Global warming is a serious threat to all

When one hears the phrases "global warming" and "greenhouse gases," one may picture liberal tree-huggers making outlandish claims about melting ice caps and submerged cities. President Bush apparently does, and so do an awful lot of politicians and businessmen who, coincidentally, stand to profit from lax pollution standards. Yet there is a growing scientific consensus that global warming is real, it is caused by human activity rather than ongoing natural cycles, and its consequences are going to be devastating. A study released last month by a United Nations panel found that the earth's average temperature has risen over the past century by one degree Fahrenheit a huge leap in global climate terms the only such rise in at least the past 1,000 years, according to tree rings and other prehistoric records, and quite possibly the biggest in 100 million years, according to Time magazine.

The study further concludes, employing a wide range of prediction techniques for the sake of accuracy, that the average global temperature will go up somewhere between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees over the next century. (For the record, it took only 9 degrees of change, over thousands of years, to end the last ice age, according to Time.) Global warming impacts every human, everywhere in the world. It could shift entire climate zones, increase severe weather, dislodge whole populations, and, if temperatures keep rising for long enough, submerge coastal areas because of rising ocean levels.

Once easily dismissed as a nightmare scenario invented by paranoid environmentalists, today we know that this stuff is real. High-powered computer modeling technologies and highly reliable climate information have proved that over and over again. Washington, D.C. is missing the point. President Bush points to uncertainties in the research, but no science is truly exact and recommends further study instead of immediate action, Time reported in its April 9 cover story. Bush's position echoes that of his father, 10 years ago: We don't know enough about it. We need more time to study it. Let's wait and see.

That may have been true then. It isn't true now. Its repetition now is especially frightening when one considers that, scientifically; we've already waited too long. Carbon dioxide molecules stay in the atmosphere for about 100 years, so even if the world were to entirely halt all greenhouse pollution tomorrow, we'd still have a problem. On March 29, Bush announced that he had decided to cancel the Kyoto climate treaty, which was supposed to get the world's industrial nations to cut back on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Never mind that the U.S. signed the agreement in good faith after years of tough international negotiations. The Kyoto treaty, Bush said, was "fatally flawed."

On the surface, some of Bush's reasons for canceling the treaty may inspire nationalistic agreement, since he claims its terms are unfair to America. But on the other hand, perhaps America is being unfair to the world by producing 25 percent of its greenhouse gases despite housing only 4 percent of its population. Besides, Bush's reasons for nixing Kyoto are far deeper, and more deeply flawed, than that. He says it is impossible to fix the environment because, well, we have an economy to worry about. "In terms of the (carbon dioxide) issue, I will explain as clearly as I can today and every other chance I get, that we will not do anything that harms our economy," Bush explained. "First things first are the people who live in America."

President Bush doesn't seem to realize that a catastrophic climate change, one which could heighten heat waves, increase insect-born diseases and turn rich Midwestern farmlands into arid wastelands, actually is important for the people who live in America. And we're not talking about the next epoch or even the next millennium. We're talking 2100, if not sooner. It is easy to understand why Bush prioritizes the America’s economy above the environment. As Time pointed out, "Members of both major parties realize that global warming is a long-term problem that carries little short-term political risk. By the time their inaction causes big trouble maybe decades from now they'll be long gone. But if they foul up the economy, they'll be sent home next Election Day."

True, true. I always thought one of a government's most important roles was to provide society with a bit of forward-looking common sense. A 30-year-old man living in New Orleans may be pleased with Bush's decision today because his electric bills will go down. His great-grandson may be less pleased when he has to move inland because the ocean is slowly eroding his land. A private citizen cannot be expected to have such a long-term vision; a national government must. Yet Bush's government appears more than happy with the status quo, when polling numbers like those produced by CNN and Time show that 75 percent of the public thinks global warming is "very serious" or "fairly serious" and 67 percent say Bush should act to reduce emissions, but only 48 percent would support such reductions if they sent gas prices up by 25 cents; only 47 would support them if they caused utility bills to rise; and only 38 percent would support them if they increased unemployment.

The Onion, a satirical newspaper poking fun at the news of the day, may have put it best in a fake quote from homemaker Patricia Volk on the "What Do You Think" section of its website. "I'm against global warming," Volk supposedly said. "I'm also against altering my lifestyle in any way whatsoever to reduce it." This seems to be the prevailing philosophy. ("The Onion" also hit the nail on the head with another fake quote, this one from student Debbie Honig, who supposedly said, "As a Nader supporter, I'm thrilled to see the Green Party's master plan working so perfectly." One can't help but wonder whether Nader, the lifelong environmental crusader, loses any sleep these days wishing he had won 539 fewer votes in Florida.)

Bush, for what it's worth, says he is committed to some sort of pollution-cutting plan just not the Kyoto plan. Such promises make for splendid sound bites, but it is difficult to imagine any meaningful changes coming out of an administration that says flat-out it believes the national economy is intrinsically more important than the world environment. International pressure is mounting on Bush to reconsider his Kyoto position. He probably won't. More importantly, parts of corporate America are gradually waking up to this crisis, even if Washington has gone back to sleep.

