A Blueprint for the Promotion of Sustainable Images of Earth’s Climate and Best Uses of Air.
The atmosphere is as close as our next breath and yet our ignorance of its nature and benefits puts humanity at risk. We employ symbols that confuse and obscure its nature and that generate deeply flawed images of its processes. “Energy experts” working in narrow specialist sectors create metaphors and adopt uses of symbols with little or no knowledge of the impact of their use. As a result, the science of food production in greenhouses, the science of building construction and use, the science of climate processes and the science of communication are all diminished. Individually these losses are serious. Combined they put the very sustainability of the human species at risk.
The following definitions are designed to reduce the confusion and the attendant risk. They are part of a wider programme to identify and eliminate unsustainable images of the nature of energy. This website contains sections devoted to a wider exposition of Energy Gobbledegook and to an alternative strategy for communicating Climate Process and Best Use of Air. Readers interested in exploring the root causes of the confusion may find insight in the Discussion of the Nature of Energy.
Index of definitions
Comment:The gases in Earth’s atmosphere are transparent to light waves from the sun. In other words, energy in the form of light waves pass through them unchanged. When the light waves hit materials at Earth’s surface they are transformed into infrared waves. We cannot see these waves but we can feel them as heat.
These infrared waves tend to be radiated out to Space, as this is much colder than Earth’s surface. Heat always moves from warmer areas to cooler areas though the speed of transfer can be slowed by obstructions. Earth’s atmosphere contains relatively tiny quantities of gases (see Warmer Trace Gases) that have the capacity to absorb and re-emit infrared waves. They slow the passage of these waves into Space, thus keeping the Earth’s surface about 33°C warmer than if they were not present.
The gases of the atmosphere can move relatively freely around the globe. This movement enables the Warmer Trace Gases to diffuse heat around the planet, thus reducing temperature extremes.
Some ‘energy experts” call the Atmospheric Effect the “greenhouse effect”. This practice is unhelpful for a range of reasons. It obscures the important roles of air in maintaining thermal balances in the atmosphere and in buildings. Greenhouses are characterised by relatively uniform air masses and convection is suppressed. The atmosphere is a very dynamic, organic system with multiple thermal and gas layers. Convection enables life on our planet.
Some climate changes
occur over periods of millions of years and are the result of plate
tectonic processes (The movement of the continents.)
Some “energy experts” who focus in one of these types of climate change have appropriated use of the term ‘climate change” to describe their narrow speciality. In the case of those studying the impact of human activity on atmospheric balances, they add to the confusion by equating climate change with healthy process of global warming.
Comment: While it may be impossible to know the amount of energy that exists, the evidence indicates that it operates according to the Principle of Conservation. This states that the amount of energy remains constant and cannot be created or destroyed and that energy takes many forms. It is important to understand the latter concept. There is a tendency by “energy experts” and the PR industry to devalue energy by confusing it with the forms it can take. A contemporary example is the tendency to describe fuels and electricity as energy.
Comment: It is possible there have been individuals in history who have transcended our normal senses and thought regimes to experience a more sublime vision of energy. If so, they are probably rare. It is common for individuals who have specialist knowledge in certain energy forms and their use to describe themselves as “energy experts” or “energy consultants” or “energy analysts”. These people are more rightfully described by the energy form(s) they have specialist knowledge of.
Enhanced Atmospheric Effect
Comment: Certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, have a powerful capacity to absorb, and re-emit energy in the form of infrared waves. If the proportion of such Warmer Gases increases for some reason, then the atmosphere of a planet tends to warm up. Some “energy experts” call this effect the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect, thereby evoking images of greenhouses. In particular, they use this term to describe Human Induced Climate Change, thereby devaluing the symbol climate change and obscuring the central issue of their concern: human use of energy.
Comment: Intense forces at the core of our planet generate heat, making Earth much warmer than the very cold regions that surround it. As a result Earth is constantly emitting heat out into space and tending to cool down.
