Wednesday, March 13, 2013

FOSSIL FUELS ARE GREEN: WE HAD BETTER PRAY THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS ANTHROPOGENIC

FOSSIL FUELS ARE GREEN: 
WE HAD BETTER PRAY THAT GLOBAL WARMING IS ANTHROPOGENIC

NOTE:
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UNDERLINED TEXT DENOTES IMPORTANT TERMS, ORGANIZATIONS, OR PEOPLE
ITALICIZED TEXT DENOTES QUOTATIONS/REFERENCES
IF ANY LINKS ARE BROKEN, THEY HAVE BEEN SEPARATELY SAVED
For some reason, certain factions seem to have got hold of the idea that warming the planet up is bad. They point to flooding, coral bleaching, forest fires and other problems as indications that change is undesirable. Warming the planet might have some side effects, it is true - but at least it helps avoid the devastating global catastrophe that re-glaciation would represent. It seems to me that many of these folk are Luddites - who see the issue as a good excuse to place limits on industrialization and growth. You might think environmental groups would be in favor of improving the habitability of the planet by getting rid of the parts of it that are uninhabitable frozen wastelands. You might think that they might regard CO2 as plant food - and would embrace plans to pump it into the atmosphere. However, they seem to be more interested in polar bears, bushfires and floods.


I am not a climate change denier. I acknowledge that the climate changes, and is currently changing. As well, far be it from me to challenge the scientific consensus that the world is warming, and that warming is due to human activity 
(Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW)). While I have in the past stubbornly denied that warming could be anthropogenic, notably from carbon emissions, I have altered my view. But rather than being on any one pole of the issue, it is a third position and one that throws for a loop climate change alarmists calling for strict emissions controls. On the other hand, deniers of AGW (who are most likely wrong anyway) need to accept that adaptive (not mitigative, as discussed later) measures need to be taken. I suppose my position could be considered alarmism in its own right. But as I hope will be clear, it is truly something to be alarmed about!

On the one hand, I acknowledge the distinct possibility (indeed probability) that human activity (again, mostly the emission of carbon) contributes to a greenhouse/warming effect. But I oppose the restrictive policy recommendations of those countless scientists who believe that warming is a relative threat. Relative to what? The opposite of warming, i.e., cooling, and its accompanying ice sheet/glacier expansion (glaciation).


It seems rather plain to me that it is cooling and not warming that presents the real potential dire threat to civilization as a whole. First, some terms:

  • Ice Age (More accurately Glacial Age): The term as used in paleo-climatology (the study of ancient climates) differs from the modern colloquial usage. The latter just defines it as any expansion of the ice sheets (glaciers). However, it is used by scientists to refer to specific time periods in Earth's climate history. There have been 5 Glacial Ages: 
    • Huronian Glacial Age (2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago)
    • Cryogenian Glacial Age (710 to 640 million years ago, and consisted of two major glaciations: The Sturtian and the Marinoan)
    • Andean-Saharan Glacial Age (460 to 430 million years ago) 
    • Karoo Glacial Age (350 to 260 million years ago)
    • Quaternary/Pleistocine Glacial Age (40 million years ago to present)
  • Interglacial Period: Relatively short sub-eras during Glacial Ages which see glacial retreat and a warming of the Earth. 
  • Glacial Period: These are epochs when the ice sheets have expanded. This status makes up the vast majority of a Glacial Age.
  • Climate change feedback: conditions that either amplify (positive feedback) or dampen (negative feedback) the rate of climate change.
  • Albedo: One of the most important feedback mechanisms. It refers to the solar energy that is reflected off of or absorbed by the earth. In warm periods, the oceans, ground, and foliage absorb that solar energy. However, solar energy that strikes glaciers (or any snow or ice) is reflected back into space. This has the effect of cooling the planet further. As the ice sheets grow, a tipping point may be reached and from then on this effect amplifies and feeds on itself, accelerating the process.
The most important thing to note about this clarification of terms is that, in fact, the world is currently in a Glacial Age. I do not think this fact can be emphasized enough: THE WORLD IS CURRENTLY IN A GLACIAL AGE KNOWN AS THE QUATERNARY GLACIAL AGE.

