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Dear Mr President 2.0: the discovery of the Greenhouse Effect - in Tweets

Posted on 3 April 2017 by John Mason

Here's another in our occasional series where we explain aspects of climate and planetary science in tweets. For this one, we've picked the history of the discovery of Earth's greenhouse effect, a topic we covered in detail a few years ago in The History of Climate Science. If there's a single take-home point, it's simply that we have known about Earth's greenhouse effect and the important role of carbon dioxide for a long time. A very long time. An awful lot longer than some people seem to realise.

Some climate change contrarians, when presented with facts, simply dismiss them as an "appeal to authority". Brexit enthusiast Michael Gove is so famous for stating, “people in this country have had enough of experts”, that if you type his name into Google the second thing that appears in the dropdown below is "experts". But you can bet your bottom dollar that the moment he needs specialist advice in his private life, he goes and finds a specialist. We all do.

Talking of specialists, many have come and gone in the decades before the present generations of scientists and long before the first automobiles appeared in numbers on our roads, some remarkable things had already been accomplished. This post is something of a celebration of such accomplishments and the people who made them possible.

So, without further ado:

@RealDonaldTrump 1/49

This time we want to tell you all about the Greenhouse Effect. It's such a wonderful thing, it really is.

@RealDonaldTrump 2/49

It's all about energy transfer between the Sun, Earth and space. How did we find out? It's such a cool story!

@RealDonaldTrump 3/49

The Sun's a stable kind of star. That's good, but you don't want to be too close to it. Or too far away.

@RealDonaldTrump 4/49

The ancient Greeks tried figuring the Earth-Sun distance. They had some great ideas but got it wrong. Such losers!

@RealDonaldTrump 5/49

By the 17th & 18th Centuries, they had better telescopes. They had better clocks. Better accuracy.

@RealDonaldTrump 6/49

Does the name Cassini mean anything to you? No? Halley? Kepler? Hirst? Lalande? Well they were smart guys. Real smart.

@RealDonaldTrump 7/49

They timed Venus as it crossed in front of the Sun, from different places around the world.

@RealDonaldTrump 8/49

The different line-of-sight measurements allowed them to get calculating. They got 95 million miles. Not bad!

@RealDonaldTrump 9/49

Today we can measure the distance with radar and stuff. It's 93 million miles. So they got real close. Clever!

Solar System

@RealDonaldTrump 10/49

In the 1800s, more smart people realised there was a problem. Earth was too far from the Sun to be as warm as it is.

@RealDonaldTrump 11/49

Know what the average temperature of Earth should be, 93 million miles from the Sun? Minus eighteen degrees Celsius.

@RealDonaldTrump 12/49

In the 1800s, these smart people figured that energy flows into Earth from the Sun. That's one part of the deal.

@RealDonaldTrump 13/49

They also figured that energy must flow back out. If it didn't, the heat would build up until the planet boiled.

@RealDonaldTrump 14/49

So they knew there was an energy balance. But they also knew that Earth was still warmer than it should be. Tricky!

@RealDonaldTrump 15/49

They figured sunshine (luminous heat) is one type of radiation & heat from hot things (non-luminous heat) is another.

@RealDonaldTrump 16/49

Luminous heat could get through the air just fine. It warmed the ground which gave off non-luminous heat.

@RealDonaldTrump 17/49

But some of the non-luminous heat got trapped. Couldn't make it back out to Space. Something was messing with it.

@RealDonaldTrump 18/49

They figured that since non-luminous heat left the ground OK, something up above was doing the messing.

@RealDonaldTrump 19/49

Not much up there apart from gases, clouds, a few birds & flying critters. Last three vary all the time. Unreliable!

@RealDonaldTrump 20/49

Gases, they figured, are always there. Oxygen, nitrogen, argon, CO2 & so on. But which ones did the messing?

@RealDonaldTrump 21/49

They found water vapour could mess, but it jumps about like a bronco. Needed a gas that didn't jump about.

@RealDonaldTrump 22/49

Turned out CO2 did a perfect job. It was just awesome at that job. Oxygen & nitrogen & Argon were just crap!

