Calorie Counting Thermometers

That’s what the Global Warming folks would have you believe. That a thermometer can do “calorie counting”. It’s a fundamental tenet of how they “do the math” of calculating Global Warming.

The basic “issue” is temperature vs. energy. This gets complicated with all sorts of physics and strange jargon that causes folks to glaze over on the subject. For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain it that sidesteps things like “enthalpy”, “specific heat”, and “intrinsic property”. What is everyone familiar with that would be a touchstone for those physics terms?

I think I’ve found that touchstone.

Folks know what temperature is. Sometimes they confound heat and temperature. Folks know what energy is. Sometimes they confound heat and energy.

Heat is not temperature, but temperature says some things about heat. But only if you know the quantity of stuff at a temperature and the heat capacity of that stuff. Those let you calculate the energy content of the object and then you can move on to heat. Heat itself has a couple of issues… since “heat” can mean the flow of thermal energy or it can mean the quantity of thermal energy.

Formally it means flow, but in common use folks use “heat content” for thermal energy content. We still see the correct usage in phrases like “heat the sauce”, where it means to make a flow of thermal energy into the sauce. It all becomes easier if you just avoid using the word “heat” at all, but talk about “thermal energy” content or flow. In that context, temperature is more like the pressure behind movement of thermal energy, while heat is the flow of that thermal energy (and “latent heat” is how much of that flow of thermal energy is stored in some other aspect of a material, like frozen vs liquid water.)

So what is a common place where people think about temperature, and energy content, that is clear and familiar? How about body temperature and the energy stored in food? We all know that our body has a temperature. We also all know that we get energy from food, and that when we “burn” that food in our metabolism, the energy in the food is liberated and some of it ends up as “body heat”. I think that touchstone can be used to make clear what the Climate Scientists have done that’s a bit daft.

They have used thermometers to try to measure how many calories the earth is taking in. Like you taking your body temperature to find out if you are gaining weight. Silly when you think of it that way.

The analogy is very good, fairly accurate, and closely models much of the actual physics issues.

Interestingly enough, it even brings out one other parallel. Both the earth and your body are “water cooled”. Humans, when too hot, sweat and evaporate water. The earth surface evaporates water too. That water rises to the top of the troposphere and then condenses into rain, dumping a load of thermal energy high in the sky, at the base of the tropopause. Measuring surface temperature is a particularly lousy way to measure thermal energy gain or loss, since loads of thermal energy can flow away as water vapor. Climate Science essentially ignores the water cycle, when the earth “sweats”, and instead sees more water vapor as a “positive feedback” that would make the earth warmer. In reality, more water vapor would lead to more precipitation and then on to more flow of thermal energy off planet. I cover that some in this link:

Which has a nice graph of the water / precipitation patterns showing that the highest energy input at the equator leads to a lot more rain, and the least at the poles leads to a lot less precipitation. Heat flow drives water flow, not temperature.

Total Precipitation

Total Precipitation

Does your body temperature tell you how much food you ate? How many pounds you gain? How much food energy you are turning into thermal energy? (Rather like the planet turning UV, visible light, and more into thermal energy of air molecules)?.

No, temperature does not tell you how many calories you ate, nor how many pounds you will gain. Similarly, for the earth: surface temperature does not tell you how much solar energy was absorbed, nor how many pounds of water evaporated. There is a fundamental disconnect between temperature readings and thermal energy flow or content.

That food calories analogy holds in one other interesting way, too. When you eat, your metabolism picks up a little, and you do get a tiny bit warmer; then many complex processes kick in to regulate your temperature. Similarly, the earth starts to warm a bit, then many complex processes kick in to regulate its temperature as well. Thunderstorms form, winds blow, ocean currents overturn. There is a small relationship, but a very dynamic one. Just enough to be confusing. Don’t eat, and your body temperature drops a tiny bit. Eventually you start to lose weight, but that takes longer. A naive person might be mislead into thinking that temperature was a direct indication of calories, but a careful observer would see a poor correlation with a non-linear relationship with a poor ability to predict longer term.

