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Page added on November 29, 2009

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Five things you should know about climate change

It can be really difficult for anyone not well-versed in the debate to get any sense of the science at all, something that’s clear from the huge gap between the scientific community’s acceptance of climate change and the public’s wariness about the topic. So it’s probably useful to step back from the latest findings, and look at science’s basic understanding of how greenhouse gasses can force climate change, which often gets lost in the arguments.

The concept of greenhouse gas-driven warming was worked out about a century ago, shortly after it was realized that carbon dioxide is transparent to visible light, but absorbs infrared radiation. Once absorbed, it is transformed into vibrational and rotational energy, which we perceive as warmth. This plays out very simply: the sun’s output in the visible spectrum passes through greenhouse gasses on the way to the ground, where a lot of it gets absorbed and radiated back out as infrared at a later point. With more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, a greater fraction of that IR is absorbed by the atmosphere, increasing its heat content.

Not only are the physics simple, it’s easy to calculate the impact of greenhouse gasses by measuring the amount of energy sent our way by the sun, and then assuming it’s all radiated back to space. Without the influence of greenhouse gasses, including water vapor and CO2, the planet would be a much colder place, and uninhabitable by most of its current life.

Ars Technica



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