The Ledger’s April 28 guest column by Delaney Reynolds, a 20-year-old student, asks that we trust science [“COVID-19 shows that we must trust science; science says address climate crisis”]. Her guest editorial was more political messaging than science. Saying that a .04% amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can cause anything, much less global warming, is like saying that the beating of butterfly wings in the atmosphere is the cause of hurricanes.
Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon and 0.04% carbon dioxide with very small percentages of other elements. The CO2 is too small to affect anything in the greenhouse effect, is heavier than air and does not hold heat. The small amount of it that is in the atmosphere by necessity hugs the surface of the planet to feed the plants, trees and plankton in a process called photosynthesis, which in turn makes oxygen for us to breathe. In other words, it is not a “pollutant” but rather is the staff of life on this planet. It literally greens up the planet and makes it possible for us to breathe one more day.
The atmosphere also contains water vapor. “Being a component of Earth’s hydrosphere and hydrologic cycle, it is particularly abundant in Earth’s atmosphere, where it acts as the most potent greenhouse gas, stronger than other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Gaseous water represents a small but environmentally significant constituent of the atmosphere. The percentage water vapor in surface air varies from 0.01% at -42 C (-44 °F) to 4.24% when the dew point is 30 °C (86 °F). Approximately 99.13% of it is contained in the troposphere.” (Wikipedia “Water Vapor”)
Water vapor does hold heat, which is why it is the major greenhouse gas. As a simple example, in the tropical regions such as Florida, where the humidity is high, the atmosphere holds the heat overnight, whereas in drier climates such as the Arizona desert when the sun goes down the temperature drops precipitously. On Mars, with an atmosphere of nearly 100% CO2, the daytime temps will be a reasonable 40 to 70 degrees, but at night it drops to colder than the dark side of the moon.
So what does cause all this global warming? Well, the amount of warming is subject to dispute because it depends on averaging readings from all over the world, over centuries, but if there is any warming it is not due to .04% CO2. We notice that the warming increases with the clearcutting of the forests, which leaves large patches of bare land or low lying crops instead of millions of trees. Some theorize that this removal of the absorbing of CO2 from the system is causing an increase and therefore more warming. I would change that correlation to the direct warming of the air by the sun on those bare patches, with an incidental increase in CO2, which is not the cause of the warming but rather an effect from the removal of the forests. We might also consider the paving over of the planet, which reflects a lot of heat from sunlight.
Political operatives may be using this global warming and the CO2 theory to have something that can be taxed, blaming sea levels and warming on our use of fossil fuels to make energy for a better life on this planet. But if the warming (if any) has nothing to do with fossil fuels, it will end up costing us billions of dollars and our very way of life.
You can’t tax water vapor, but I would urge all reading this to trust science, and find out a little more about the real cause of the problems under study rather than trusting the kids with our future.
Gary Eickmeier, a retired Air Force officer and master navigator, resides in Lakeland.
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