What people tend to overlook in this debate is that we can actually look back to a time when all this CO2 was floating about in the atmosphere. Yes, in the distant past, around the time that dinosaurs were roaming the continents, most of that CO2 had not been deposited underground yet and was still found in the atmosphere. And, although changes in solar radiation and earth orbit also affect climate, we can presume that if all the carbon dioxide reenters the atmosphere, the climate will become more like it was then.

Well, what was it like back then? Was it a 'good' climate? It depends on your viewpoint. The climate was much warmer, and wetter. Vast swamps, rainforests, and shallow seas covered the land. Grasslands were unknown, because grass hadn't evolved yet, but even if it had, there would not be appropriate conditions for it to thrive. If you were a dinosaur, a fish, or a mosquito, you would be quite content with this climate. Indeed, for animals as a whole, and plants as a whole, this type of climate would be very rich and productive.

But what about us? Humans evolved during consecutive ice ages, to survive blistering cold, and hunt animals on the savannahs and grasslands. Later, we also took up agriculture in these areas. Ever try to farm a swamp? To some extent, rice and other crops can be grown in swamps. But it certainly wouldnt be a fun existance. And what of the shallow seas which would cover our most productive land?

Over hundreds of years, humans have been destroying swamps, rainforests, and coastal marshes. Although humans are likely to want to preserve vast tracts of mountain, desert, and rangeland, until recently no one lamented the loss of wet areas. Why is this? Well, its because we don't do well in these areas. Humans just arent meant to live there. And wouldnt it be amazingly ironic if we were destroyed by the very rainforests, swamps, and marshes that we once almost eliminated?

Do we need more research on this? Hell yes... do we need to make sure our actions are based on scientific research? Again, yes. But as this strikes deep at the roots of the values of Western society, it is virtually impossible to be impartial when we look at this; holding an impartial attitude will be our biggest challenge.

The concept of global warming will not be new to anyone in this day and age. There was a time when it was a radical new theory, when respected scientists could not believe it and when only those who took an active interest in such issues were even aware of it. That time has passed, and it is now a popular debate in schools, a phrase of popular culture and most importantly, a well researched and documented scientific phenomenon.

There is still much debate on the topic, both within scientific circles and in the general public. It can often prove to be a political hotbed, with strongly held views and reams of 'proof' bandied about by both sides. This write-up will attempt to state the facts such as they are, dispel some of the myths and bring the issues to light with the help of the best scientific data available at present.

To begin, let us try and define our terms, not in scientific jargon, but in a way that clearly shows the differences between them.

Global warming:
Exactly as the name states, this is the process by which the average global temperature is increasing. It does not mean that everywhere is hotter all the time, but simply that the earth's climate is on a trend to becoming generally warmer.
The Greenhouse Effect:
A natural phenomena of our earth that has been in place as long as life, and is a vital part in helping to sustain it. It is a way of explaining how the atmosphere acts in the manner similar to a greenhouse. By controlling how much energy is released back into space and how much is kept inside as heat, it helps to stabilize the world's temperature and climate.
Climate change:
Again, this is a natural characteristic of earth. There have been hot spells and ice ages, with everything in between and various changes tend to occur at regular intervals though the ages. No one is saying climate change is good or bad, it simply is.
Climate vs. weather:
Climate describes long-term weather patterns, with average temperatures and precipitation totals as well as typical occurrences of climatic extremes (such as tropical storms) being used to characterize the climate for a particular region. Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, defined by variables such as temperature, moisture, wind, and barometric pressure. Changes in weather and climate are not the same thing.

Without further ado - global warming - real or malarkey?

Global warming is real. Now, before you get all upset and start talking about sunspots, just wait. In the beginning, there was a debate as to whether it was real or not, but today we know it is happening. Today the debate lies in whether or not it is humans that are causing it. Generally, when people say they do not believe in global warming, what they really mean is that they don't believe that driving cars and cutting down forests are responsible for it, or that even if that is the case, it isn't as much of a threat as certain people make it out to be.

Regardless of your beliefs in this matter, what follows should at least present you with the facts. Remember that even if you don’t believe humans are at fault, a change in climate will cause changes to us and our environment and that we are now in a unique position to study the complex causes and effects of climate change. Never before has there been so much research done and so much data and technology made available to people who study the earth. There is much to be observed, and much to learn for all from doing so.

So, how do we know that global warming is happening?

In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in conjunction with the UN to study all available literature on the subject and come up with a consensus on the major scientific issues, as well as drawing up recommendations for governments and business. There first report was released in 1996, in which they stated:

"An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system."

The report was the first major work of its kind and had far reaching effects on many sectors. When the panel convened again in 2001 it had become a highly respected group. It included top scientists, economists and risk-calculators from more countries around the world than any other offspring of the UN. In the final reports there was an almost unprecedented, unanimous consensus that things were changing, that the world was heating up. After analysis of over 20,000 published papers, journals and other peer-reviewed work, the findings were more conclusive than ever before.

Below is a summary of some of the key points.

