brian on 2004.09.21
at 02:10 pm
What follows is my quick layman's guide to "global warming." Overly simplified.
The environment through the years has naturally fluctuated in when we look at the Earth's average global temperature. This can be measured by examining arctic ice which, if you drill deep enough can date back to 11,000 years ago, or earlier. Examining that ice shows that it has been much colder than it is currently, but it has also been hotter. These trends follow a natural fluctuation.
Certain elements residing in the atmosphere can take the heat that normally strikes the Earth and is reflected back into space, and bounce it back again onto the Earth. One particularly prevalent gaseous element in the atmosphere is Carbon Dioxide (CO2), much of which is there naturally, but more recently in the last 150 years much more CO2 is present. CO2's reflection of heat acts like a greehouse, trapping that heat warms the Earth's average temperature, changing the way the world operates. This is known as the "Greenhouse Effect." This manifests in changes in the activities of our climate. Melting ocean ice would slowly raise ocean levels changing shorelines inhabited much much of the world's population. Melting ice also releases cool water which can alter ocean currents, which effects both waterborne commerce and shipping, but even more importantly power the Earth's weather patterns.
One major factor present in the last 150 years that which was not present in the past and that produces that much gas is humanity's ever widening use of "fossil fuels" (petroleum, natural gas, coal), which release CO2 as a by product of burning. The carbon in those fuels holds energy that is released when it burns. That energy is used to move our vehicles, power our power plants, which in turn run our TVs. Half of the electricity produced in the United States is done by the burning of coal. Burning of fossil fuels also is the part that produces waste CO2. The burning takes the Carbon (C) and unites those atoms with two Oxygens (O) producing CO2, a gas which will ascend into the atmosphere. There are many other pollutants produced by these processes, but we will ignore them for the purposes of this discussion.
Currently, temperatures are on an upswing. Things are warming up, and we can tell from the ice that there is significantly more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than there was in past times when the atmosphere had warmed up, even in periods that were hotter than now. It is also warming up slightly faster than in previous periods. This is the only period in which carbon dioxide released by man made processes could have played a role. What's more is the problem is on the verge of worsening. As poorer countries such as India and China gain more wealth, they will also begin using many more of the products the richer, earlier developed countries have been using in great amounts (like cars and power plants), releasing exponentially more of these greehouse-effect-causing gases.
Naturally, forests and bodies of water are "sinks" which can absorb carbon dioxide. Ironically, forests around the world are being cut down by devices that release significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Scientists are also afraid that much of the world's water is nearing its CO2 capacity... meaning it's near the point where it can't absorb anymore CO2.
In short, we're on an upswing of temperature on this planet. Just because in our corner of the world may have experienced some colder winters than you remember in the recent past doesn't mean that the Earth overall is not warmer now than, say 150 years ago, hence the term "global warming." Additionally, we are making this upswing more acute (worse) than it would be otherwise by simultaneously releasing more carbon dioxide than the planet would naturally see, while also decreasing the planet's ability to pull that CO2 back out of the air, by cutting down our best protection against that threat.
[Postscript: This summary was brought about by three things. First, the reading a free PDF report on saving energy in very convenient ways by Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff, (the Saving Energy PDF is mirrored here) the first half is particularly good to get a primer on the terms used in regards to energy measurements. Second, viewing a TV special about scientists studying Arctic ice on the Discovery Channel. Lastly, by a personal belief that people who don't know the story lack a plain English, concise "executive summary" of what's going on. The above information is more or less agreed upon by 90-95% of scientists. There are some who disagree, and that's good because debate helps us strengthen fact. That's also bad because powerful energy and related interests can spread the word of that slim minority of scientists to bolster the belief that global warning his baloney. "Not all scientists agree!" Some people still think the Earth is flat, too.
In fact, they are only self-concerned in their short term gain at the cost of the Earth's and humanity's long term health. It's the Wall Street mentality... you better make your profits this quarter so i can make my money off of trading your stock. I don't care about your long term health because I won't be around to see it. People, investing in our future is the only prudent thing to do, and it certainly won't hurt the economy (look at the profits Toyota's making off its hybrid Prius which reduces CO2 emissions significantly), it'll just hurt the people who are currently making the most money off the status quo. By the way, those people are represented by the current American administration, many of whom are closely tied and former/ current employees of the energy corporations who don't want to change their ways and risk their profits. Profits that come indirectly at the cost of yours, humanity's and the Earth's health now and in the future.]
Posted in: Science
John B said on 2005.02.18 at 01:16 pm
I just read an article today 2/18/05 talking about scientists are now measuring increases in the ocean temps to gauge climate changes. Common sense says that its easier to heat air than it is to heat water. The average air temps, by most accounts, are only a few degrees warmer. On the face of things, it would seem that human activity heating the air by only a few degrees would mean something else must be heating up the earth’s oceans! (Otherwise we would be seeing very large air temp increases to force the ocean’s temps to increase by as much as they are!)
brian said on 2005.02.18 at 08:08 pm
I’d be curious to know what the report thought was raising the water temps. It would have been good of you to point out your source.
If you’re offering this as a counterpoint to the 30 years of climate science that say hydrocarbons emissions are causing harm to the environment, I’d say you need a little more evidence or at least to cite your course. We’re always open to opposing viewpoints around here.
john bloom said on 2005.02.21 at 11:24 am
The article did not say what caused the warming.
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