The science behind global warming is straight forward. Nitrogen (N2)accounts for 78% and oxogen (O2 )is 21% of the earth’s atmosphere. Both these molecules are like short, tiny rods. The sunlight is around 52 to 55 percent infrared, 42 to 43 percent visible, and 3 to 5 percent ultraviolet. Because of their shape, infrared, visible and ultraviolet pass right through the oxygen and nitrogen. The CO2 molecule, other hand, is shaped like a triangle. Because of its shape, infrared light hits the CO2 and heats it up. During the day when sunlight hits the surface of the earth, the surface gets heated up. At night, infrared light is radiated back up into space, keeping the earth at the same temperature. The CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs some of this infrared light, preventing the earth from being cooled.
CO2 is like a blanket, keeping heat from radiating out from the earth thus keeping the heat from the sun trapped on the earth. Like a blanket, it takes time to work. Surely, you’ve felt cold, gotten a thick blanket, and wrapped yourself in it. At first, it felt wonderful. After a while, though, it got to be too hot. That’s the situation with global warming. This is the way that The National Academy of Sciences Division on Earth and Life Studies describes it:
“Because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is long lived, it can effectively lock the Earth and future generations into a range of impacts, some of which could become very severe.”
“Because of time-lags inherent in the Earth’s climate, the observed climate changes as greenhouse gas emissions increase reflect only about half of the eventual total warming that would occur for stabilization at the same concentrations.”
In short, the experiences we are having with global warming right now aren’t because of the amount of CO2 that is currently in the atmosphere. It is because of the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere 20 years ago. The Los Angeles Times reported in August of last year:
“More than half of the counties in the United States have been designated as disaster areas mainly because of the ongoing drought that has been ravaging the nation, officials announced Wednesday.”
“Disaster designations were signed for 218 more counties in 12 states, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced. That brings this year’s total to 1,584 counties in 32 states; more than 90% of those designations are due to drought conditions.”
The drought is a sign of global warming but this is not because of current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It is due to the CO2 levels in the atmosphere 15-20 years ago. Since the time that the ‘blanket’ began to increase the earth’s temperature, far more CO2 has been added. The CO2 levels have more than doubled. The impact from that increase is coming. Be assured, the devastating changes are in the bank. Paid for by inaction and huge quantities of CO2 being pumped into the air.
It isn’t just the increases in CO2 that will be causing catastrophic changes upon the earth. The increase in the earth’s temperature has caused a whole host of changes that will also increase the temperature. The changes are too numerous to list but I’ll try to hit some of the high points.
Let’s start with the drought. In addition to effecting crops, the result of the drought was the death of millions of trees. Those trees will rot, releasing enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. The drought has also resulted in huge fires in the northwest. Not only do the fires release additional CO2, they also produce huge amounts of black soot which absorbs heat from the sun.
In discussing the impact of the soot on Greenland, The Rolling Stone reported:
“Jakobshavn is the fastest-moving glacier in the world, and it is sliding into the sea at a top speed of 170 feet a day. How quickly this giant slab of ice and snow – and hundreds like it across the North and South Poles – disappears is the biggest uncertainty in the world of climate science. The faster these glaciers melt, the faster seas will rise, inundating cities throughout the world, and the more unpredictable the world’s weather system is likely to become.”
They go on to describe how a climatologist went to Greenland to:
“test a more startling hypothesis, part of what he calls “a unified theory” of glaciology: that tundra fires in Canada, massive wildfires in Colorado and pollution from coal-fired power plants in Europe and China had sent an unexpectedly thick layer of soot over the Arctic region last summer, which settled onto Greenland’s vast frozen interior, increasing the amount of sunlight the snow and ice absorbed, which in turn accelerated the melting.”
Global warming, caused by an enormous increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, results in droughts which cause forest fires that deposit soot on glaciers. The soot absorbs heat, melting the glaciers. Glacial ice normally reflects almost all the sunlight that shines on them. Now they are absorbing heat and disappearing. This will greatly amplify the global warming caused by the increase in CO2 levels.
There’s more, much more. The melting of the Arctic ice results in sunlight penetrating deep into the ocean rather than being reflected back into space. This is an enormous amount of energy that is being retained by the earth and warming the oceans.
The biggest problem is the melting of the permafrost in the Arctic. Athropolis indicates that the size of the world’s permafrost is 9 million square miles. This is really huge. Wikipedia indicates that the area of the contiguous United States is under 3 million square mile, it indicates that China is slightly larger at 3.6 million square miles and it indicates that India is 1.2 million square miles. So the permafrost covers an area larger that the USA, China and India combined. And the permafrost is melting.
