While the negative aspect described in the last post is one way I am personally affected by the threat of Global Warming due to man-made CO2 pollution there are a few positive aspects also.
The following link shows that we can take positive steps towards a healthier and sustainable planet if there is enough will.
Many people in our priviledged Western Societies rarely see any direct relationship between a Warming Earth and their own ‘sheltered’ way of life.
The feeling that if it is not directly affecting me then i don’t have to do anything about it (and neither does anyone else really) is understandably all-too-human.
For anyone living where i do, in Perth WA, from what we hear in the world news and what our own weather bureau shows us (a severely diminished rainfall pattern lasting now for 30-40 years and no-one seriously predicts is going to return to ‘normal’ in the foreseeable future) we may feel somehwat justified in the belief that Global Warming is a big ‘con’.
The link below shows something few may be aware of in this beautiful city:
The IMPORTANT thing to note about this article is that it is only in the last decade that this effect has occurred – for over 170 years since Governor Stirling established the Swan River Colony in 1829, the Swan River’ watercourse and it’s foreshores have remained largely unchanged – except by deliberate ‘commercial’ development of mankind – for our benefit, and the enjoyment of everyone (and profit of some).
That is changing – and the only significant factor that can account for this change is exactly what so many creditable scientists have been desperately trying to get us to pay attention to and DO something about since at least the 1970’s…
Our UNINTENTIONAL effect we are having on a planet-wide scale, and one which until now has only ever been increasing negatively. We are not using this planet in any kind of sustainable fashion (meaning able to be continued at the present level without major, long-term damage).
While it is undoubtedly true that rivers the world over are ‘living’, changing things and are never ‘constant’, it is also true that mankind is now populating more and more of the land mass in ever more ‘permanent’ ways. Forced changes to our man-made habitats, and even small environmental changes, that in our past were able to be accepted and worked around ( like river banks eroding and beaches losing sand/retreating into land masses), today and in the future are likely to result in massive economic and social changes. We, as a whole, are in no way prepared for this.
It is for this reason we all need to take a long look at the way we live today with a view to reducing the environmental effect of mankind – especially now that he is able to elevate billions of formerly third world inhabitants, within a single generation, to acquire the lifestyle and consumption of resources we have so far kept largely to our privileged mere millions in the ‘West’.
(A fairly blatant pop-culture title ref to get blogstats up)
So – now that i have your much valued attention (hopefully for at least the next 5 seconds!) – Why are so many people going Gaga over Carbon?
Today, in Australia and much of the rest of Western World, you cannot see the TV news, hear a news update on the Radio or read a Newspaper without some mention being made of Carbon.
Carbon Tax, Carbon Pollution, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Emission Trading Schemes, Carbon reduction, Carbon, Carbon, Carbon!
My previous posts have hopefully provided a little of the answer why – feel free to recap if you like.
Being what scientists and Sci Fi fans alike commonly refer to as ‘Carbon-Based Life Forms’ it is quite surprising the general level of unawareness of this simple basic element in our everyday world that has been pushed to such dizzying heights in the media.
Without Carbon we would not exist. It’s ability to form a vast array of different molecules allows the complexity of life to form in the almost limitless ways it has on our home planet (and Lady Gaga to demonstrate most of them in her constant image changes) 🙂
At the same, time one of the simplest molecules it forms – along with two atoms of Oxygen to form CO2 – can potentially spell the end of the lifestyle we enjoy – mostly because too few of us have ever thought what will happen if, in our insatiable desire to use more and more energy from ‘fossil fuels’, we produce enough to upset the balance of this gas in the atmosphere.
My last posts have shown the exponential growth rate of CO2 production man has caused and is continuing to cause and it is clear that Nature cannot do it’s normal thing and counter-balance this increase as it always used to in the planet’s past Certainly not before the excess gas causes changes to the planet that mean mankind has to make major changes on a global scale.
As explained previously CO2 is a very minute percentage of the Earth’s Atmosphere – but it is many times it’s ratio in terms of affecting how we live and feed the 6.6 billion and climbing human population of Earth becuase of it’s relatively unique ( along with water vapour, which has a very similar atomic structure) feature of ‘storing’ radiated energy from the Sun.
Basically the more CO2 in our air (and necessarily in our oceans as it is soluble in water) the hotter our planet becomes.
Geologic and polar ice-core samples prove that there is a direct relationship between earth Temperature on a global scale and concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere. This has been the case for millions of years and is not a matter of opinion but researched fact.
What is different today however, is that now man is the direct result of some of this increase and that we put ever more into the air each year – each decade. More in fact. than the planet can remove through storing it in the cells of plants (which man increasingly releases from millenia of storage in the ‘fossil’ fuels of coal, gas and petroleum or primitive man burns in wood).
Because the planet and it’s atmosphere are fairly massive things it can be difficult to accurately measure and predict the exact ways that we are affecting our planet and some of the things man (and Nature) does can counter-act some of the other things.
