One of the disturbing aspects of the global warming debate is that so many of the leading public officials who espouse alarmism know so little about the basics of climate science. I have seen many instances of ignorance over the years and have largely gotten used to it, but I recently happened on an example from Secretary of State John Kerry that astounded me.
Reporters and commentators noted that in his major speech on climate change given in Jakarta on 16th February, Secretary Kerry claimed that “climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” But reporters and commentators (including me) overlooked an even more remarkable passage in that long speech in which Secretary Kerry explains some “simple” climate science. According to the State Department’s web site, here is what Secretary Kerry said about the greenhouse effect in Jakarta on 16th February:
In fact, this is not really a complicated equation. I know sometimes I can remember from when I was in high school and college, some aspects of science or physics can be tough – chemistry. But this is not tough. This is simple. Kids at the earliest age can understand this.
Try and picture a very thin layer of gases – a quarter-inch, half an inch, somewhere in that vicinity – that’s how thick it is. It’s in our atmosphere. It’s way up there at the edge of the atmosphere. And for millions of years – literally millions of years – we know that layer has acted like a thermal blanket for the planet – trapping the sun’s heat and warming the surface of the Earth to the ideal, life-sustaining temperature. Average temperature of the Earth has been about 57 degrees Fahrenheit, which keeps life going. Life itself on Earth exists because of the so-called greenhouse effect. But in modern times, as human beings have emitted gases into the air that come from all the things we do, that blanket has grown thicker and it traps more and more heat beneath it, raising the temperature of the planet. It’s called the greenhouse effect because it works exactly like a greenhouse in which you grow a lot of the fruit that you eat here.
This is what’s causing climate change. It’s a huge irony that the very same layer of gases that has made life possible on Earth from the beginning now makes possible the greatest threat that the planet has ever seen.
For those who followed former-Senator Kerry at committee hearings over the past three decades, his belief that greenhouse gases are “a very thin layer of gases – a quarter-inch, half an inch, somewhere in that vicinity –….way up there at the edge of the atmosphere” is perhaps not surprising. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that Kerry’s explanation, which sets a new standard for utter imbecility, got by the highly-educated State Department officials in charge of vetting the Secretary’s prepared remarks.
Later in his speech, Secretary Kerry made the usual sneering remarks about people who don’t think that global warming is a crisis: “President… Obama and I believe very deeply that we do not have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.” I suspect that were Secretary Kerry to find the time to attend a meeting of the Flat Earth Society, his presence might lower the level of discourse.