  • Since the beginning of the 20th century, the mean surface temperature of the earth has increased by about 1.1º F (0.6°C). Half of that rise has occurred in the last 40 years, a period with very reliable data.
  • Warming in the 20th century is greater than at any time during the past 1000 years.
  • Eight of the ten warmest years in the 20th century occurred between 1990 and 2001.
  • Mountain glaciers in every part of the world are receding.
  • The Arctic ice pack has lost about 40% of its thickness over the past four decades and since 1978 (the date when satellites began to take reliable measurements of it) has decreased in area by about 9% per decade.
  • The global sea level has been rising about three times faster over the past 100 years, between 4 and 8 inches total, compared to the previous 3,000 years.
  • Studies have shown that plants and animals are changing their range and behaviour in response to shifts in climate.

There is an increasing amount of work being done by geologists, climatologists, palaeontologists and oceanographers into the nature of our climate, studying both its present state and records from its past. The hope being that if they can better understand what has happened before it will be easier to understand our current situation and predict the future.

The U.S Geological Survey Global Change Research Program has been constantly present in Montana’s Glacier National Park for over a decade to monitor the state of its namesake features. Records show that when the park was created in 1910 it contained about 150 glaciers. Today there are less than 30 surviving, and even they have shrunk in area by as much as two-thirds. Scientists in the program predict that within 3 decades all the glaciers will be gone. Glaciers in every country are suffering the same fate, melting and receding further up the mountains from where they came. Even researches in the Himalayas, a place so seemingly remote that we tend to think nothing can touch it, predict that if current melt rates continue, most central and eastern glaciers of the famed range will disappear within the century.

It is NASA's laser and satellite technology that shows us dramatic pictures of how the edges of the Northern hemisphere ice sheets are shrinking and sea ice is thinning and breaking up. The Spring break up of sea ice now occurs an average of 9 days earlier than it did in the mid 1800's and only begins to freeze nearly two weeks later. As many researches point out, these are things that do normally occur, but they take place in geologic time, over 1000's of years. Nowdays we are seeing them happen within a lifetime. In just 20 years, ice that used to stretch across the North Pole from the shores of Greenland to those of Russia, now never touches Russian shores, stopping in the sea about three-quarters of the way across.

America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has data collected from all the world's oceans that show a rise in average sea temperatures. A rise that is going down to depths that they thought would not be affected. They have also got the largest recorded change in any ocean from the subpolar seas neighbouring the North Atlantic, where the salinity of the water is falling at a tremendous rate.

On the islands surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula average temperatures have increased by 9º F since the 50's and the sea ice has retreated, causing major shifts in the populations of penguin species in the area. Species such as the gentoo that used to only be found in warmer habitats such as the Falklands have moved further south, encroaching on to other animal's land and driving their numbers downward. What used to be a polar region just a century ago is now classified as subpolar.

What is causing this global warming?

The IPCC has this to say;

“Emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols due to human activities continue to alter the atmosphere in ways that are expected to affect the climate. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

The unanimous consensus of the panel was that human activities are a prime factor in global warming. There are not many scientists working in the field today that will argue with that. Yes there are some - but there is also a flat earth society. But even though the members of the panel know we are the primary cause, they do not attribute the phenomenon solely to humans. No model that takes into account only human factors or only natural factors has come up with something close to what we know about the past and observe today. Only those which include a combination of the two produce a picture similar to the one we see around us.

The highest recorded concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth's atmosphere from the past is about 280 parts per million. The level today sits at around 375ppm. There is no doubt that since the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has skyrocketed. This is because CO2 is produced when fossil fuels such as oil and coal are burnt. Also, plants take up carbon dioxide as a part of photosynthesis, and release oxygen back into the air. Deforestation and huge land-use change has lead to a significant reduction in the amount of total plant cover on land, hampering the earths natural ability to absorb CO2 and maintain the composition of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases. That means it is one of the main ones responsible for the greenhouse effect and the controlling of the earth's heat budget. More carbon dioxide means that less energy is let back into space and more is kept on earth as heat, thus the earth gets warmer.

Data from the past shows a direct correlation between the amount of CO2 in the air and the average global temperature, as one increases so does the other. With the current measurements of carbon dioxide in the air, and factoring in as many different scenarios as can be thought of, computer models predict a rise of anywhere between 3º F and 10º F between now and the end of the century. It may not sound like something terribly dramatic, but consider this. The difference between our average temperature now and that during the last ice age is only 9º F.

We also know that the earth goes through many different cycles which affect its climate, alternating between ice ages and warmer interglacial periods. Earth does not rotate perfectly; its spin around the axis wobbles slightly as does the exact angle of tilt of the spin axis. Combined with an expanding and contracting orbit around the sun which creates a sometimes more circular and sometimes more elliptical path through space. This is thought to bring on changes in climate by altering the distribution of sunlight on the earths surface. The suns energy output is also in constant flux, so the amount of heat the earth receives from it does vary over time. However no data leads scientists to believe that these natural cycles are the cause of the rapid changes we are observing today.

As there are obviously no direct temperature records from long ago, scientists use natural markers to find out about the past. Air temperatures affect the chemical makeup and structure of snow which is layered down year after year and eventually forms the polar ice sheets. By drilling down and taking core samples at different depths and in different areas, researchers can learn a lot about the climate at the time. Fossilized shells of tiny marine organisms also contain specific chemical signatures depending on the temperature of the water in which they lived. Fossils of pollen grains trapped in the sediments of lakes have also yielded a lot of data about the type of vegetation long ago which gives clues as to what the climate might have been like.

