Jan Brewer, Arizona Governor, was asked if she believes global warming is man-made and her response was:
Everybody has an opinion on it, you know, and, uh, you know, I probably don’t believe that it’s man-made. I believe that, uh, you know, um, weather elements are controlled maybe by, uh, different things.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have an opinion or believe in the weather or global warming. Neither are things of faith and neither cares if you believe in them or not. You don’t need to believe in transistors or electricity to use a cell phone either.
The short answer, for Jan and anyone else that thinks science is a belief system, is the sun and our atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if God made the sun and Earth or if the Big Bang did (or if God made the Big Bang knowing that from it we would exist).
If you go outside on a sunny day, you can feel the sun on your skin – it’s warm and that’s solar radiation (sunlight). We are just the right distance from the sun so that we are not too hot or too cold.
If you go outside, you can breathe – that’s out atmosphere. Our atmosphere exists because gravity (the Earth’s mass) can hold onto the gases that make up the atmosphere.
Some other planets have atmospheres but something unique to us is that water can exist in all three forms (phases) as a solid (ice), liquid (water), and a gas (water vapour – humidity).
The water cycle is very important for the weather and for life on Earth. Water from the oceans can evaporate and condense into clouds. Clouds and water vapour in the air help make a warm blanket around the Earth. That’s why deserts get cold at night – low humidity (but that makes for a good hair day Jan). Water is great at holding in heat and letting it go later (latent heat).
In fact, that’s why we call water vapour a greenhouse gas. It helps the atmosphere act like a greenhouse and keeps our planet warm at night. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is also a greenhouse gas and is naturally occurring. The ocean’s absorb and release carbon dioxide and that helps regulate how much CO2 is in the atmosphere.
Photosynthesis produces CO2 at night and humans exhale some CO2. Carbon dioxide is natural and very important for life as we know it – to help keep the Earth at the right temperature for us.
So why do we always hear the greenhouse gases are bad if they are natural and important?
More CO2 means that Earth’s atmosphere acts as a warmer greenhouse and that means it gets hotter outside.
We don’t really know how big an effect we, as humans, have related to CO2 but we do know that we have been adding lots of CO2 to the atmosphere since the Industrial Age (combustion releases lots of CO2). Since we can control how much CO2 we release, shouldn’t we at least reduce how much we are adding since we know what it does?
We know that adding more CO2 to the atmosphere is adding more greenhouse gas. We know that greenhouse gases hold in heat, so shouldn’t we at least take responsibility for what we add?
Jan – the weather is mainly the sun and our atmosphere; that’s a nice and concise answer and it doesn’t matter if you believe in it and you don’t have to forsake your God either.
Join us next week when we talk about why the sky is blue (UV light scattering), how clouds reflect sunlight (albedo), and how Earth’s spinning affects weather (Coriolis effect). All without making anyone have to give up on God . . .