Shocking New NASA Report Shows CO2 Cools the Atmosphere: Anatomy of a Climate Denial Troll Campaign

A recent post on our Facebook page claims there is a “new study” showing that carbon dioxide acts as a coolant in the atmosphere. Our Facebook poster, we’ll call him “Adam” (because that’s his name), is confident he’s unearthed this new pearl of knowledge that blows centuries of science on CO2 aside. I assume this now means without the naturally occurring carbon cycle and greenhouse effect Earth would in fact by much hotter, not colder – which does turn common sense on its head a bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adam points to two sites making the bold claim that NASA scientists prove “CO2 cools the atmosphere.” Both these sites breathlessly point to a 14-month-old NASA press release concerning measurements of solar flare activity back in March of 2012. As is already well understood, CO2 and nitrous oxide act as a “shield” high up at the top of the thermosphere. When large solar flares bombarded earth’s upper atmosphere with infrared radiation, these gases blocked (radiated back to space) a large portion of that energy, saving the hapless mortals below from “being burned to a crisp.”
There is actually nothing new here, and in fact the “new study” was little more than a press release about NASA’s ongoing solar research. In the short article researcher James Russell says the following – and we’re off the races:

“Carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are natural thermostats.  When the upper atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) heats up, these molecules try as hard as they can to shed that heat back into space.”

Nothing new under the sun

The fact is there is absolutely nothing new here. In the lower atmosphere, CO2 does the exact same thing, radiating infrared energy back to earth. The interest gleaned from this short NASA article from over a year ago is the amount of infrared energy dumped into the thermosphere from the solar activity of last spring, and the measurements taken of that energy by the satellite-based SABER instrument that monitors infrared energy.

As Anthony Watts says on the leading climate skeptic blog WattsUpWithThat in a post entitled A misinterpreted claim about a NASA press release, CO2, solar flares, and the thermosphere is making the rounds:

Yes, of course the upper atmosphere is going to deflect and re-radiate the energy of solar storms, that’s why we don’t burn to a cinder when they happen. There’s nothing new here, this is what the upper atmosphere (thermosphere) does.

So it seems this particular denier troll campaign is so misguided and based on scientific illiteracy that Anthony Watts and I actually agree on something. All the references made in Principia Scientific to an “embarrassed James Hansen” and internal conflict among NASA and climate scientists are entirely fabricated. There simply is no “there” there.

In fact, Watts himself makes it clear he wants nothing to do with Principia Scientific. 

And yet our friend Adam is pretty sure he’s busted this whole CO2 greenhouse gas, global warming alarmist, Al Gore, evil scientist’s cabal thing once and for all.

“Disprove that,” he challenges.

He’s got me, I admit. There’s absolutely nothing to disprove.

I don’t expect everyone to agree on climate change, how sensitive our climate is, what we should do about it at a societal and policy level. Skepticism is the foundation of good science. But what Adam’s gullibility bought into here is not scientific skepticism. It is willful ignorance and dishonest manipulation aimed at frothing up gullible trolls like Adam to sow confusion and doubt. Such tactics do no one, on either side of the issue, any service.

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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  1. So the way I understand the NASA report and discussion of the report: Carbon Dioxide and NO reflect up to 95% of solar radiation back into outer spacer, and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses reflect some of the 5% that gets through back to earth when it rebounds.

    Conclusion: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prevents global warming far more than contributes to it.

    So, will increased co2 levels cause global cooling, or is it insignificant compared with solar activity?

    • Ted, You have a fundamental misunderstanding of both basic science and the conclusions of the report. Even WattsUpWithThat disregards your “interpretation” as simply not understanding basic science. Not sure if this is willful ignorance, but you might try reading through the post one more time. Or not.


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