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Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Contemplation of Absolutes

On the way to work this morning, like most mornings, I was listening to a podcast (for those that are interested it was "Dr. Kiki's Science Hour" which one can find through or the TWIT network or in the iTunes podcast directory).  This particular episode broke with the show's normal format and touched on several science topics on several articles rather than focussing on one particular topic for the entire hour.

One of these articles is what prompts this post. It does so for two reasons.

The first of these directly relates to the article. The article that Dr. Kiki summarized discussed how people are far more willing to accept the credentials of scientists in who are proposing hypotheses and/or theories that support their cultural norm over those who do not. It also pointed out that they are more able to remember scientific evidence that is presented that supports the way they WANT things to turn out.
I'm sure this is not a surprise to ANYONE reading my blog. What is interesting is that they did a controlled study (I'm interested enough that if I had the time I would go read it for more details, but I do not have the time required to find and read it) to gather data on exactly how much people tend to do this. So now, according to this study, it's FACT that people do this and not just anecdotal speculation. That is a move forward (unless, of course, you don't believe people do this in which case this study MUST be flawed and based on a bad premise :-) )

The discussion of the article, as many regarding controversial science often do, led almost immediately to global climate change. This leads me to the second topic of this post: global climate change.

I, personally, do not care, even a little bit, about your opinion on this topic; ESPECIALLY if it disagrees with mine. The only exception to that rule is if you have rational and well-thought out points that I CANNOT shred in my own mind using facts, logic and reason. I, like nearly every other person in the developed world, have been barraged with this topic for DECADES and I am tired of arguing about it with people who have irrational opinions and flawed data that they combine with even more flawed logic.

Lucky for me, this is MY blog. :-) I can post whatever I want. If you don't like it you can read elsewhere. :-)

With my preliminary statement finished I now present my stance on global climate change:

1. This is something that is ocurring.
             There are plenty of sources of evidence that date backward through the history of our species that all agree: the planet is gradually warming. They also all agree that it has been warming since mankind first starting scratching marks into cave walls.
2. We did NOT cause it.
            If our evidence shows that this has been ongoing since mankind first began scratching on cave walls it CANNOT be CAUSED by mankind. It's that simple. At that point in our history we were no more a manipulator of nature than any other animal on the planet. If this process was in the works THEN it obviously could not have been STARTED by our species.
3. We MIGHT be contributing to it in a measurable fashion
           Are we polluting our planet? Yes. Most certainly. Unequivocally. Without question. We are causing harm to the ecosphere that nurtured us as we grew from a partially-sentient animal into the fully sentient (at least some of us) beings that we are today. Is this a bad thing? Yes. Should we pursue better ways of managing our lives, resources, energy consumption? YES. Conservatism is NEVER a bad idea for those that want their resources to last. And we SHOULD all want out resources to last because we have no other home to go to when we wreck this one.
4. Carbon dioxide is not as scary as scientists make it out to be. Yes, it is a bad thing to have in the atmosphere but the thing that makes it so bad is that we are destroying the world's carbon sink. Something NONE of the media outlets will ever mention is that ALL of the carbon we dump into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels was already once in the biosphere. That's right ladies and gentlemen: we're just returning that carbon to the biosphere that put it into pre-oil form. If the earth sustained itself with that much carbon in the biosphere before it can do it again. Will species go extinct as part of the process? Probably. Will we? Maybe. Will it kill the earth? No. People who dislike this argument when I bring it up are fond of pointing out that volcanoes put HUGE volumes of carbon dioxide into the air each year and that the biosphere never had that carbon to deal with. I put out that those same volcanoes dump more carbon dioxide into the air than all of mankind's pollution combined. So, if volcanoes are that significant than there is NOTHING we can do about the carbon anyway: so why try? Of course, the counter to this counter is that the same forces that spew out carbon dioxide from the depths of the earth also draw produce large volumes of rock. The converse is that for every unit of mass that the earth disgorges through a volcano it draws back in at a subduction zone. If it did not the earth would empty and the surface of the planet would grow until it collapsed for lack of anything under it. Therefore, the summary of this point is that fossil fuel emissions are returning CO2 to the biosphere that was once there in the first place. Tectonic activity contribute to the problem AND the solution. The biosphere will survive the carbon problem. The BEST thing we can do to mitigate the CO2 in the atmosphere problem is to PLANT MORE PLANTS. Plants grow. As plants grow they take in CO2 and push out O2. That means they absorb the carbon. They use this carbon to grow. More plants means a greater volume of carbon sinkage in the biosphere.
5. Other greenhouse gasses: most people don't realize that water vapor is a MUCH more significant greenhouse gas than CO2. It has a significantly greater thermal retention property. The upside is that it has a MUCH shorter in-atmosphere time because it precipitates out as rain/snow/hail/etc. This is merely a fact that most people do not know.
6. Ancient evidence. MILLIONS of years ago, when the North American continent was FURTHER NORTH than it is now there was a thick and full forest along the NORTHERN shore. The fossilized remnants of this forest imply that the plant growth there was similar in nature to plants that live in the warmer regions of the planet now. The regions nearer the equator than where I live. This forest was sustained for MILLIONS of years. This means that for MILLIONS of consecutive years the entire planet was MUCH warmer than it is now; so much warmer that the NORTHERN SHORE of CANADA was a tropical forest. ALL of humanity has existed in less than a million years. ALL of recorded history has taken place since the great ice age. Take a few minutes to ponder that.

