Breathe Clean Air  The Environment

Some Topics

 

YINYANG

Global Warming - Climate Changes

Much attention has been paid to environmental pollution and the effects of specific toxic and carcinogenic molecules in our environments. Revelations of major alarming atmospheric changes - the greenhouse effect and ozone holes - have served to remind us of our destructive effect overall on planet Earth. We suffer individually and collectively from our own pollution.

Developments in the media made "green" the slogan for action to limit the adverse effects of air pollution. The media often suggested that this is a relatively new consensus that there is an environmental crisis. They excused people who have ignored the effect of greenhouse gases on climates global warming over the past 40 years. Some know what is really going on out there, but most people do not know or know but deny the obvious for selfish reasons.

Green refers to the color of chlorophyll in plants. Human action destroys plants and replaces healthy ecosystems with monocultures that are unsustainable. Another slogan that emerged was "save planet earth." Humans will not save the planet. The task for humans is to stop destroying the environments that sustain us. If we fail, the planet will do just fine without us.

The model of of atmospheric dynamics that has emerged from a high tech, multidisciplinary study of the planet is complex. Important players in atmospheric dynamics are:

1. The sun that supplies all the energy.
2. The atmosphere regulates input and output of the sun's energy
3 Oceans store and distribute heat while supplying water to the atmosphere.
4. The green biomass in the ocean and on land supplies oxygen and consumes carbon dioxide.
5. Ice fields subtract water from the oceans and store it below 0 degrees C.
5. Humans change all the variables except the sun.

Glass covering greenhouses admits light and heat energy but blocks some of the infrared heat energy that is radiated back. The green house stays warmer than the external environment. In the atmosphere, a similar effect occurs.

Global warming means that the earth retains more of the sun's heat over time. The increased heating of greenhouse gases is reduced by increased reflection of the suns' energy reaching the earth by clouds and particle pollution in the atmosphere. Without particle pollution, the heating effects would be greater. The greenhouse effect from increased carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane during the 20th century is the most conspicuous man-made change. The reduction in forest biomass and the exposure of ocean plankton to increase UV radiation are also concerns.

Heat drives weather and increased heat means increased turbulence in the atmosphere. The consequences vary with the distribution of this extra heat and its effect on ocean and air circulation patterns. We can accept paradoxical weather results as the extra heat makes weather systems more turbulent and changes air and water circulation patterns.

Much attention has been paid to estimating and predicting the average temperature increase of the atmosphere as a whole. Long-term predictions are best guesses and may be misleading. Local heating effects are observable as wind and rain -- more heat produces more extreme weather events. In our view, the main concern should be the effect of heat retention on local climates right now. It is possible to imagine increasingly anomalous weather and increasing loss of life and property from greenhouse gas accumulation with little or no change in the average temperature of the planet, although, we do expect slow progressive increase in average temperatures.

You can increase the temperature in some areas and decrease in others and you can alternate - the differential effect will drive storms and precipitation in unusual ways. By the end of 1998, we knew that weather extremes were becoming commonplace and loss of life and property from adverse weather increased. These more destructive weather events promise continue to break weather records. There is no need to wait until 2050 to find out what is going to happen.

The deepest problem for humans is that we cannot predict the future with any accuracy. Even the best informed scientist with the most recent data cannot know what is going to happen next. When we talk about prudence we refer to our best methods of minimizing risk and preparing to deal with events beyond our control which can injure or kill us. Preparation for accidents and illness consumes a large chunk of our resources. Smart humans notice adverse changes and take action to minimize the risk of adverse consequences. But not all human are smart or prudent.

Living on the Edge People in California are specially adapted to the uncertainty of nature - earthquakes have always taken their toll; however when you add the toxicity of air pollution and agricultural chemicals, to soil erosion, draughts, floods, fires, and social unrest you have a formula for an unstable ecosystem that will become less habitable rather than more as the years proceed. The predictions of climate changes that might occur because of more greenhouse gases are coming true - not fully and completely, but convincingly.

Other comfortable and affluent North Americans are having trouble realizing that they are also living on an ecological edge. More of them are seeing homes and businesses under water, on-fire, blown away, crushed by heavy snow or deprived of a supportive infrastructure. Farmers watch helplessly as their crops die from lack water. Water reservoirs in the desert states are low to dry. The US is under siege, not by terrorists, but by extreme weather.

Food-growing lands are in jeopardy; it may be difficult to sustain the level of agricultural productivity we have enjoyed in the 20th century. New health hazards will emerge - some predicable; others will be unpleasant surprises. Topsoil is lost and minerals are leached from the land. New health hazards emerge after floods - things are never really the same again.

Cost of Extreme Weather

Hurricanes, tornadoes, and heavy flooding rains continue to cause havoc in the USA and many other countries. While some Americans have a paranoid fear of terrorism, extreme weather events cause more costly damage, more often than any terrorist could imagine. Pacific hurricanes (aka cyclones) create increasing damage and death in the Pacific Islands and the coastal areas of Asia and Australia. Pacific (aka Tropical) cyclones cause large waves, heavy rain, flood and high winds. Storm surges cause damage to coastal communities and 90% of tropical cyclone deaths. Over the past two centuries, tropical cyclones have been responsible for the deaths of about 1.9 million people worldwide. Large areas of standing water caused by flooding lead to infection, as well as contributing to mosquito-borne illnesses. When ocean water floods the land, salts are left behind. Increased salinity levels in surface water makes it undrinkable and increased salt in water and soils is toxic to plants.

