Climate Change in a Nutshell
Some recent postings and questions have compelled me to write down what I think are some of the more crucial aspects which I feel need to be addressed, that and today is a rain day, so no work for me
I’m not really sure where to start though, kind of flying by the seat of my pants so bare that in mind if it seems a little jumbled. I’ve tried this sort of thing before, gonna give it another college try.
I guess I should start with some of the basic science. First off, there is a natural greenhouse effect. The term ‘natural’ here is what I think is being exploited most. Without the greenhouse effect, there would be zero long wave radiation absorbed, and the planet would swing daily from one temperature extreme to another. This in mind, our activities over the past 8000 years have really been changing the face of the planet, from burning of natural landscapes to grow our crops to building large cities which are the cornerstone of our civilization, these activities among other things have and continue to contribute to the greenhouse gas portion in our atmosphere. We’ve gone beyond the point of sustainable growth and presently are consuming more resources than the Earth can naturally provide.
Global climate models are the diagnostic tool scientists use in assessing how the climate will change. Routinely these models are crapped on by media outlets, but they are in fact very reliable. James Hansen of NASA GISS in 1988 used models to predict that the next twelve years would see a rise in global surface temperature with a brief cooling period due to a volcanic eruption. He made this claim before a Senate committee and time has revealed that his prediction, or rather his models prediction was remarkably accurate. Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. If we want to focus on other climate factors besides the mean global surface temperature, models have also made astonishingly accurate predictions such as: as surface temperature increased there was a corresponding stratospheric cooling, amplified warming in the Arctic, and the difference between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infra-red radiation (also known as the radiative forcing.)
I always hesitate to bring this kind of thing up, because quite frankly it smacks of tinfoil and area 51 to me, but without question there is a powerful lobby with global scope, not only confined to domestic politics, and I feel they have been responsible for much of the confusion over this matter. Everyone by now has probably heard about the former oil lobbyist and Bush aide Phillip Cooney, who removed and adjusted government scientists findings and suggestions. Consider that one of the largest single emitters of greenhouse gases are old and even new ‘grandfathered’ coal generation plants. Consider again that coal is very abundant in many areas across the globe. Many industry leaders were members of the Global Climate Coalition, whose stated purpose was to cast doubt on the theory of Global warming, until now when the science has become much more firm, and larger partners in this coalition such as BP and DuPont dropped out.
From there, it was the late 1970’s when the first warnings from scientists came connecting heavy coal use and climate change. In the late 80’s when the Montreal Protocol began and industry learned how damaging emissions can be constrained, the war for propaganda began. Fred Palmer quipped : the Earth’s atmosphere is “deficient in carbon dioxide,” and he wanted Western Fuels, the company he was running to lead the charge to a world with 1000ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. Staggeringly stupid stuff really. These culprits have also produced such gems as the idea that more carbon makes for better crops and less world hunger, despite the fact that increased CO2 by itself does not improve growth discernibly unless there is accompanied increases in both temperature and rainfall. Even then the nutritional content of the food is much less as there are a host of other nutrients that are deficient because of our unsustainable use of soil across the globe.
There is a good website which lists many of the tired old arguments used by the “skeptics” here
.I use the scare quotes there with good reason. Often they portray the scientists and the friendly media as scare mongers(and some of them are), when they themselves are guilty of that same accusation. Here’s a quote from an excellent book on this matter, Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers:
“Scepticism is an indispensable element of the scientific inquiry, but when the intention is to mislead rather than clarify, we do not have skepticism but deceit.”
Those scare tactics used by the "skeptcs" simply aren't true. There are countries and industries fo instance, around the world that have allready slashed emissions by up to 70%, while maintaining strong economic growth. In some areas of the world, wind power is cheaper allready than conventional generation facilities on a $/MW basis, which helps explain why wind energy continues to grow at roughly 20% every year. Also consider that wind generation is expected to drop in price by a further 20-30%. So what happens when the wind isn't around? Well, one solution is to dot the region with turbines instead of putting all your eggs in one basket. Perhaps excess energy could be used to create hydrogen. How about some more bad press? Wind generation is noisy, well I can tell you that I've had a conversation standing right underneath one of those big windmills, and I could hear just fine. They're unsightly, not half as unsightly as a smoke stack. Potential hazard to birds, not now that they're sleek instead of those funky Dutch looking models. Other power generation options include, solar thermal power, and photovoltaics, for it's a good bet that if theres no wind, theres probably sunlight. There are many other options such as tidal, hydro, geothermal and some oddities( check this
out,) but the best solution is a multi-faceted approach, one best suited to regional conditions.
The relationship that exists between the greenhouse gases and our civilizations don't need to be so tenacious. There are better options, and they are growing more efficient every year. It actually baffles me how someone can be so attached to a world view that ignores the consequences of our own actions. A lesson that can be learned from the Montreal protocol, public outcry is effective, very effective at initiating change. Not all change is bad, though I shudder at the thought of run away climate change.