Every month or so I do a skeptical segment with astronomer Seth Shostak called "Brains on Vacation" for the SETI radio show/podcast "Big Picture Science" (what used to be called "Are We Alone?"). This month’s episode, Plotting Along, is about conspiracy theories and is now online. You can listen to it there, or download the file directly.
This time, I talked about the climate change denier Joe Bastardi’s bizarre take on global warming that recently aired on Fox News — you can read all about what he said on sites like Scientific American and Media Matters. Basically, Bastardi denies humans have anything to do with climate change, and has a history of saying things that, um, turn out not to be entirely accurate when it comes to basic science.
In this case, Bastardi tried to invoke the First Law of Thermodynamics to show humans don’t cause global warming, a truly weird thing to do since the First Law actually supports the idea that pumping CO2 into the air makes it heat up. Without carbon dioxide, the energy from the Sun would hit the Earth, with some being absorbed and some radiating away. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, just balanced. However, carbon dioxide traps some of that heat, warming us up*. It’s not that new energy is being created someplace, it’s just that more of the Sun’s heat stays trapped here on Earth instead of being radiated away. That energy cannot just go away or be destroyed, so we warm up.
The First Law is safe. Phew!
Not content with just physics, Bastardi then moved on to chemistry: this time, Le Chatelier’s Principle. Read More