The average temperature for February was 15.6 degrees, making it the third-coldest February on record in Fort Wayne. And it didn’t take long for those who still deny global warming to gleefully say “see, no problem.”
But to understand climate change, it is necessary to define certain widely misunderstood terms. The terms are greenhouse gases, global warming, weather, and climate change. Greenhouse gases are those gases that are capable of trapping heat near the Earth’s surface. As they increase in the atmosphere, the extra heat leads to global warming. The atmosphere is the “skin” of the planet and is composed of four layers: the troposphere (closest to Earth), the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, and the Thermosphere.
Greenhouse gases are a natural part of the atmosphere. Of those gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas, is the most abundant. The atmosphere also contains several other greenhouse gases. Carbon Dioxide is emitted into the air as humans exhale, burn fossil fuels for energy, and deforest the planet. Every year humans add over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by these processes, and it is up thirty percent since 1750.
The major producers of carbon dioxide are power plants, cars and trucks, major transportation, and factories and home heating systems.
As these greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, they trap more heat which leads to global warming. Global warming is an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. If the increase is sustained over time it can be sufficient to cause climatic change.
It is critical at this point to understand the terms weather and climate. Weather is what is experienced each day. When we get up in the morning we check to see what the weather is like – Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is it sunny? Is it hot? Weather is a daily phenomenon. The phrase “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful” comes to mind. On the other hand, climate is the composite of prevailing weather conditions of a region. Climate factors include temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years. I sometimes hear people say they want to move to a warmer climate or a drier climate.
Naysayers chuckling about a cold winter month and downplaying global warming show a lack of understanding about our environment and the terms that are used. We may continue to have a supercold month now and then, but since the term global warming contains the key word “global”, it is folly to look at daily weather as debunking global warming as an issue.