Guest post by James Padgett
If the average person was asked to describe the runaway greenhouse effect, and given a bit of prep time, how would they do it? Most people would type it into their favorite search engine which would lead them to the Wikipedia article on the subject. They would read through it, try to memorize the basics, understand the fundamentals and then prepare a summary for their audience.
But how would a climate scientist do it? Specifically, how would the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies describe it? I expect he would rely on his past work, his models of Venus’ atmosphere, which he jerry-rigged to apply to Earth (yes, I learned about that from Wikipedia). Most assuredly he would cite the latest peer-reviewed work on the subject.
Right? Let’s take a look:
“…it gets warmer and warmer then the oceans begin to evaporate and water vapor is a very strong green house gas, even more powerful than carbon dioxide. So you can get to a situation where, it just, the oceans will begin to boil and the planet becomes, uhh, so hot that the ocean ends up in the atmosphere, and that happened to Venus…” (1)
Now compare James Hansen’s words with this passage:
“increasing the temperature and consequently increasing the evaporation of the ocean, leading eventually to the situation in which the oceans boiled, and all of the water vapor entered the atmosphere”
That certainly looks rather similar now doesn’t it? That second passage is from Wikipedia’s article on the runaway greenhouse effect – in the Venus section.
Of course, if Mr. Hansen had read down to the section about the Earth, then he would’ve noticed this:
“Potential runaway greenhouse effects on Earth may involve the carbon cycle, but unlike Venus will not involve boiling of the oceans.”
I know many schools and teachers will fail students who use Wikipedia as their source, but what does NASA do with employees that scare people by misquoting Wikipedia with the authority and prestige of their agency?
In any case, I look forward to the IPCC naming Wikipedia as a lead author and NASA using Wikipedia as a lead engineer. Well, that isn’t entirely fair, NASA depends on real flight, while the IPCC relies on “when pigs fly.”
Origin of the Passage on Wikipedia – Apparently written by NASA employee and sci-fi writer Geoffrey Landis