What is indisputable however is that never before in the history of mankind (100, 000 years and more) has so much carbon dioxide been pumped into the air or reached the levels it is at now and ‘coincidentally’ our planet is at the highest temperature since observations began and the trend continues to rise, despite rare fluctuations on relatively very small time-scales of one or more years.
Atmospheric change is not something that can be done quickly – it has taken some 200 years of seriously trying to get to the point where global effects of man are noticeable. Reversing the process is not something we can ever do in a short timeframe.
Unless we start and take the issue VERY seriously, when the changes make life and our current lifestyle unsustainable, it will be way too late to say we should have done something before this.
YOU are responsible for the enjoyment we get from generating so much excess CO2.
YOU are responsible therefore for taking action to ensure what global changes are coming are not made much worse than they need to be.
The planet you live on is being put out of it’s previous balance because of how we choose to live – and how the billions of Indians and Chinese and those of every so-called-Third World country’s want to live (ie with the same ‘riches’ we do).
We cannot deny them the chance, but we cannot afford to continue to hold ourselves up as the typical role models to copy unless we become MUCH more aware of the damage we have already done and may continue to do to our shared planet and it’s essential resources: it’s Water, it’s land, it’s Plant and animal life and most especially it’s Air.
What’s the deal with CO2 anyway?
For most of us Carbon Dioxide does not seem to be that big of a thing in our daily lives – we don’t know a lot about it.
Some might think of it as the fizz in fizzy soft drinks like Coke or soda water which billions of people consume regularly without harm (well, obvious harm!). Some may know it more through it’s popularity as ‘Dry Ice’ – CO2 gas in it’s solid form – that, when placed in water, gives off that cloud-like white, whispy fog at rock concerts or stage events. Some of us who remember science at school may recall that humans and animals breathe out lots of CO2 as waste by-product of our metabolism and that plants need CO2 for photosynthesis to live and feed.
So if it is so common and useful, why all the hysteria around the globe about the miniscule levels of it in the air we all breathe?
I’ll try to give a ‘brief’ answer.
Firstly, as mentioned in my last post it is true that CO2 forms a VERY small percentage (0.039% currently) of the Earth’s atmosphere. Compared to Nitrogen (78%) and Oxygen (21%) it seems insignificant to us. Indeed at those concentrations we are personally unable to detect it and would not normally care about it at all on a personal level.
But it is not at the personal level (directly) that CO2 is a cause for concern – it affects us all far more importantly – even at these ludicrously low levels in ways very few of us appreciate.
You may have heard of the term ‘Greenhouse Gas’? CO2 is an important one. The term basically means that it is just such a gas that retains heat (like a greenhouse) – Specifically the heat of our Sun by solar radiation.
Nitrogen and Oxygen, that between them account for 99% of our atmosphere by volume, are very poor at retaining this heat, so much so that if these were actually the only gasses in our atmosphere it is calculated that the Earth would be an average of 33 degrees C (59 F) colder than it is today – basically the planet would be a frozen ball of rock and ice. Although accounting for less than 1/10th of the remaining ‘greenhouse’ gasses, CO2 is believed responsible for up to 1/4 of the total greenhouse effect, potentially increasing our planet temperature by some 8 degrees C (12F). Not too shabby for 390 parts per every 1 000 000 in the air.
It is proven beyond any doubt that there is a direct relationship between increase of CO2 and globally increased temperatures. While, before man’s arrival, this clearly was a purely natural phenomenon, all available current weather and emission records show that since the start of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s mankind is ever more able to affect this direct relationship.
It is important to note that weather records and global temperatures do fluctuate on a seasonal, annual and even unexpected fashion over small periods of time while man-made CO2 production has generally increased, and that the factors involved in determining global temperatures do not solely rely upon the Greenhouse Gas phenomenon for their observed results. But at the same time the actual physics and chemistry of greenhouse gasses determining atmospheric temperature is sound and not a matter of debate. Reliable science is able to clearly show the heat-retaining effects of molecules such as H2O ( water vapour) and CO2.
Note the demonstrated relationship between rise in CO2 ( insert in following graph) and global temperatures (bottom graph)
Note too the remarkably similar shape of the total human population graph in the same 2000 years:
Finally , note that NEVER throughout man’s more than 50 000 years on this planet, have we ever had to live with the levels of CO2 that we have now. The current rate of increase of this gas as a percentage of our air (and therefore the capacity to increase global temperatures) has never been experienced by anyone today or any of his ancestors before he moved out of caves.
Never since Christ was reputed to have been born have we had such a high global warming temperature anomaly.
Our planet is surrounded by an incredibly thin envelope of gasses. The part that allows all life to exist is a mere 25,000 feet or a little over 8 kilometres deep – if we go any any higher than this man, and almost all other animals on this planet, suffers from hypoxia and fails to stay alive (without artificial means).
If you imagine the earth the size of an orange with the atmosphere as the ‘skin’ you would have an orange with a skin a mere 3/4 of a millimeter (around 1/30th of an inch) thick.
