by James R. Barrante, Ph.D.
As an educator, I’m appalled at the wealth of misinformation about the science of climate available under the guise of educating our children. Much of the misinformation on both sides of the debate can be found in teachers guides and manuals put out by supposedly reputable organizations such as NASA or the IPCC. One only hopes that science teachers have the knowledge of science to be able to filter out the bad information from the good. Alas, I do not think that this is the case.
For example, from the NASA teachers guide: the teacher is to ask the class if all gases absorb heat. Then the class is supposedly to discuss the idea and come up with an answer. After a time, the teacher then gives the class the correct answer, which according to the NASA guide is: all gases do not absorb heat. Only certain gases, known as greenhouse gases absorb heat. Our atmosphere is composed mainly of N2 and O2 gases. These gases are not greenhouse gases, and therefore, according to NASA, do not absorb heat. I wonder how the rocket scientists at NASA figure a hot-air balloon works. Or perhaps they have never heard of a hot-air furnace or felt a warm summer’s breeze. The answer is asinine. All gases, greenhouse or not, absorb and release heat.
A better question perhaps would be: is infrared radiation heat? You would be surprised at how many science teachers would get this wrong. Last time I looked infrared radiation is part of the light spectrum. A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs infrared light, not heat. Such gas molecules are in excited vibrational energy states. The only way that this light energy can be transferred as heat is for those excited greenhouse gas molecules, primarily water vapor and CO2 molecules, to collide with N2 and O2 molecules around them. It is the N2 and O2 molecules that mainly warm. True, if an excited greenhouse gas molecule collides with another CO2 molecule, it too will warm, but at a concentration of 0.03%, they really do not contribute much to the warming.
If the NASA puts out a guide that gets heat and light wrong, either the author of the guide does not know the difference, which is hard to believe, or NASA did it purposefully because of some sort of political agenda. In any case science teachers should be wary about information supplied by these government agencies.