The Greenhouse Metaphor and the Greenhouse Effect: A Case Study of a Flawed Analogous Model

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Abstract

Metaphors are double-edge swords. By connecting an abstract and unknown phenomenon to a tangible and familiar one, a metaphor also creates a new reality. For example, we frequently use a metaphor to describe global warming – the atmosphere works like a greenhouse and CO2 traps heat as panes of glass in a greenhouse do. However, this greenhouse metaphor leads to an ontological assumption that conceptualizes heat as a material-like object, a series of ideas that ignore the roles of the ocean in the process of thermal transfer within the climate system, and an underestimation of the time delay effect in climate change. By producing an illusion that the climate system will respond instantly at the moment when CO2 level is reduced, the greenhouse metaphor is ultimately responsible for the wait-and-see approach to climate change.