Well, the scientists are at it again. More untestable theories about climate change. As a former weatherman myself, I can tell you that I’m not impressed.
First we get all the media hype, government money and policy statements, and to a certain extent panic among environmental groups who insist that the greenhouse gas CO2 is causing the world to heat up, and now this: a possible indication that this same gas actually intensifies Ice Ages! Well blow me down and call me a penguin. Why am I not surprised.
Here’s an exercise for you. Click on the link in the previous paragraph. Instead of trying to understand the story, count the number of times the word could occurs in the first four paragraphs. I make it three. The funny thing is that the meaning of the article doesn’t change if you change that word to isn’t, didn’t and didn’t, respectively.
So what is the point of the article? Well, there are three stakeholders whose wants are met by it. The first one is the lead scientist who published his interpretation of the data in the journal Science. In university circles, the mantra is “publish or perish.”
The second stakeholder is the public which is ever looking for entertainment. In Neil Postman’s classic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, he says that what passes for news is, in the majority of cases, merely entertainment; because knowing something doesn’t empower us to change it, and we are aware of that limitation before we even read it. In other words, we read it because we’re curious. It’s the stuff of Sunday papers in general.
The third stakeholder is the journalist. She also suffers from publish or perish. She has to write the headline in such a way as to compel readers to read her story.
What seems to be lacking here is a desire on the part of anyone to back up and give us an objective, rather than a suggestive, interpretation of what has been learned by the scientist’s research. That information is found way down at the bottom of the article, past the point at which most people stop reading the column. It says, “It seems the tropical warming caused by high CO2 levels set off a chain of events resulting in additional greenhouse gases, including water vapor being release to the atmosphere, thus causing further warming.
I have real problems with this statement. First, hands up everyone who’s surprised that the tropics are getting warmer. It’s why so many go there during the winter.
Next, think about the word “high,” as in “high CO2.” That infers that there was a time when it was lower, which is relative anyway. High can mean everything from a lot to something that’s barely noticeable. It’s a comparison from what it was to what it’s become. And since CO2 only makes up four hundredths of a percent of the atmosphere, undoubtedly it can’t be much. Whether scientists can measure and increase or decrease doesn’t matter either, because it varies throughout the year by itself, much the way your body temperature or blood pressure varies without you having to do anything. All this makes the words “high” and “additional” a classic case of stating the obvious.
The next problem is the emphasis on water vapor being released into the atmosphere. What of it. Evaporation does the same thing, but that doesn’t seem to worry anyone. Whenever a low pressure system passes over a body of water, massive amounts of stuff is sucked up from the surface. Imagine what it must be like over the oceans. It happens every day for most of the day at the equator, all around the world.
The last thing I want to mention is the misleading bit at the end. It says in so many words that water vapor causes the atmosphere to warm up. IT DOES NOT. The meteorological facts are that water heats up and cools down at three times the speed of land. That means that cool water stays cool for longer and warm water stays warm for longer. But, cool water vapor added to the atmosphere does not make the air warmer.
Let me give you a practical example. In arid and semi-arid climates, the air is cooled by using an appliance call a swamp cooler. Because the air is so dry, the temperature can be lowered by adding cool water to the air. You just fill up the tank, and the machine converts it to water vapor and puts it into the room. As the humidity goes up, the temperature goes down.
In humid climates, refrigerated air conditioning is used. Here the problem is that the moisture in the air is already warm. Dry air doesn’t hold heat. That’s why there’s such a large range of temperature in dry climates between day and night. In a humid climate, the warm, moist air is sucked into the air conditioner, the water vapor is condensed against some very cold pipes, and the cool dry air is put back into the room. As the warm water vapor is removed, the air temperature decreases.
If science wasn’t your best subject, I hope you were still able to follow along.
My appeal to you is to consider carefully what you’re being told. Just because a scientist or a journalist says it, doesn’t make it true.