These core forces do not generate sufficient heat to maintain Earth’s surface temperatures at the levels required for humans to exist. We are dependent on the continual inflow of energy from the sun for our existence. That is why most people associate the warming of the globe by the sun as a very welcome, sustaining, life-enabling process. They know that life on Earth, as we know it, would soon cease without the daily global warming of the planet.
Some “energy experts” have created a great deal of confusion by employing the term “global warming” to describe the process of Human Induced Thermal Build-up. This thermal process may have harmful impacts on humans. The term “global” is also confusing. The impact of a Thermal Build-up is varied and many people will experience a localised cooling down as other areas warm up.
Comment: Energy in the form of visible light is able to pass through the transparent covering unhindered and warms the materials inside the greenhouse. When the light waves strike the ground, larger gas molecules, plants and other materials inside, it warms them up. The light waves are transformed into less powerful infrared waves. These “lower energy” waves are less able to pass through the greenhouse cladding. They are also absorbed and re-emitted by the Warmer Trace Gases present in the air. The building contains and suppresses the movement of the warmed air and prevents cooling from convection. As a result, the temperature in the greenhouse rises relative to temperatures outside. This means greenhouses are very effective for growing and propagating plants out of season and in exotic places.
Greenhouses have enormous value as a teaching tool. They can provide many valuable experienced-based lessons on how to design and use buildings in ways that make best use of air and of solar energy in dwellings and horticulture. Unfortunately ‘energy experts’, especially climatologists, have destroyed much of this value by confusing some greenhouse processes with atmospheric processes. This is most evident when a search of the net is performed on text or image of the word “greenhouse” and related terms.
Comment: The management of gases in greenhouses is a vital science. Greenhouses are designed to provide controlled barriers to the movement of air to and from the greater atmosphere outside. Atmospheric convection is suppressed. As a result the greenhouse develops its own microclimate. Imbalances in the concentration of humidity, carbon dioxide and other gases can develop and these can promote the spread of fungal diseases and act as growth retardants.
“Energy experts” confuse this science by referring to the Warmer Trace Gases as “greenhouse gases”. This use is unhelpful because it unnecessarily evokes images of the atmosphere as a greenhouse and risks generating unhelpful primal associations with these structures. Most serious, it obscures the nature of Trace Gases and their power of leverage on thermal balances.
Comment: The transfer occurs because temperatures differ across a region. The movement of energy is always from the warmer region to the cooler region and never in the reverse direction. The warmer region contains more energy and the flow is to regions with less energy. Such energy transfer can occur in three ways: radiation, conduction, and convection. Our senses are capable of feeling differences in temperature and we feel the transfer of kinetic energy as heat.
Human Induced Climate Change.
Comment: This is a very narrow area of study. This is not to say it is unimportant. Human activity is having a major impact on the biosphere and we have the ability to destroy ourselves. A recent example illustrating this capacity is our destruction of the ozone layer. There is a tendency for “energy experts”, especially climatologists, who study the impact of human activity on the climate to describe the effects as climate change. This works to the obscure the wide range of forms of climate change that exist. More seriously this choice of symbol eliminates the essential issue: human’s use of energy.
Other confusing uses of symbols are the description of Human Induced Climate Changes as global warming and Enhanced Greenhouse Effects. The latter invokes unknown and often unhelpful images of Earth’s Climate as a human engineered structure.
Human Induced Thermal Build-up
Comment: This is a specific case of Human Induced Climate Change. It occurs when human activities alter the balance of gases in the atmosphere so that the atmosphere retains increased quantities of thermal energy. The additional thermal energy results in increased mixing and turbulence. We experience this as more extreme weather “events”. It may even trigger large-scale desertification and disruptions to ocean movements that result in regional ice ages.
Comment: Humidity is commonly measured in grams/per cubic meter of air. This measure does not tell us much as a the density of a volume of cubic meter of air varies with the temperature, altitude and other factors. Hence we use a range of measures that account for these factors. Common examples are relative humidity and dewpoint.
