Global Warming and Climate Change are phrases that have been increasingly tossed around by the media for the last decade. But I do not believe that the true consequences of nature’s wrath are adequately understood. Its universal acceptance by the scientific community is just about complete. But I feel that its social, economic, and political consequences of potential utter devastation and possible annihilation have yet to sink in. There are still people in total denial. Their claim is that to reduce carbon emissions will be too costly and devastating to our economy or has not been fully proven to be caused by man (anthropomorphic). What they fail to understand is by ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence they are endangering the safety and possible survival of mankind on earth. They demand absolute scientific proof. What they don’t understand is that there is nothing absolute about science. Even medical science is not absolutely understood. Yet they still seek out medical cures for what ails them so why not believe climatologist? The treatment of many cancer is not rocket science but can save many lives. But there are those afraid of knowing the truth so in spite of all the symptoms they remain in denial refusing to seek medical help until it is too late. These are like the deniers of Climate Change but in this case too late is too late for all mankind.
Climate science is extremely complex and difficult to model and like all other sciences is based upon the collection of huge amounts of data over many decades and even tens of thousand of years from ice core samples to create various models that digest this data and spit out verification of the accuracy of these models and predictions of the future. Climate is not about a single weather event such as a tornado or hurricane. It is about the overall effect of seasonal weather patterns and probabilistic changes in the overall severity and long term trends of climate changes and average global temperatures which can have major affects of melting glacial and polar ice and ocean salinity and acidity of 70% of the earth’s surface. Climatologists do not predict where a hurricane will strike or how devastating it will be. They predict the long term trends of regional weather trends and their overall severity. Weather forecasters predict near term weather events or forecasts. Though weather and climate are related the methodology for predicting each is very different. For example weather forecasters study current satellite photos whereas climatologist might study ancient tree rings or ice core samples thousands of years old. Climatologists are becoming increasingly alarmed at the back seat attitude the United States appears to be taking regarding Global Warming. It has been turned into a political/economic issue instead of a global scientific/survival concern. But ask a climate scientist and likely they will tell you that it needs to be taken far more seriously.
Global warming is largely based upon the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere though there are currently other less significant greenhouse gases which are becoming increasingly more significant such as methane. The level of CO2 in our atmosphere is amazingly small, between 0.02% and 0.08% for the last million or so years. It is so low that scientist express it in part per million (ppm). Currently it is at a 800,000 year high of 402 ppm (0.04%) and rapidly rising. Seemingly small changes in its concentration in our atmosphere can have dramatic consequences to our weather and climate. CO2 allows the shorter wavelength infrared rays from the sun to enter through the atmosphere but when it lands on earth it is converted to heat which is a much longer wavelength form of infrared. When this longer wavelength heat infrared is reflected back towards space the small amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere prevents some of it from leaving the atmosphere. This heat is trapped in our atmosphere causing further heating of the earth. The more CO2 there is in the atmosphere the more heat is retained in the atmosphere like an insulating thermos bottle. Seemingly vary small changes in CO2 levels in the atmosphere can have significant effects on heat retention in the atmosphere.
The reason CO2 is at such low levels in the atmosphere is because CO2 is quite soluble in water at the concentrations that exists in nature and is trapped in all the moisture on earth such as the oceans which occupy the vast majority of the earth’s surface, ice as in glaciers and the poles, dirt and organic matter as frozen tundras and frozen land, moisture in the air such as clouds, etc. Carbonated beverage is an example of high concentrations of CO2 dissolved in sweetened water. A touchy thing about this solubility is that water is unable to hold as much CO2 as it becomes even slightly warmer. Imagine the sheer volume of water in our oceans. If our oceans warmed up by as little as 1 degree, countless trillions of tons of CO2 will be expelled back into our atmosphere and less CO2 emitted by the burning of fossil fuels is able to be absorbed by water. As our polar ice melts it liberates enormous amounts of CO2 trapped in it back into our atmosphere. As our tundra’s thaw out they liberate most of the CO2 and methane gas trapped in them and the decaying matter left will start to decay more producing humongous quantities of methane gas, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than CO2. I hope you get the picture. The CO2 that man produces starts this chain reaction of heating the earth. Once this heating starts to accelerate it takes on a life of its own becomes increasingly more difficult to reverse since the earth itself starts producing more greenhouse gases as the earth and oceans warm and the ice melts. If man were to totally cease all CO2 emissions it would take some time for the vast oceans to cool down again and for the ice to start accumulating again at the polar caps. We are talking about tens if not hundreds or even thousands of years if we do not stop our CO2 emissions soon. Climate change is like trying to slow down a gigantic ship, the good ship Mother Earth. It will take decades before we see the climate even starting to slow down its upward trend. But if we keep doing what we are and very slowly revers our emissions of CO2 then it may take thousands or even tens of thousands of years to recover. This would mean the extinction of life as we know it on earth including man. Earth would become unbearably hot, and arid or extraordinarily stormy and overbearingly humid in various regions, well over 100 degrees F average worldwide, and all higher life forms of plants and animals will parish because of the rapidity of change allowing no time for them to evolve and adapt to the much higher temperatures. Storms are as a result of energy. As the water and atmosphere warm up they will contain much more energy to produce storms and weather the likes of which mankind has never seen except in science fiction movies.
This is very scary stuff but if we do nothing or not enough these nightmare scenarios could become everyday occurrences within a hundred years or so. Imagine the devastating economic and social consequences of continued CO2 emissions in light of Global Warming gone amok? You really can’t. But the consequences of further delays may spell the end to man. The end will not happen suddenly. It will take decades or perhaps a hundred years or more. But weather events will become increasingly more severe and devastating with time and food and usable water resources increasingly scarce as agriculture becomes increasingly more difficult to sustain. We already see how much worst the weather has been in just the last 10 years. Record droughts and record rains and storms are striking this nation every month everywhere.
We must be far more proactive about curbing CO2 emissions because it is going to have devastating effects in the future if we don’t. We can’t just say wait for the Chinese to curb their CO2 emissions since they are possibly now the largest contributor. The US rivals China and will significantly impact global warming if we continue taking a back seat to the effort. We can make a significant difference and stand as an example for China, India, and others to follow. This is very serious stuff, bigger than economic recovery or the deficit. It’s bigger than America. It’s global in scope. All life on earth is significantly impacted.
Mother Earth is like a human body which is being invaded by a quickly growing virus called mankind. As long as virus man’s population is small in numbers it represents little threat to Mother Earth. However as mankind propagates and spews his byproducts of CO2 waste onto Mother Earth’s atmosphere a Greenhouse fever starts to develop to get rid of virus mankind and gets hotter and hotter as more CO2 waste is emitted by mankind. As CO2 levels continue to rise Mother Earth starts to break out in progressively larger fever blisters of storms and record-breaking droughts and heat waves like shingle blisters or cold sores. Eventually conditions are just too hot and hostile so virus mankind starts to die out as well as other life forms. But even as the last man takes his final breath Mother Earth’s fever still rages on until the poisonous CO2 is expelled or reabsorbed. Then the lingering water ladened clouds start filtering out the sunlight and Mother Earth starts to slowly cool down as the fever breaks and the CO2 further gets reabsorbed by the cooler seas which lower the level of the Greenhouse effect and cooling slowly continues for tens of thousands of years until ice starts forming on Mother Earth and she starts to drop into a cool slumber until awaken sometime later, and life starts its inevitable slow return.
To read more details about Global Warming go to my article series What is Global Warming (in 3 Parts)