Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

18 May 2015

The Greenhouse Gas Hypothesis and Thermal Radiation -- A Critical Review

One of the keystone claims of the catastrophic man-made global warming hypothesis is that infra-red thermal radiation emitted from a cooler body and incident upon a warmer body is entirely absorbed by the warmer body.  They claim that both the warmer and the colder body emit photons with a power density proportional to T4.  What is more, the flux of photons emitted from a body due to its temperature is unchanged by the nearby presence of a body at a different temperature.  As long as each body is at a given temperature, each is sending out a flux of photons proportional to T4 just as though it were isolated in vacuum and surrounded by a space at a temperature of absolute zero, 0K.

At temperatures near 300K, they claim that both the warmer and the cooler bodies absorb all of these infra-red photons when they are incident upon a body.  Thus, the surface of the Earth absorbs all of the photons emitted by infra-red active gases (commonly called greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere, even though the emitting gas molecules are usually cooler than the surface of the Earth is.  The energy of these absorbed photons heats the Earth’s surface and makes it warmer than it otherwise would be.  In addition, the surface of the Earth emits photons as though it were interfaced with vacuum and as though it were in radiative equilibrium only, with no other energy transport mechanisms acting on it.  This claim is essential to the claim that an increasing concentration of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere will cause a catastrophic increase in the temperature of the Earth’s surface.

Let us take a look at the physics of thermal radiation to examine these claims.  This examination will call upon significant knowledge of mathematics, but the explanations are complete with little left as exercises for the reader.  We will use thermodynamics concepts mathematically and refer to qualitative concepts of electromagnetic radiation.

Let us examine an enclosure whose walls are at a constant temperature.  The radiation within this enclosure is in thermal equilibrium with the walls of the enclosure.  In such a case, the energy density of the radiation, e(T), is dependent on the temperature, but independent of the volume enclosed.  If the volume enclosed is V, then the total radiation energy, U, is Ve(T).  For our enclosure in which the thermal properties are described only in terms of the intensive variables T and P, the radiation pressure on the walls, and the extensive variables V and S, the entropy, we have a dU = T dS – P dV.  Or, T dS = dU + P dV.

The radiation pressure on the walls of the uniform temperature enclosure is equal to twice the momentum, p, component perpendicular to the wall of photons reflected off the wall times half the perpendicular velocity component, where the perpendicular velocity component tells us how many photons strike the wall per second and only half have a perpendicular velocity component toward the wall.  The pressure P for a photon gas exerted in the x-direction on area A of the wall will be summed over all i = 1 to N photons:

½ ∑ 2 pix vix /V = ⅓ U/V = ⅓ e,

U is just ∑ pix vix + piy viy + piz viz for photons, so for random motion, the summation over only one component is one-third of this sum.  Note that the radiation pressure on the wall does not require that one photon incident upon the wall be absorbed and another emitted.  One gets the same result with a photon reflecting off the wall without absorption just as one would calculate the pressure on a wall for a perfect gas under the assumption of elastic collisions with the wall.  Such a gas of point particles has a pressure of ⅔ e however, since the average kinetic energy of the perfect gas particles is ½ the dot product of the momentum and the velocity and not the dot product of the momentum and the velocity as is the case for photons.


T dS = dU + P dV = d(Ve) + P dV

= V de + e dV + ⅓ e dV

= V (de/dT) dT + (4/3) e dV

We also have

T dS = T (∂S/∂T)V dT + T (∂S/∂V)T dV,

So we match up the terms for dT and for dV:

(∂S/∂T)V = (V/T) de/dT

(∂S/∂V)T = 4e/3T

Since the order of differentiation does not matter, it is also the case that 

{∂[(∂S/∂T)V]/ ∂V}T = {∂[(∂S/∂V)T]/ ∂T}V

{∂[(V/T) de/dT]/ ∂V}T = {∂[4e/3T]/ ∂T}V

(1/T) de/dT = (4/3T) de/dT – 4e/3T2

de/dT = 4e/T

e = aT4

The equation for the radiation energy density is Stefan’s Law and a is Stefan’s constant.  If we open a peep hole into this cavity, the flux of energy emitted has this energy density of aT4, though an equal amount of energy has to then be supplied to the enclosure to maintain it at temperature T as it loses energy through the peep hole.  Within the cavity emitting this energy, we do not know if the photons incident upon the walls are absorbed and replaced with the emission of another of the same energy or whether those photons are simply reflected from the wall.  The above results are the same in either case.

When the cavity above is at a constant temperature Tf with the walls everywhere at that temperature, we know that the emission of photon power from the interior walls equals the absorption of photon power by the walls.  If the cavity was at an initial lower temperature Ti and then was heated until it came to a new higher equilibrium temperature of Tf, the emissivity of the walls had to be greater than the absorptivity of the walls during that heating process in order to increase the energy density in the cavity from aTi4 to aTf4.  Because the energy density depends on the fourth power of the temperature, a doubling of the temperature requires a factor of 16 times greater energy density.  The emissivity of the walls during such a heating process must be much greater than the absorptivity to allow that 16-fold photon energy density increase.  The emissivity and the absorptivity of the walls of the cavity are not just a function of the material.  They are a function of whether the material is in radiative thermal equilibrium or not as well.  It is very important to realize this.  When the cavity was at Ti in a radiative  equilibrium condition, the emissivity and the absorptivity were equal, but when the cavity was further heated to the new equilibrium temperature of Tf, they were not equal when Ti < T < Tf.  Conversely, during a cooling from a higher equilibrium temperature to a new cooler equilibrium temperature, the absorptivity of the walls would have to be greater than the emissivity of the walls.

Among the properties of the cavity with volume V in radiative thermal equilibrium at temperature T is that:

U = a V T4

P = ⅓ a T4

S = (4/3) a V T3

We can calculate the chemical potential, µ, which measures the ease with which the number n of moles of photons adjusts to keep the energy density constant in the cavity in radiative thermal equilibrium:

µn = U – ST + PV

µ = 0

Photons are a very special kind of boson.  When they are in radiative thermal equilibrium in a volume V at a constant temperature T, their chemical potential is zero.  The number of photons in the cavity is strictly determined by the temperature of the walls.

Applying Bose-Einstein statistics for a boson gas with a chemical potential of zero and integrating over the photon standing wave states available in the cavity in radiative thermal equilibrium, one finds that

a = π2 k4 / 15 ɦ3 c3,

where ɦ is Planck’s constant h/2π, k is the Boltzmann constant, and c is the speed of light.

The cavity I have discussed here is almost always called a black-body cavity, with the implication that every photon incident upon an interior wall is absorbed and replaced by another photon of equal energy.  This is usually said to be a condition in which the emissivity and the absorptivity of the walls of the cavity are both 1.  Yet, at no point was such a condition ever used in the derivation of any of the properties of a cavity of volume V under a condition of radiative equilibrium at temperature T.  The only requirement was that a photon incident upon a wall was either reflected or if it were absorbed, then it had to be replaced by another photon emitted from the wall at the same energy, which is easily done because the photons in the cavity at radiative thermal equilibrium have a chemical potential of zero.

When the thermal radiative properties of a cavity in radiative equilibrium are applied to a surface which is not in thermal radiative equilibrium in a closed cavity condition, we must be very aware of the differences.  When such a surface is surrounded by vacuum and all of its thermal conditions are described by its radiative properties, there will be an infinitesimal volume in the vacuum arbitrarily close to the surface which has an energy density e as described above from the equilibrium cavity condition.  Let us imagine two infinite planar surfaces which are very close compared to their dimensions, with only vacuum between them and beyond them.   If these two surfaces are at the same temperature T and in equilibrium, the energy density e is clearly aT4 everywhere in the volume between the two planes.

Now let us suppose that one of the two planes is radiatively heated from the back side and reaches a new higher temperature Th, at which the temperature becomes stable.  As this hotter plane radiates energy at its higher temperature, it will increase the temperature of the nearby plane, but not to a temperature as high as Th.  Let the lower temperature plane have the temperature Tc.  Now the energy density in the vacuum arbitrarily close to either side of the hotter plane will be aTh4 and that arbitrarily close to the cooler plane on either side will be aTc4.  This is a condition for a plane at a temperature T with a vacuum interface that the energy density e = a T4.  Said in a different fashion, the perfectly thermally conducting plane would not be at a temperature T if the energy density of photons in the space immediately at the surface of the plane was not aT4.  In the vacuum space in between the two planes the energy density will be a continuously decreasing function from a high value of aTh4 at the hotter plane surface to a lower value of aTc4 at the cooler plane surface.  The hotter plane emits and absorbs photons as a surface at an energy density of aTh4.  The lower temperature plane absorbs and emits photons as a surface would with an energy density of aTc4 in the vacuum immediately adjacent to the surface.

