Climate Science Mashups or a Little Learning Is …

by Greenhouse Gas Brothers (grnhse_gas_bros) | June 22nd, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments

Earth’s atmosphere

Here’s a puzzle we just haven’t been able to figure out for the last few weeks: Why do some humans use one part of climate science to trash another part of the same science?

First, a brief introduction since we are not your normal, everyday blogger. We are a band of brothers — admittedly with crazy names like carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide — who like it warm and are changing the climate.

Chances are, you’ve heard of us, perhaps on this blog or in an environment class. Or perhaps you’ve heard in the news in the past couple of days that the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed people’s right to breathe us out (as an aside, we recommend folks follow up on this with their doctor). You might have also caught our tweets @grnhse_gas_bros. And, of course, you have probably heard us talked about in political circles.

But we are just starting to realize what many of you humans probably already know — that just because everyone’s talking about you doesn’t mean you’re popular, well liked, or even understood. Fact is, folks might not even know you, but talk away they will.

Dropping Names (and Details)

Take Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He has a whole Web page full of interesting factoids about us. Here’s some of what he has to say:

“As a percentage of the total atmosphere, carbon dioxide represents only 0.0386%. The entire increase in CO2 since before the industrial revolution represents only .0091% of the total atmosphere.” (Quoted from

Unfortunately, there’s a trace detail omitted here: Tiny doesn’t mean insignificant, and humans know that. Think of our little buddy ozone floating high up in the stratosphere — she makes up less than 0.001% of air, but without her in the atmosphere, folks would go blind and develop high rates of skin cancer. And speaking of cancer, tumors are usually very tiny too — but you all sure worry a lot about them. So we to say to Rep. Barton: Please don’t belittle us!

A Jurassic Lark

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has been kinda thinking about us, too. He knows we’re here and rising, but doesn’t seem to give us credit for our recent warming work. Here’s what he said recently:

“The planet used to be dramatically warmer when we had dinosaurs and no people. To the best of my knowledge the dinosaurs weren’t driving cars.” (Newt Gingrich as quoted on

We don’t question the former House speaker’s expertise on the lack of driving expertise of dinosaurs. But we wonder, how far we can take his logic — because by the same logic, we would argue that folks need to start worrying that dinosaurs will reappear on the Earth as it gets warmer in the next few decades!

A Mad Rush to Be President

We know that folks are starting to jostle for the president’s job. But does that automatically make them experts on science? Recently Rick Santorum, the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, gave an overly short science lesson:

“I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 — which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas — is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors, El Niño, La Niña, sunspots, moisture in the air. There’s a variety of factors that contribute to the Earth warming and cooling.” (Rick Santorum as quoted by

We’ve already covered trace gases — and folks should be able to figure out details like “part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas.” What about the factors (plural) that warm and cool the Earth? Yes, there are a number of them, but they are not all equal nor can they be understood separate from the climate system (for a fuller discussion of this, see here, here and here).

Folks might want to turn to the National Academies of Science (NAS), which was created when Abraham Lincoln was president to give scientific advice to the government — the good folks at the NAS seem to be quite clear that comments like those of Rick Santorum are patently absurd!

A Final Word

We could go on, but we think you’re getting the picture. There’s one curious thing about all this, though — folks who bash climate science don’t seem to realize that they are actually using the same science as part of their argument. How does Rep. Barton know “carbon dioxide represents only 0.0386%” of the atmosphere? How does Newt Gingrich know “the planet used to be dramatically warmer when we had dinosaurs”? How does Rick Santorum know the Earth “gets warmer and … cooler”? To us, it sure sounds like they are quoting from some of the same science that they are bashing. That is just not cool!

filed under: atmosphere, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, faculty, global warming, methane, policy, politics, science
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  1. hank
    Jun 29, 2011

    > we assume you also got your information from climate science! You can look him up

  2. MattN
    Jun 22, 2011

    …GHG’s other much bigger brother: Water Vapor. You know, the GHG that makes up over 95% of the grenhouse effect???

    • @grnhse_gas_bros
      Jun 22, 2011

      MattN, C’mon, you surely know that our so-called big brother simply does what we tell him to – if you want to control his behavior, you will have to talk to us. By the way, we assume you also got your information from climate science!

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