Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Water Vapor and Climate Change

Two short letters to the editor of the Boston Globe illustrate the need for better geographic education and better science education in general. The first is entitled "Why Fight CO2," and perpetuates the common assumption that since water vapor is a more major greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the latter does not need regulation. This writer misses several critical details, which a second writer outlines in "Defogging the denial in the debate over CO2."

Water vapor varies from zero to four percent of the atmosphere, but as the second writer points out, its overall concentration is not changing. Over the past half-century, carbon dioxide has steadily increased from about 0.028 percent to about 0.036 percent of the atmosphere. It is the rapidity of this change that is the essential part of the story, and what makes the enhanced greenhouse effect so frightening.

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