All of these means are used to try and relate what is happening now to what has happened before. Ice core samples that date back to about 400 000 years ago allow a time line that is long enough to show many significant trends to be drawn up. Thus we now know a lot more than we did about the natural cycles of the earth and its affect on climate, but never have changes of the like we see now taken place. Scientists have learnt that climate change can happen at a rate they previously thought would be far too fast. For example, a study by paleoclimatologists at the University of Oregon, using samples of lake sediment from the area has shown that about 21 000 years ago a huge change took place. The type of trees covering the area switched completely in the space of about 300 years. This could only be due to an abrupt shift in climate, and as the signs indicate we are heading to something similar, understanding exactly what caused it then can help us predict how much of a factor we are now.

Despite all the work being done, there is still considerable doubt over the exact causes of global warming. It is a huge puzzle with so many influences and such complex systems involved that even if we could know for certain, it would unlikely for it to be attributed to just one cause, but rather to a chain of changes. But what we can be almost sure of, is that right now we are kick-starting something. Yes, nature is hardy and can adapt to amazing situations, the world is not going to disintegrate due to global warming, but never before has such a huge new factor like humans been introduced into the system. A report from climate experts at Princeton University concludes, "We are now geological agents, capable of affecting the processes that determine climate." And when you think how many of us there are, that should hardly be surprising.

The effects

Many of the effects of global warming are the things we see around us that show us it is happening in the first place. It is also a story of links and interdependencies, as a small change in one place can have large ramifications elsewhere.

One of the largest primary effects is the melting of ice, in glaciers, on land and floating in the sea. The melt all ends up in the ocean, raising its level as well as lowering its salinity. The sea itself also heats up, and as it does so thermal expansion takes place, making it rise even more. This in turn has many other effects. In human terms it could spell disaster for whole countries that lie at sea level as never before have so many people lived so close to the coast. Places like Bangladesh could be under water with only a seemingly tiny rise in sea level. As well as displacing millions of people it would also destroy land which is usually the only source of income or subsistence for such peoples. First world megacities such as Tokyo and New York are also at risk.

Small rises in sea level cause totally disproportionate amounts of coastal erosion – approximately 1 inch of sea level rise results in about 8 feet of horizontal retreat on shore. Considering that more than a hundred million people live within three feet of mean sea level, this has the potential to cause mass displacement of populations. The salt water would also seep into freshwater aquifers, threatening sources of water for both drinking and agriculture. The spread of water along with warmer temperatures also brings with it a greater threat of water and insect borne diseases spreading to areas which were previously safe.

As well as filling up the sea, melting ice can also have effects on land. For example, Peru's Quelccaya ice cap is the largest one in the tropics, but it is currently receding at the rate of up to 600 feet per year. Thousands upon thousands of people rely on its water for drinking and for generating power. If it dissapears in the next 50 years those people will have nothing.

Warmer seas also affect the animals that live in them. One of oceanographer's greatest concerns has been the mass bleaching of coral over the past few years. Records show that in the past, short periods of warmer than normal weather have caused coral to bleach, however most of it is generally quite localized and the coral tends to recover. In the past decade large areas in the world's most precious coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef have been so extensively bleached that nothing has recovered. In 1998, 16% of the world's coral was left bleached or dead after the summer months. There is left a white and stale graveyard that cannot support any of the reefs marine life.

Another worry is the decreasing salinity of sea water. The ocean acts much like the transport system in the human body. Great currents that traverse across the globe help to distribute heat and nutrients. The North Atlantic conveyer is the most important of these systems, and affects the climate on both sides of the Atlantic. The force that causes this conveyer to run is called thermohaline circulation. Warm, salty water flows from the tropical Atlantic north toward the Pole in currents such as the Gulf Stream. This saline water loses heat to the air as it is carried to far reaches of the North Atlantic. The coldness and high salinity make the water denser and it sinks deep into the ocean. Surface water moves in to replace it. The deep, cold water flows into the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans, eventually mixing again with the warmer water, rising to the surface and continuing the cycle. Changes in temperature and salinity would thus greatly affect the conveyer belt, slowing it down, or even stopping it completely. And in doing so bring about great changes in climate as much of the northern hemisphere would no longer receive the warmth it brings.

This can result in one of the seemingly paradoxical aspects of global warming. Although the earth as a whole will be warmer, many places will be colder. Britain is likely to be one such place, whereas Canada and Siberia would be more likely to have warmer, wetter climates. Many places along the tropics could become dust-bowls as droughts become more severe and temperatures hotter.

A study of nonmigratory butterfly species in Europe showed that in the last three decades, about a third of them have expanded their range northward by up to 150 miles. In Britain, birds breed an average of 9 days earlier than they did in the mid 20th century while frogs mate seven weeks earlier. Alpine plants are heading uphill and endangering mountain top species that have no where to go. Shifts in migration patterns have been noticed in the past, but as this warming is so much more rapid than before, scientists are worried that species may not have enough time to adapt and avoid extinction. An important factor here is once again humans. In the past, animals were much freer to change their habitat or migratory routes. Today, species that are forced out by others that move up may find themselves in populated areas with no where to breed, nest and hunt. Habitat destruction of this kind has caused more extinction of species in the last 100 years than at any time in history.