The first issue this melting presents with regard to global warming is, because it is melting, it will absorb more sunlight, particularly early in the summer and late in the fall. The second issue is that larger plants are now growing in an area that was mostly lichens. The impact is that there is more transpiration, that is, the plants are taking water out of the ground (water that is no longer frozen) and putting it into the atmosphere. Water vapor is itself a greenhouse gas.
A much larger problem is that an enormous amount of vegetation is trapped in the frozen tundra. When it thaws, it rots, releasing, for one thing, CO2. Wikipedia states:
“Permafrost contains 1700 billion tons of organic material equaling almost half of all organic material in all soils. This pool was built up over thousands of years and is only slowly degraded under the cold conditions in the Arctic. The amount of carbon in permafrost is four times the carbon that has been released to the atmosphere due to human activities in modern times.”
OK, the permafrost is melting. It contains, and will possibly release, four times the CO2 that has been released by people burning fossil fuels. This is serious but it isn’t the worst problem arising from the fact that the arctic is warming.
The New York Times reports:
“When organic material comes out of the deep freeze, it is consumed by bacteria. If the material is well-aerated, bacteria that breathe oxygen will perform the breakdown, and the carbon will enter the air as carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. But in areas where oxygen is limited, like the bottom of a lake or wetland, a group of bacteria called methanogens will break down the organic material, and the carbon will emerge as methane.”
NBC shows methane as it escapes as Siberian permafrost melts, shows methane being set on fire as it escapes from below the ice.
How much of the carbon will be released as methane is not know but the scientists who have gone looking have found plumes of methane being released all over the arctic.
The Independent points out:
“Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.”
“The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.”
“Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.”
“The total amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the overall quantity of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the polar region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth.”
This leaking of methane gas is, probably, the single most serious of the global warming problems. The potential exists for leaking into the atmosphere more methane than all of the carbon dioxide that would be released from burning all of the coal reserves in the world. While the number 20 times more potent is often used when comparing methane to CO2, it is misleading. The Independent goes on to point out:
“Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide. However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.”
Much more important than the hundred year cycle, is what it will do right now. It is 70 times more potent and there is many more times the quantity of methane than carbon that could be released into the atmosphere. This is methane released from bacterial action rotting away the previously frozen vegetable matter in the Arctic.
As bad as this is, the Guardian points out a much more serious problem
“Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia. But the release of a single giant “pulse” of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost beneath the East Siberian sea “could come with a $60 trillion global price tag”, according to the researchers who have for the first time quantified the effects on the global economy.”
“Even the slow emission of a much smaller proportion of the vast quantities of methane locked up in the Arctic permafrost and offshore waters could trigger catastrophic climate change and “steep” economic losses, they say.”
It’s true that the methane hydrate frozen under the Arctic icecap north of Europe doesn’t seem to be melting any faster than it was forty years ago. But, off the coast of Siberia, the situation is different.
Let’s add one more related problem. The Independent reports:
“The microscopic plants that support all life in the oceans are dying off at a dramatic rate, according to a study that has documented for the first time a disturbing and unprecedented change at the base of the marine food web.”
“Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century, with much of the loss occurring since the 1950s. They believe the change is linked with rising sea temperatures and global warming.”
Let’s sum up. The earth has been getting warmer from the CO2 which comes from burning fossil fuels. The increase was small, at first. The small increase was difficult to see against the background of large swings in temperature that normally occur. Now, however, as the change has been getting larger, it is easier to see. At the same time, the changes are producing a multiplier effect. The increase causes droughts which causes fires which release additional CO2 into the atmosphere. The increased temperatures are melting ice which previously reflected sunlight back into space but now the heat from that sunlight is being absorbed. Additionally, the heat that previously melted the ice will now be heating the air and water. Next, huge amounts of methane gas are being released into the air. The amounts may exceed the amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere by orders of magnitude. Initially, this release will trap heat with 70 times the efficiency of CO2. Finally, just when we really need the environment to process CO2 back into O2, we find that global warming is killing off the phytoplankton living in the ocean responsible for 50% of that processing. Getting the picture?
Now let’s look at the possible ultimate negative consequences of this heating. While it is true that global warming is a process that happens on a cyclical basis, not all the cycles are the same. The warming of the air that has resulted in climate change is bad. Much worse is the increases in temperature of the world’s oceans. The reason it is so catastrophic is that when the oceans are warmed, the oxygen is driven out. That causes all the living creatures that participate in the O2-CO2 cycle to die out. This cycle is called the aerobic cycle. What replaces them is creatures that gain energy by using sulfur. This is called the anaerobic cycle. Rather than producing carbon dioxide, it produces, hydrogen sulfide a poisonous gas. A horrible smelling poisonous gas.
