Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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Global warming. There’s been a lot of bad news about it lately. Not surprising, no more surprising than damage occurring when a building is on fire. The difference of course is that when a building is on fire, people band together to fight the fire. They don’t stand around arguing about who set the fire, or claiming that the fire really is a good thing and people should just let the house burn down. Especially if it’s their only house. There is no real doubt humans are causing global warming, but because science deals in probabilities, not certainties, it makes it really easy for deniers to claim there is controversy where there isn’t any. And there’s no doubt global warming is a bad thing, the only complication is there’s uncertainty as to how bad.

This is a favorite tactic of deniers of all stripes. Biblical literalists love to claim there is debate about evolution, evolution is just a theory, evolution is a theory in crisis, etc. In point of fact the scientific debate about evolution was over by about 1870. It’s a bedrock theory in biology that has been demonstrated in the field and in the lab countless times. Until someone comes up with a theory that better explains over a century of experiment and observation, evolution is fact for all practical purposes. Or even something as solid as the Sun coming up tomorrow. Scientists cannot say for certainty that the Sun will come up tomorrow, just that the probability that it will do so approaches certainty. That subatomic sliver of uncertainty is all deniers need to create the illusion of controversy.

It’s frustrating to say the least. In many areas it doesn’t really matter what people believe no matter how unscientific, flat earthers or Moon landing deniers aren’t going to cause any real problems. (Knock on wood.) Global warming deniers, yeah, major problem. An extremely well funded industry, fossil fuels are the world’s number one industry, is literally putting humanity’s future at stake in order to keep raking in profits. It was bad enough when industry did the same regarding cigarettes and leaded paint/gas, this is far worse. Granted global warming isn’t the only thing humans are doing to destroy Earth’s habitability, but it’s easily the worst.

And one of the most frustrating things about the situation is that human caused global warming is really simple. It doesn’t depend on obscure theories, complicated models, or rocket science. A freaking fourth grader can understand it. Simple physics and measurements, neither of which is debatable. We know that the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 the past two centuries is caused by humans. And we know this is warming the globe. There aren’t any alternatives, this has been settled science for decades.

Wait, how do we know these are facts? As follows. The huge increase in atmospheric CO2 the past two centuries is beyond dispute. It’s simply a matter of direct measurement, I don’t think even the hardcore deniers dispute this. And we know it was caused by human activities. How? Basically there are two types of carbon, C-12 and C-14. C-14 is an unstable radioactive isotope of carbon that is created by cosmic rays striking carbon atoms in the atmosphere. It’s created at a certain rate, and it decays at a certain rate, so the percentage of C-14 to C-12 in the atmosphere is basically constant. And since living organisms get virtually all their carbon from the atmosphere, the ratio of C-14 to C-12 in living tissue matches that of atmospheric carbon.

This is how carbon dating works, when an organism dies, it stops absorbing Carbon. The C-14 in its tissues continues to decay into C-12 though, so the older organic tissue is, the less C-14 it contains. Thus the ratio of C-12 to C-14 in organic tissue tells us when the tissue died, making it very useful for dating organic artifacts. Well, all the new carbon in the atmosphere contains no C-14. There’s only two possible sources of carbon devoid of C-14, human activity or volcanoes. Burning fossil fuels produce only C-12, the carbon in them having been sequestered in the ground for millions of years. And volcanoes can only account for less than 1% of the new carbon in the atmosphere, they contribute about 200 million tons of C02 per year. About 29 billion tons of new CO2 is added to the atmosphere every year, and burning fossil fuels are the only other possible source for this. Both these numbers are gotten from actual measurement, again, no room for debate.

So it’s a slam dunk that the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 in the atmosphere is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. The second part of the picture is even simpler. Different gases reflect heat at different rates. So one can go outside, point a spectroscope at the sky, and determine what gases are reflecting heat back towards the ground. And turns out there are five main gases that account for almost all of the heat trapped by the atmosphere: CO2, methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and ozone. We’ve known this for like 200 years, simple measurement and physics. Increase the amount of these gases in the atmosphere, and the amount of heat trapped by the atmosphere goes up. Solid, well established science.

Backed up by over a century of increasingly sophisticated measurements. Earth is warming up, and it’s warming up at an unprecedented rate. Sure, the CO2 has been as high as it is now in the distant past, and Earth was wildly warmer then too. Neither fact in any way, shape, or form implies that humans aren’t behind the current rise in CO2 or global warming. Worse, sometimes deniers like to claim “It’s been like this before, what’s the big deal?” The big deal is when it was like this before the Earth was a wildly different place, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher, and the tropics and continental interiors were uninhabitable.

So we are literally racing towards global calamity, all so the fossil fuel industry can keep raking in the profits. I thought about naming this post “Global Warming for Dummies” but decided against it. I want to engage the deniers, not insult them. And sadly conspiracy ideation is no indication of lack of intelligence, smart people can be anti-vaxxers or Moon landing deniers. Our brains are simply not wired for logic, and thus easily get led astray. I sometimes think that if formal logic was standard school curriculum, maybe someday progress can be made out of the scientific Dark Age we are sliding into. Still, we can’t even get teachers to stop hawking their religion in schools, let alone get them to teach logic.

So make hay while the world burns I guess. So far the effects of global warming are running considerably ahead of the worst case models, and there’s no reason to think this trend won’t continue. Unfortunately the American Empire, the new Roman Empire, is sustained entirely by fossil fuel exploitation, so it’s not going to willingly give up its oil addiction. Many actually seem to think it’s no big deal. Yes Mr Pompeo “The climate’s been changing a long time. There’s always changes that take place.” Unfortunately for your facile “analysis” Mr Pompeo the changes that took place over the past 11,000 years or so have been mild, and the Earth has enjoyed a very stable climate regime. The changes taking place now are extreme, unlike anything the Earth has seen for millions of year, and it’s only just begun.

Oh well, like always, half the reason I wrote this post was to increase my own understanding. So all I’ve done is depress myself. Our only hope is that the future is mutable, it looks grim now, but maybe our civilization will evolve to meet the challenge. We have come some ways since the Roman Empire, and despite all the parallels, at least wholesale politically motivated murder is no longer practised in Rome. I mean Washington. Those Emperors were a homicidal lot. Tell me this is an improvement. Please.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: I put together the above image from images I found on Wikipedia. Credit: Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

June 10, 2019 at 6:47 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Hi, Will you please stop sending through these articles, The only one we want is the enquiry about the Moorgate Tube Disaster, 28/2/1975, Platform 9 D272 in which the train should not of been in service in the first place as it was in the scrappage pile, carriage 11175,, Don’t you think it’s time that we were given the truth now & not in 2051 as was stated, 44 years later we still wait for the truth & answers, Damn Disgrace, They should all be hung, The Stocks would be too good! The whole lot of them should of been Heavily Prosecuted for using faulty trains.



    June 11, 2019 at 1:45 am

    • I don’t know what you are talking about, I’m not “sending through” anything, I’m just posting new content to my blog as I have been doing for decades. please be more explicit about what the problem is and I can look into it. Cheers. Doug.


      June 12, 2019 at 7:46 am

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