With the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, a movie about global warming, the controversial topic has been brought up a notch. The message is “It’s all about our industrialization” and “It’s all about the carbon dioxide”. It would be worth noting some facts. The problem is most people are not aware of them.
Given the scary information that’s been put out there that we’re experiencing global warming due to excessive amounts of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by industrialization and car exhaust, how much carbon dioxide do you think is in the atmosphere? Is it 5%, 10%, 15%? With all that’s been said on the matter, and the fact that’s always trotted out that most of the world’s climate scientists believe that human forcing of global climate change is happening, that we need to dramatically reduce our burning of fossil fuels in less than 10 years–or else, and that the debate is over, you would think that the concentration of carbon dioxide would be quite large already.
I did a little searching on the web for the chemical composition of the atmosphere–what it’s made up of. Here it is:
Nitrogen – 78.084%
Oxygen – 20.916%
Argon – 0.934%
Carbon Dioxide – 0.036%
Neon – 0.00182%
Helium – 0.000524%
Methane – 0.00015%
Krypton – 0.000114%
Hydrogen – 0.00005%
Just so we’re clear, other ways of saying this are carbon dioxide makes up 36-thousandths of 1 percent of the entire atmosphere, or 360 parts per million. In fact, if you look at the pie chart on the page the link above refers to, they have a little arrow pointing to “carbon dioxide” with it pointing to a sliver that’s barely visible.
When I finally found this out I really wondered, “What the hell is everyone getting so worked up about? This is nothing!” Is this infinitesimal amount of CO2 causing the glaciers to melt? Could it possibly prevent that much more infrared radiation from going back out into space? Or is it something else? Could the warming be caused by something we don’t know about yet? And why with all the tons of CO2 we put into the atmosphere, is the concentration not much higher? With all the hype about it you would think we’re suffocating ourselves in CO2. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Note also that methane, another greenhouse gas, is 15-billionths of 1 percent of the entire atmosphere, or 1.5 parts per million.
I’m no climate scientist, so I admit ignorance of the intricacies of the way in which the climate works, though I have some grounding in science. I understand that the greenhouse gases we have prevent enough heat from escaping so the Earth doesn’t become a frozen wasteland in the evenings. Don’t expect me, however, to lose sleep over something on the order of a one-thousandth of 1 percent increase in CO2. Let’s keep in mind that water vapor is more abundant in the atmosphere than any other greenhouse gas, including CO2.
, and it is far more potent in trapping heat.
One of the points that is now being made about global warming (due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year) is it causes more extreme storms, due to warmer waters, and more water vapor entering the atmosphere. Water vapor has a significant influence over our weather, storms and such. What’s interesting is this hardly gets discussed, at least out in the public sphere. The assumption seems to be, as reflected here, that as the air is warmed, due to warmer waters, due to more infrared radiation being trapped by industrial CO2, more water evaporates because warmer air decreases the relative humidity, and so more water can evaporate into it. And the assumption is that it does, filling the increased capacity. The above referred link also says that more water evaporation doesn’t mean that temperature will necessarily rise due to there being more of it, because water vapor can also condense into clouds, which reflect radiation from the Sun back into space.
In general, when relative humidity increases, the pan evaporation decreases. When wind speed increases, the pan evaporation increases. When solar radiation increases, evaporation increases.
Note when they say “solar radiation” they are not talking about heat, but rather the amount of
charged particles photons (light) from the Sun that hit the water. The higher the rate of particles photons that hit the water, the higher the evaporation rate. Note as well that more than one factor could result in increased water vapor. Yes, warmer air is part of it, but warmer air in and of itself will not be the only cause.
Here, they talk about “pan evaporation”. This just means that you put a certain amount of water in a pan, a bowl, whatever, draw a line around the pan where the water level is, and see how much water you have to add over a period of time to keep the water at the pre-established level. This measures how much water is evaporating in the pan over time–the pan evaporation rate. What’s interesting, as the teacher’s guide I refer to above notes, is the pan evaporation rate is falling:
In the 1990s, scientists worldwide started noticing the pan evaporation rate was falling, despite an overall rise in global temperature.
Hmmm. So the rate at which water evaporates has been falling around the world. A fly in the ointment perhaps? Hurricanes depend on a massive inflow of warm, moist air. That’s what fuels them. If the rate at which water evaporates has been falling, why the increase in the number and power of hurricanes? I think the global warming alarmists have some explaining to do…
The gist of the show “Dimming the Sun” was that particulate pollution was causing an effect in the atmosphere which was actually blocking a portion of the Sun’s radiation from reaching the Earth. It’s a good show. I encourage people to watch it.
Edit – July 2: In the interest of accuracy I felt it necessary to correct myself here. Upon doing further research on the subject I found that while my first assertion about water vapor is accurate, my second one: that water vapor is far more potent at trapping heat than CO2, is not. It is only better at trapping heat, in effect, because it is more abundant than CO2. All things being equal, CO2 is more potent. This does not mean that the overall point of my original post is lost. Depending on the time of year, and location on the Earth, water vapor makes up anywhere between 1%-3% of the atmospheric gases. If you compare this to the amount of CO2, you can see that there is a lot more water vapor than CO2. You can read about this and other facts surrounding the subject here:
MYTH 4: CO2 is the most common greenhouse gas.
FACT: Greenhouse gases form about 3% of the atmosphere by volume. They consist of varying amounts, (about 97%) of water vapour and clouds, with the remainder being gases like CO2, CH4, Ozone and N2O, of which carbon dioxide is the largest amount. Hence, CO2 constitutes about 0.037% of the atmosphere. While the minor gases are more effective as “greenhouse agents” than water vapour and clouds, the latter are overwhelming the effect by their sheer volume and – in the end – are thought to be responsible for 60% of the “Greenhouse effect”.
Those attributing climate change to CO2 rarely mention this important fact.