Science Daily points out that:
“Volcanic eruptions in Siberia 251 million years ago may have started a cascade of events leading to high hydrogen sulfide levels in the oceans and atmosphere and precipitating the largest mass extinction in Earth’s history, according to a Penn State geoscientist.”
“By whatever means an initial atmospheric carbon spike is generated (be it gigantic volcanic episodes or humans burning fossil fuels), the knock-on effects can be substantial, leading to a portfolio of severe environmental stresses that manifest themselves in the fossil record as mass-extinctions. Will Mankind’s footprint, already involving severe carbon pollution and over fishing, be likewise visible in Anthropocene strata some 180 million years from now? Let us hope not, but if so, we will not be worthy of the sapiens part of our species’ Latin name. The events recorded in these Toarcian rocks once again warn us starkly of our peril.”
“Millions of years before the dinosaurs were apparently killed by an asteroid hitting our planet, the Earth experienced another mass extinction that was far more devastating. The cause for that, paleontologist Peter Ward says, was actually homegrown: Hydrogen sulfide in the oceans and atmosphere turned the sky green and choked off oxygen for plants, animals and marine life.”
“Ward, who teaches at the University of Washington and who spoke at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference last week, says that global warming caused by humans could reproduce the same hydrogen sulfide gas conditions that killed more than 90 percent of life during the Permian period, when the extinction occurred. And we might just do it faster than nature did.”
Clearly, global warming has the power to make the human race extinct. Clearly, whatever the ultimate negative consequences are going to be, they are going to be bad, cataclysmically bad. Small changes will do nothing to halt this process. The only hope for the human race and 95% of all the other species is to completely halt the burning of fossil fuels and find some way to help cool the earth down.
Just as clearly, the United States has the capability to pioneer a solution. It would need to be composed of two parts. The first would be to produce an alternative form of energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels. This is not beyond our capability. Doing so would bring in enormous amounts of money into the country, trillions of dollars, from a grateful world, happy to get the energy and delighted to know that the human race is not going to become extinct.
The second part would be to prevent the increases in global temperature that we are facing from the previous burning of fossil fuels. One method would be to begin removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Another would be to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting our planet through the use of contrails. America has the ability to do both of these things and could do so with the money made from selling energy to a desperate world. It is within our grasp.
What is stopping us isn’t lack of knowledge or resources. What is stopping us is a group of people, hired by owners of fossil fuel companies, to deceive a significant minority of Americans, enough people to prevent a solution from being clearly identified let alone implemented. The people who are providing the money are extremely wealthy. They are billionaires with so much money that they couldn’t conceivably spend it in ten lifetimes, let alone the piece they have left of this one. What they are motivated by is greed, blind greed. No amount of money is enough, their greed is endless and they don’t analyze it or put it in context. They think of nothing but making more money. Mahatma Gandhi said: “There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.” He hit the nail on the head. The world will be destroyed for man’s greed. Lucius Annaeus Seneca said “For greed all nature is too little.” Again, exactly right. The entire world is too little for the greed of the people that own the Republican Party. Kevin Bacon said “I think one of the most pervasive evils in this world is greed and acquiring money for money’s sake. Once you have six houses and a plane, it’s just about a number. It’s never been anything I understood.” Again, there is nothing these men could not buy now.
The enduring legacy of the Republican Party will be a lifeless husk of a planet, adorned with the bleached bones of the last of the human race, a planet destroyed so that a few men could strip out a few more trillions of dollars to feed their greed, men with no need of the money just a desire to see the number on the bottom of their balance sheet go up. People will die gasping and choking just to feed this need for a larger number. Not even for money to spend for there is nothing that they cannot buy now. Children will die. Their own children, or grand children or great grand children will die for this insatiable desire to see a larger number. Little Richard said “Greed has taken the whole universe, and nobody is worried about their soul.” Maybe not the whole universe but we are on path to sacrifice the earth on the altar of their greed. Jacques Yves Cousteau was wrong when he said “If we go on the way we have, the fault is our greed and if we are not willing to change, we will disappear from the face of the globe, to be replaced by the insect.” It doesn’t appear that even the insect will survive man’s greed. Finally, Erich Fromm said “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Even after these, the most evil of men, destroy the planet to extract a few more trillions, they will feel no satisfaction.
These people have to be stopped. The future of the human race depends upon it. Vote them out of office.
Next: How to reduce the earth’s temperature with contrails.