Global warming

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:07 am

I said we could talk about any substantive topic in this forum, so here goes!

We hear all the time about how we must act now to prevent consequences from global warming caused by the discharge of huge amounts of the greenhouse gas CO2 into atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. There is little question that this has happened and that the increase in atmospheric CO2 can be attributed mostly to human activities. Governments are spending billions of dollars and planning to spend trillions to try to ameliorate this problem and the potentially disastrous environmental changes (sea level rises, changes in distribution of rainfall and farmable areas, polar sea ice melting, etc., etc.) that may result. Global warming has become a scientific orthodoxy which discourages serious analysis, not of the existence of, but how best to address the problem. The real question is: what should we do about global warming and how much should we be willing to spend and in what ways?

It is well-known that, over geologic history, the Earth has gone through huge changes in climate, mostly as a result of the interaction of orbital mechanics (i.e. the path the planet follows as it circles the Sun) with volcanic activity on the planet. The planet's orbit changes in predictable ways ("Milankovic cycles") that lead to variations in the pole orientation, distance from the sun and position of the solar system with respect to the galactic plane. Back here at home, the planet has gone through repeated cycles of extreme volcanic activity over geologic history, which release huge amounts of greenhouse gases. The interactions of astronomical cycles with tectonic activity have led to several mass extinctions (e.g. the famed Permian mass extinction) hundreds of millions of years before humans appeared on the planet. Similarly, there have been times (the Carboniferous Period) when CO2 levels have been hundreds of times higher than they are projected to be in our times and the planet correspondingly warmer. During the Carboniferous, the planet was tropical pole-to-pole. Indeed, the Carboniferous period is largely responsible for our deposits of non-replaceable oil, gas and coal. The planet has oscillated back and forth between cold and hot many times in geologic history, with changes far greater than those usually associated with greenhouse warming.

Most climate experts would acknowledge that we are in an interglacial period, lasting thousands of years, when the planet is warming dramatically as a result of entirely natural climate cycling. Human-derived warming is superimposed on top of that bigger picture. I have seen one study that estimates that 80% of the warming (as opposed to the atmospheric CO2 growth) is entirely natural.

In passing, let me note that we can conclude little from day-to-day weather events. Short-term weather is "chaotic", meaning that it normally oscillates substantially and unpredictably with a very sensitive dependence on initial conditions (the "butterfly effect"). It is known that chaotic systems oscillate even more as more energy is put into them.

With that background, let me ask the following question: Should we be spending huge sums of money to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, a laudable goal in any case, or can that limited money and effort be used more effectively to address the effects of a warming, over which we don't have total control? In the latter case, that would include moving or protecting coastal cities at low elevations, changing farming practices and crops, moving to non-combustion-based energy sources and a host of other changes, which are themselves difficult. Since pretty much everyone agrees that warming is happening and will happen, and that controlling greenhouse gas emissions will have little or no short-term effect, but merely help in the long-term (50 years, say), how should the world's limited resources be allocated? I don't have the answers to these questions, but it troubles me that I don't see many others even considering them much. :(




Edited By Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor on 1257527170
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Nov 25, 2009 9:28 am

An event in the news this week is relevant: A climate research center in Britain had its computer servers hacked last week. Thousands of internal e-mails were stolen and many were put on the Internet. The ones chosen for display on the Internet were ones in which researchers expressed doubt about the reality of human-caused global warming and how that doubt should be covered up to keep research funds flowing. This isn't exactly the point I was making in my first post in this thread, but it should provides some support for the idea that perhaps we should focus on mitigating the effects of warming, rather than trying to stop what may be a natural phenomenon.
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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