Another problem with this is that all species react differently, and this is already causing natural symbiotic relationships to fall out of sync. In the Netherlands, peak hatchings of flycatcher birds and moth caterpillars have always happened on the same day, June 3rd. Since 1980, the pattern has been shifting slightly each year. 20 years later it has meant that most caterpillars emerge two weeks earlier than the birds hatch, so many nestlings go hungry and die.

What can be done about it?

As it has been basically confirmed by the scientific establishment that human production of greenhouse gases is one of the main causes, it means that there is potentially a lot we can do. Just about everything we do these days, from producing electricity to driving a car to crowing crops and clearing forests, results in an end product of more carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the air. Cutting back on these things would cut back on emissions and reduce the amount of such gasses in the atmosphere.

There are many organizations and websites which give people ways to help out just by doing things a bit differently each day. There are also drives to try and get governments and businesses to set strict standards about how much fuel they burn and to try and find alternate means of providing people and industry with power and heat. The most important of these so far has been the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to try and reduce emissions enough to curb the rapid temperature rise.

However complying with its guidelines means that things would have to change and those in power are reluctant to change without 'absolute proof' as they fear serious economic repercussions. However as researchers point out, the very definition of the future means that we cannot ever know exactly what will happen. We can predict what is more likely and be fairly confidant, but no one can give absolute proof with regards to future events. All we can do is try to act on the knowledge we do have and plan as best as possible for possible events.

For the skeptics

To state today that one does not believe in global warming at all is not really a reasonable statement to make. Of course it can be made, but like saying that the earth is the centre of universe, it goes against everything we know. Almost the same can be said for those who do not believe humans are the major cause. The more evidence that points toward it, the more denying it seems counter-productive.

In 1989 the Global Climate Coalition was formed by 46 of the world's biggest multi-national corporations. The companies represent all aspects of the worlds industries and championed themselves as a "voice for business in the global warming debate." The group funded many studies, which were mostly dismissed by the scientific community as being deeply flawed, to try and show that the Kyoto Protocol was pointless and indeed even detrimental. They even launched a marketing campaign to get companies to boycott the protocol, saying that although global warming was real, it was far too expensive to do anything about it. Yet since 1997 major corporations have been leaving the coalition. It started with British Petroleum who were then followed by the likes of DaimlerChrysler, Texaco and General Motors. When even companies like that start to change their stance, you know something must be up. However the coalition remains a well organized, well funded and active organization.

There are also other organizations claiming that the science used to back up the IPCC reports is not to be trusted and that either global warming does not exist, or it is actually good for the earth, or that we are not to blame. All these organizations are based in the US and many of the major ones are funded by the Western Fuels Association, so you can probably conclude for yourself why they want everyone to keep burning coal and oil.

Conclusion

The story of global warming is one of the biggest events in human fields of study from climatology to geography to industry. We are in a unique position to study the causes and effects of past and present climate change and to do something about the problems we and the environment face. Everything that we learn about our world helps us to better understand it and place ourselves in its future. Regardless of what harm you believe they do, the burning of fossil fuels cannot go on forever, they are simply not renewable. The research that is being done with regards to global warming can help us come up with better ways to manage our resources, better ways to predict the weather and climate and better ways to protect the fauna and flora of the earth. Although even the more dire predictions will probably not affect any of our lifetimes directly, what we leave behind for our children is determined now.


Sources:
  1. Climate Change 2001, IPCC Third Assessment Report. Full report available online at: http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/tar/wg1/index.htm
  2. Union of Concerned Scientists, articles on global warming. Found online at: http://www.ucsusa.org/global/environment/global_warming/
  3. National Geographic, September 2004

Carbon Dioxide and Pandora's Box

ABOUT ME

I'm a chemist, and I am about to burst. Every time I witness the poor knowledge of the Global Community regarding the issues behind the so-called greenhouse gases and global warming, I shake my head.

I am going to write a number of blogs over the next weeks about the chemical realities of global warming and greenhouse gases. I will try to keep the discussions as simple as possible, without compromising my message.

LET'S BEGIN WITH THE BASICS

Carbon is an element, among the most important for life on earth. Other important elements are hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and nitrogen. We define an element as a substance whose smallest unit is an atom. Atoms contain electrons, protons, and neutrons, however, what defines the nature of the atom is only the number of protons.

Carbon has 6 protons. Any atom with 6 protons is a carbon atom. Molecules are defined as "bonded collections of atoms." Carbon dioxide is a molecule containing two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom.

Carbon dioxide is an extremely important gas. Plants, for example, pluck carbon dioxide molecules out of the air and incorporate the carbon atoms in their leaves and branches for strutural strength, in their fruits as sugars to fuel the next generation of offspring, and to make the enzymes that are so important for life processes.

