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Thoughts on Global Warming                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: Feb/02/2009 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Environment,

We are barraged on a daily basis with so much data about Global Warming (GM). I don’t dispute that GM is real. We have obviously just concluded 120 years of industrial consumption of the worlds resources with little regard until recently for what the outcome could or would be. Our planet has experienced warming and cooling cycles in the past, and the argument can be made “so what!”. The what is us, people. I don’t profess to know what the optimum temperature for the earth should be. What is important in my view is that mankind has spent the last 5000 years populating various regions of the globe based on available water and habitual temperatures. The last century has begun to force a shift in these criteria that are potentially worse for the status quo than anything else. We could see the wine country of California become the wine country of Oregon. The great agricultural production of the central US could move to the northern states. What the warming will and is doing is forcing temperate changes away from the equator. Our challenge is how we adapt and adjust to the shift.

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My question for Mel is

Using the 1970's as the baseline when countries like the US took protecting the environment serously and started to enact laws to protect the environment :

Is the "Global Warming " we are just seeing the result Man's actions prior too or after the 1970's?

Secondly - How much of this "GW" is a result of man's actions or inactions and how much is just a result of what has been naturally occuring for thousands of Years?

Alan

Posted at: Dec/23/2009 : Posted by: Alan Mann

 

Alan,

I am going to begin by taking some exception to your word usage. Let’s begin with your statement of “took protecting the environment seriously”. In the 1860’s president Lincoln created the first National Park. I am not going to look up every environmental law ever written but I know that the “Migratory Bird Treaty Act” of 1918 is the template for much of our laws that protect various wild species today. The first Federal Water Pollution Control Act was enacted in 1948 and the first Air Pollution Control Act in 1955. In the U.S. there is no doubt that environmental policy moved to the forefront of our National Agenda in the 1970’s with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Clean Air Act of 1970. A host of legislation followed including the formation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more clean water and Air regulation along with the creation of the “Superfund” for environmental cleanup.

All of the above actions have been met with resistance from industry. Changing the status quo is always going to be met with heated arguments. Change from existing industrial practices is expensive while it is also true that change generally creates opportunity for new techniques and businesses. It is also true that part of the scientific and now media dialog for the last 20 years has been “Global Warming” (GW). There is an obvious growing, and now mostly accepted as fact argument that “greenhouse gas” emissions are directly related to GW.

So far I have skirted your question so it is time to get back on target. I am going to share a few basic facts to kick this off.

What is Global Warming?
Global Warming is the gradual increase in global temperature (warming) due to change in the composition of the earth’s atmosphere. As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, more heat from the sun penetrates the earth’s surface, and less heat escapes – creating a ‘greenhouse’ effect. The source of these greenhouse gases can be both natural, man-made, and a secondary man-made effect. I will get back to these shortly.

What are greenhouse gases?
There are six key greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

There is no doubt that nature produces many of these gases. CO2 and CH4 are common products from volcanic activity and decaying organic matter. The current level of global volcanic activity is relatively low, but even if it was high, it would be beyond our control. Since there is plenty we do have some control over, it is more worthy of time and discussion. We get CO2 from a variety of sources, burning hydrocarbons is a common source of contention. CO2 is also a byproduct of mammals breathing (that includes people). I for one don’t want to be the person who foolishly tells everyone else to stop breathing, but seriously; with an estimated global population of 6.7 billion and still growing this is arguably the largest single source of CO2. One of the most natural ways to scrub CO2 and produce oxygen (O2) is via photosynthesis. In photosynthesis CO2 and water are converted into biomass and sugar, a waste product of this process is the production of oxygen (for humans this is our favorite gas). So a good solution would be more forest. Unfortunately as our population grows we have to cut down more and more forest to make space for humanities ever increasing numbers and humanities need for forest products.

What I am saying fundamentally is that population growth rather than the burning of fossil fuels is likely the single biggest contributor to GW via the production of greenhouse gasses. So why all the focus on fossil fuels? This is actually the easiest thing to answer. As a parent one of the life lessons I have come to respect is that certain battles are just not worth fighting because despite my best energies, I can’t win. The biggest factor in GW is humanity and it’s ever increasing numbers. I suspect that our planet can’t effectively cleanse itself of the activities of more than 3-4 billion people. As mentioned earlier we are at an estimated global population of 6.7 billion currently (note: in 1960 the world population was under 4 billion). There is no effective way to regulate world population, especially with over 150 different national governments who each have their own agenda. Attacking the effects of fossil fuel is merely dealing with a challenge we might actually be able to change.

So now I am back to your question of Global Warming. I believe strongly that GW has happened numerous times in earth’s history for various natural reasons. I suspect that the majority of the previous warming cycles have had a significant and likely detrimental impact on the dominate life of that specific era.

There is no doubt that the United States with the help of legislation has reduced, or at least stabilized its production of greenhouse gasses since the 1970’s. But we are talking about a global issue, where change has only begun in a few selected countries. Los Angeles has cleaner air than 30 years ago, but what about China and India? These countries are growing rapidly and they are producing greenhouse gasses at an alarming rate that is circulated across the globe.

Global warming as a result of greenhouse gas accumulation is very real. It is the result of a substantial increase in world population, a substantial decrease in forests supporting photosynthesis, and the large scale use (last 120 years) of burning hydrocarbon fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal. Any solution that is not enacted on a global scale will ultimately prove to be ineffective. Humanity has only been around for a few thousand years. In this time our increasing numbers and our activities have begun creating change that will have a significant impact on where we live, how we live, and if we even continue to live in the same numbers in the future.

Posted at: Dec/27/2009 : Posted by: mel


Thomas Jefferson
How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened?
 
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