Insurance companies are either increasing rates, out of business, worried or refusing coverage for properties at risk. Hurricane Andrew caused 16.5 billion dollars in insured losses, bankrupting some smaller insurance companies. The UN panel on climate change has estimated that windstorm damage increased from $500 million in the 60's to over $11 billion in the 90's and the annual bill in the 21st century may be hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Before 1987, storms had never caused insured losses exceeding $1 billion. Hurricane Andrew destroyed over 28,000 homes in August 1992. Hurricanes Jeanne, Ivan, Frances and Charley in 2004 destroyed 27,500 housing units. The Southern US was attacked by 17 major storms during the 2005 hurricane season., Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage in August 2005 to the Gulf coast of the US. Early damage costs were estimated at $150 billion, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Hurricane Rita soon followed on Sept 24 and became the most intense hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico but caused less damage, because it made landfall in less populated areas -- no consolation to the people in Texas and Louisiana who suffered a direct hit. Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 damaged a wide swath of the east coast and became the second-costliest hurricane in United States history. Estimates as of 2015 assessed damage to have been about $75 billion, a total surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina. At least 233 people were killed along the path of the storm in eight countries.

Political Inaction Political action should swift and definitive, but of course, it is not. Political processes are inherently irresponsible, as politicians are short-term administrators who tend to be inexperienced and poorly informed. In all fairness to politicians, some of them began their careers with high hopes of improving the world, but discovered as they matured in politics that they could only court the favor of those with vested interests, power, money and influence. The realist might say that the politician can only do what is political expedient and this usually means what is in his or her best interest in the next two to four years. The task of leading fellow Homo Sapiens from a self-destructive path requires an intelligent and compassionate superhero that we only find in the movies.

According to Maurice Strong who headed the 1992 Rio Earth Summit stated; "Overall we haven't made the fundamental course of change promised in Rio. The process of deterioration has continued and the forces that drive that deterioration have continued. Five years later, the challenge is even greater." At that summit 153 nations signed treaties to reduce global warming, save endangered species and foster sustainable development.

The November 1997 Kyoto meeting to determine emissions policy for the countries of the world has been a great disappointment and only confirmed our basic understanding that governments are not going to act responsibly and man-made climate problems are going to be with us for decades to come.

The climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009 involved 200 nations who failed to achieve enforceable agreements to reduce carbon emissions. If you were an optimist you might value the Accord that was achieved, a five-page document that represented another tentative step toward  global action to reduce atmospheric pollution and climate change. A realist would restate our understanding of human nature – that local interests always trump global concerns and local interests are divergent and divisive. US President  Obama stated: “I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen.  The science says that we’ve got to significantly reduce emissions over the next  40 years. There’s nothing in the Copenhagen agreement that ensures that will happen.”  

A major change in human priorities was suggested in 2015. The Group of 7 (G7) leading industrialized nations (June 2015) called for global greenhouse-gas emissions to be reduced by around 70% by 2050, and for the world economy to be de­carbonized by the end of the twenty-first century. These twin goals were issued in a communiqué at the conclusion of the group’s meeting at Schloss Elmau in Krün, Germany, on 8 June, alongside a suite of promises to help developing nations to provide their citizens with clean energy, jobs, financial security and food. To the credit of Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the host nation, the commitments surpass all of the G7’s previous promises. Most notably, the group has formally acknowledged — and quantified — the scale of the industrial renaissance that will be required to keep global average temperature increase to less than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. It has provided concrete and measurable targets that should help to make clear where precious capital and human resources should be invested — not just for other governments, but also for businesses. It should also make clear where resources should not be expended. The G7 nations renewed their pledge to end “inefficient” fossil-fuel subsidies. But the world is still waiting for action that will give these targets credibility. Countries should adopt the G7 communiqué’s emissions targets and look for ways to expand climate-related investment in the developing world, where emissions are poised to rise quickly if no intervention is made. The communiqué rightly points out that engagement by the private sector will be crucial to meeting these goals, but it is up to policy-makers to lay down the rules of the road.(Nature Editorial. Tough targets. Concrete goals set out by the G7 nations lay the groundwork for a climate accord. Nature 522, 128; 11 June 2015)

Disruptions in ecosystems, economic systems, political systems are inevitable. The changes we are causing in the Earth's biosphere will return to harm us individually and collectively. The cost of these adverse changes will continue to grow and will exceed by far the cost of remedial action. We are all like smokers who know that smoking causes cancer but we are not willing to stop smoking. Our only hope is that the more severeadverse effects will not catch up with us for several years.

Changes in human behavior must come from all people who sense danger, seek to understand their options and change spontaneously. The same issues come up in personal and public health concerns - constructive change is required. Ignorance and denial obstruct constructive change; wishful thinking and fantasy solutions become more popular. Self-interest and greed dominate the political process.

 
  • Discussions of Environmental Science and Human Ecology were developed by Environmed Research Inc. Sechelt, B.C. Canada. Online Topics were developed from the 2017 book, The Environment. You will find detailed information about the sun, weather, soils, forests, oceans,  atmosphere, air pollution, climate change, water resources, air quality, energy sources, and preserving habitats. The Environment is available from Alpha Online as a Printed book or as an eBook Edition for Download. The Author is Stephen J. Gislason MD.
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