural occurrences have cycled and endured for eons and will continue to do so. The hockey stick graphs shows that global warming we are observing is a recent phenomenon with a current cause. However the chart suggests a possible correlation.

The combustion of fossil fuels before 1750 was limited to burning wood in stoves and coal in blacksmith shops. But Watt improved the steam engine and from 1700 to 1900 there was an increase in heat release during the “steam age”. In 1900 the “internal combustion age” took off and heat release increased exponentially. The chart suggests a possible relationship.

Again our everyday natural experiences may provide the answer. When our car burns a gallon of gasoline the energy from burning that fuel produces acceleration, numerous starts and stops, overcomes road and wind resistance; and finally dissipates energy to the atmosphere as the car brakes to a stop while 75% of the energy is continuously dissipated as heat through the hot tailpipe and the radiator. All of the 115,000 Btu heat of combustion in that gallon of gasoline is dissipated to the atmosphere and contributes to global warming – 100%. The same applies to practically every energy conversion process: heating, air conditioning, washing, drying, trucks, trains, TVs, cruise liners, and power plants. The prominent cooling towers which distinguish nuclear power plants visibly belch twice as much heat into to the atmosphere as is usefully exported as electricity to the grid. That produced electric power, when used, is ultimately dissipated to the atmosphere through electric motors, lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and household appliances. All of the energy released on earth contributes to global warming. It is “Thermal Pollution”.

The major oil companies maintain and publish excellent records of the total amount of energy they and their competitors produce and sell worldwide. In 2011 the annual global energy release to the atmosphere was 16.55 million MegaWatts (14.2 quadrillion calories per hour). All that heat is ultimately dissipated into our atmosphere as Thermal Pollution. Nature conserves energy.

With a well considered and defensible calculation of the heat capacity of the earth’s crust, atmosphere, and oceans, we find that Thermal Pollution will cause global warming of ~ 0.5°C (0.9°F) per century – amazingly close to the range of global warming rates currently calculated by informed climatologists.[1]

No energy conversion process is 100% efficient. Conventional autos have a thermal efficiency of about 25%. A modern gas-fired dual cycle power plant is very efficient and converts 60% of the fuel energy to useful electrical energy. Classical nuclear power plants, which are constrained by safety considerations to low operating temperatures and inefficient operating pressures, convert only about 30% of the nuclear energy to useful electricity and dissipate 70% to global warming. (Pebble reactors, under development, are claimed to potentially attain higher efficiency.)

Thermal Efficiency is defined as the percent of source power converted to a beneficial use. The Thermal Pollution Index (TPI) is the percent of source power dissipated to global warming: TPI = 100 – Efficiency when both are expressed as a percentage.

Energy conversion process can be compared:

Common Energy Conversion processes have very different Thermal Pollution Indices:



Thermal Efficiency


Home heating

Natural Gas




 Electric Power



Natural Gas



            Dual Cycle

Natural Gas














Current technology




      “           “




      “           “




Electric + Battery




     ”             “




It is sobering to observe that nuclear power with a TPI of 68% is one of the worst thermal polluters and releases twice as much heat to global warming than is exported to the grid as electric power.

Home heating by natural gas is the most environmental friendly application because most of the heat is directly captured by the house. But, even that can be improved by better insulation. Not surprisingly a gasoline car dissipates 75% of fuel energy to global warming though future improvement is certainly probable. An electric vehicle refueled from a solar panel or wind turbine has an excellent TPI of 25% but if the source is a nuclear power plant then the overall TPI is burdened by the nuclear plant and may be 76%,  as low as a conventional gasoline vehicle.

We must refocus our campaign to solve global warming away from the fruitless pursuit of CO2 and towards increased energy efficiency.

CO2 capture and sequestering has no economic merit. The process demands truly astronomical capital investment and incurs heavy operating costs, which utility companies can pass through to consumers. Inevitably everyone’s power bill will increase. The process offers little or no prospect of improving our environment, and being uneconomic, must harm global economy.

Conservation through the many options available will arrest the increase in global warming and will benefit the national and personal economy.

A “National Energy Program” directed toward increased efficiencies could provide an economic stimulus with a real pay-back and provide thousands of jobs for tradesmen, skilled technicians, engineers, scientists and other professionals.  The United States burns over 2,000 million tonnes per year of fuels producing 2.3 trillion kcalories per hour of heat which is the direct cause of global warming. A 10% improvement in efficiency will reduce U.S. energy payments deficit by over 30%. Everyone will personally benefit by a reduction of $500 per year in lowered gasoline and fuel bills.

Now is the time to stop chasing the false science behind CO2 reduction strategies and control global warming by reducing Thermal Pollution.

Pouring excess heat into the atmosphere is comparable to pouring sewage into a pristine river but the damage is cumulative and global.

[1] Calculation, in Excel, available on request from:
This article is written by G. W. G. McDonald.




One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Aaron Davis

    I’m sorry that this analysis did not get wider recognition. The analysis is good but the conclusion might be improved. Except for home heating and super-critical coal high CO2 sources are also most heat polluting. So, going after coal and fossil fuels is not a bad strategy. Our policy should also go after nuclear for other reasons as well, so I don’t know why this is being ignored. Just the nuclear energy operating in the US would save 30 square miles of Greenland Ice.

    But the thing I’d like you to write about is the potential for using excess solar power to concentrate heat in areas where it could efficiently be radiated into space rather than melt polar ice Reducing energy consumption would not be necessary if we could build effective global radiators that got the heat off the planet. The International Space Stations does a good job of generating all the energy they need while at the same time radiating as much surplus energy as needed to keep people comfortable. It’s about the massive dual mode radiators on board that are the second most conspicuous feature after the solar panels. Using the fact that radiation energy goes up as the 4th power of temperature, compressing air in pipes over vast areas of high desert should make earth a much more comfortable space craft as well.