Despite this, another truth should be observed: As Tim Tyler says, while Glacial Ages last millions of years, relative to the normal climate of the earth over billions of years they are 
(emphasis his)

an abnormal and relatively rare state of affairs. They are usually temporary and fleeting sicknesses for the planet. Details are here. Ending the [glacial] age - if that is possible - would return the planet to its normal state. 
So, as explained, the world is in fact in a Glacial Age right now. Thus humanity's challenge is to avoid reglaciation. The reason the ice sheets are receded is because the world is also in an Interglacial Period. Ice cores show that in the current Quaternary Glacial Age, approximately 100,000-year Glacial Periods are punctuated by approximately 10,000-year Interglacial Periods. The current Interglacial Period is the Holocene Interglacial. It began between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago and ended the Glacial Period known as the Wisconsinan/Baltic-Scandinavian/Weichsel Glacial Period.


The infamous concept of a Malthusian Collapse refers to the point at which a society's population outpaces its capacity for food production. It is rightly castigated today (and has been for centuries, including by one of my favorite economic thinkers Henry George). But the reason it is wrong is because the climate is conducive to agriculture and settlement. This enables a stationary and growing population to establish and develop the institutions necessary for civilization.

Virtually the entirety of recorded civilization occurs within the current Holocene Interglacial. The reason for this is simple: Only nomadic/hunter-gatherer tribes can survive without land that is suitable for both agriculture and settlement. In a Glacial Period, thick ice sheets obviously cover much of the globe. Where there are not permanent glaciers, the climate remains harsh and not conducive to intensive agriculture. Relative to the current Holocene populations, animals too would be scarce. This dire scarcity creates and maintains a wide chasm between the daily necessity of hunting and gathering to just survive vis-a-vis the ability and opportunity to settle, engage in agriculture, and engage in the improvement of agricultural techniques. The Neolithic Revolution, discussed in the previous links, and also known as the Agricultural Revolution, represents the historical delineation between those two conditions, coinciding with the dawn of the Holocene. If humans are not fed, then humanity will not thrive. Period.


A look at the etymology of Holocene is, forgive the pun, quite chilling. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Holocene is:
... in reference to the epoch that began 10,000 years ago and continues today, 1897, from French holocène (1867), from Greek holo-, comb. form of holos "whole" (see safe (adj.)) + cene.
While the meaning of the word "safe" is rather intuitive, its page says:
"uninjured, unharmed,"  from Old French sauf, from Latin salvus "uninjured, healthy, safe," related to salus "good health," saluber "healthful," all from PIE solwos from root sol- "whole" (cf. Latin solidus "solid," Sanskrit sarvah "uninjured, intact, whole," Avestan haurva- "uninjured, intact," Old Persian haruva-, Greek holos "whole"). Meaning "not exposed to danger" is attested from late 14c.; of actions, etc., "free from risk," first recorded 1580's.
In short, this is the Safe Era. Safe for what? For flora (plants), for fauna (animals), for humans, and for human progress. Safe from what? The glaciation that preceded it, and that will follow it. If the Holocene ends, it is no longer safe. It is that simple. 

Freeman Dyson, a well-known proponent of the benefits of global warming versus cooling says:

In each hundred-thousand year period, there is [a glacial period] that lasts about ninety thousand years and a warm interglacial period that lasts about ten thousand years. We are at present in a warm period that began twelve thousand years ago, so the onset of the next [glacial period] is overdue. If human activities were not disturbing the climate, a new [glacial period] might already have begun.
The website Skeptical Science defends the scientific consensus and claims to take on those who deny AGW. But of course, my position (and Dyson's and Tyler's) is not that at all. In a most curious article, (and, whether purposely or not, in which it amusingly uses the term "Ice Age" in the incorrect colloquial sense) it is said:
According to ice cores from Antarctica, the past 400,000 years have been dominated by glacials, also known as ice ages, that last about 100,000 years. These glacials have been punctuated by interglacials, short warm periods which typically last 11,500 years. Figure 1 below shows how temperatures in Antarctica changed over this period. Because our current Interglacial (the Holocene) has already lasted approximately 12,000 years, it has led some to claim that a new ice age is imminent.
So not only do they acknowledge the 100,000 year/10,000-12,000 year cycle, they include the graph of the cycles as well. They continue:
The warming effect from CO2 and other greenhouse gases is greater than the cooling effect expected from natural factors. Without human interference, the Earth’s orbit and tilt, a slight decline in solar output since the 1950s and volcanic activity would have led to global cooling.
It seems that Skeptical Science agrees with Professor Dyson and we should be thankful for human interference. The scientific community does indeed have an overwhelming consensus that human activity has warmed the planet since the Industrial Revolution. But taking the research of climatology as a whole, it boggles the mind that one does not realize that if humanity had not been releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then we might have been unable to debate about releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at all. 