Additionally, the plant "strips" away most of the oxygen from the carbon dioxide and returns it to the atmosphere as oxygen, a crucial gas for human survival.

When we eat an apple or some other fruit, the sweetness is due to sugars. Our bodies metabolize these carbon-containing sugars into . . . . That's right, carbon dioxide, plus water. So, you can see a cycle, what I call the Oxygen Cycle.

Plants form oxygen from carbon dioxide, and we form carbon dioxide from the oxygen the plants release. Cycles are good. The word "recycle" tells us that we reuse a waste product. The survival of our global resources hangs on our ability to recycle.

THE CARBON CYCLE

Like oxygen, carbon has a cycle also. Unfortunately, the carbon cycle is not as simple as the oxygen cycle. The atoms in carbon dioxide are split by plants into oxygen gas, that is recycled into the atmosphere, and carbon atoms. The carbon atoms are incorporated into the structural elements and sugars of a plant. This process requires a good deal of energy; plants get the energy from sunlight and use the miracle of photosynthesis to achieve it.

As long as the global quantity of carbon remains stable, this is a wonderful cycle and the processes of life continue.

IN-CIRCULATION AND OUT-OF-CIRCULATION CARBON

There are many ways of differentiating carbon. For the purposes of this discussion, I divide carbon into two different types: in-circulation and out-of-circulation. The in-circulation carbon is part of the carbon cycle. It goes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and is pulled out by plants and through other, minor, ways. Out-of-circulation carbon is the carbon that is in the ground. It has been in the ground for thousands of years, mainly in the forms of coal, petroleum, and natural gas.

Only recently, in the history of humankind, we have begun to pull this out-of-circulation carbon out of the ground and we burn it in our automobiles, in industrial applications, and so on. The major product of this burning is to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution started, the level of carbon dioxide has risen 50 percent.

The reason the carbon dioxide levels increase is because the global climate is overwhelmed. There is too much carbon dioxide being produced, the plant world, which takes the carbon dioxide out of the air cannot handle these increased levels.

PANDORA'S BOX

Pandora's Box, as the myth goes, was given to humankind as punishment for stealing the secret of fire and, when opened, it released all the troubles we face today. Burning petroleum is that fire, and the increasing level of carbon dioxide is the punishment.

Mythology tells us that, once Pandora's Box was opened, and our travails released, they could not be returned into the box. The same with the release of out-of-circulation carbon. Every time we turn on the engines in our cars, run our lawn mowers, we re-open Pandora's Box. There is no practical way to return that carbon into the ground.

WHAT DO WE DO?

In the next postings, I will discuss what our leaders are doing that is constructive and not constructive, from a chemical point of view. For the time being, I will say this: Our continuing to remove out-of-circulation carbon from the ground is absolutely the wrong thing to do. We must stop this practice as soon as possible.

In future postings, I will explain how our proposed solutions are flawed, some of the reasons why we can't be more fuel-efficient, and a solution for getting unlimited fuel without creating a single greenhouse gas.

I dreamt it was summer 2011 and global warming had happened a lot faster than anyone expected. The ice caps had unexpectedly melted and temperatures had gone up to 110 degrees. At first it just meant we had to keep air conditioners running all the time and dutifully watch news reports about people dying in the streets throughout Africa and Asia. We slept underneath the fan and made jokes about how nice the winter would be this year. Then one day there was a brownout. All the radio signals went dead and the power never came back on. When our food all went rotten we came out of our houses, looking at our neighbors miserably. We went down the grocery store but it had already been looted. Old people and children were being left behind at this point. I lost track of my family and wandered through the streets, looking for water.

Waves of thirst, hunger, and heat came over me. I was in too much pain to sleep. I realized suddenly what a pointless exercise I had been a part of. Ten thousand years of human history had been demolished by a stupid, greedy attempt to outsource all of my suffering. But that was all vanity, and none of it mattered now. The sun came up the next morning, but the temperature had gotten higher. Was it 130 now? 140? People were barely able to move. It was like living in an oven.

I collapsed in the street. My skin was melting and my eyes were dry of tears. Then I woke up.

I'm going to make this very simple because all of the writeups in this node are already way too long.

Yes, we can say with a good deal of certainty that average global temperatures are increasing. What we cannot say is that humans are "one of the main causes" of this, as the noders above me have so casually stated.

The root of my argument lies in the science behind the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is the idea that certain gases, known as "greenhouse gases", enter our atmosphere and trap sunlight and heat energy from the sun, which subsequently increases temperatures. This much I can agree with. The real crux of this issue is what percentage of the greenhouse effect can be attributed to humans.

The percentage number is .28% (source). That is, about one quarter of a percentage of the greenhouse effect is caused by all man made greenhouse gases, and this number includes ALL greenhouse gases we create, not just carbon dioxide.

This is mainly because the number one most abundant and most planet-warming greenhouse gas out there is...