That’s the basic way that “Climate Scientists” have screwed up. They think they can use a thermometer to measure calories. That’s just wrong.

When you run, or have your daily awake / sleep cycle, or go swimming in a cool river, your temperature changes unrelated to your daily calorie intake. Sometimes when you eat more, you go to sleep and your body temperature drops. Similarly, the earth can have more energy flow in, and have a cool down that lower temperatures at the same time. In Florida we see this each summer. It gets hotter as noon approaches, then the water that’s been evaporating turns into afternoon showers that drop temperatures and cool the place off. More thermal energy coming in leading to lower surface temperatures. Natural ocean cycles can take heat energy into the depths. Natural convection can evaporate lots of water into the sky, to make snow that falls on the land. More heat ‘in’ can still have lower surface temperatures via convection, conduction, evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. If it wasn’t so, then we could never have one place warm and another cold at the same latitude. Such as California being warm while the east coast is buried under snow. The same solar radiation is coming in at the top of the atmosphere, after all. Something makes that weather difference… and it isn’t just calories ‘in’ making temperatures…

For people, it’s obvious to most of us that you need to measure your energy budget in and your energy budget out to know if you will gain or lose weight. “Calorie Counting”. Not just sticking a thermometer under your tongue. For “Climate Scientists”, they think if they stick one in your ear, two under your arm pits, and maybe one up your rump, then average them all, that will be the ticket. Physics just doesn’t work that way, though.

No amount of averaging of thermometers can ever tell you how many calories you are eating, and how much weight you will gain. And no number of thermometers can be averaged together to tell you how much thermal energy is being gained or lost from the planet.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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27 Responses to Calorie Counting Thermometers

  1. Chuck J says:

    Excellent way to show the problem with just working with temperatures.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    Nice to see the Chief Information Officer back in the saddle.
    One good thing that might come out of the buggering of the temperature records is, that they will be discarded in Real Climate Research. The amount of Ice on the planet is a better proxy for the average energy content of the system. The average snow level and tree line, the best indicators of climate changes. Our variable star is the engine that drives the system. Ex-sperts in that field are about as competent in forecasting future output as the Climate ex-sperts are in climate changes. So I guess that the “amateurs” will have to show the way. At least we haven’t been trained, “brainwashed” to accept settled science. ;-) pg
    “Ex-Spert” A former drip, under pressure.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    The fundamental thing causing this decay in science (beyond even “Climate Science”) IMHO is the rise of government funding. With government funding comes political control. With political control comes political goals and objectives. It is impossible to have government funding and not have a political axis to the process and through that bias in the results.

    Ms. Obama has a bug up her bun about weight. Anyone really think that folks will, under her watchful gaze, find that the BMI Body Mass Index is racist, ageist, and useless? That eating natural fats are not a problem, only synthetic ones are? That a bacon and egg breakfast with buttered toast is GOOD for you? (Grampa had B&E with toast & real butter every day on the farm and lived into his 90s. He also was ‘stocky’ enough to fail a BMI metric… )

    No, they will all do “research” aimed at finding that her preferred low fat high veggies no animal products diet is “best” for school kids so mandating it is just fine…

    The list of such things is huge…

    At any rate, I hope the “calorie counting with your thermometer” image is effective at explaining what’s wrong with the Global Average Temperature as indicator of “warming”…

  4. R. de Haan says:

    We have said from the beginning that measuring global temperature is total BS but eventually bowed to the concept. I think this has been a key mistake in fighting the warmists.

    Just like the acceptance that CO2 play’s any significant role in climate change.
    It’s too insignificant to spend a single dollar of research on the subject.

    There is probably one person who doesn’t agree with your assessment and explanation in your article and that is Burt Rutan who came to the conclusion that the warmists “found their Global warming” in the temperature records when the Russians shut down their Siberian Weather Stations after the economic collapse of the USSR in 1991.

