Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deny, Deny, Deny

People who deny that human activities are contributing to global warming use many arguments in defense of their position, including: increased solar activity (this is a favorite); the imperfect rotation of the earth around its axis (it "wobbles"); and volcanic eruptions spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (they actually throw a lot of dust up that can cause temporary cooling). Other causes have been postulated, including some fairly esoteric ones, such as reversal of the earth's polarity, cosmic rays, and terraforming by extraterrestrials as a prelude to their invasion (they like every place to be like Florida).

As bizarre as the extraterrestrial terraforming may be, another position seems to me to be even more outlandish, viz., humans are just too insignificant a presence to cause such a major change in the environment. One of my critics argued that, "We know the global climate is on a up and down cycle of hundreds of millions of years with mini up and down cycles of hundreds and thousands of years along this path of millions of years." Yeah, I mean what impact can puny humans have on the environment?

Burning the rain forests:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

Species extinction/declining biological diversity:

Purple Mountains Majesty:

Los Angeles, January 29, 2004
I grew up in LA, 1938 -1961, and it didn't look anything like this; damn extraterrestrials!

It's encouraging to see that Americans generally (~70%) have come to accept the fact that the planet is warming, although it's disappointing that there is still so much disagreement over what's causing it. Even when people agree that human activities are causing warming, there is disagreement over what to do about it, if anything. Another of my critics says, "Why bother trying to reduce our emissions, when China, India, and other developing nations are more than offsetting our efforts with their emissions?"

While China is the world's greatest emitter of greenhouse gases (it took over that dubious distinction from the United States in 2006), the US ranks at the top of the GHG leader board in cumulative emissions since 1850, with the EU second. Between them, the US and the EU account for over 55% of cumulative emissions. China is a poor fourth at 7.6%, and India is further down the list at 2.2%. Thus it seems to me disingenuous to tell the world that we're not going to do anything about our emissions because China, and other developing nations, are now emitting GHGs, too.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of dumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere is that for all practical purposes, it never goes away, i.e, "carbon is forever." University of Chicago oceanographer David Archer has stated that, "The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge, longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far."

Thus, if we really work hard at decreasing our GHG emissions (instead of increasing them as we're doing now), our best hope is to avoid accumulating more atmospheric CO2 and maybe be lucky enough to avert a "tipping point" crisis, where positive feedback effects overwhelm current climate dynamics and, like flipping a switch, plunge the planet into climate hell.

The Earth's Hadean period, roughly 4.7 billion years ago.

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