by Daniel Bailey
(Michigan, United States)
As for water vapor vs CO2, the Earth's climate doesn't change significantly without a change in factors capable of forcing it to change (see larger image).
When climate is at an equilibrium, seasons come and go at their appointed times and polar ice cover stays within range of natural variations. As does ocean pH and global temps.
If global temps and ocean pH are changing, which we can empirically measure and verify that they are (indeed, right now the RATE of change is without parallel in the paleo record), then there must be a change in the composition of those gross factors which can effect climate.
The climate system of the Earth is endowed with a moderately strong greenhouse effect that is characterized by non-condensing greenhouse gases (GHGs) that provide the core radiative forcing. Of these, the most important is atmospheric CO2. There is a strong feedback contribution to the greenhouse effect by water vapor and clouds that is unique in the solar system, exceeding the core radiative forcing due to the non-condensing GHGs by a factor of three. The significance of the non-condensing GHGs is that once they have been injected into the atmosphere, they remain there virtually indefinitely because they do not condense and precipitate from the atmosphere, their chemical removal time ranging from decades to millennia. Water vapor and clouds have only a short lifespan, with their distribution determined by the locally prevailing meteorological conditions, subject to Clausius-Clapeyron constraint.
Although solar irradiance is the ultimate energy source that powers the terrestrial greenhouse effect, there has been no discernible long-term trend in solar irradiance since precise monitoring began in the late 1970s. This leaves atmospheric CO2 as the effective control knob driving the current global warming trend.
Over geologic time scales, volcanoes are the principal source of atmospheric CO2, and the weathering of rocks is the principal sink, with the biosphere particpating as both a source and a sink. The problem at hand is that human industrial activity is causing atmospheric CO2 to increase by 2 ppm/yr, whereas the interglacial rate has been 0.005 ppm/yr. This is a geologically unprecedented rate to turn the CO2 climate control knob. This is causing the global warming that threatens the global environment.
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