  5. Serioso says:

    Ah well, the self-styled chief of information is back at it again, railing against his favorite target, climate science spokesmen, and adding his own layer of misinformation as he battles against straw men. Welcome back! But don’t you think you could do better? Couldn’t you spend some time actually reading papers on climate science and trying to understand what climate scientists actually do, as opposed to those who merely try (always misleadingly) to simplify the subject for the general public? You MUST know that real climate scientists don’t actually ignore latent heat transport in the atmosphere! A very good start, if you’re not willing to spend the time to read and digest an entire text (such as Pierrehumbert’s) is to look at the blog. Or even (the much simplified) Then perhaps you might actually be able to make intelligent thoughtful commentary.

    [ Reply: Insults and snark are a poor substitute for thought. If you can not be polite, I can add you to the SPAM filter. It is up to you. I will not tolerate the typical warmers approach of insult and character assassination liberally seasoned with snark.

    BTW, my initial meaning for ‘chiefio’ was aimed at my interest in Investments, not Information. So I’m not a “self-styled” anything of information. Other folks have taken ‘chiefio’ in that direction. I also originally started using the name when I also did a lot of tape backups, and it was, as a secondary meaning, a subtle self deprecating pun on “chief (of) I/O” as in Input/Output tape jockey… Not exactly a self aggrandizing thing.

    The purpose of this little posting exercise is to demonstrate, in an attainable way, why a “Global Average Temperature” is, from the very foundation of it, a broken concept. And to do so without needing to explain intrinsic property or latent heat or enthalpy. At that, it is fairly good. Now, per the assertion that I’m “not willing to spend the time”… need I point out I’ve spent a couple of YEARS going through every line of GISTemp code? And guess what; it doesn’t have specific heat, enthalpy, latent heat, or humidity data in it anywhere. What it does do is average an intrinsic property of a substance, the temperature, then imply from that that heating (net positive thermal energy flow in) is happening. A patently false thing to do. So I HAVE looked at what “Climate Scientists” do, and found it is quite lacking. They may talk about things like enthalpy but it isn’t in the Global Average Temperature calculating code. (Perhaps it is hiding in the climate models that can’t predict the future…)

    So you can provide some actual evidence, our you can be quiet. And no, simply name dropping or tossing links is NOT providing actual evidence. Trolling to plant links to your favorite propaganda is not acceptable. Please start by showing how using ONLY temperature measurements with no mass or specific heat values, you can do calorimetry and demonstrate the heat gain / loss by a mixed load of rock and water. That is what a “The planet is warming” conclusion, based on measuring temperatures, is asserting. Since it is not possible to do calorimetry with only a thermometer and no mass or specific heat measure, I’ll not hold my breath… There is a nice drawing of a proper calorimetry rig in this posting. Oh, and please also, since water is involved, explain the Mpemba effect and why it is not important to clouds, snow, hail, glaciers, etc. “The science is settled” after all… -E.M.Smith ]

  6. Simon Derricutt says:

    The AGW debate at the moment does seem somewhat like the historical debates of the flatness of the Earth or whether the Sun and planets all rotated around the Earth. The result of what happens when a CO2 molecule absorbs a photon and then re-radiates it in a random direction must be that there is an almost-equal probability of radiation upwards as downwards – the slight disparity because the Earth is round so there’s a very slightly higher probability of going up. Comparing the effect of CO2 with firstly water-vapour (same stationary model) or with the effects of mass-movements must show that the heating effects of CO2 are basically negligible. At the top of the atmosphere, where the up/down imbalance is greater, CO2 should in fact have a slight cooling effect.

    I think that the debate (OK, brainwashing) over the causes of climate change will continue for another few years until it becomes really obvious that the world is really cooling again and it was just another cyclic variation. Bigger changes have happened in the past for no apparent (as yet) reasons. We just have to adapt to what’s happening. Back in the ’70s scientists were predicting a new ice age on the way, though I don’t remember them blaming it on anything mankind has done.

    The analogy of the thermometer is pretty good, and points out the problem of following the temperature rather than the energy flows. A bit like measuring the voltage in a circuit and forgetting about the currents.

  7. Speed says:

    It takes a person with education or experience in science (me, for example) about 12 minutes to see that the variable of interest should be the earth’s total energy content. Constant? Rising? Falling?

