the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Another Kind of Global Warming

Posted by Jeff Id on January 26, 2009


Lately I have heard another theory of global warming. A seemingly more insidious form created not by gasses collected in the atmosphere or hot air from the politicians (yet) but direct heating from well… energy. Well the skeptic in me immediately has to question this new form of heating simply because it sounds like a massive amount of energy. Can you imagine generating so much power you compete with the sun?

Well here’s an article which claims we will do exactly that.

The other global warming

Even if we contain the greenhouse effect, says a Tufts astrophysicist, we’ll have another heat problem on our hands

Over the next 250 years, calculates Eric J. Chaisson in a recent paper, the earth’s population will start generating so much of its own heat – chiefly wasted from energy use – that it will warm the earth even without a rise in greenhouse gases. The only way to avoid it, he says, is to rethink how we generate energy.


His paper examines the planet’s growing pool of waste heat, a widespread phenomenon that nonetheless has been little studied as a cause of climate change. Nearly everything that uses or generates energy – chiefly power plants, but also cars, snowblowers, computers, and light bulbs – squanders some energy as wasted heat. And the larger and more energy-hungry the human population grows, the more waste heat remains in our atmosphere.

“What this means for humans is that this is the ultimate limit to growth,” said Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, who urged Chaisson to publish his idea. “As we produce more kilowatts, we have to produce more waste heat.”

Chaisson’s prediction suggests we need to change our energy policy – not just by keeping emissions low, but by shifting toward power sources that don’t add new heat to the earth’s system

How did he come up with these numbers. I started doing the calculation myself to determine how much energy would be required to be input by humans just to achieve this goal. I used my numbers to verify his. It seems Eric Chaisson is basically right although he may have confused waste heat with energy generated. I mean, all the energy generated eventually turns to heat. The reason I say that is because of this quote from his paper.

Everyday appliances— including toasters, boilers, and lawn mowers— all generate heat while operating far from their theoretical effi ciency limits. Electricity production is currently about 37% efficient, automobile engines are roughly 25% efficient, and ordinary incandescent lightbulbs are only around 5% effi cient; the rest is immediately lost as heat.

This quote seems a bit slow to me because the stuff from your car that isn’t heat right away (velocity) is definitely becomes heat later on. I don’t have a clue why he doesn’t just say nearly 100% of all energy generated by man eventually turns into heat. The energy turned to velocity from your car certainly does. Well he’s only an astrophysicist and not an engineer so we’ll give him a break here.

Here is a link to his paper.

Nature’s power budget on Earth is dominated by the Sun. Compared with our planet’s solar insolation of 120,000 terawatts (absorbed by the land, sea, and air, and accounting for Earth’s albedo of 31%), our global civilization currently produces an imperceptible approximately18 terawatts, about two thirds of which is wasted. But with humanity’s power usage on the rise (~2% annually as our species multiplies and becomes more complex, society’s energy demands by the close of the 21st century will likely exceed 100 terawatts—and much of that energy will heat our environment.

I checked out the 120000 terawatts number, it seems reasonable. Our current production of 18 terawatts is 0.015% of the input of the sun. He projects 2% annual growth to exceed 100 terawatts of heat power. This means that we continue to grow at two percent per year for another hundred years 1.02^100 = 7.2 times current production or 129 terawatts of power. Pretty hard to do on solar power but if we pull it off there is a net increase in heating of (120129/120000)^(0.25)* 280K = 280.07K. So if we do nothing and build one nuclear reactor after another and we have 7 times more power than today, by 2100 we will achieve 0.07 degrees C of temperature rise. This assumes no feedbacks!

Crazy stuff, just in case you’re not sure about my numbers check out what he says.

Estimates of how much heat and how quickly that heat will rise rely, once again, on thermodynamics. Because fl ux scales as σT 4, Earth’s surface temperature will rise about 3ºC (an IPCC “tipping point”) when (291/288)^4, namely, when about 4% more than the Sun’s daily dose (4800 terawatts) is additionally produced on Earth or delivered to Earth.

