The Sustainability Principle
 of Energy


Home   First draft Aug  2010

About this Work and Updates  

  Online Etymology Dictionary


The Power of Symbols

What is a Prime Symbol?

Variations on the Wisdom Of Confucius

How to Conserve
the Potential

The Human Condition

General Theory

Practical Application

Index of Denial/Acceptance

The Joys in 
Are you vulnerable to denial?
Review Call
Evaluate your
teachers /media
The Compassionate Curriculum
Defining some Prime Symbols


Energy Efficiency









Climate Change





Peak Oil
Principle of Energy





















Definition: the atmosphere symbol


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 Indo-European  *awet-mo-, 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 interplay.   

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 about 15ºC.   

Ice Earth

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..


Sample graphs from Internet of "greenhouse gases" omitting water vapour.

The overall effect of the warmer trace gases – the atmospheric thermal effect  - is also instead symbolised in denial as the greenhouse effect.

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 effect".


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.

Etymology atmosphere

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.)).

Enjoy the rewards of being a conservator of the potential of our greatest symbols.


Page last  updated: Aug 2010