Carbon Dioxide Traps Heat On Earth.
If we can agree on that, we can have a conversation.
Climate change has become too sore a subject. We’d like to move past it. Wouldn’t you? Maybe a good place to start is the basics. Carbon dioxide (CO2) keeps much of the sun’s heat from escaping back into space.
We’ve known this for more than a century. In the 1820s, French physicist Jean-Baptiste Fourier identified the Greenhouse Effect.[i] By 1896, Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius showed how CO2 from industrial emissions would cause temperatures to rise.[ii]
This isn’t a left or right issue. It’s science. And it’s a good thing, too. Without CO2 acting like a blanket trapping heat, the planet would be too cold to sustain life. But you can have too much of a good thing. As we add more CO2 from fossil fuels to the atmosphere, excess heat remains trapped on earth, and the planet warms. This isn’t controversial. The head of Exxon Mobil and most major oil companies agree, along with every scientific academy in the world.[iii]
Right now, we are adding the energy equivalent of 400,000 atomic bombs to the atmosphere every day.[iv] That’s a lot of heat. So glaciers are melting, rainstorms are getting more intense, and seas are rising. Our economy, liberty and national security are at risk.
More on those issues later in this series. For now, let us just agree on the basic physics–that CO2 traps heat on earth. We can disagree on the precise timing and consequences, but if we can all accept this basic science, we can begin to find common ground. And that’s a start.
[i] American Institute of Physics, “The Discovery of Global Warming: The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect,” March 2015. https://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm
[ii] American Institute of Physics, “The Discovery of Global Warming: The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect,” March 2015. https://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm
[iii] NASA, Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensu
[iv] James Hansen, TED Talk “Why I must speak out about climate change,” March 2012. Transcript here, atomic bomb comment at 7:20. https://www.ted.com/talks/james_hansen_why_i_must_speak_out_about_climate_change/transcript?language=en