Water is a relatively heavy molecule. As a result it is concentrated in the bottom layer of the atmosphere and then only in certain regions of the globe. 99% of water vapour and ‘weather’ is found in the troposphere i.e. within 8-15kms of Earth’s surface. It is barely detectable in -40°C Antarctic air (0.0001% of the air). It can be 4% of the +40°C Saharan Desert air.
Against the scale of the total atmosphere, water vapour exists as a Trace Gas. The amount constantly varies as water molecules are cycled in and out of the atmosphere every 6-10 days. By comparison, the molecules of the Trace Gas, carbon dioxide, have a cycle of 60 years or more. It is estimated Earth’s surface would be 20°C cooler if water vapour was not present in the atmosphere.
Humidity is often confused with Relative Humidity. This popular confusion means people seriously undervalue the role and power of water vapour as a Warmer Trace Gas. They imagine water vapour is a large % of the air (70%? 80%?) and thus assume that small % changes will have little impact on the climate.
Comment: Relative humidity is normally expressed as a percentage and this can confuse people. It is not a measure of the percentage of air that is water vapour. Water vapour rarely constitutes more than 4% of the air. The relative humidity is the percentage or measure of how much water vapour is in the air compared to amount that would need to be in the air before it starts condensing to form clouds, fog or dew. At that point, the relative humidity is 100%.
It is very understandable that people might believe the amount of water vapour is 70 –80% of the air, as we get so wet walking in rain and fogs. It is important to know that appearances are deceiving and water vapour is a Trace Gas on Earth. The fact water vapour exists in such minute quantities and has such a powerful impact on our climate means it is very important that we understand how human activities impact on its behaviour.
Comment: In chemistry the symbol trace traditionally described a proportion or ingredient to small to be weighed. Modern technology means we can now detect chemicals that exist in quantities as small as parts per billion. However the symbol remains very valuable as it alerts us, for instance, to the fact a gas exists in very tiny proportions of parts per 10,000 or less in Earth’s atmosphere.
Comment: Just three gases, nitrogen, oxygen and argon constitute 99.9% of Earth’s atmosphere. The remaining gases combined constitute 0.1% or one part in a thousand of the atmosphere. Each these gases are known as a Trace Gas because it constitutes such tiny proportions of Earth’s atmosphere.
Comment: A more detailed definition is that it is the study of the processes that involve the transformation of heat into mechanical work, of mechanical work into heat, or the flow of heat from a hotter body to a colder body. http://www.weather.com/glossary/t.html
We are each Thermodynamic Beings in that every use of energy involves thermodynamics and alters thermal balances. In particular, every human activity alters the thermal balances of our planet and it is wise to understand simple thermodynamics. Important ideas include are that heat is the transfer of thermal (kinetic energy). The transfer is always from warmer areas to cooler areas. We can enhance or obstruct this transfer in ways that enhance our personal comfort levels and that work to retain the thermal balance of our planet.
Warmer Trace Gases.
Comment: The most important of these are water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, ammonia, nitric acid, nitrous oxide, ethylene, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, dichlorofluoromethane or Freon 12, trichlorofluoromethane or Freon 11, methyl chloride, carbon monoxide, and carbon tetrachloride. Some of these gases exist in the parts per ten million.
Without these Trace Gases, Earth’s climate would be more similar to that of the moon. Its average surface temperature would be -18°C rather than its present comfortable +15°C and daily temperature ranges would be far more extreme. Without these Trace Gases acting as warmers, Earth would be as barren of life.
Note: On planets such as Mars and Venus carbon dioxide is about 95% of the atmosphere and so would not be considered a Trace Gas in that context. The atmosphere is very thin on Mars (Atmospheric pressure on Mars is only 1-2% of that on Earth) and so the overall warming effect of carbon dioxide and other Warmer Gases is much reduced.
Warning -All material needs editing and reviewing. My apologises for sudden changes in font.