Global Warming 101: The Problem

climate change trees

Global Warming? So what's wrong with that!? Plenty, because We're all in this TOGETHER.

Think global warming won't hurt much? Well...

In the temperate regions of the world, maybe where you live, you might not even notice a few degrees warming. (Honestly, sometimes it sounds pretty good to me! It's freezing here!) Anyway, you can always crank the air conditioner up another notch, right?

But if you live in a place with big, old trees, you might notice them drying out in the summer, getting cinnamon-colored dead spots from the drought and insects.

You might notice the fall and winter storms are getting bigger.

You might notice the monster tornados barrelling through the Midwest.

climate change mount everest

You might notice the mountains don't get snow on them until late, and shed their snow coat earlier in the spring.

You might notice that last year, there was flooding in areas that there was never flooding before, and that there were more BUGS this summer than you remember.

These are all generally attributed to global warming, or climate change.

So is climate change REAL, or what?

First Person Singular - Climate Change

What Causes Climate Change?

beijing traffic

Okay. So it seems like several things contribute to the problem:

  • Burning fossil fuels.When oil, gas, coal, wood, or other carbon-containing fuels (called fossil fuels because they come from living things which have died) are burned, carbon dioxide and water vapor are released into the atmosphere. These gases are called greenhouse gases, as you know, because they trap long-wave radiation from the sun and heat up the atmosphere, just like the glass in a greenhouse.  More fossil fuels are burned to power CARS with gasoline engines than for any other purpose, and as more of the world becomes modernized, more and more people are driving gas-burning cars.China is adding a thousand cars a day, every day, to the roads...and adding gobs of heat-trapping gas to the atmosphere.Read my Australian friend's thoughtful assessment of the Kyoto Protocol, developing nations' contribution to global warming, and the resistance of Australia and the United States to the Kyoto Treaty (based on economic worries) at his website, Alternate Energy Sources.
  • Deforestation.Trees use carbon dioxide from the air to eat (photosynthesis), and they eat a lot. The more humans cut down forests - including the tropical rain forest - the fewer trees are available to gobble the carbon dioxide up. Trees also breathe, just like us; they "inhale" oxygen and "exhale" carbon dioxide...but they use much more carbon dioxide than they produce. Since wood burns, it must be full of carbon, from using carbon dioxide.
  • Feedback loops, in which the warming effects such as melting of glaciers cause further warming which accelerates out of control. This is the most worrisome cause of global warming on the list, because nobody knows how close we might be to the tipping point - the point at which global warming accelerates out of control.
  • And yes, natural sources of global warming.

'Natural' Climate Change

deforestation climate change

Natural sources of climate change do exist, such as the seasons, accumulation of naturally-occurring greenhouse gases, solar storms which occasionally bombard the earth with excessive solar energy, and volcanoes which spew ash and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Because of natural sources of climate change, unscrupulous people use this as an excuse to claim that human activity (such as driving gas or diesel powered cars) is not a major contributor to climate change. We've all heard them, and have speculated that their opinions might just be related to the amount of money those people and their friends and families have invested in oil and oil-burning products (like cars).

Remember when once the tobacco companies rented scientists to claim (and testify before Congress) that smoking was not bad for your health, or at least, not worse than other naturally-occurring things? Like in the first season of Mad Men.

Well, I'm pretty sure it's a similar thing with gas-burning cars and climate change science.