Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thoughts on Climate Change

Climate Change is a very heated subject. Everyone has strong opinons about it, and much fighting happens on this topic. Therefore, sometimes I feel like it is hard to be an independent observer asking questions about Climate Change. Yet sadly I find myself full of questions.

 

A bit of background about my interest in the subject:

I was brought up in school with the firm idea that human beings are destroying our climate and our environment. We were taught the effects of Carbon Monoxide on Ozone, and the gaping holes that have appeared in our ozone layer. We were taught how the green-house gas emissions of humans was causing acid-rain, and how the polar ice-caps were melting at an astonishing pace. And I always believed what our textbooks said and our teachers taught us. 

But more recently, some questions have been popping up in my mind. First of all, it has been quite some time now since the alarming predictions of climate change were supposed to come true. California and much of the coastal parts of the world were supposed to be under the sea by the 15meter rise of the sea level already. Yet, the ocean water levels of the world has not significantly varied in that time frame. And so the question started popping up in my mind, was it over stated? Were the effects of global warming exaggerated to scare people? And this thought is what led me into investigating the subject. 

I will confess, my research has not produced a lot of answers. It however has identified a lot of questions, which apparently contemporary research seems to be ignoring. Hence this post, which is intended as food for thought for those inquisitive souls who I have failed to meet in person, but perhaps I might come across over the internet.

Questions:

If Carbon dioxide is the problem, why is reforestation not part of the solution?

To me, the balance of nature is a beautiful thing. What one produces, another consumes - and when one dies, it forms manure for another. Animals produce carbon dioxide. Fire, even naturally occurring like wildfires, produce carbon dioxide. And plants consume carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to reduce it into oxygen and non-gaseous materials. This is part of the carbon cycle.

So if the focus is really ensuring that the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is controlled, why do we expend so much energy in demonizing oil companies etc, when we could instead expend that energy in just planting more tress and plants, living more sustainably?

What is the appropriate level of carbon dioxide for the atmosphere? 

This is a very tricky question. Many people disagree. Patrick Moore, one of the influential figures in the Greenpeace foundation, delivered a very powerful speech at the "Global Warming Policy Foundation" in 2015 titled, "Should we celebrate Carbon Dioxide?" [link1, link2]. Carbon dioxide is life-giving; without carbon dioxide, there would be no life as we know it. And in his speech, he claims that while today's carbon dioxide levels are at 400ppm, the optimal carbon dioxide level for plants on earth is 2000ppm, and plants begin to die off at 150ppm. According to him, plants are "starving" for carbon dioxide - there isn't enough of it in the atmosphere.

What causes the cycle of ice ages? 

We know that the earth has gone through a few ice ages. They happen periodically - I think the period is roughly 100,000 years (?) or something like that. So I thought, if we are so sure that it is our actions that cause the climactic changes in the environment, then scientists must know all the other factors involved such as what causes the earth to cool into an ice age?, what causes the earth to warm while in an ice age, in-order to come out of the ice age? and why do mini-ice ages happen? such as the one in the late 17th century happen? 

It turns out, contemporary science knows very little about what causes ice-ages, and even less about what causes the warming that makes the earth come out of the ice-age. So then, how can we conclusively say it is not one of these natural phenomenon that is causing the warming we observes, but instead human activity? Especially since no model that is premised upon human activity has accurately been able to model these changes, even though many have been tried? 

What impact does Milakovitch Cycles have in all of this? 

