And I'm Anti-Science?

Would all those folks who so revel in calling folks like me "anti-science" (Dr. Michael Mann being foremost among them) please stop using cooling tower steam plumes as an illustration of CO2 production?  Not only is steam not pollution (though it sortof kindof can be made to look like it if you photoshop it right), but the cooling towers so often featured in these shots are not even emitting combustion products at all.


  1. Don:

    It's the message, not the facts, that are important.

  2. Onlooker from Troy:

    Yes! It's burns my @ss every time I see one of those propaganda pictures next to the latest alarmist tripe article.

  3. jdgalt:

    Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, and I'm sure if the Chicken Littles ever control CO2, they'll find a way to demonize that steam, just to have something to scream about.

  4. dmk:

    In fact cooling towers are very good at scrubbing particulates from the air. That mixture of air and water vapor is very clean. Of course those particulates end up in the tower's circulating water.

  5. Matthew Slyfield:

    "though it sortof kindof can be made to look like it if you photoshop it right"

    I am a serious amateur photographer. Photoshop or other post-process work isn't necessary to achieve this affect. All it takes is the patience to wait for just the right lighting.

  6. FelineCannonball:

    Figure you burn a ton of coal in a power plant (producing 2.8 tons of CO2). Assume 7 million kcal per ton and steam losses accounting for 12% of the total energy. That gives you about 1.4 tons of steam.

    So for every ton of steam you see condense above the cooling tower you get something like two tons CO2 into the atmosphere.

    The math might vary a bit from day to day, but for graphical purposes it seems like steam production is a decent indicator and proxy for CO2 emissions. If anything it's graphically misleading in being an underestimate of CO2 emissions.

  7. JKB:

    Well, steam did make the bulk of the industrial revolution possible. But it also permitted industry to move away from the river bank and water power.

  8. MNHawk:

    Photographing steam against a setting sun backdrop, on a cold day, scares the bejeebers out of me.

  9. Russ R.:

    And how does the math work on nuclear power plants?

  10. Craig Loehle:

    In the old days at the Savannah River Plant nuclear site, they just sent some of the hot water down the stream to cool off (since no one live there and it was the old days). This killed trees. An anti-nuc group got a picture looking upstream through dead trees at the plant -- implication was that the trees were killed by radiation. Again, if your cause is virtuous, the facts don't matter.

  11. alanstorm:

    Ah, yes, the old "fake but accurate" routine.

    Try again.

  12. marque2:

    We also have the assumption that CO2 is somehow bad, when that hasn't even been determined.

  13. marque2:

    What about the lazy photographers who just want to get a shot for publicity and then get the heck out, rather than wait all day for the perfect lighting moment?

  14. FelineCannonball:

    If Mann showed a picture of a nuclear plant as an example of a CO2 production, that would be a problem.

    If he shows a picture of a coal-powered power plant to illustrates anthropogenic CO2 production I don't see the problem.

    It's like you guys would get upset with a picture of a bent trees to illustrate the wind. "Not only is a tree not wind, but the trees featured in these shots are not made of air at all." WTF?

  15. FelineCannonball:

    You don't even have to get into any math. Just demonstrating that there is non-trivial relationship between the picture and the concept.

    A picture of a house plant can illustrate CO2 assimilation. A picture of a squirrel can illustrate CO2 production. A static picture of a car on the road can illustrate speed.

  16. Matthew Slyfield:

    I never said it couldn't be done through post process work, just that with a little patience it wasn't necessary.

  17. Me too:

    How do you get 3.8 tons of CO2 out of 1 ton of coal? And they got a lot of heat out of that same ton too. Coal is the miracle stone. Burn it and it gains mass.

  18. FelineCannonball:


    The oxygen in CO2 comes from air and accounts for ~73% of the mass. Not really a miracle. Just chemistry.

  19. Me too:

    Well shit. You learn something new everyday. So as it burns it combines with O2 from the air.