Global Warming - Climate Changes
Progressive increases in the emission of gases that warm the planet should be
treated as a global emergency. Increased heat changes all environments. Humans
are dying in increasing numbers when heat waves overwhelm them. 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.
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
4. The green biomass in the ocean and on land supplies oxygen and consumes carbon
5. Ice fields subtract water from the oceans and store it below 0 degrees C.
6. 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.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, and heavy flooding rains continue to cause havoc in the
Pacific hurricanes (aka cyclones) create increasing
damage and death in the Pacific Islands and the coastal areas of Asia and
Australia. Pacific cyclones caused large waves, heavy rain, flooding
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.
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 becoming true.
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.
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 and 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
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