WATER VAPOR! 95% of the total greenhouse effect can be attributed to water vapor. Carbon dioxide is number two, with 3.6% of the greenhouse effect being attributed to it, but keep in mind that MAN-MADE CARBON DIOXIDE CONTRIBUTES .117% OF THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT. The other 3.5% comes from nature. Every animal AND PLANT that exists creates carbon dioxide. Saying deforestation causes global warming is ridiculous, because although trees do absorb carbon dioxide when they create sugars by photosynthesis, they also exhale carbon dioxide when they respirate (burn those sugars they made). Next on the list is nitrous oxide, which nature creates in far greater quantities than mankind ever has, and methane, which comes from decaying organic matter on the floors of your precious forests, and the buttholes of animals all over the world.

It is the height of blind naivety to even suggest that man-made greenhouse gases are warming the planet up.


Aside from this, I have another issue with all these environmentalists running around claiming global temperatures "are predicted" to rise 10 degrees in the next century. Even the best meteorologists that money can buy have trouble predicting weather patterns even a few days in the future, but "environmental scientists" are claiming they can predict weather patterns a century in advance?! That's INCREDIBLE!


As far as Time magazine goes, in the late 60's Time was warning us about how "Global Cooling" was bringing about another ice age. They will report anything to make a buck. Fear mongering is a far better marketing strategy than actually being correct.

Oh yeah, and about this "Kyoto Treaty" that everyone above me seems to be so keen on supporting, let me quote exactly from my source website above:


"The Kyoto Protocol calls for mandatory carbon dioxide reductions of 30% from developed countries like the U.S. Reducing man-made CO2 emissions this much would have an undetectable effect on climate while having a devastating effect on the U.S. economy. Can you drive your car 30% less, reduce your winter heating 30%? Pay 20-50% more for everything from automobiles to zippers? And that is just a down payment, with more sacrifices to come later.

Such drastic measures, even if imposed equally on all countries around the world, would reduce total human greenhouse contributions from CO2 by about 0.035%.


This is much less than the natural variability of Earth's climate system!

While the greenhouse reductions would exact a high human price, in terms of sacrifices to our standard of living, they would yield statistically negligible results in terms of measurable impacts to climate change. There is no expectation that any statistically significant global warming reductions would come from the Kyoto Protocol."

I can't believe that I'm the first person on this site to be saying any of this.


The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
-Albert Einstein-

Our beliefs and prejudices influence the interpretations of natural phenomena. In order to minimize those bias when developing a theory, it has been established the scientific method, by means of which we construct a reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary representation of the world. (1)

For instance, it has been observed an apparent rising rate of the earth's temperature in the last 100 years when compared with any else interval during the previous 10 centuries. Such pattern of warming -justified by both external forcing and human activity, over which allegedly rigorous statistical analyses have been applied- has issued a theory of climate change.

Having said that, the theory of 'recent' global warming is based on a widespread consensus among climate scientists, and implies the following conditions: it is real, dangerous and anthropogenic in nature.

But if such consensus depends on a deliberate suppression of alternative hypotheses by means of either eliminating the non-fitting data or applying inaccurate statistics, it could be a fraudulent one, and consequently the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theory might transform into the AGW myth.

In accordance with several reports -published by The New York Times and other media no long ago- the aforementioned myth could have been deliciously revealed when a hacker broke into the computers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and released a lot of Mbs comprising confidential files through the internet. Those documents were exchanged by some of the main scientists that had been vigorously supporting the AGW theory.

In one of the emails appeared a Dr. Jones's discussion about a scientific method of overlaying data of temperature declines with repetitive information of higher temperatures:

From: Phil Jones To: ray bradley ,mann@, mhughes@ Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000 Cc: k.briffa@,t.osborn@

Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd (sic) from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.

Thanks for the comments, Ray.(2)

As seemingly the average global temperatures appeared to have stopped rising ten years ago, those scientists were in a panic to find statistical data to substantiate their AGW theories.

This scientific scandal had certain relevance, at least if one takes into account the widespread media’s coverage of this Climategate(5). For example, an editorial in Washington Times stated '...Academics who have purposely hidden data, destroyed information and doctored their results have committed scientific fraud. Most important, however, these revelations of fudged science should have a cooling effect on global-warming hysteria and the panicked policies that are being pushed forward to address the unproven theory.'(3)

Happily a committee of experts recommended by the Royal Society saw no up–to–date evidence of any deliberate 'scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it was likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganized researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.' (4)

The light has almost shown up through that prank so we can now stay free from turmoil about our glaciers disintegrating and causing tidal waves, and South Americans losing their water supplies. Thank goodness.

References

(1) Bright WE. An Introduction to Scientific Research (McGraw-Hill, 1952).

(2) Telegraph.co.uk http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100017393/climategate-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-anthropogenic-global-warming/

(3) Washingtontimes.com http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/24/hiding-evidence-of-global-cooling/

(4)The New York Times http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/east-anglias-climate-lessons/

(5) Climategate

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGprBvjoTNc&feature=player_embedded

http://www.climategateemails.com/

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125902685372961609.html

http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-scientific-tragedy-of-clim/

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack/

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2010/2010-03-31-02.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8391221.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8393449.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8377465.stm

http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/CRUstatements/oxburgh

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/norfolk/8389727.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8618024.stm

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/20/AR2009112004093.html

http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/CRUstatements/oxburgh

http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/the-human-condition/2009/11/25/james-hansen-climate-change-evidence-overwhelming-hacked-e-mails-indicate-poor-judgement.html

http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2010/2010-03-31-02.html

http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/energy/2009/12/12/climategate-science-not-faked-but-not-pretty_print.htm

http://www.eastangliaemails.com/emails.php?eid=484

------------------------------------------

Addendum

The University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit has been criticized not only for withholding information but also for the poor statistics used, although -if better- they might not have produced significantly different results. In the above w/u we have exposed the conclusions of two out three reviews from an international panel set up by the University in consultation with the Royal Society in order to asses the integrity of the investigation carried out, the findings of the third one having not yet been published.