It is only the fact that the earth is quite large that gives us sufficient air to breathe without choking on all the toxic (to animal life) gasses that form an increasing percentage of it.
Our atmosphere is calculated to have a mass of some 5.148 million million million kilograms (approx 5 thousand million million tons)(1) which sounds quite a lot – and indeed it is a big number.
It is however, ALL there is and has to last both us – all mammals, all insects, reptiles, birds, and plant life as well as microorganisms, for as long as we all live on this planet.
It is important that we do as little damage to it as possible – for many, many reasons.
Very few people ever actually take time to think about what damage we, as members of the human race, could possibly be doing to the very air we need to live. We naturally tend to think that the air has always been there and pretty much always will be and nothing we ever do can change what will be in any significant way.
For the vast percentage of our human history this has pretty much been the case – but no longer. We have already altered and are continuing to alter the composition of the atmosphere – not just on a local scale with the examples of city air pollution and country-wide smogs but on a truly global scale. Anyone remember the Holes in the Ozone Layer?
How can this possibly be?
The answer is as simple as two words: population and lifestyle.
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For ten thousand years mankind lived in insufficient numbers to seriously alter the global environmental balance – and if he looked like starting to, Nature ensured that drought, flood or famine or disease kept the population down to acceptable levels and damage was limited and temporary.
Modern man’s persistence and inventiveness however, has meant that he is now able to overcome most diseases and at the same time produce more and more serious ways to affect larger and larger portions of our environment on ever-increasing levels. Our population simultaneously increased almost exponentially and more and more of us left a subsistence lifestyle, where our local environment gave us what we needed to live, and we started to take what we needed from areas where we were not living. Local economy’s gave way to National, then Empire economies and ultimately to a ‘global’ economy where we took not only from our immediate environment but also from the environment on far-distant continents to enable us to live a somewhat privileged lifestyle. The cumulative effects of this upon our planet’s livable environment began to become more detectable and pervasive – and permanent.
Consider the case of Carbon Dioxide – an essential component gas of our atmosphere.
The gas is toxic to humans at concentrations in excess of 10% while at the same time is essential for growth of all plant life on the planet. Fortunately for us the percentage of this toxic poison has stayed relatively constant for the entire history of human existence at between 200-400 ppmv (parts per million by volume).
Composition of dry atmosphere, by volume. (ppmv: parts per million by volume)
Gas Volume Nitrogen (N2) 780,840 ppmv (78.084%) Oxygen (O2) 209,460 ppmv (20.946%) Argon (Ar) 9,340 ppmv (0.9340%) Carbon dioxide (CO2) 390 ppmv (0.039%) Neon (Ne) 18.18 ppmv (0.001818%) Helium (He) 5.24 ppmv (0.000524%) Methane (CH4) 1.79 ppmv (0.000179%) Krypton (Kr) 1.14 ppmv (0.000114%) Hydrogen (H2) 0.55 ppmv (0.000055%) Nitrous oxide (N2O) 0.3 ppmv (0.00003%) Carbon monoxide (CO) 0.1 ppmv (0.00001%) Xenon (Xe) 0.09 ppmv (9×10-6%) (0.000009%) Ozone (O3) 0.0 to 0.07 ppmv (0 to 7×10-6%) Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 0.02 ppmv (2×10-6%) (0.000002%) Iodine (I2) 0.01 ppmv (1×10-6%) (0.000001%) Ammonia (NH3) trace Not included in above dry atmosphere: Water vapor (H2O) ~0.40% over full atmosphere, typically 1%-4% at surface.
“Each year since global measurements of CO2 began, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased.
Scientific measurements of levels of CO2 contained in cylinders of ice, called ice cores, indicate that the pre-industrial carbon dioxide level was 278 ppm. That level did not vary more than 7 ppm during the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 A.D.
Atmospheric CO2 levels have increased from about 315 ppm in 1958 to 378 ppm at the end of 2004, which means human activities have increased the concentration of atmospheric CO2 by 100 ppm or 36 percent (since 1800).”(2)
In 2009 it is estimated that human activity pumped almost 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the air(3). The total amount of CO2 in the air currently is around 390 ppmv or 0.039%. A quick calculation shows that this is roughly: 5148 x 0.00039 x 10^12 ( million million) tonnes, or 2000 billion tonnes. The contribution in 2009 by man was more than 1.4% of the total. There was a minor hiccup after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 where, for a year or two, we did not actually have a significant increase but we have now resumed the rapidly climbing CO2 production rate.
Humans are therefore now able to increase the amount of atmospheric CO2 by far more than 10% a decade – and the period we do this in still shrinks decade by decade!
The following graph shows this in a somewhat more dramatic fasion:
Later posts will suggest why this trend MUST be reversed;
(2) http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2005/s2412.htm ( NOAA is the US Department of Commerce’s agency responsible for all climate data dissemination to their public – Roughly the Equivalent of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology).