It seems preposterous.
We tiny people wandering our massively large home planet somehow generate just the right chemicals in just the amount that causes global climate change.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Here is the logic:
1) We know that any object, anywhere in the universe is subject to this law: It can only lose heat energy by convecting it through the air (like a heat register in a house, see photo), conducting it through touch (like a pot of water sitting on a stove top), or by radiating it (like a light bulb).
|Heat Radiator from “globalindustrial.com”|
2) Over centuries, the Earth’s climate has changed from hot to cold to hot and so on. But in the short term we can see or surmise that the energy Earth absorbs from the Sun is radiated back out into space at about the same rate it enters, striking a balance, keeping the weather relatively predictable. (It is not conducted or convected because, you know, space is empty.) That is, until the last few decades. It appears more heat is being trapped and not radiating out into space.
3) Looking around, the most likely culprit (although not the only one) seems to be carbon dioxide. There is more of it around recently. (More than the last 400,000 years, apparently, based on various evidence.) And we know that heat energy on its way out of the atmosphere can impact a carbon dioxide molecule and be re-directed on its route, often headed back in instead of out.
This all seems to make a very credible case for us to look around and see if we can see effects occurring around us due to more energy (heat) around us. When we do this, we see things like hotter temperatures in many places, changing animal behaviors and plant locations, and other similar hints that something new is going on.
But why such a shrill tone coming from global climate change activists? Because if this is the primary mechanism, we probably have a runaway train.
Imagine if you are on the Bonneville Salt Flats getting ready to test your new race car. You start slow, only 2 miles per hour. But you set your throttle with an on-board computer so that each 1/4 mile you add 2 miles per hour to your speed. After 10 miles, you are going 82 miles per hour. After 20 miles you are going 162 miles per hour. After 30 miles you are going 242 miles per hour.
If we are pouring the wrong stuff into our atmosphere, and putting more in this year than last year, cutting back so that we only put in the same amount each year gets us to our example of the race car. You will still increasingly head towards certain disaster.
But, you say, this is why we have plants. They suck up the carbon dioxide. No worries.
Yes. And no.
Unfortunately, the carbon cycle doesn’t work fast enough to deal with all the additional carbon dioxide right away. So it builds up. And, like the race car, will continue to build up even if we reduce the amounts we are throwing into the air.
There are plenty of criticisms that can be levied on the science of global climate change. The scientific method means systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. But there is no way to fully employ the scientific method since experiments on a global scale are not possible. This leads to reliance on very complex computer models which are too complex to be fully trusted. Or even if you can build a trust, mapping the complex feedback systems inherent in the globe’s climate can lead to a range of results. It is hard for the average citizen to understand how a computer that gives many different answers can be trusted.
Then there is the problem of bias. Looking for evidence based on an idea might lead you to only find the evidence that you are looking for.
On the other hand, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming and points to a serious problem that we currently do not have the tools to fully solve.
So now we jump into the realm of politics. And we have the obvious solution that we should burn less fossils fuels so that we reverse the process. Not a bad idea, only it is expensive, inconvenient, and won’t solve the entire problem.
The USA can impose severe cut-backs to the point of damaging our economy, and the rest of the world will happily churn out more carbon dioxide. Under the best scenarios of global cooperation, models show that the race car will continue to accelerate, just not as quickly.
So, this may be part of the solution, but not all of it.
Solar and wind power can produce significant amounts of power to help keep our economy afloat. This will likely be most effective via large numbers of distributed systems, like rooftop solar. And we await batteries sufficiently good and cheap so that we are not dependent so much on periods of sun and wind. But this is not the whole solution.
There was much concern in the height of the Cold War that a nuclear exchange would result in global winter. Why not explode a few nukes to cool the earth? Just block out the sun? This 1950’s scifi movie solution would, of course, wreak havoc with crop yields, radiation, and general panic. As would many other brainstormed solutions that attempt to block the sun. But there are distributed nuclear power systems that can provide power to hundreds of people for decades and then be disposed of in their own containers. This requires a shift in our thinking about nuclear power. Oddly, the political party most vociferous about global climate change also has an intense phobia when it comes to nuclear power.
On the horizon, fusion power could be part of the answer as well.
How do we get from here to the year 2100, solving this problem without creating worse problems?
The answer is definitely not politics.
Yet, those who believe they can see the future clearly are moving from science to politics. And it appears at first to be a good path. Solutions which create opportunities for centralized political power are embraced by those seeking power. If we must find global solutions, shouldn’t those solutions be put in place by global political powers?
No, because the vast majority of those global political players have as their first interest staying in power. Any solutions offered up that would not increase their power will be rejected. And many solutions start with distributed systems.
Can’t we trust in the overall common sense of mankind? Unfortunately, it is already breaking down within the ranks of scientists turned politicians.
For example, we make political statements that undermine understanding of the scientific method and destroy faith in science as a solution:
- Most scientists agree… (doesn’t matter who agrees, where is your proof?)
- We can see the rising carbon alongside the rising temps (correlation not causation)
- We are 100% certain that… (then why don’t your models agree?)
Explanations can be tough. For instance, upper atmospheric readings can show cooling, but this should be expected if the heat is trapped below — but this seems so contradictory. Any readings of any phenomena (temperature, gas levels, sea levels, etc.) are only as good as the sensors and sensors must be calibrated and tweaks applied — so it seems like fudge factors are applied to get the results desired. Other sources of heat exist such as geothermal or sun cycles, but not on the levels that would explain global warming — but most are not well versed in applying math to see this.
Where does the solution lie? It starts with more and more explanations. Laying out as much as we know today and finding out more. And teaching these facts to a new generation of innovators, engineers, and problem-solvers in a politically neutral manner.
For every time you have explained the phenomena, you must explain it 100 more times and to a new audience that is just becoming aware or has forgotten what you said. This is immensely frustrating. I know. I spent decades explaining very technical issues to decision-makers who were easily distracted by dozens of other problems. It was easy to fall back into the feeling that your decision-maker was either evil or stupid. This can be magnified when the person is in a different political party than you.
But that’s your job. You agreed when you became a scientist to follow the scientific method. And your social contract is to explain what you have discovered, no matter how much people don’t want to hear it. As often as needed. No matter how frustrating. No matter what political shortcuts you might think you see.
Calling people evil or stupid will not lead to the solution.
In the end, if you want to change the world, it’s hard, frustrating work. There are no shortcuts via politics. But our kids will solve this problem, if we stay the course and teach them to trust the scientific method.