He said it, 4800 terawatts. Just so you understand the magnitude of that, if every person on earth (say 6 billion) had a personal average of about 8 hundred thousand watts of power we could achieve this heat level. Well the bulb over my head is 60W so that’s a good start. Dr. Chaisson says the US consumes about 12.5 kilowatts per person. If the world maintained the standard of living of today’s USA 4,800,000,000,000,000/12,500=384 billion people???? Does anyone think this is realistic in 300 years or um, ever! What would we do, farm the moon?


How can a scientist not realize this. Well of course he left a few clues. Here is a quote from the paper.

How much energy can all of our cultural devices—automobiles, stoves, factories, whatever—produce before Earth’s surface temperature increases enough to make our planet potentially hellishly uncomfortable?

Sounds pretty scientific eh. Hellishly uncomfortable?

If global nonrenewable energy use continues increasing at its current rate of about 2% annually and if all greenhouse gases are sequestered, then a 3ºC rise will still occur in roughly 8 doubling times, or about 280 years (or ~350 years for a 10ºC rise).

Yup just project the curve. How many people there be if I extend this calculation to 10C? Assuming the same power consumption as the US the temp^4 equation means there would be so many of us we would all need to hold hands so the ones on the shores didn’t fall in and drown.

Here’s another good one.

More realistically, if world population plateaus at 9 billion inhabitants by 2100, developed (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD) countries increase nonrenewable energy use at 1% annually, and developing (non-OECD) countries do so at roughly 5% annually until east-west energy equity is achieved in the mid-22nd century after, which they too will continue generating more energy at 1% annually, then a 3ºC rise will occur in about 320 years (or 10ºC in ~450 years), even if carbon dioxide emissions end.

Wow, check out this idiocy. If we plateau at 9 billion inhabitants yet continue to increase energy usage ???? How much power is 10 C? It’s 18,000 trillion watts by his own numbers. Amongst a mere 9 billion people that’s 2 million watts a person. Two million f’n watts. Just to put it in perspective at 0.12 per kwh that is a 172,000 dollar per month energy bill per man woman an child — today’s dollars of course. Four person house, $700,000USD/month.

Here’s the genius’s final conclusion.

Less energy use, sometime in the relatively near future, seems vital for our continued well-being, lest Earth simply overheat.

Here’s some of his credentials and email at the end.

Eric J. Chaisson, Wright Center, Tufts University, Medford, Mass., and Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.; E-mail:

Oh yeah, for those who are big fans of peer review. This pig got published. I would love the names of the reviewers.

I’m not going to add much more to this, but I am madder than hell after reading it. What do you think – Politics or Science?

18 Responses to “Another Kind of Global Warming”

  1. I was interested to find the Air Vent blog. 20 years ago I had a book published on different economic concepts to point the way to a sustainable world economy. Someone who liked the book contacted me this year to suggest that I update and re-publish it as a blog. She set up the blog, and the book is now complete on the blog in a series of postings. There are now also additional pieces on global warming and other subjects. Here is the link:

    With all good wishes,
    Charles Pierce

  2. Michael D Smith said

    Nice work Jeff…

    You might want to post a comment / link back to here over at Some people blindly eat it up, others use some level of reason as you have…


    Mike S.

  3. Jeff Id said


    Done, thanks for the heads up.

  4. mack520 said

    Once that 0.07 degrees C per century gets studied properly, I bet it turns a sea level increase of -uh- lets see- maybe 100 meters ?

  5. Chris H said

    Even if he were right, negative climate feedbacks (*) should ensure that more sunlight gets reflected back into space, so the temperature will stay roughly constant.

    (* = the sort of feedbacks that are either unknown, or else squashed by unrealistic positive feedbacks, to make current computer models produce their doomsday AGW scenarios.)

