Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Blog Post to Some Redneck about Global Warming

I wrote this to someone on a blog who claimed global warming was nothing more than a warming trend as part of the natural heating/cooling cycle, and that pollution had almost no effect on the environment.


I have yet to address you personally, but felt it necessary considering your lack of knowledge regarding global warming and Richard's Almanac. You sound as if you have never taken a geology, earth science, meteorology, or environmental science course. I have. Throw out anything you think you know about global warming, because the information you have displayed is patently false and misleading.

I know you live in Houston; I was born and raised there. I want to tell you about ozone. Ozone is O3, and forms as a thin layer in the upper atmosphere to reflect harmful UV rays. Ozone is also formed closer to the ground by a slurry of NOx molecules, particulates, and various waste gasses from the burning of fossil fuels. In adequate amounts, this ozone assaults the lungs and has a definite and measurable detrimental effect on the health of humans and other organisms. I would walk to school every day, and on the hotter days I had lungs full of nasty ozone. Ozone increases the ambient temperature of a city/region by several degrees, and Houston is a great urban heat island as a result. The cooling, cleansing rains are diminished when approaching the city due to this effect.

On a small scale, pollution does have an effect on our health and well-being, and that of other plants and animals. What does this have to do with global effects?

The earth is a self-regulating and dynamic system. The organisms on the earth help determine how much oxygen and CO2 are in the air, and thus what the temperature will be like. As we burn fossil fuels, we are re-releasing CO2 which was stored by swamps and bogs thousands of years ago. For those millenia, the CO2 was removed from the atmosphere, and was not considered in the global climate. At the same time we burn these fuels, we are destroying huge swaths of rainforest and other dense greenery. The US was covered in magnificent forests for hundreds of years before white settlers arrived. These plants would normally consume and store this CO2, reducing the amount in the air, and release O2, which helps critters like you and me survive. Our efforts are a two-pronged attack on the CO2 cycle of the earth.

That's not all, though. The permafrost of Siberia is beginning to thaw. Some areas are no longer "perma" nor "frost". The permafrost is frozen bogs and swamps. Bogs and swamps contain and produce methane gas (the stuff that cows fart). Methane gas is 10 times the greenhouse gas CO2 is. The permafrost is a dominant surface feature of Siberia, a very large land area indeed.

But wait! There's more! When ice melts, it releases energy. As we heat the earth, glaciers and the ice caps melt, which only encourages further melting. A feedback loop, if you are aware of such things, is at work here.

Let's talk about water, weather, and rate of change. The earth's surface is 75% water, 2% of which is fresh water. 1.5% of the total water on earth is in glaciers and the ice caps, leaving only .5% as lakes, rivers, and streams. Oddly enough, many lakes, rivers, and streams are fed by glaciers and melting mountain snow. If temperatures increase even slightly, weather patterns may change and reduce the amount of snow that falls in a winter, or may cause excessive melting (and flooding) of glaciers, which overall reduces the avialability of fresh water. As heat enters the system from the increase in greenhouse gasses, weather becomes more violent, erratic, and unpredictable. Storm surges, strong winds, more destructive hurricanes, etc. - these are the types of changes we are cuasing in the atmosphere right now.

You mentioned "natural" cycles of heating and cooling. If you examine the geological record, you will in fact see that there are warming and cooling trends over the life of the earth. What you may not realise is that the most recent warming trend (ours) is A) caused by our direct actions, and B) is much faster and more out-of-control than all previous climate changes. The planet is not supposed to warm up significantly in less than a hundred years. Read this carefully and never say such ignorant things again: it is not the fact that the temperature changes, it is the rate at which it changes that matters. Organisms have to adapt to changing conditions such as a warming or cooling trend in the atmosphere. The beauty of evolution means over the course of several generations, a plant or animal species may adapt to the changes in temperature and weather. Our rapid destruction of the rainforests, the ozone layer, and the permafrost is causing the earth to heat up far more rapidly than ever before, which means organisms will not have the time their ancestors did to adapt. That includes us.

The changes we are causing have unforeseen consequences, both for ourselves, future generations, other organisms, and the earth as a whole. Let us weigh our actions with the understanding that they do have an impact, and that what we do may go far beyond our lifespans.

Why did I mention Richard's Almanac? It was written by Ben Franklin, an influential figure in American history. Good, now that I got your nationalist pride going, you can pay careful attention. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is a saying from the Almanac. What this means in this context is that we can prevent serious harm by applying comparatively little energy to the solution. The Houston Chronicle had an article years back about a study done by the BUSH administration, this one. The study compared the costs of pollution controls to the health costs associated with pollution. About $100,000,000 could be saved per year in healthcare costs if corresponding pollution controls were applied. You can't argue with the logic of Ben Franklin - your nationalist pride prevents you from doing so, nor can you discount the study done by this administration, because the party does not treat traitors and dissenters well. Oops. Looks like everything you had to say about global warming and pollution was just flat-out wrong. Go do some research and come back when you have some facts under your belt.


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