The energy density between the two planes is not a( Th4 + Tc4), which is what it would have to be if it were true that the photons incident upon the warmer plane from the cooler plane was that due to an energy density of aTc4 even as the emission energy density of photons from that warmer surface was that due to an energy density of aTh4.  There has to be a photon energy density gradient between these two planes and this is not consistent with all of the emitted photons from the cooler plane surface being incident upon the warmer plane surface as is usually hypothesized by the advocates of catastrophic man-made global warming.  They deny the existence of an electromagnetic field gradient with such rhetorical whimsy as “The photons emitted by the cooler surface must be absorbed by the warmer surface because the warmer surface cannot poll incident photons to see if they came from a warmer or a colder surface.”  The electromagnetic field in effect does just that by controlling what photons are created by the field.
We also have to take note that there is a flow of photons from the warmer surface to the cooler surface.  This case is not a true equilibrium condition of the kind found in the cavity where all surfaces were at the same temperature.  The chemical potential of photons in this case is not zero.   A photon incident upon the cooler surface can now be absorbed by that surface without the emission of a photon of the same energy.  Indeed, the other side of the cooler plane surface is radiating energy into space, so there is a net flow of energy across this plane.  More photons have to be absorbed on the side facing the hotter plane than are emitted from the side facing only vacuum.  More photons have to be emitted from the cooler plane side facing only space than are absorbed there.  Indeed, if space were at absolute zero, no photons would be absorbed on that side at all.  The absorptivity of the surface of the plane facing the warmer plane is greater than the emissivity of that surface, which is at variance with the conditions of the cavity in radiative thermal equilibrium.  The flow of photon energy between the two planes is equal to a( Th4 - Tc4), with the flow direction from the warmer to the cooler plane.

Even more can be deduced for this steady-state system.  The outside surface of the cooler plane is emitting photons into vacuum in accordance with the energy density e = aTc4.  Because its temperature is not changing, this outflow of energy has to be matched by the inflow of energy from the side of the cooler plane facing the warmer plane.  The energy density of photons on the vacuum only side is the same as that on the side of the cooler plane facing the warmer plane.  Therefor the entire energy density of photons in the vacuum immediately at the surface on the side facing the warmer plane is composed of photons emitted by the warmer plane.  The entire energy density of photons at the cooler plane surface interface with the vacuum on the side away from the warmer plane is due to photons emitted from the cooler plane.  No photons emitted from the cooler plane are to be found in the vacuum between the planes.  If they were, there would be a clear violation of the Law of Energy Conservation, at least given that there is reason to believe that the one lesson that one takes from the physics of a cavity in thermal equilibrium is that the internal energy density is given by e = a T4 and that in general, surfaces at a temperature of T will have an energy density in vacuum immediately adjacent to them at the same energy density such a surface would have in the cavity at thermal equilibrium condition.  In this case, not only do no thermally-emitted photons from the cooler plane become absorbed by the warmer plane surface, but none are even incident upon that surface. 

Now let us assume that we have the same radiative heat applied to the outside of the warmer plane as before and we introduce a perfect gas between the two planes which has no molecules in it capable of absorbing infra-red energy or any electromagnetic wave energy of any sort.  Heat transport between the two planes is now both direct radiative transport and a conductive transport due to gas molecules colliding with the warming wall and picking up heat as an increase in molecular kinetic energy and carrying that energy to the cooler wall.  What is the response of the system?  Clearly, the temperature difference between the walls is reduced.  The hotter wall temperature drops and the cooler wall temperature increases.  As the energy flow due to the gas molecule transport of energy increases, the radiative heat flow decreases as the temperature difference between the surfaces decreases.

There is yet another difference that sets in.  The electromagnetic field in the volume just outside the warmer plane is determined by the oscillating dipoles in the surface.  The amplitude of the oscillations is determined by the temperature.  But when a gas molecule collides with this surface and picks up energy from the surface, it does so by decreasing the kinetic energy of one or more of these oscillating dipoles.  Those oscillating dipoles are no longer able to pour all of their energy into creating as high an electromagnetic field as they did in the absence of the gas molecule collisions with the surface.  The reduced field outside the surface must result in a reduced photon energy density outside the plane surface.  Thus, what would have been a photon energy density of aTh4, must now be less than that.  We know that this results in a decrease in the number of wave nodes, so the value of Stefan’s constant a is now too large.  The energy density of photons is now bTh4, where b is less than a.  The emission of photons is accordingly reduced.

Let us now add a film of water to the inside surface of the warmer plane.  If the plane is not below the freezing temperature of the water, some of the water will evaporate.  This will cool the warmer surface, taking energy out of the oscillation of some of the dipoles in the surface.  Thermal radiation emissions will decrease once again, both due to the temperature of the plane being decreased and because the constant in the photon energy density, bT4, just outside the surface will decrease once again.  The difference in temperatures between the warmer and the cooler planes will once again decrease.  Ah, but you say that water vapor is a greenhouse gas.  It is capable of absorbing infra-red radiation.  Perhaps that causes a warming effect.

The latent heat of evaporation for water is a large heat which is not easily offset by other effects.  If the water vapor concentration is similar to that in air and if the air is near STP conditions, then each water vapor molecule absorbing infra-red radiation is about 4 times (10 times according to Prof. Happer) more likely to lose that infra-red absorbed energy to the surrounding air molecules than it is to re-emit the infra-red energy due to the very high frequency of gas molecule collisions.  Half of what it re-emits is on its way toward the cooler plane again in any case.  The 80% transferred to heating the non-infra-red active molecules of the air just speeds up their transport of energy to the cooler plane.  So only about 10% of the energy absorbed heads back to the hotter plane, which just equals the 10% of the energy radiated toward the cooler plane.  This leaves the net effect of the photon absorption by the water vapor molecule to be a heating of the air further from the surface of the warm plane, which increases the air molecule transport of energy between the planes.  It is very unlikely that the 10% of the radiant energy absorbed by water vapor and sent back to the hotter surface is a very big effect compared to the cooling effect caused by the evaporation of water on the warmer surface and the speed up of the conductive heat transfer in the gas.

What is more, the excitable water vapor molecule holds more energy due to its additional modes of internal excitation compared to perfect gas molecules.  Thus, it can transport more energy to the cooler plane and transfer that greater energy to the plane upon colliding with it.  Those internal modes of excitation cause the water molecule to have a higher heat capacity.  The water molecule is also lighter than N2 and O2, so at a given temperature, its velocity is greater and it speeds up the transport of heat to the cooler plane relative to the heavier gas molecules.

Complex molecules have been used to fill the space between double glass windows in experiments.  It was thought that doing so would impede heat flow as the complex molecule absorbed infra-red energy emissions from the warmer pane of glass.  What is found is that the increased heat capacity of the complex molecules simply allows them to transport more energy and transfer it to the cooler glass pane upon colliding with it.  These molecules do not succeed in slowing the heat transport at all.  The fill gases that work the best are both heavy and simple.  Being heavy, their velocity at a given temperature is less than that of a lighter gas molecule.  Being simple, such as the monatomic inert gases argon and xenon are, they have a low heat capacity.  Both are heavier than N2 and O2, the principal gases in air.  In particular, CO2 performs badly as an insulating fill gas in such a case.  Dry air is actually a fairly good insulating gas.

There are other important differences between the Earth’s surface and the walls of a cavity.  Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface.  Solar insolation incident on a water surface is not absorbed almost entirely within a micrometer of the water surface.  It is absorbed in the first few tens of meters instead.  Once that energy is absorbed and distributed over that considerable depth, heat flows to still deeper depths due to the thermal gradient that usually exists with the deeper water being colder.  While the absorption of radiant energy on the land surface does occur much, much closer to the surface, heat also flows through soil, sand, and rock there to sub-surface depths.  The heat flow from the near surface to deeper depths on either land or water varies throughout a day as the thermal gradient in these zones changes quite a bit through the daily cycle.  So, the surface is subject to still another cooling mechanism during the day and often a warming mechanism at night, causing a constantly varying effect in the daily cycle.

In this context, the evaporation of water occurs at a rate which increases exponentially with temperature.  Therefore, the water evaporation rate is commonly much higher in the afternoon period of a day and is varying considerably through the course of the day.  As is the case with the conduction of heat through water, soil, sand, and rock; the conduction, convection (thermals), and advection (wind) of heat through the air away from the surface also depends upon the commonly varying temperature differentials between the surface and the lower atmosphere through the daily cycle.

Consequently, the Earth’s surface is subject to not just varying thermal radiation absorption and emission in the daily cycle, but it is also subject to varying water evaporation cooling, varying air conduction, convection, and advection cooling, and varying rates of heat flow to deeper depths below the surface or even from deeper depths toward the surface.  The kind of radiative thermal equilibrium in the cavity which leads to a photon chemical potential of zero, to emissivity and absorptivity of the cavity wall being equal, and to a surface emitting a number of photons and a total photon energy dependent only on the temperature of the surface generally does not exist during the daily cycle of the Earth’s surface.  It is very important that this be borne in mind when discussing the radiant energy transport based on cavities with walls at a constant temperature and only in radiative equilibrium.

Advocates of the catastrophic man-made global warming hypothesis tend to make many ill-considered assumptions about radiative heat flow.  They do not understand cavity radiation in thermal equilibrium, they do not understand radiative heat flow between surfaces of differing temperatures, and they do not understand how radiative transport of heat works when other mechanisms are present that also transport heat.  I have taken pains to point out a number of these misconceptions in my post Why Greenhouse Gas Theory is Wrong -- An Examination of the Theoretical Basis.  Among the consequences specifically of the competing energy transport mechanisms is the fact that the Earth’s surface as a whole has an effective emissivity of a bit less than 0.5a.  This commonly drives advocates of the common theory for catastrophic man-made carbon dioxide emissions global warming bananas.  They keep pointing at measurements that claim that water, soil, and organic plant materials have emissivities near 0.90 to 0.95, meaning that the value of b in bT4 is 0.90a to 0.95a.  When other heat transport mechanisms are prevented in an experimental measurement, the emissivity due to radiation alone will increase relative to its value when other heat transport mechanisms are available.  In addition, as discussed above, a surface emissivity or absorptivity is not just a function of its material, but is also a function of whether the surface is changing its temperature.  The surface of the Earth is locally changing its temperature all the time.

I hope this post will help those interested to gain a better understanding of these critical thermal radiation issues.

21 May 2015 Update:  Important additional deductions were made showing that photons from a cooler body are not absorbed by a warmer body, at least in one simple system.  

28 April 2015

Asserting the Right to Trial is a Felony Punishable by 95-Year Imprisonment

According to Stephen Heymann's actions as a U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, and as approved by the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a crime that might be punishable with 3 - 4 months in jail bears with it up to a 95-year imprisonment for asserting one's individual right to a jury trial.  These are the choices given Aaron Swartz for the possible illegal downloading of academic papers.  Rather than plead guilty to a felony and serve 3 - 4 months in prison or fight conviction and a 95-year imprisonment by asserting his right to trial, Aaron Swartz committed suicide.  Aaron Swartz was a highly regarded programmer who help create Reddit, RSS, and Creative Commons.

Alexander Cohen has written more about this miscarriage of justice in an interesting article here.  Alexander Cohen is also setting up a new non-profit called the Center for the Individual.

Is the Clinton Foundation a Charity?

It is widely being said that the Clinton Foundation gives only about 15% of its income to charity, with the rest going to administrative costs. The truth is actually worse than the unbelievably low 15% pass-through rate. Out of $140 million of donations, the Clinton Foundation has only delivered about $9 million to direct charity work. That is 6.4% or only 43% of the widely stated 15% pass-through rate. It is usually held that a decent charity foundation has a pass-through rate of at least 75%. To be sure, one may make charitable donations to a think tank, where one expects most of the money to go to organization employee salaries, office expenses, and travel to meetings. But, the Clinton Foundation claims to be a charity devoted to women's rights, environmentalism, and mitigating harm caused by catastrophic man-made global warming.

The Clinton Foundation has large contributors from Ukraine, Russia, Saudia Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries. In view of the following observations, why are wealthy people from these countries giving money to the Clinton Foundation?
  • These countries are not very keen on women's rights, environmentalism, or catastrophic man-made global warming.
  • There is so much need for charity in work within these countries that they ought to donate their money locally.
  • Large donors do their homework to find out what the charity pass-through rate is. If they are really interested in doing charity work, they will not accept a 6.4% pass-through rate to actual charitable aid.
So how else can one provide a motive for the large contributions to the Clinton Foundation coming from nations such as Ukraine, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern nations? It is very clear that the donations were motivated by a desire to influence Hillary Clinton's decisions as Secretary of State and perhaps after she might become President. Given this clear motivation, Hillary Clinton had to know she had a very serious conflict of interest problem. Yet, the Foundation took the money and hid the fact that it was being given to the Foundation for such purposes.

