Maybe some of you have heard the latest alert from the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) headed by 234 scientists from 66 countries. They just issued a “Code Red” on global warming. Immediate action is needed to prevent the worst outcomes for the Earth. Most is already irreversible.
Big deal. They’re all “paid off” scientists by people who make big money scaring everyone. Right?
Wrong. Remember the tobacco companies denying that cigarette smoking causes cancer? It’s the same thing here. Big oil has known for decades that too much carbon dioxide and methane in the air will cause global warming. They saw how effective the tobacco companies were. Deny the science. Sow doubt. Fund scientists who will deny that global warming is happening. Or say it is happening, but not caused by man.
Heck, scientists have known for a long time that too much carbon dioxide will warm the planet. They labeled it a “greenhouse gas” over a hundred years ago. Just look at Mercury—so very close to the sun—and Venus, a planet closer to the sun than ours but about the same size. Which planet is hotter? Mercury, which has very little atmosphere, clocks in at a balmy average of 354° F. Venus, which has a dense atmosphere with lots of carbon dioxide, tips the scale at 864° F.
OK, so the planet is warming. We get that. But you can’t prove it is being caused by man.
Actually, we can. Before the Industrial Revolution, the atmosphere contained an average of 280 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Currently, CO2 is at 409 ppm. It’s been 800,000 years since it was that high. How do we know this? Ice cores drilled in Antarctica contain bubbles of air trapped in ice. Years can be measured like tree rings. We have been burning millions of years of fossil fuels in a matter of just a century.
There is no doubt the extra carbon dioxide is man-made. But there is another method to determine that. The carbon cycle involves plants storing carbon from the air in their wood in the process of photosynthesis. When they decay or burn, the carbon is released back into the air. All plants and animals absorb a tiny amount of radioactive carbon-14, which slowly decays. It has a half-life of 6,000 years. Organic matter can be dated measuring carbon-14, but after 50,000 years, there is too little to detect. Fossil fuels like oil and coal may have started out as organic matter, but they are millions of years old and have no carbon-14. When we burn fossil fuel and release carbon dioxide, we can easily determine that the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from man—not nature.
The same thing can be determined from methane, also a natural gas in the atmosphere. Thirty-five percent of methane emissions are natural. Sixty-five percent are due to human activities. Although methane doesn’t last as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is 20 times a more powerful greenhouse gas. It contributes one-fourth of the contribution of carbon dioxide toward the greenhouse effect.
The carbon cycle takes hundreds and even thousands of years to process all that extra carbon dioxide. Much is absorbed in the ocean. When carbon dioxide mixes with water, it becomes carbonic acid. Although a weak acid, the extra carbon has turned the entire ocean slightly more acidic. This is dire news to animals with shells. The oceans are also absorbing a lot of the extra heat the extra carbon dioxide has created. Warm water expands, raising the level of the ocean. Warm water also creates more powerful storms.
If we stopped right now adding carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, the planet would continue to warm for the next 20 to 30 years. But we are not stopping. We are not even slowing down. Recently, coal jobs were being encouraged.
The first thing we need to learn is the dire consequence of doing nothing. We are seeing the first stages of it. This June was the hottest June ever recorded in U.S. history. Most of the hottest years recorded have all been in the last ten years. We’ve seen the resulting drought and continuous forest fires in the Western U.S. Wells and reservoirs are drying up. What’s going to happen to our agriculture with no water? Already the southern portion of California’s great valley is sinking due to overdrafting of well water.
What can we do individually? Put solar on our house? Weatherize our houses? Buy an electric car? Plant trees? Drive less? Use LED light bulbs? These are all drops in the bucket. We need a national and a worldwide carbon tax of some kind to start weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and to encourage alternative energy. It’s time to start thinking about your children and grandchildren.
Don Urbanus is a resident of Valley Springs. Contact him at email@example.com.