    And since it can’t be measured directly, the scientists/engineers involved in climate research should be relocated to earth orbit to measure the energy going into the earth and the energy coming out, the difference being the change in total energy content. Perhaps someone can tell me what insurmountable technical barrier prevents this. Even an expensive development effort and constellation of satellites would be cost effective if the alternative is the expensive scientific foolishness that is going on now.

  8. Clay Marley says:

    I believe you are correct that government funding has lead to a decay in science. But I don’t believe it is caused by government funding. It may provide motive for bias but by itself it doesn’t lead to biased behavior.

    A scientist is one who seeks the truth, wherever that leads and regardless of motive. Early scientists from the Protestant Revolution and the Renaissance sought truth for no other reason than to understand God’s physical creation. The created universe itself was a second Gospel. A geologist today working for an oil company may be motivated instead by money, but he must still seek truth or Billions of dollars could be wasted. Likewise the biologist working for a pharmaceutical company. In these examples, though the motive may be other than simply seeking to understand the universe, there is always a feedback loop that enforces the search for truth. Mistakes and/or bias can cost money or even result in tragedy.

    But when progressive politics is the motive, both of these are missing. First, this feedback loop is slow in coming if at all. Second, the drive for truth itself appears to have been lost. This is a moral issue. In a world where many believe there are no absolute truths and there is no God, then ethics is whatever one wants it to be. And so is truth. When Peter Gleick stole documents from the Heartland Institute, most of his defenders said that ethically, “the end justifies the means”.

    The question is, what is the real end?

  9. omanuel says:

    Good to see you back, Chiefio.

    The climate debate helped us get out information about the Sun that had been blocked by the gatekeepers of consensus science for sixty-eight years.

    Today, the genie is out of the bottle and will never be returned !

    A two-page addendum has been added with these final conclusions:

    1. We will all work together or we will die separately.

    2. The same reality is revealed by meditation and observation.

    Click to access Chapter_2.pdf

  10. Graeme No.3 says:

    Yes, I think you have an explanation that the average person will grasp easily.

    The averaging of temperatures is a sore point with me. To put it in your terms, they stick a thermometer under the armpit, another under someone else’s armpit, another in a third person’s ear and the fourth person gets one in the rump. They then average the readings and claim they can tell your temperature to a hundred of a degree.

    And did not the old time alchemists admonish each other with “Let not the mighty into your laboratory” (or similar).

  11. Espen says:

    Very good, thank you! In addition to your point – that temperature doesn’t say anything about energy imbalance at all – there’s the point that temperatures of different places can’t really be averaged. I was looking at the weatherbell map of anomalies for “the hottest November ever” ( and it occurred to me that most of the “heat” consisted of around-or-just-above-freezing (instead of way below freezing) temperatures in Russia, while large parts of the tropics (at least in Ryan Maue’s reanalysis plot) were actually cooler than normal! (Look at South America and Africa), and it occurred to me that even if you insist on the strange measure of “global temperature”, you’re comparing apples and oranges when you compare the hot moist Amazonas with the dry cold tundra. I really need to read up on thermodynamics (I’ve studied a lot of math, and some stats and CS, but sometimes I really miss that I left physics out of my university curriculum), so I’m not sure how to compute the numbers here, but I’m pretty sure that +1 degree air temperature in the tropics corresponds to a larger enthalpy change than +1 degree air temperature change in the Arctic desert.

  12. philjourdan says:

    The whole issue of measuring the temperature of the earth is more complex than most realize. Beyond the issue of tampering with input data (the adjustments they continually make), they have the fact that the temperature is not static – as you point out. The average temperature for Port St. Lucie Florida for a day is very complex in itself. But then trying to create a world average when they do not even understand what they are measuring makes it impossible to get meaningful data. That is probably why they can claim anything they want – with authority. Since they have no clue, no one can challenge them since no one can replicate the tests.