Then Hillary compounded the bad perception by actually approving the take-over of a company that provides 20% of the U.S. uranium needs by Russian interests with close ties to Putin.  Our extensive aid to Ukraine is now subject to being questioned as the result of bribes, rather than as a result of our national interest as well.  I expect we will learn about many other questionable decisions now that this Clinton Foundation is in the spotlight.

Any rational individual will be greatly influenced by the past history of immorality exhibited by the Clintons in assessing the likelihood that they were actually influenced by these bribes to make decisions that might be contrary to the national interest of the United States.

27 April 2015

Congressman John Sarbanes Favors FCC Takeover of the Internet

In response to my e-mail in opposition to the FCC subjecting the Internet to its ancient and bureaucratic controls, the Democrat Congressman of my unbelievably gerrymandered district in Maryland replied today:

Mr. Anderson,

Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to net neutrality. I always appreciate hearing from individuals who carefully follow the legislative proceedings of Congress.  On February 4, 2015, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Wheeler proposed a set of rules to safeguard net neutrality. These rules include reclassifying broadband service as a public utility under Title II to allow for greater oversight and consumer protection; prohibiting the blocking of lawful websites, the impairing of lawful Internet traffic, and the prioritization of certain traffic for a fee; requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to protect customers' private information; and providing widespread access to Internet service. February 26, 2015, the FCC voted to approve the proposed rules.

 I strongly believe that technology-including broadband, digital communications and other information technology - is an important tool for the economic and social advancement of individuals and communities. Going forward, I also believe that we must put in place a regulatory framework that ensures the relationships between consumers and providers are fair and equitable. As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over telecommunications issues, I will be certain to keep your views in mind when the House of Representatives considers any relevant legislation.

Again, thank you for your input on this important issue. If I can be of further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.


John P. Sarbanes
Member of Congress

To which I replied:


Government does not make the affairs of man fair and equitable. It simply replaces voluntary acts of cooperation in the private sector with coercion to achieve political, rather than individual, purposes. With government so big that the People do not understand what it is doing, let alone the effects of its actions, those political purposes become the purposes of special interests. The takeover of the free Internet by the FCC only means that my individual choices will be replaced by the government's enforcement of special interests' will. All of the verbiage about protecting individuals is just the usual smokescreen behind which government once again wrests individual value choices out of our hands. It is a false front so that government can further expand its ignorant micromanagement of our individual lives.

You have to admit that you do not know me, so it is not plausible when you claim to be protecting my interests, about which you know nothing. What is more, it is highly pretentious of you to assume that you know better how to manage my life than I do. Because I know this, I much prefer making the voluntary associations with others in the private sector of my choice, compared to being the subject of government coercion in my associations.


Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D.

Of course the Big Government proponents have a biased viewpoint that government is benevolent, while companies operating in the private sector are largely malevolent. It is assumed by many that the profit motive pushes companies to behave immorally and without regard to the interests of their customers. How odd it is that the profit motive which is exactly what mostly motivates companies to behave morally and with a great regard for the interests of their customers is assumed by so many to have the opposite effects. Meanwhile, governments which have the power motive are assumed to be benevolent!

To be sure, when governments are small and effectively managed by the People with the intelligent use of their votes, government has a substantial interest in the best interest of the People. But as I have so frequently argued, when government becomes big enough, the People are no longer able to effectively manage it. While with the occasional company that comes along and has little interest in its customer's welfare, it can usually be avoided by taking one's business elsewhere, except when government has given that company a monopoly. The action to deny a government coercive control over us is usually more drastic. It requires us to uproot ourselves, our families, and our businesses to move out of the jurisdiction of that government. This is a sufficiently drastic remedy that its avoidance is a powerful argument for highly limited government.

16 April 2015

Asthma and Coal-Fired Power Plants -- Is there a connection?

As the concern of Americans about claims of catastrophic man-made global warming has diminished, the Progressive Elitists and their EPA have ramped up a campaign against coal-fired power plants based on those plants causing asthma.  The ads put particular emphasis on them causing asthma in children.  Obama even recently claimed that one of his daughters has asthma because of coal-fired power plants and other use of fossil fuels.  Does this viewpoint have an anchor in science and known data?  Let us examine this issue, because surely none of us want children to suffer because coal-fired power plants provide us with inexpensive and reliable electric power.  It may well make sense to use more expensive power, whether natural gas or better scrubbed coal-fired power plants if the coal-fired power plants are truly implicated as the cause of asthma.

In examining this, I am going to use information from a slide presentation on the prevalence of asthma in the US by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  It is found at the bottom of the page here.

Now, it might be that emissions from coal-fired power plants are the exception and this is a known cause.  Let us see if that would be consistent with other data of the CDC.

This graph shows increasing asthma from 1980 to 1996 and then increasing asthma from 2001 to 2010.  The gap in data is because the method for making the determination of asthma prevalence changed in the years between these two sets of data, so it is difficult to be sure that we are comparing apples to apples.  The apparent increase in asthma is very large in this time.  The odd thing is that the fraction of electric power generation by coal fell in this time and of that falling fraction, more and more effort was made to produce the power from coal more cleanly.  If asthma increased from 3% of the population to 8% during this time, there must be factors causing asthma which are far more important than the contribution that might be made by coal.

It is interesting that the increase in asthma since 2011 is primarily due to an increase in asthma among Black Americans.  Now it might be that coal-fired power plants are much more likely to be upwind of Black neighborhoods, the white Progressive Elitists being so efficient at Not in My Back Yard special interest tactics.  But let us remember this difference as we look at the following data and remember that people of different ethnic backgrounds do often have different susceptibilities to different diseases.

Now this is fascinating data.  Note how dramatically asthma prevalence changes by gender and age.  Surely exposure to the emissions of pollutants does not change so dramatically by age or gender as this.  It might be possible that the susceptibility to pollutants does change this dramatically, but that sure would seem to be a stretch.  Boys to 14 years old are much more likely to have asthma than girls, but girls have a steadily increasing probability of becoming asthmatic through age 17 and then have a slight general decrease in asthma after that, while remaining much more likely than males to have asthma at all ages 18 and beyond.  But males after 14 have a substantial lowering of probability to about age 44, before their probability starts to rise again.  This happens despite the fact that men are more likely than women to spend more time outside in their adult years, where they are supposedly being more directly assaulted by the emissions of coal-fired power plants.  These age and gender behaviors sure seem more likely to suggest a primarily internal biochemical cause as the primary cause of asthma.

Now here it is interesting to note that ethnic Asians are much less likely to have asthma.  I doubt that ethnic Asians are much more likely to live downwind from coal-fired power generators than is the average American.  In fact, a disproportionate fraction of them live in California, which despite its history of smog, has few coal-fired power plants.  Also, while Native Americans have high rates of asthma, most of them live in the American West where coal-fired power plant density is low compared to that in the East.  For some reason, people of multiple race have much higher rates of asthma than any other racial group, except those of Puerto Rican descent, who are about twice as likely as White Americans to suffer asthma.  Once again, this would all seem more likely to point to asthma causes with more of a basis in human biochemistry than in exposure to coal-fired power plant emissions.  Apparently, it is also very bad to have a low income.

By area of the country, it is slightly worse to be from the Northeast and Midwest than from the South and West.  It is worse to be from outside a metropolitan area than from inside one, though the difference is small.  In general, this makes one suspicious of the idea that pollution is an important cause of asthma.  To be sure, one might question whether the use of insecticides by farmers might be the reason for higher rates outside of cities, but one would think if this were true that this would be well-documented.  Besides, insecticides are actually used heavily in cities to fumigate dense housing from cockroaches and other insect inhabitants and mice and rats.  Metro areas are hardly free of similar insecticides as are found in the country.  The slightly greater non-metropolitan asthma percentage is more likely due to natural allergens such as pollen then it is to man-made chemicals.  Many people with asthma have a very rough time when pollen levels are high.  Again, this is a suggestion that the main causes of asthma are not environmental, but genetic or internal human biochemistry combined with natural irritants.  This is so much the case that there is a small advantage in living in a metropolitan area where overall human emissions pollutant concentrations are much higher than in the non-metropolitan areas.

Of those who have asthma, are they more likely now than earlier to have more asthma attacks?  Well no.  The graph above shows a slight drop in the number having attacks in the last 12 months, whether children or adults.  If the causes of asthma were environmental and those environmental factors were getting worse to cause an increase in the number of people reporting that they have asthma, then would it not be likely that the percentage of those with asthma who had attacks in the last 12 months would be increasing?  That it is not seems to suggest a likelihood that asthma is caused by human biological factors and/or more people are becoming aware of what asthma is and are becoming conscious of having the disease.

Now, let us examine the data for those who have actually had an asthma attack in the last 12 months.  Among those who have asthma, the percentage of each group having an asthma attack in the last 12 months varies very little.  The very small differences in the percentage of each ethnic group's asthma population having an asthma attack in the last 12 months inclines one toward the idea there may be an asthma gene which one either has or does not have.  The very similar percentages by region tends to argue that coal-fired power plants are at most a small factor and that environment generally is likely also to be a small factor.

This map of asthma incidence is remarkable.  It is interesting that there are sharp gradients by state.  Texas and Louisiana have low incidences, while New Mexico and Oklahoma have relatively high incidences of asthma in their populations.  Washington and Oregon on the West Coast have high incidences, but California has a low incidence.  All of the Rocky Mountain states have high incidences, despite those states not being noteworthy for pollution.  A narrow band of states across the middle of the Great Plains has relatively high incidences, while states north and south of the band have low incidences.  All of the South has a low incidence and all of the Northeast above the Mason-Dixon line has a high incidence.

The EPA makes the false claim that half the mercury in the atmosphere comes from coal-fired power plants.  I proved this nonsense in my blog post Evaluating the Mercury Emissions Danger from Coal-Fired Power Plants.  In that post, I showed that any mercury output from the coal-fired power plants was overwhelmed by natural sources of mercury in the atmosphere.  I showed that there was a complete lack of correlation between the EPA map showing their claimed power plant mercury emissions and actual measurements of mercury precipitation from the atmosphere.  However, their mercury emissions map may be of use here as a general measure of the pollutant output of coal-fired power plants, such as it is, around the country.  If the plant is supposedly not removing mercury output, then there may be other pollutants it is not removing in proportional measure.  So, here is that map:

Now comparing this map to the asthma prevalence by state in the map above this one, it is seen to be plausible that the high asthma incidences in the states Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky might be due to emissions from coal-fired power plants.  But, there is almost no coal-fired power plant emission in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to explain their high asthma incidences.  The large concentration of coal-fired power plants in East Texas where most of the state population is coexists with a very low incidence of asthma in Texas and downwind Louisiana.  The high incidence of coal-fired power plants in northern Alabama and Georgia near those states highest population centers coexists with a low rate of asthma in those states.  Oklahoma has a high rate of asthma, but its coal-fired power plants are almost all downwind of its population centers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Norman, Lawton, and Edmond.  It is also hard to understand how West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina can have low incidences of asthma with so many coal-fired power plants.  In short, there is no correlation between the coal-fired power plant emissions and the incidence of asthma.

This is not too surprising given that the CDC started its slide presentation on asthma by stating that its causes were generally not known.  The CDC has decades of skill in measuring and mapping the regional incidence of diseases and tracing them back to common sources.  If coal-fired power plants were a significant cause of asthma, surely they would have identified this cause long ago.

You would never know about this glaring lack of evidence from the ads being shown of asthma-suffering children on TV lately, which the Progressive Elitist propagandists are shamelessly blaming on coal-fired power plants.  This claim is as false and base as the claim that man's use of fossil fuels will cause catastrophic degradation of the environment and represents a threat to man's continued existence.  There is no rational justification for the claims in either case made by the alarmists who are endeavoring without let-up to further empower the government to eliminate our equal, sovereign individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of our own happiness.  It can only be understood as a power grab, allowing Progressive Elitists to dictate our values to us and to micromanage our lives.

Update 21 April 2015:  If man-made global warming is causing asthma attacks as the EPA and Obama claim, why is it that hospital admissions for asthma are lower in the summer than in the winter?  If the claim is that smog and ozone are playing a role, then how is that asthma prevalence has increased while both smog and ozone have generally decreased each decade since 1970?  What is more, ozone and smog levels caused by man are surely higher in metropolitan areas than outside them, so why is the prevalence of asthma lower in metropolitan areas than in non-metropolitan areas?  The EPA claims that common pollutant emissions are down 62% as of 2013 from levels in 1980!  Smog is down 33% since 1980 according to the EPA.  Is it possible to be more irrational than this Obama EPA is?