It is funny how so many self-proclaimed experts on Global Warming know so little about Milankovitch Cycles. As a species, we understand that Milankovitch Cycles exist. It is caused primarily by three factors:
  1. The orbit of the earth around the sun is not a perfect circle. It oscillates between close to perfectly circular and seriously elliptical. This can greatly vary the distance b/w the earth and the sun in summer over many years. (The argument might be made here that summer is irrelevant, since when it is summer in one hemisphere, it is winter in the other and vice versa. However, this is not a valid argument. The northern hemisphere has more land area, and the southern has more water surface. This means each hemisphere has different heat reflection and retention properties).
  2. The orbit of the earth is not centered on the sun - rather the sun is to one side of it. And the orbit of the earth rotates around the sun in precession  Again another factor contributing to the variation in distance between earth and sun in summer over the years. 
  3. The earth's axial tilt is not a constant. It oscillates by about a couple of degrees on either side - or at least, that is how we understand it today, although I have wondered if the variation isn't even more - considering that (a) the magnetic poles wander extreme distances, even flipping around (b) the continental drift is not strictly longitudinal, but it seems to go southwards as well. So maybe the poles wander a heck a lot more than what we understand? And that means, the local temperatures vary a lot over the years - and given land and water hold and reflect different amounts of heat, that could have tremendous impact on the earth's climate.
What we don't seem to clearly know is the exact correlation between Milankovitch Cycles and ice ages. What causative influences do Milankovitch cycles have on
  1. the earth going into an ice age?
  2. the earth warming and coming out of an ice-age?
  3. the current climatic changes that we observe?

Who is the loser? 

In all of the global warming debate, there seems to be some losers. To me, it has often seemed that the focus has been shifted away from two issues - pollution and population.

We as a species has made a gigantic fucking mess on this planet. All those plastic water bottles, those fancy packaging of things we buy online, all the electronic gadgetry with their PCBs and hard-plastics, all those clothes that we use once and throw away - are all piling up rapidly in the oceans of the world. And many sea creatures - birds, whales etc are rapidly dying off. (Pictures of birds and sea animals dead because their stomach is full of plastic waste and therefore they cannot ingest the nutrients required for survival just makes me immensely sorrowful).

Even otherwise, as a species, our population today stands at around 7 billion or more. At that number, if we evenly distribute the land area of the planet, that is about 5 acres to a person. If we only consider regions that are neither hot deserts nor cold deserts, but are actually habitable, that number is far less (especially since Antartica, huge patches of Africa and Asia etc are gone). Assuming it takes at least half an acre merely for producing food for one human being, and factoring in the fact that population is denser in cities, but those people still need the farms that make their food and landfills that dispose their waste (New York ships its waste by trainloads into North Carolina for example), that still does not leave much room for other animals! Especially if we consider that the range of many of the bigger animals like Mountain lions, Elephants, Bears, Wolves etc can be many square miles (one Square mile = 640 acres).

To me therefore, the bigger problem is our sheer unsustainable population. If there weren't so many people, there wouldn't be so many cars, there wouldn't be so much plastic trash, there wouldn't be so much deforestation and endangerment of animal habitats. Yet these issues seem to go out of focus due to the fixation on "Global warming".

Just like many people these days claim that religion is the hocus-pocus that diverts people's attention from Science, to me it seems like Global Warming / Climate Change is the hocus-pocus that diverts people's attention from the twin problems of Pollution and Population.

Who is the winner / who gets the money? 

There are a few people that seem to be winning from this focus on Global Warming. One certainly is a bunch of politicians, and I won't go into it since it is beneath my dignity to discuss the merits and demerits of contemporary politicians.

The second group of winners seems to be a bunch of special interest companies - epitomized by "Elon Musk". Why is it okay for us to be talking of the humongous gap between the rich and the poor with the one side of our mouths, yet at the same time, be okay for us to be touting characters like Elon Musk who are the very cause of that wealth disparity, with the other side of our mouths?

Most people don't think through this. Their allegiance is already set on Global Warming. And just like a Christian never questions his multi-millionaire pastor's requests for donations, we don't seem to question the likes of Elon Musk! Why is this the case?

Update: 06/09/2017:

This is a must read article for everyone still preaching global warming: https://www.wsj.com/articles/matt-ridley-whatever-happened-to-global-warming-1409872855

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