Thursday, January 29, 2015

Let’s Stop It with Global Warming Denial

The blogosphere is filled with nitpicking about NASA’s supposedly only 38 percent certainty about 2014 being the warmest year for recorded data.  Does it really matter if 2014 was the warmest year in recent history or the third warmest year? The trend is still up even though there may be slightly cooler years or there may be cooler spots that had been warmer.

Think of your house in winter.  Assume it is a five-room house with a basement. Assume you have no central heating and your only heat is from electric space heaters.

If you turn on one space heater in one room, you will feel warmer by the heater and colder as you move away from it.  Suppose you turn on a space heater in every room.  Each room will warm up near the space heater and be cooler away from the space heater.  If you are on the opposite side of the room, there is no room-heating!  And if you go to the basement, you have proven that there is no household warming!

What happens if you put a space heater in every corner of each room and in every corner of the basement?  You will have a very warm house, maybe an unbearably hot house.

So what happens if you have a few steam-powered factories?  Not much.  What happens if you add hundreds and thousands of steam-powered factories.  Well, the areas around these factories may be a bit warmer, but few will notice until they go into the factories.

What happens if you have a few steam-powered trains?  Not much, just like with the factories.

What happens if you have a few thousand gasoline-powered cars?  Not much.  But if you take lots of measurements, you will find that the temperatures are rising slightly around the areas where these factories, trains, and cars operate.

What happens when there are hundreds of thousands of factories and trains and millions of cars?  Where is all the heat from these going to go?  Magically back into the ground where the fuel came from?

Add to this that these factories, trains, and cars generate carbon dioxide.  Since the Earth takes in energy as ultra-violet radiation and sends out energy as infra-red radiation, you would think there would be some stability in energy.  But carbon dioxide (and other gasses) block infra-red radiation.  The more carbon dioxide we dump into the atmosphere, the more heat will be retained on earth.  The more generators of carbon dioxide we have, the more carbon dioxide we will have dumped into the atmosphere.

Let’s go back to our household heaters.  Nowadays, we use electric heaters.  Any carbon dioxide that results from our use is generated outside the house.  But what if our heaters are fireplaces and wood stoves?  The carbon dioxide is being generated inside our house.  If we are not careful, we could suffocate ourselves.  To make sure we have enough oxygen, we have to have leaky windows and doors or some controlled source of oxygen.

A simple thought experiment shows that we are definitely putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  For millennia, people cooked their food and warmed themselves with wood fires.  The wood provided the carbon for fuel and the trees absorbed the carbon dioxide to grow more wood.  This is a virtual cycle: what gets used for one purpose is recycled to produce more of the original substance.

Then people discovered coal in the ground.  This burned better than wood and was never rotten or damp.  For millennia, the techniques for extracting coal were too inefficient to provide world-wide use.

As the world population grew and agriculture spread, more trees were cleared for buildings and farms.  This meant less wood was available for fuel and alternatives were needed.  Extracting coal became more efficient.

However, its use wasn’t always efficient.  Many fireplaces and factories didn’t burn coal efficiently and much soot was dumped into the air.  This resulted in dirty laundry and more cases of pulmonary diseases.  As late as the 1940s, steam locomotives would spew cinders and other pollutants as they rumbled by.  At the time, we lived right next to the tracks in an otherwise nice neighborhood.  We would have to brush our hair after a train passed.

Coal and other fossil fuels are inefficient for another reason.  They ain’t making them anymore!  We have drained the swamps where critters large and small drowned and slowly broke down into coal and oil.  We have also “drained” the easy access to oil and coal.  Now we blow up mountains to get coal and pound the heck out of the underlying rock formations to get oil and gas.  The first has ruined towns and rivers.  The second is causing minor earthquakes.

Both of these operations remove thousands of trees and other vegetation that would absorb carbon dioxide.  Add to that we want larger and larger parking lots, wider and wider highways, and larger and larger buildings.  We will need more oil for these and will take away more of the carbon sink vegetation.  This is a vicious cycle; things only get worse.

Meanwhile we have more and more carbon being burned and many people making lots and lots of money producing carbon fuels.  To understand the denial of global warming, follow the money.  As Adam Smith wrote in his “Wealth of Nations”, those who live by profit are not to be trusted.

You can find more thoughts like this at my blog: