Friday, June 24, 2011

On Global Warming

I don’t particularly like the term “global warming.” It doesn’t really capture the scope of what’s going on with the environment. I also don’t particularly like “climate change.” While the former term is too specific, this latter one might be too vague.

We have the term “global warming” because… well… that’s what is happening on the whole. Global temperature averages have gone up. “Climate change” is a label created largely as a reaction to the well understood fact that the change in the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and glaciers is more complex than average temperatures.

Before I continue, I should point out that I won’t address you if you try to say man-made pollution does not affect the environment. There is simply no discussion on this. Plants and animals of every type affect the environment. This is a planet shaped by the life it has spawned.

About 21% of our atmosphere is oxygen. Of that, 98-99% of it was synthesized by a plant (the rest results from photochemical dissociation of ultraviolet light breaking water down into hydrogen and oxygen).

Something to keep in mind: the Earth is a closed chemical system in many ways. Strictly speaking, it isn’t, but for all intents and purposes, it is close enough. We gain more than we lose, as we gain solid mass from meteors while losing nearly insignificant amounts of gas due to atmospheric escape to space. On the whole, though, we are chemically contained and primarily affected by the Sun.

Some would like to point to the Sun as the cause of climate change. The jury is in: the Sun does affect the climate. In fact, I would argue that the Sun has a greater effect than any other single cause. However, saying “The Sun affects climate” has become a strange mantra among some climate-change deniers, as if two things cannot have an effect at the same time.

It’s not as though we just observed the climate statistics and decided to blame oil companies. The effects of greenhouse gas are experimentally proven, and Venus is a clear example where a runaway greenhouse reaction can be observed. Universally accepted fields of study like chemistry and physics confirm the findings of climate scientists.

And yet, thanks to a very successful misinformation blitzkrieg by industries that fear regulation, Americans believe there is doubt about climate change. There is no doubt: 97% of people whose job it is to study weather and climate understand that human-caused climate change is happening.

Some naysayers even have the balls to suggest people support climate change for monetary reasons. Really? Because under-qualified pariahs of the scientific community with a degree and a grudge are taking in millions from industry grants to try to throw doubt on climate change. People who support climate change continue to get grants not because there is some anti-industry conspiracy among those with the purse strings (to what ends, I can only imagine), but because they continue to uncover new information which may be useful in finding ways of curbing our impact on the environment without throwing us technologically back into the stone age.

The last fallacy I’m sick of hearing is the fatalists, who believe we’re doomed. There are some of these on both sides of the debate, and it’s pathetic. If you believe there’s nothing we can do about it, you’re wrong. We can decrease consumption, increase efficiency, fund research of clean fuels, and maintain a general culture of searching for solutions, rather than denying there’s a problem or claiming destruction is inevitable.

I don’t think it’s inevitable that we’ll end up like Venus, but I do think it’s possible. Bio-fuel is the perfect renewable source of greenhouse gas for turning our planet into a pressure cooker. Even when we run out of fossil fuels, we could conceivably keep burning off corn, sugar, or whatever else we come up with and filling the atmosphere with not only carbon dioxide, but a whole host of carcinogens and unpleasant byproducts.

But I suspect that in the end, there will always be those who deny the consensus of experts, because fools are remarkable in their ability to express hostility towards anyone who seems to know more than they do.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If your comment is too long, break it into multiple comments and post them all.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...