This discussion is restricted to one use of the atmosphere
symbol – its association with the layers of gases that surround
planets, our own one in particular.
The Greek atmos derives from the proto
from base *wet- "to blow, inspire,
spiritually arouse". This gives the atmosphere symbol
profound meaning and makes it most precious.. The potential of the
symbol contains the information required to reveal the wondrous nature
of Earth’s layers of gases.
In brief, these gases exist in an extraordinary
composition that enables life on the planet. They form a dynamic,
organic system that provides the entire thermal, electrical, chemical
and other balances required for life to exist. Without our atmosphere
the surface would be bombarded with lethal radiation from the sun and
temperature changes would be abrupt and extreme. Earth’s atmosphere is
as intimate and vital as our next breath.
In respiration is inspiration. There exist several
unique spheres or layers of gases surrounding Earth. We are most
intimate with the one closest to Earth’s surface - the troposphere or
“ the sphere of change”. Each region retains its own unique
chemical, electrical and thermal character while constantly
interchanging the others. Our every breath is part of the great
The winds that blow around the planet moderating
temperature extremes and maintaining life-enabling balances remind us of
air’s great capacity for convection. By comparison, air has a very
small capacity for conduction, thus also providing us with vital
insulation from thermal extremes.
Three gases constitute 99.964% of our atmosphere
(nitrogen 78.094%, oxygen 20.946% and argon 0.934%). If the atmosphere
consisted only of these gases then the average temperature of Earth’s
surface would be over 30ºC cooler i.e. inhospitable to life, as we know
it. Gases existing only in trace quantities and finely positioned in the
atmosphere retain the thermal energy keeps the average temperature at
Thus life thrives and the human spirit is aroused.
Denial of the complexity, dynamism and organic
nature of Earth’s atmosphere is endemic in Anglo-American culture.
Indeed our existence as part of the atmosphere is frequently denied, as
evidenced in the common symbolisation of fossil fuels as energy.
This equation conveniently omits the atmosphere from the combustion
equation and enables us to deny our roles as stewards of the
life-sustaining balances and flows of the atmosphere.
The denial of stewardship/change is most profound
and dangerous in the symbolisation of the atmosphere as a greenhouse.
This religion is founded in the belief that human beings transcend the
atmosphere – we can engineer it at will. The atmosphere is experienced
as a rigid human construct, devoid of innate, organic dynamism. This greenhouse
earth image is evoked in many subtle ways.
The trace gases that act as the essential warmers
are symbolised as greenhouse gases rather than what they are –
the warmer trace gases. These gases have larger, heavier
molecules that can retain and re-emit infrared radiation.
Water vapour is by far the dominant warmer trace
gas - a fact often omitted by educators. This is a form of denial of
stewardship/change. It can be inconvenient to acknowledge this potent
warmer trace gas is only in the atmosphere for 3-11 days on average and
its impacts are very hard to predict and speculate/trade on..
graphs from Internet of "greenhouse gases" omitting water
The overall effect of the warmer trace gases –
the atmospheric thermal effect - is also instead symbolised
in denial as the greenhouse
Also the thermal build-up in the atmosphere caused by
human activities is not called the atmospheric thermal build-up
but rather the enhanced greenhouse effect with all its
associations with enhanced transcendence and control of the atmosphere
by human beings.
Samples from the Internet illustrating "the enhanced greenhouse
Conserve the potential of the atmosphere
symbol by according the atmosphere its full organic and dynamic nature.
Thus our children can be better sustained with their every breath.
1630s, from Mod.L. atmosphaera,
from atmo-, comb. form of Gk. atmos
"vapor, steam" + spharia
"sphere." First used in Eng. in connection with the Moon,
which, as it turns out, doesn't have one. Figurative sense of
"surrounding influence, mental or moral environment" is 1797.
Gk. atmos is from PIE *awet-mo-,
from base *wet- "to blow, inspire,
spiritually arouse" (see wood (adj.)).
the rewards of being a conservator of the potential of our greatest
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