Carbon dioxide and climate

TitleCarbon dioxide and climate
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1978
AuthorsGates DM

Our atmosphere is a remarkable window to space which allows sunlight to stream through to the earth's surface while forming an opaque ozone screen to the deadly ultraviolet rays of the sun and a shield against the loss of excessive amounts of heat radiation from the surface to space. The atmosphere and plant life evolved together through several billion years, with plants using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing to the atmosphere oxygen and water. It is a magnificent system with which mankind is now tampering through industrial, agricultural and land use activities. The increasing burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests has released carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere from storage. Today, we have 20 years of continuous measurements of the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere and there is absolutely no question concerning the current rate of increase. Carbon dioxide is a gas which is transparent to solar radiation--but it is absorbed by the long-wave radiant heat emitted by the earth's surface to space. By this means, the gas can produce a substantial warming of the earth's surface, an amount portending serious climate change for all peoples of the world during the next century.