  13. A C Osborn says:

    Chiefio, I very well remember you great series on World Temperatures by Country and Continents, can I ask if you had Raw data for those countries as Frank Lansner has a Temperature project going over at WUWT where he is asking for any real raw data.

  14. Tim Clark says:

    The analogy is very good, fairly accurate, and closely models much of the actual physics issues.


    Except I believe you give a large percentage of the the population too much credit when you say
    “everyone knows….., or we all know….”.
    I would estimate that close to half of the population in developed “educated” nations couldn’t explain what is being sampled with a thermometer. The surface of the tongue? Acidity? Moisture content? Libido?

  15. Serioso says:

    Calling the links I provided “propaganda” is sad. If you had a look at them you might come to a different conclusion. Furthermore, if you read some of the recent literature you would find that climate scientists are in fact trying to measure the energy content of the ocean-atmosphere combined system, not just temperature. Your rant at climate scientists is uninformed and misleading, a battle against straw men.

    The comment from Speed is appropriate, and there ARE satellites that measure energy the balance of energy flows to the earth. Alas, their accuracy (a few parts per thousand) is not yet adequate to answer the question he raises. Some discussion of this is found on the scienceofdoom blog.

    I will try in the future not to think of you as the chief information officer (P.G. Sharrow’s term, not mine as you suppose), but as the chief in charge of input and output. And I’ll keep the old term “gigo” firmly in mind -:)

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @AC Osborn:
    I had “unadjusted” that is in fact changed via a “QA” process and a monthly average that may or may not have some recreated synthetic values in it. Not really raw daily data.

  17. omanuel says:

    Thanks, E. M. Smith, for all that you have done to expose government deceit. Below is the essence of a message just sent to the Congressional Space Science & Technology Committee:

    Coincidence [1] exposed reality, and this was added as the last two pages of Chapter 2, A Journey to the Core of the Sun – Acceptance of Reality [2].

    1. Einstein’s and Aston’s discoveries in 1905-1922 of “powers beyond the dreams of scientific fiction” [3] were selfishly used to kill, or threaten to kill, the inhabitants or leaders of other nations in 1945-1968.

    2. Frightened world leaders apparently secretly agreed amongst themselves in 1971-1972 to:

    _ a.) Save themselves,
    _ b.) Sacrifice the integrity of science and
    _ c.) Constitutional limits on governments, and
    _ d.) Enslave their citizens by giving them street drugs, anti-depressants, psychotropic drugs, legalized marijuana, alcohol, reality TV, gladiator sports, video games, pornography, gambling casinos, etc., etc, ad infinitum !

    With kind regards,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo


    1. A Journey to the Core of the Sun – Coincidence

    Click to access Chapter_1.pdf

    2. A Journey to the Core of the Sun – Acceptance of Reality

    Click to access Chapter_2.pdf

    3. See: Last paragraph of Aston’s 1922 Nobel Lecture

    Click to access aston-lecture.pdf

  18. Jason Calley says:

    Another problem with using average temperatures is that it really fouls up any calculations of radiated energy. Imagine two identical bodies, A and B, both at temperature T. Both bodies will radiate a certain amount of energy per unit time. Now imagine the same two bodies, identical except that now A is at temperature T – delta, and B is at temperature T plus delta. The average temperature is still T. Since radiated energy is a fourth power of T, B will radiate quite a bit more than previously. A, on the other hand, will radiate somewhat less that before. The excess of B radiation will always be greater than the deficit of A radiation. Every time the “scientists” average temperatures they will underestimate radiated energy.

  19. PeterB in Indianapolis says:

    It seems to me that the satellites have already shown that as temperature rose, total energy out at the TOA also rose (which makes sense). If we see a cooling trend (which I believe we will), then energy out at the TOA will continue to rise for a period of time while temperatures (on average) fall.

    As a scientist I already understand that it all has to do with energy balance, but that point, even with your excellent analogy in this post, is diabolically difficult to explain to the average person. The state of education has made it such that the majority of people will simply believe what the “experts” tell them – in spite of the fact that “x” is the unknown quantity and “spurt” is just a drip under pressure!