There are many myths about global warming running around, too many to address completely in a single node. Two selected myths - one general, and one highly specific, are addressed here.

The Impact of CO2

Carbon dioxide directly contributes a very small fraction of the greenhouse effect. Water contributes far far more. Of course, for global warming to arise from the greenhouse, there needs to be a change in the greenhouse effect. Does the added carbon dioxide contribute a significant amount of the change? Not directly. But indirectly, yes, it does. This is because of the water cycle.

Water evaporates, forms clouds, rains or snows down, and evaporates again in an endless cycle. In cold places, the balance of this cycle lies heavily in the solid state - ice. In warmer places, it favors the liquid and gas phases more, and in the hottest places, the capacity for water in the air is very high. This gas-phase water is what contributes to global warming. Not even so much clouds, as they increase albedo, but simple high humidity. Not relative humidity, but absolute humidity.

The water cycle is reasonably stable. If you just throw a bunch of water in the air, it will eventually condense out. The same applies to intermittent heating or cooling.

If, however, there is a steady change in the temperature - say, rising a little bit (from any source of climate forcing), more water gets into the air and stays there. Water, as noted above, is a greenhouse gas. So the additional water added to the air in turn warms things up, which in turn adds more water, and so on. How far does it go? If each kilo of water added to the air is directly responsible for adding r more kilos of water, then the 'generations' of this process form a geometric series. If r is less than 1, it doesn't run away completely, and the total change from an initial F forcing will be F/(1-r).

r can be very close to 1, however, without causing this runaway. If it is 0.99, then the total forcing will be 100F, and 99F of that will be from water. But without the 1F to start things off, the 99 F from water wouldn't be there. This is a classic case of amplification.

Now, the real climate is more complicated than that, but the general concept applies. A small forcing from carbon dioxide, or methane, or changes in solar input, or albedo changes, is amplified by the water cycle to much greater significance.

I'm not a climatologist, I'm a physicist. This isn't a statement of "this is how it is, in detail"; this is a statement of "here's an effect you have to be aware of if you're going to understand what's going on here". But this should be enough to alleviate the confusion of these small numbers producing these large effects.

The Notorious Climategate Email concerning "Diagram for WMO Statement"

The relevant portion of this email is: I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd (sic) from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline.

If one knows what the data set is, and what the decline is, then this statement presents no ethical issues at all.

The data is a bunch of tree ring specimens. Under certain specific conditions - principally on mountains - the growth of the trees is based on temperature reasonably tightly - enough that if you average a bunch of them it's a worthwhile measure of temperature.

Now, some but not all tree ring samples, after holding tightly to the thermometer-based record for a long time, suddenly diverged in a downward direction in the 1960's. Only certain tree samples were appropriate measures of temperature anyway, so it's understandable that these trees could have a new limiting factor on their growth arise, just like most other trees in the world. Contrary to some claims, the thermometers showed no such decline, it was just the tree rings. There are (as far as I am aware) no solid explanations for why these particular trees diverged at that particular time. A suspicion put forth by climatologists is a shift from temperature to water-limited growth (3). I would also suspect fallout from nuclear tests, and consider the possibility of some other artifact of human interference that only started at that time. Regardless of the cause of the decline, be it systematic or random, if you're drawing a smoothed trendline (as they were) it's a really bad thing if an endpoint is an outlier - it has an oversized effect on the trajectory of the curve.

Since we know what the actual temperatures were in that time period - we have had thermometers for a time span substantially exceeding 50 years - the proposal was, in a graph, to have one of the data sets for sourcing a trendline in a graph not be 'tree ring temperatures', but 'tree ring temperatures prior to 1960, thermometer measurements after 1960'. The resulting trendline is then cut off at 1960.

That was the 'trick' used in the paper mentioned, and when used in that paper, it was explained at the time so no one was under a false impression. After all, the author and recipient of this email both knew what the trick was, and attributed it to the one who devised it!

All in all, what was being hidden was misleading non-data, and the fact that this was being hidden was not going to be hidden.

~~ Resources ~~

  1. Use of tree ring samples as a gauge of temperature: Chapter 5 of Biotic Feedbacks in the Global Climatic System: Will the Warming Feed the Warming? Available free from books.google.com
  2. An early article about tree ring temperatures: http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/1995/95GB00321.shtml (not free)
  3. A more recent article, specifically addressing the decline, and freely accessible, is at http://www.clim-past-discuss.net/4/741/2008/cpd-4-741-2008.pdf
  4. The article which first used the trick: Nature 392, 779-787. At http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v392/n6678/abs/392779a0.html (not free)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.