@RealDonaldTrump 23/49

It was still the 1800s when these smart guys nailed it. They did some math. If you doubled CO2 what would happen?

Timeline of discovery: 19th Century

@RealDonaldTrump 24/49

5-6C of global warming. Earth-Sun distance, the Greenhouse Effect - they were pretty darned right about the lot!

@RealDonaldTrump 25/49

More smart guys worked on this through the 20th Century. Ended up with pretty much the same results.

@RealDonaldTrump 26/49

We got to dig infra-red in the Cold War. Heat-seeking missiles chase after it. Shoot down bombers. Job done!

@RealDonaldTrump 27/49

So we got to figure it out even better. And we had the first computers. We could do even more math.

@RealDonaldTrump 28/49

By 1956, a real smart guy did something awesome with all this history, science and math. Called Gilbert Plass.

@RealDonaldTrump 29/49

He put it all into a landmark science paper. Called it, “The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change”.

Plass 1956 paper

@RealDonaldTrump 30/49

Hell, that's more than half a century ago. Amazing how time flies. You, Sir, were ten years old at the time.

@RealDonaldTrump 31/49

Funny how some folk like to make out “climate change” was made up in around 2005, to replace “global warming”.

@RealDonaldTrump 32/49

Are they dumb or what? And what about the IPCC? Founded 1988? What do they think “CC” stands for? Chip cookies?

@RealDonaldTrump 33/49
People were still smart in the 1950s. They started monitoring CO2. They found it was steadily going up, right then.

@RealDonaldTrump 34/49

They knew pollution was a BAD, BAD KILLER. Britain passed the Clean Air Act the same year as the Plass paper. 1956.

@RealDonaldTrump 35/49

That was smart but there was still lots of smoke to deal with in the air. Such a mess.

@RealDonaldTrump 36/49

Some folk worried that the smoke was enough to block out sunshine. That could cool down the planet.

@RealDonaldTrump 37/49

It was only a few folk but the MEDIA ran with it. Tried to make out the next ice-age was round the corner. FAKE NEWS!

@RealDonaldTrump 38/49

Fake News is nothing new, Mr President. They've been at it as long as there's been newspapers.

@RealDonaldTrump 39/49

Science is different. Fake science gets called out. Quickly. It just doesn't survive. Except among a few cranks.

Skeptical Science's myth debunking page

@RealDonaldTrump 40/49

In 1988 the IPCC was founded. Worth sayin' again. 164 darned years after the first ideas about the greenhouse effect.

@RealDonaldTrump 41/49

164 darned years. Worth sayin' again. We knew. We knew all along that something was messing with that heat.

@RealDonaldTrump 42/49

Today, satellites confirm what those smart guys figured out in the 1800s. They have measured the Greenhouse Effect.

@RealDonaldTrump 43/49

1997 – world leaders wake up. Sign Kyoto Accord. Aim to stabilise CO2 levels. Make planet safe. Smart move.

@RealDonaldTrump 44/49

1998 – American Petroleum Institute brings out “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan”. Anti-Kyoto thing.

@RealDonaldTrump 45/49

Basic idea: “if we say enough bullshit then 174 years of scientific research can be ignored.” Nice guys, huh?

@RealDonaldTrump 46/49

And so climate science denial began. It's still all around us. All around me. All around you. Especially you.

@RealDonaldTrump 47/49

Betting with your kids' and grandkids' future. Making out decades of science don't exist. Sons of bitches.

@RealDonaldTrump 48/49

Science goes back a long way. It's got pedigree. These guys should be honoured by all of us. We should be PROUD.

@RealDonaldTrump 49/49

So when an oilman tells you how climate science is only 20 years old, tell him to go take a history class.

Text from American Petroleum Institute, 1998

above: American Petroleum Institute's “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan”, 1998. Nice guys, huh?

Further watching:

The greenhouse effect:

Measuring from space:

Increasing the greenhouse effect:

Reinforcing feedback:

From the experts - Greenhouse effect:

Structure of our atmosphere:

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Comments 1 to 1:

  1. Superb satire

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