  20. PeterB in Indianapolis says:

    @Jason Calley

    Temperature only has meaning at a single location at a single time, under the current conditions at that particular location. Once you average that temperature with the temperature from another location with (very likely) different conditions, the resultant number becomes completely meaningless.

    “Average global temperature” thus is a completely meaningless concept. I think that is precisely what you were getting at in your post, although from a slightly different perspective.

    One of my favorite examples of this actually comes from a SINGLE location! When I was quite young (about 10 or 11 years old), there was a day at my home where the temperature at 10:00 AM was 57F, and my mother went to hang some laundry outside on our clothes-line to dry. By 1:30PM, the temperature was -7F and it was snowing. One of my bedsheets that my mother had hung out to dry shattered when she tried to take it off of the clothes-line because it had frozen stiff. The high temperature for that day, in that location, was actually 60F (just after midnight) and the low temperature at around 11:00PM (less than 24 hours later) was -10F. The “average” temperature on that day was 25F, but that was the “actual” temperature for only a few brief minutes on that particular day. So, if I told you that on March 7th, 1979 (I think that was the date), the average temperature at my house was 25F, you would think that it was a fairly cold day for early March where my house was, but the reality of the situation was that it started out as a very warm day for early March, and ended up as a BRUTALLY cold day for early March, and all of that changed over less than 4 hours. “Average temperature” is meaningless.

  21. R. de Haan says:


  22. R. de Haan says:

    Pauchari visits high level climate meeting About IPCC AR5 in the Netherlands hosted by the KNMI:
    Pauchari lies in front of the camera:
    1. Claims: Humans responsible for the weather, 1500 scientists agree on 95% certainty.
    (A foot note in the same report states the scientist don’t agree and can not draw any conclusions at this moment in time.)
    2. Cliams: Climate warming since second half of past century human induced
    3. Clamas: More extreme weather events than ever before
    4. Claims: We have until 2015 to reduce carbon emissions
    5. Claims: After 2015 mitigation costs extremely expensive, especially for the Netherlands

    In short he is repeating the same hullabaloo as usual.

  23. Espen says:

    R. de Haan: Pauchari’s probably afraid that after 2015 the AMO will dive into its cooling mode and the gravy train will derail ;-)

  24. Jason Calley says:

    @ PeterB in Indianapolis

    Yes, I agree with you about “average temperature” being a so-poor-as-to-be-unusable concept. In fact, one of the problems with “average temperature” is that it is wrong in so many different ways. As you point out, it is wrong because the lack of time weighting allows a short period of high temperature to distort a long period of cold (and vice versa). Average temperature (as E.M. has pointed out so well) tells you nothing about enthalpy or heat flow. Average temperature always underestimates radiative effects because radiation is not a linear function of temperature.

    Bring up any of these points and the true CAGW believer will wave his hand and claim that “the law of large numbers” will magically wash away the errors. Well, not in this case, not when the multiple measurements are not being made of the same thing at the same time and are of a chaotic system which most definitely does NOT have a normal distribution.

    By the way, Peter, I am not sure how long you have been following E.M.’s blog, but if you have not read his older posts concerning GIStemp, do yourself a favor and follow the link he has posted at the masthead. As hard as it is to believe, the problems with “average temperature” are only the tip of a very large iceberg.

    PS: I used to live in Indianapolis almost a half century ago. I spent many a saved up lunch money while haunting the musty old used book stores that were then found a few blocks from the Circle downtown.

  25. E.M.Smith says:

    @PeterB in Indianopolis:

    I covered that same point a couple of times. Most recently here:

    I’ve been trying to find a way to explain it without the jargon for a while, eventually leading to this posting.

    Per 2015:

    I think they figured out they have one year to get folks roped, harnessed, hobbled and taxed before the whole scam falls apart and they know they can’t get any laws / treatys passed.

  26. omanuel says:

    Bull shit!

    No competent engineer would use a formula with known flaws over one that is valid.

  27. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, to what are you calling “BS”? (And I don’t remember ever accusing Climate Scientists of being “competent engineers” ;-)

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