Thursday, October 21, 2010

Climate change can't possibly be happening , post 2

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.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Climate change can't possibly be happening

Who could possibly believe that climate change, if it is happening at all, is a result of humans? Many people are in denial including all 20 of the Republicans that are running for a senate seat this election. They are for various reason, saying that it is not a problem or it isn’t even happening. The candidates are tapping right in to the angry crowd that wants to do away with all government regulation without regard to the consequences.

Most of the scientific evidence is beyond most of us to grapple with. Then there are those that tear the evidence apart and deny it. Additionally, how about the hype that was created when all those emails from the science community about making adjustments in the numbers to fit the theory surfaced?

While all of the above can be addressed on an point by point basis, let’s take a look at a common sense approach to all of this with a practical explanation of climate change.

Now, keep in mind, this is a little geeky. It may take a few moments for it to make sense, but this is the best explanation about climate change available.

When humans evolved, the species became very adoptable to many different environments because of our intelligence and creativity. We were able to learn about things around us and apply them to our own needs. One of the things we learned was how to make fire. With all the old wood lying around on the forest floor, during the cold months, we could burn them to provide the energy we needed to keep warm.

At the beginning, there were very few humans and the only wood that was burned was already dead. Since our impact was low, the forest easily absorbed the carbon that was released. The earth was in balance because we were releasing less than a year’s worth of carbon. In a year of growth in the forest, all of it could be absorbed.

This went on for many thousands of years. But, leading up to the industrial revolution, we discovered coal, oil and other materials could be burnt to provide the energy we needed. This process that makes coal and oil traps many generations of carbon from the plants and animals that make up the material. When it is burned, the carbon is released into the atmosphere not just from one year, but many.

By the industrial revolution, we had found many more needs for energy than just keeping warm. Also, the numbers of humans had grown dramatically. Now, our energy needs exceeded what was laying on the forest floor. We were burning hundreds of years of material to supply the energy needs of a single year. All of this carbon release was now beyond what could be absorbed by the environment.

Today, it is estimated that humans consume a thousand years of energy in coal, oil and other materials each year. This of course, is well beyond the ability of the earth to absorb all the carbon released. Even when you consider not only the forest but also the other plant life in the oceans.

Since we have released such large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere it is holding much more carbon then it can absorb.

In the next post, the carbon in the air will be discussed.