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July7, 2010

Vol. 110, No. 16

Missing the main points

In response to: Temperatures rising

Mark Bernstein ’83’s article (feature, March 17), and indeed much of what Professor Happer says, is really beside the point. Carbon dioxide is heavily absorbent between 10 and 20 microns wavelength. This is the range in which the ice crystals that form the fluffy white tops of clouds and the snow and ice of glaciers and polar caps radiate at night to lose the heat energy they received during the day. Changing this small but key piece of the planet’s heat balance clearly is going to do something. If a great deal of melt water enters the polar oceans, the driving force of the north-south currents will diminish, and it is possible that this diminution will actually make some parts of the planet colder. The minor change in the infrared opacity of the atmosphere will have little direct effect on the equatorial and temperate regions where most people live, other than producing changes in cloud formation and coverage, so the term “global warming” is just an immense red herring. Changes in weather patterns and polar ice caps, however, are quite another matter.

Jacques Read ’57
Washington, D.C.

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