mandag 3. desember 2012

Carbon cycle

I am sometimes amazed at how quickly some people just brush off the idea of global warming being caused by CO2. Its clearly based on emotions and a feeling of "I cant see it, so it cant be true". Well, there are two approaches you can take to become more convinced.

Hurricane Sandy brought some serious damage to USA
The first one is to study the effects of global warming, freak weather, storms, hurricanes, ice melting and temperature spike records. I know many will just brush this off as well and say its either normal cycles in weather we are experiencing, or if there is warming going on its a natural variation. After all we have had ice ages before, so why no warm ages? Believe me, 95% of the scientists are agreeing that the main cause of the global warming is CO2 and many have dedicated their life into finding the evidence. So for them its not a matter of what they believe, its a matter of what they know. But scientists are inherently skeptical and are really taught to have enough proof of something happening before making a hard statement of truth. If you do some research on climate scientists (I mean people who have dedicated their life to the study of climate, not some freak blogger interpreting data), you will see that the majority are beyond confident that the global warming is caused by human CO2 emissions, or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) as we have come to know it. Dont believe me, but please do believe the thousands and thousands of papers with the proof available.

At this point a lot of people will go: "Its a big hoax", the scientists are doing this to keep money coming into their coffers. If you are a person who easily believe in conspiracy theories, then I have really nothing I can say to make you think otherwise, but if I can at least try to get into a part of your logical brain. I can only say that, although scientists are naturally collaborating, what benefit do they have of presenting a theory that will wreck havoc to our planet? What benefit do they have of presenting a solution that will basically stop economic growth (many scientists are actually afraid of angling it this harsh)? Are all climate scientists part of some doomsday sect? Is there a hidden spell that jumps out of their books, and bewitches them into mindless climate zombies? I can tell you that most scientists are actually affected by one "spell" from the books, and that is the knowledge of how fragile life is and how much we need to work to preserve it. Many wildlife scientists, including famous ones like David Attenborough, dedicate their whole life into studying parts of the ecosystem and eventually come to grips that the rules that apply have been changed by human influence. Everything from over fishing in the oceans to global warming and the effect this will have on plankton (as the sea temperature rises, so does its acidity as it absorbs more CO2 as well, eventually killing of huge amounts in the lower food chains). Biologists like Lynn Margulis will clearly inform you that science is an eye-opener, it really is trying to explain how the world works. So don't brush off science so easily, are you still questioning whether the planet is spherical? That it goes around the sun?

A common message is that weather is too unpredictable, the weatherman cant even predict the weather for the next day. Indeed, weather is unpredictable, actually its more unpredictable now than it was 100 years ago, even though our ability to predict it has improved with every new technology. If you study a bit of climate science, the weather patterns are really just an effect of heat and cold pushing air in all directions, a very simple set of rules (also called physics), but an unpredictable sum of billions of influences happening at once. Well, if the temperature rises it also amplifies these effects, the bigger the variation between heat and cold, the more extreme weather we experience. If you look at this statistically, there is a clear tendency showing extreme weather patterns appearing more often than previously. So yes, the outcome is unpredictable, but the physics involved in the rules are a well known scientific fact.

Carbon Cycle image from
Yes, at one point you have to come to grips that its all about chemistry and physics really. The second way of approaching the global warming question is by studying how the planet came to be. What are the geological properties involved into making something as stable as life on our planet? A biologist will tell you that an exceptional chemistry soup eventually formed carbon based life and are often focused on how it forms from there on. A geologist will go further back and tell you that the composition of the atmosphere was essential in the forming of life. He will also tell you a bit about the carbon cycle and how essential that is as a thermostat for our planet to keep it from becoming Venus (too hot) or Mars (too cold). If you look more into the details, CO2 is essential in all of this, and through studying the carbon cycle you will come to appreciate the fact that nature is trying desperately to "wash out" excessive CO2 from the atmosphere all the time. Every time a volcano erupted, it poured a lot more CO2 into the atmosphere. Over the next thousand years it was captured by the natural carbon cycle. Well, human beings are now contributing to 99% of the new CO2 added to the atmosphere and the natural cycle has simply not able to keep up, with gradual CO2 buildup as the consequence. You only have to look at the measured CO2 in the atmosphere (you can follow it also in the little app to the right):

CO2 level chart from
I really dont know why people can look at this chart and go, oh, that's nothing to worry about. To me this chart screams to us that we are doing something completely wrong. The global temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees because of this so far, and its steadily accelerating as well. A big wildcard in climate science is the effect of increased methane (100 times more potent) and CO2 emissions from the northern hemisphere as the areas get warmer. Some say this can have catastrophic consequences, and by that we dont mean a little more storms and drought. We are really talking about tipping points where the average increased temperature of the planet will skyrocket above 10 degrees C and literally kill every life on this planet. Remember, climate scientists say that anything above 2 degrees is dangerous - and now they have said that we are on course for 5 degrees. Most scientists are skeptical by nature as I mentioned earlier, and they are very careful as well. Many dont even include methane emissions in their estimates. What if our current path is for 10 degrees C increase within 2100? Do you have any idea what the planet would look like when this happens? I sincerely hope you start researching and start KNOWING (not believeing) that CO2 from human activities is they cause for the global warming, and only we can fix this!

I leave you with a very good talk by Geology Prof. Daniel Schrag which explains the importance of the carbon cycle and how CO2 emissions is throwing the cycle off balance (click the link under the picture).

Prof. Daniel Schrag talks about the carbon cycle

1 kommentar:

  1. These days the newspapers are full of the news of cold weather in Northern Europe, and a lot of comment fields are full of "so much for global warming". If you check around a bit you will see that there are a lot of research into the effect warming around the north pole (-30 is still warmer than -40 remember) has on the polar jet stream. Chances are now becoming bigger of what they call "freak winter weather" in USA, either by an unusually warm winter or a terribly cold one that can stretch all the way down to the Mediterranean in Europe at least. Weather systems that has previously been rather stable, now "wobble", including the polar jet streams.