Why take global warming seriously?
When I first became concerned about climate change, the scientists imagined that it would be a long gradual process and that during the course of a hundred or thousand years, temperatures would rise by a matter of a few degrees. They had no evidence to suggest that it could happen any quicker...
It is only recently that the scientists examining ice cores from the arctic have discovered that in the past the climate has changed much more rapidly than previously thought.
So why aren't we worried about climate change?
A. The whole mechanism of global warming has been presented using benign and easily misunderstood analagies.
B. The evidence for runaway global warming is relatively new, and came to light during a time when the paid sceptics had an overly large influence with the media.
C. We don't want to be worried about it
A. The term greenhouse effect was coined to explain the way that certain gases trap infra red radiation and re radiate it, warming the earth. It's a shame they chose the word 'greenhouse', with it's connotations of wealth and lush greenery, a place to grow exotic flowers or to start your tomatoes. The reality is that the GHG (greenhouse gases) are more like an oven, the more GHGs, the higher the temperature - simple.
B. Basically the scientists got it wrong, people were lulled into a false sense of security by time frames that would bequeath the problems of a warming world to our great great grandchildren. So why worry? The Wright brothers flew a rickety powered kite in 1903 and 66 years later a man walked on the moon. We could relax, confident that by the time global warming became a problem, someone would have figured it out. Unfortunately science has since figured out that when warming starts it sets off other processes that accelerate the warming. Here are some examples:
1. reduced albedo in arctic
as the ice caps retreat, less sunlight can be reflected away from the earth and more heat is absorbed
2. ocean temperature rise
the oceans have dampened the effects of global warming by absorbing CO2, leaving less in the atmosphere to warm the earth.
unfortunately, as the ocean temperature rises, its ability to absorb CO2 is diminished until it eventually it can absorb no more.
Also, as the temperatures go up more water vapour is released; water vapour is another potent GHG.
3. CO2 release from soil
as temperatures rise, bacteria in the soil start to put CO2 into the atmosphere
4. CO2 release from plants
as temperatures rise, plants start to put CO2 into the atmosphere rather than take it out
5. forest and vegetation die back
heat and drought cause vegetation to either die back or succumb to forest fires, thus the most important process for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is lost and, in the case of forest fires, the carbon stored in the trees is immediately released into the atmosphere.
By the way, don't believe the popular science that says that CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for 100 years; that is based on an assumption that you have a healthy plant system. CO2 will actually last forever if it isn't taken out by plants, or to a lesser extent, by being dissolved in the oceans. Most climate models don't take into account that as the plant ecosystem fails due to warming, the 'lifetime' of atmospheric CO2 increases. I.e. if all plant life died, CO2 would stay in the atmosphere forever, just like on Venus...
6. reduced phytoplankton
heat and increase acidity of the oceans (caused be the absorption of CO2) interfere with the ability of phytoplankton to fix CO2 from the atmosphere
7. methane release from tundra
as temperatures rise, the permafrost of alaska and Siberia melts releasing trapped methane. Methane is a worse GHG than CO2 by a factor of 23
8. failure of global thermohaline
the famous current that pumps water around the Atlantic is disrupted by freshwater runoff from the melting arctic and Greenland icecaps - this in turn disrupts the phytoplankton and other mechanisms essential for scrubbing CO2 from the air
as the sea warms the possibility of huge methane burps from clathrates (methane trapped under the seabed) increases with potentially catastrophic effects on a planetary scale.
Of these nine processes (named positive feedback loops) all but the last one are happening as I write, but you're unlikely to see them all mentioned in one article. Terrorism, the price of oil, the economy, Iraq, Brad & Jennifer, have kept this stuff firmly out of the public eye. It also didn't help that the fossil fuel schills did a magnificent job of rubbishing the science to the point where scientists are so paranoid about being publically shredded that many are reluctant to talk about the wider implications of their research. There is even evidence that some have even 'toned down' their results for fear of upsetting their grant masters. Add this to the media's desire to present a 'balanced argument', usually between a scientific view representing 95% of scientific opinion against the remaining 5% funded by the oil and coal industries, and it's no wonder that most people don't think that global warming is anything to worry about.
C. Finally, the most important reason we're not worried is that we don't want to be worried. I for one, would love to be wrong. I would be so happy to hear a convincing argument that it's not happening and it's not going to happen and that my children will continue to grow up in this beautiful world and have children of their own. Hard, when the last 5 years have been in the hottest 6 of the last 120, when glaciers are melting, seabirds and fish are dying, lands are drying and forests are burning...
It's easy to see how we have ignored and poopooed this threat.
It's an under-reported, misrepresented downer.
But it is still possible to do something. Maybe we can stop it, maybe we can find technologies to cool the planet, if we find the will...
Check the links.
Spread the word.
Don't let the politicians and economists take your silence as a mandate to destroy the planet.
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