A Fox News Science Lesson
By JOCELYN FONG - MEDIAMATTERS
Added: Wed, 10 Aug 2011 00:21:34 UTC
Those who watched Fox News over the weekend were treated to a brief but ambitious science lesson on "Why CO2 Can't Cause Warming":
Oh boy. Let's take these one at a time.
During the segment Fox's global warming expert, Joe Bastardi, who is employed by the WeatherBELL meteorological consulting firm, declared that the theory of human-induced climate change "contradicts what we call the 1st law of thermodynamics. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. So to look for input of energy into the atmosphere, you have to come from a foreign source."
It's not clear what to conclude from this except that Fox and Bastardi are not familiar with the greenhouse effect. Climate scientists aren't claiming that humans are creating energy. They're saying that humans are trapping more energy by increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Duke University scientist William Chameides, who called Fox's claims "utter nonsense," explained via email:
It is true that global warming requires a source of heat. In this case it comes from the sun. What CO2 does is trap a larger amount of the heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping and thus driving up temperatures. To argue otherwise is to argue that the greenhouse effect does not exist. In fact the existence of the greenhouse effect was established by scientists more than a century ago. It would be impossible to explain the temperatures of Mars and Venus, as well as the Earth, without invoking this effect.
Bastardi went on to claim Le Chatelier's Principle "says that any system in distress, physical or chemical in the atmosphere, tries to return toward normalcy. And that is why you're seeing temperatures level off."
In fact the notion of a system moving toward "normalcy," or more accurately, toward a new "equilibrium," explains why greenhouse gases do cause warming, rather than "Why CO2 Can't Cause Warming." By preventing infrared energy from efficiently escaping to space, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make it more difficult for the earth to maintain its previous energy balance, and thus its previous temperature.
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