Part of the problem of the debate about global warming is that the data on temperature trends are not at all obvious or easy for a single person to observe. The overall temperature trends can only be deduced by going through volumes of data, after which a small average warming becomes apparent. And yet this can sometimes be counterintuitive, since regionally it is possible to have a colder than average year, and even when it is a warmer than average year, it is probably below the threshold of observation. So belief in global warming involves having to trust scientists who are of course, totally untrustworthy people.
And yet there is a basic experiment that anyone can do at home to prove the possibility of global warming, and the phenomena behind it. It goes thusly:
- Find a closet or other small room. Situate yourself in the closet, sometime during the day. Bring along a radio.
- Shut the door. Notice that while the room grows noticeably darker, the radio will continue to play!
Pretty simple experiment, right? In fact, you might be shaking your head, thinking that it is a simple-minded exercise in the obvious. However, the reasons why this works are not at all obvious. Light waves and radio waves are both forms of electromagnetic radiation
, just at varying levels of energy. That electromagnetic radiation reacts with matter in varying ways depending on its level of energy was at once the great puzzle and great answer to much of modern chemistry and physics. Not only that, it is something that is also easily observable from the world around us. A door can stop light waves, but can't stop radio waves. The light waves interact with the matter in the door, while radio waves pass right through it.
And, according to a non-controversial piece of science, carbon dioxide will stop infrared light waves, converting that radiant energy into brownian motion, which is to say, heat. I titled this writeup "the possibility", because while I can do an experiment proving that light waves and radio waves are stopped by different materials, I have not actually done an experiment on my own to shine an infrared light beam through carbon dioxide. But I believe many others have. And I don't believe that anyone has ever debated the fact that carbon dioxide picks up infrared light at certain frequencies.
There are many things that people do debate about the idea of global warming or climate change. They say that the earth has had natural swings in climate before, which is true. They say that the sun's sunspot cycle can change temperatures, which is most probably true. They say that naturally occurring water or methane can work as greenhouse gases, which is true. They say that many climate change believers are just closet Malthusians looking for an excuse to hate human civilization, which is also true. They say that many of the predictions of rapid and catastrophic climate change are alarmist, which is true. They say that the earth has natural feedback loops that will tend to mitigate heating, which is true. And they say that many of the people who are drawing attention to global warming are hypocritical or otherwise morally imperfect, which is true. But, has anyone ever, ever heard someone debate the basic fact that carbon dioxide is opaque to infrared light?
And this is really the crux of the discussion. While the intricacies of meteorology have many many exceptions, the basic interaction between electromagentic radiation and electrons is a matter of almost Platonic knowledge in science. If Al Gore dresses in a tutu/bondage gear outfit and stands at the head of Times Square praising the virtues of Stalinism, it will not change the fact that carbon dioxide is opaque to infrared light. And given that this is a simple, established fact that can be explained within the first few chapters of a college chemistry textbook, the reasons why global warming is either impossible or unimportant have to become more and more convoluted and desperate. Since I don't know all the different factors that go into climate, I don't know how much of an effect rising Carbon Dioxide levels will have, but I do know that since carbon dioxide is opaque to infrared light, the best guess is that adding more of it to the atmosphere will eventually raise the temperature. How much and when I do not know, but the basic effect I can prove to myself just by going into a closed room with a radio.