Now that you've pondered I'll tell you what that means. It means that that is the NORMAL level of heat for this planet. ALL of humankind's history has taken place in a period of abnormal coolness for this planet. The planet is NOT warming up: it's returning to it's natural state. There is NOTHING we can do to STOP that with our current technology levels.

7. The Sun. There are some people who have reams of evidence to correlate heating and cooling cycles with solar output. There is a study currently being conducted which has preliminary data showing that a larger and longer solar cycle of sunspots and magnetic activity (the "normal" cycle is 11 years, but there are longer cycles which make the magnitude of the 11-year cycle greater - our data on the sun is VERY limited in this respect) DIRECTLY correspond to long-term climate variations. Their current data even implies that the "Little Ice Age" of the 1300s - 1800s was caused by a variation in sunspot activity. As ALL energy on earth is derivative of the fusion furnace in the heart of the sun ANY changes in the solar output MUST have some sort of affect on the earth. Are there other forces at work that can magnify or dampen the solar influence? Yes. But at the core of the habitability of earth is the sun.

8. Heat pollution: All I ever hear about when scientists discuss how humanity is ruining the earth is our contribution to the CO2 in the atmosphere. I NEVER hear anyone talking about how we are doing to things that much more directly affect the temperatures of the planet. The first is direct heat pollution. EVERYTHING you use generates heat pollution. Light bulbs. Your fridge. Your car. The laptop I am using to write this. Your TV. Your body. Composting the waste products from your home. EVERYTHING. All of this thermal energy is being dumped into our atmosphere as raw heat. The second thing we are doing is we are removing all of the heat absorbers and converters that nature created and replacing them with heat sinks. Every tree, flower, weed, blade of grass, algae blob that we remove from nature is one less thing that can absorb the heat from the sun AND pull carbon out of the atmosphere. We are replacing those heat and carbon absorbers with asphalt and concrete. Both asphalt and concrete absorb heat ALL DAY LONG and then they release it back into the air at night. They are not absorbing either heat or carbon: they are just storing heat during the day and releasing it at night.

This is the point where I am going to cut myself off rather than start ranting on each of the tangents that this post could generate if I allowed it to do so. The raw summary of it is that global climate change is happening. We didn't cause it, but we're helping it happen. If you want to do something plant a garden and grow more plants. Those of you who live in large, urban buildings: see if you can get roof access to grow a roof-top vegetable garden (or even clearance to put in 2 inches of dirt and lay down some sod). The plant life on the roof will help insulate the building from heat in the summer and from the cold in the winter. It will reduce the heat-sink affect of the building's roof. It will pull carbon out of the air. Plants also absorb other air pollution so it will help make your city a nicer, cleaner place.

I wish I had a place I could do this, but our backyard is already filled with plant life and our roof has a significant slope to it.

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