  6. reasons for those kinds of hysteria:

    Consciousness and Anthropogenic Global Warming

    As a species we have a problem. Well lots of problems but the most evident is our illusion of consciousnesses.
    In believing we are conscious we actually have defined what consciousness is in an absolute term, rather than a relative term. There is no objective way of determining if we are indeed conscious, more so than other mammals or even if our consciousnesses is not an abstraction created by the need for the brain to coordinate all the different complex modules existing in our brain.
    Given that the brain is now recognized to be created fully equipped with all the necessary modules for managing the supporting structure (the body), modules for interpreting sensory input, modules for interacting with the environment and various others with varying degrees of complexity and purpose we can come to understand that our brain is primary a, albeit highly complex, reactive instrument.
    Lots of these modules have evolved over time into a standard structure, the mammal brain. These modules seem to be quite rigid in their scope and flexibility and operate way beyond our awareness. Nevertheless they are at the base of all our decision making process. Out of sight, quietly they do their work supplying information to the regulatory module of the brain.
    This regulatory module is the most important part of this brain, as it needs to correlate all incoming data and in split seconds make a qualified judgment as to what, if any, action is required. These judgments have been proven to take place without our advance knowledge and as such take place not out of free will but out of pure reflex. Research done on living human brain has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that actions taken by our brain have a delay of being made aware of several tenths of seconds, depending on the amount of judgment needed up to half a second, before we become aware of the decision the brain has made for us.
    After the fact, note well. Our brain reacted to the environment and tried to put this into context some time later what they have done. Well filtered of all information deemed unnecessary by our brain it is presented in such a way that we have the illusion of being the instigator of the action, thus in full conscious control.
    But who/what is this consciousness ?
    Here comes the difficult part, accepting the above to be the case we have no objective way of judging our level of consciousness if the consciousness we try to determine is the determining agent. And even worse that consciousness cannot even objectively proven to be existent. We don’t really exist other then as an illusion created by the need for the regulatory module to have a continuous flow of action/reaction on which to augment its chances for survival.
    Now we, our consciousnesses, are put into interaction with others forming a vast network surpassing the scope of the single and with it the capability to create very complex adaptations of reality. Unfortunately the only ones who can test the accuracy of these realities are the very illusionary consciousnesses who created them in the first place.
    A prime example of this system in action is the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming. A vast complex theory has been constructed to explain a reality as we see it. The reality in this case being the ever changing climate as we perceive it. As we are forced by our brains to anthropocentric thought, the regulatory module just can’t surpass its own limits as being the creator of itself, we are forced to give ourselves a primary role in all what happens around us.
    Most people do this by religion, they put it down to their own failings in the eye of god and thus the deserving cause of all mishap. Others just create a religion and then blame it on themselves in this way. Others just don’t care one way or the other by having a less complex regulatory module and thereby being incapable to sustain the level of illusion needed or the having the means to assimilate the information.
    One thing is sure, whatever we think and whatever we do or don’t do we will never escape the entrapment of anthropocentric reasoning no more then a moth can escape the lure of a light at night.
    Were we able to escape this trap, we’d be able to accept the simple truth: The larger the scale the smaller the variance, nothing really matters at all.
    Turn all that creative energy to solving the enormous other problems actually happening now; poverty, violence and all that stuff.

  7. Dan Hughes said

    This paper on the same subject matter was the subject of a post by Pielke Sr. Current Climate Impact of Heating From Energy Usage By A.T.J. de Laat 2008. de Laat cites Chaisson’s paper.

    The matter has actually been the subject of this paper published in 1973:

    H. A. Dwyer and T. Petersen, “Time-Dependent Energy Modeling”, Journal of Applied Meteorology, Vol. 12, pp. 36-42. February 1973.

    Dwyer and Petersen reported that the effects of massive energy conversion, 1.58 x 10^22 J/yr, mostly in the NH, could be seen in their calculations. I think we’re a couple of orders of magnitude below that at the present time.

    Note that ‘waste heat’ has nothing to do with the situation. All energy conversion remains in the materials that make up the Climate System. The energy content of the Climate System can decrease only through radiation into space.

  8. Dan Hughes said


    Here is the thread at Climate Science:

  9. Dan Hughes said

    Well H***, I still screwed it up. The thread and paper URLs are backward.

    Here is the de Laat paper:

    Click to access EOS2008.pdf

    Edit at will, Jeff.

  10. Jeff Id said


    “Note that ‘waste heat’ has nothing to do with the situation. All energy conversion remains in the materials that make up the Climate System. The energy content of the Climate System can decrease only through radiation into space.”

    That’s why I was surprised this guy mentioned it in his paper. His idea of waste has nothing to do with how much energy needs to be dissipated. I didn’t check his calcs accuracy to the level where I found out if he included it in his calculations or was just editorializing. I simply verified his solar input, my calc was 170,000 watts incoming so his 120,000 watts after reflection seems in the ballpark. After that it’s high school physics.

  11. page48 said

    I’m old enough to remember a time when scientists actually viewed themselves as problem solvers.

  12. said

    I cannot see the point of Jeffd efforts ocassionaly I see a number here or a number there that may be close.
    However I see no sources, documenation, no traceable calculations, no definition of methology, no list of assumptions, items included or excluded. I see no point in reviewing a common media popularization of the simple minded single focus topic, that leaves so many unanswered questions and even if those questions were detailed none of them have answers that have the slighest chance of being explained to the general public.
    It was from a first ’70 course in thermodynamics where an exercise in the amount of refrigeration needed to keep the entire globe air conditioned for human occupation. Assuming the globe were covered with one building and the roof top cooling coils at a temperature or 160 F, and the effectiveness factor of 9 what is the energy needed.
    While this is huge number it will never bear any thing realistic except that there are limits somewhere.
    There are “limits somewhere” that go something like “we’ll likely have a global food shortage sooner than we will either runout of oxygen, fuel or not to have enough of either to live to see the future.” If the human race is bent on its own distruction I would like to make sure the human race knew that it was killing itself rather than be wiped out in its present state of ignorance.

    If you have something to contribute then starting explaining why wasting the worlds resources is a good idea.
    From what I know we are not the least likely to blast off to outer space to save the human race from the human race.

  13. Layman Lurker said

    “Sounds pretty scientific eh. Hellishly uncomfortable?”

    You say “eh” a lot Jeff. Are you sure you’re not Canadian? 🙂

  14. Jeff Id said

    Funny thing eh I do love HOCKEY, no sport is better!!! Go Wings!!. My distant ancestors were Canadian but my parents got none of it. It’s not fair to blame them folk for my writing style tho, both of em are better than me.


    Dear Rich,

    I don’t write this post out in every detail, because everyone here gets the simple math.

    Welcome to the Air Vent.

  15. Jeff Id said

    Rich, I’ve thought it over and my comment MAY not have been fair. Your criticism is accepted and mine is deleted on one condition.

    Ask a specific question regarding My analysis of this paper. Honestly, if you do have some question about my analysis which is bothering you I’ll do my best. If you’re reading, maybe I’ll learn something too.

  16. WhyNot said

    I was thinking about reply #12 and wasting earth’s resources, so I thought I would do a rough calculation on how many resources there are on earth. It’s a different way to look at it, but here it goes. I hope you all won’t laugh at me too much.

    I ran out of the office and started counting all the trees, rocks, H2O molecules and the like to determine the total number of resources we have and added up all the weights. After several hours of work, I was able to get a rough estimate of 5.979 x 10^24 kg. (In my haste, I might have missed a kg or two, sorry!) I like Einstein, so I used his simple principal of E=mc^2. Conversion yields the following:

    1kg = 8.987 x 10^16 J (Joules) so total earth energy is 5.373 x 10^41 Joules.

    If you believe Tufts, we are “wasting” 12 x 10^12 Watts.
    1Watt = 1J/sec. and 1J = 1.113 x 10^-17kg

    12 x 10^12 * 1.113 x 10^-17 = 1.335 x 10^-4 kg/sec or 4,211kg/yr. It will take 5.979 x10^24kg/4.211 x 10^3 = 1.4199 x 10^21 years to consume earth. I converted notation below.

    1,419,900,000,000,000,000,000 Years For comparison, the age of the universe is
    13,800,000,000 Years

    Unfortunately, I consumed about 1kg of food doing this which I consider wasted energy so I just shortened earth’s existence by 7,490 seconds.

    Because of me, we only have 44,777,960,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 seconds remaining before earth is consumed!

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  18. Mark T said

    Unfortunately, I consumed about 1kg of food doing this

    Uh, not in one lunch I hope? That’s a big dinner, at least! 🙂

    You should also take into account the fact that the energy you “consume” is actually only transformed, and does not really leave the planet. In fact, we’re gaining mass.


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