Who could possibly believe in climate change with all the arguments for and against? Opinion leaders and politicians are providing different points of view. The issue has become political. There needs to be a simple and practical approach to understanding the issue and what to do about it. It is the attempt of this series of post to examine the practical side.
The last post explored how more carbon is being released in the atmosphere. Carbon is trapped in plants and animals when they die and decay. That decay process, over hundreds and thousands of years produces fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. When humans first discovered they could burn fossil fuels, they only consumed less than a year’s supply. The environment could easily absorb the carbon released. Now, humans are consuming about a thousand year’s worth of fossil fuels each year. The environment can no longer absorb that much carbon. [The ocean can absorb a lot of carbon, which provides some hope for the future. But, its rate of absorption is so slow that it can’t keep up. If the ocean absorbed faster, the carbon levels would not have found the balance needed to maintain a healthy carbon level to grow plants.]
So are the levels rising? Yes. The growth in carbon levels have been rising since the turn of the last century. Even the doubters will accept that fact. Science has known this for nearly a 150 years. The levels today are as high as they have been in 17,000 years.
Here is meaning of this. Carbon in the form of carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. It acts like glass panels on a greenhouse. Carbon dioxide is colorless so it allows light from the sun to penetrate the atmosphere and reach the earth. Some light is reflected off because of the angle the light strikes the upper atmosphere. Some is reflected off by clouds. But, enough light gets through to warm the earth and grow plants. The heat generated by the light is radiated back into the atmosphere. The cold of space then cools the atmosphere keeping the heat levels in balance.
But, carbon dioxide also acts like a blanket on a cold night. It reflects heat back down to the earth. This doesn’t allow the natural cooling effect to keep a balance in the atmosphere.
The carbon dioxide affect is not a guess. It is an observable and measurable process. It is fact.
So, now we know, in practical and measurable terms, that humans are burning more than a thousand year’s worth of carbon based fuels each year. We also know that carbon levels are growing in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, the primary form of carbon, acts as the glass panels on a greenhouse, allowing light to reach the earth, but trapping the heat generated by the light. All observable and measurable.
In the next post, the effect of all of this will be explored.