None of this should be taken to suggest that there are no urgent environmental problems to face. There are dozens. 


One of the most popular claims from warming alarmists is greatly increased desertification. It is obvious that warmth will evaporate water and contribute to drying. However, deserts are deserts because of that drynessnot due to temperature. They lack water and so the obvious course of action is to get water to the area via irrigative infrastructure. No matter how much it costs to build, how could the policy of restricting carbon emissions reverse desertification at a rate and to a degree at all comparable to irrigation? 


There are brilliant solutions being developed to render water crises moot. Not only can human and animal thirst be quenched, but agriculture (from the largest farm to a backyard greenhouse to a windowsill garden) can have a steady supply of water. 

Human society itself can adapt to warmth. During the Medieval Warm Period in Europe, the population exploded and flourished. But then a cold period known as the Little Ice Age emerged. Its exact time period is much debated, but one reasonable beginning would be the early 1300's, given the massive European crop failure and resulting mass starvation in the Great Famine of 1315, one of the most devastating famines in history.

Even if all the glaciers in the world melted, the primary impact of that will obviously be coastlines (while also affected would be local water supplies, which is what water infrastructure is for). 


If it is true that carbon emissions warm the planet, and if it is true that the warming of the planet directly causes or indirectly contributes to more frequent extreme weather such as severe thunderstorms, monsoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes, then as awful as those things are, they are local and regional tragedies and challenges, similar to glacial melting and sea level rise.


This goes for many more of the potential problems listed by global warming alarmists. Even if human sources of carbon emissions were entirely and permanently ended by tomorrow morning, carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries and perhaps up to a millennium. Thus, once again, it would seem there is little point in pretending that laws and treaties restricting emissions will actually have any effect besides driving up the cost of living. Rather, we must focus resources on direct infrastructure projects to adapt to global warming.

[MARCH 17TH, 2015 EDIT: HAVING JUST WATCHED AN EPISODE OF HBO'S VICE ON RISING SEA LEVELS, I FEEL I HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS INDEED A GLOBAL CRISIS. THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE ALONG THE WORLD'S COASTLINES WILL BE FORCED TO MOVE INLAND. REGARDLESS, THE EPISODE ALSO LAMENTED THAT IT IS TOO LATE TO STOP GLACIAL MELTING. THUS, THE POINT REMAINS THAT ONLY PROJECTS TO ADAPT TO WARMING AND SECURE A STABLE SUPPLY OF FRESH WATER WILL YIELD POSITIVE RESULTS.]

There are also many ways to directly remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Such techniques ought to be proliferatedCO2 is very useful and carbon capture entirely feasible.

For example, some refrigerants used today are R-134a (refrigeration and automobile cooling),  R-22 (Freon used in homes), and R-410A (Puron used in homes). The former two deplete Ozone, while Puron is thought to massively contribute to warming. But the fact is that CO2 can run air conditioning and refrigeration and as long as the system running it is sealed properly, that CO2 is a non-factor in global warming.


I realize that warnings of an imminent glaciation is just another form of climate change alarmismObviously no one knows when the next round of glaciation will begin. In fact, some climatologists say that the next glacial period is already indefinitely postponed and we have prolonged the Holocene into a new era, the Anthropocene (again, anthro- for human).

But t
he fact remains that we are currently in the Quaternary Glacial Age. The Quaternary Glacial Age is currently in an Interglacial Period. That Interglacial period is called the Holocene. Quaternary Interglacials last about 10,000 years. The present Holocene Interglacial has lasted at least that long. If indeed carbon emissions are what warm the planet and hold off reglaciation, then is restricting them not utterly insane?

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