On Global Warming, and The Recent 'Green' Movement March 31, 2009.
A majority of scientists believe that our planet is becoming progressively warmer; this is a rational belief, considering historical evidence supports such a conclusion. A portion of these scientists believe man significantly contributes to global warming, although any evidence supporting that notion is purely anecdotal.
Over billions of years, the Earth has gone through a natural cycle of warming and cooling. Normally our planet is ice-free; that is, the peaks of mountains are bare, the north pole is an open sea, and Antarctica is forested and teeming with life. Over the past one billion years, ice has only been present one third of the time.
Generally speaking, most people have an erroneous understanding of the terminology used to describe the planet’s climatic cycle. Most of us acquire a basic knowledge of any particular scientific concept via media reports or general schooling; in other words, second-hand information (at best) delivered by individuals not trained in that specific field of study.
An ice age is just that: a period where ice is present on the planet. These have been as brief (relatively speaking) as thirty million, or as long as two hundred million, years. Mankind over its entire existence as a species has never known a warm world, nor are we likely to be in existence when the world returns to normal.
Within this planetary warming and cooling sequence is another, called a glaciation cycle. What is commonly referred to as the last ice age, when glaciers covered almost all of Canada and a significant portion of the northern United States, was actually a period of glaciation; ending ten thousand years ago. Glaciation repeats every forty to one hundred thousand years, most often spanning fifty thousand years. Based on this, we can expect the world to become progressively warmer for at least another ten thousand years before we once again trend toward a cold world. There is a school of thought that suggests we are in a particularly short interval, and may be headed toward another period of glaciation in the very near future. There is some evidence to support this viewpoint (e.g. the world is colder now than centuries ago), but it is possible we are experiencing a temporary variation in climate rather than a trend.
Ice ages and glaciation periods are subject to forces far beyond man’s control. The Earth’s orbit cycles over time, swinging closer to or further from the Sun. The degree of our planet’s tilt on its axis changes, exposing different portions of the world to more or less sunlight. The continents drift, redirecting ocean currents. The Sun flares into activity or settles into cooler periods. How these individual cosmic cycles coincide determines the climate experienced on Earth.
The distribution of Carbon Dioxide is governed by these larger forces. There are no greater or lesser amounts of CO2 available to the planet - it is a closed system. Carbon is present in and necessary to all life. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere varies due to the number of living things on the planet, the amount of rainfall that washes it into the oceans, and other factors that exist due to the aforementioned interplanetary events.
Volcanoes account for the release of 130 to 230 million tonnes (145 - 255 American tons) of CO2 every year, and the figures estimating the billions of tonnes simply breathed out by the human population are staggering. Wetlands, which we are encouraged to protect for the sake of the environment, produce far more methane - a greenhouse gas with a much greater impact than CO2 - than any other process on Earth.
Aside from the fact that the distribution of CO2 on the planet is ruled by forces that supersede our ability to significantly influence the outcome, there is the simple fact that global warming is part of a natural cycle beneficial to life. When the planet is warm, plants and animals are abundant and diverse. When the ice age previous to our own ended, dinosaurs and mammals first appeared. The lush plant life supported massive herbivorous dinosaurs, which permitted the evolution of giant predators to take advantage of this bountiful source of meat. Life became more specialised and complex.
Global warming is of considerable benefit to human life in general. Most of the land mass now experiences a winter that limits the growing season of plants. A longer season means greater food production, particularly where two crops can be grown on land that previously only produced one per year. More livestock can be raised on pasture, and more feed is available to areas that remain cold.
The end of the last glaciation period marked the beginning of human settlements and agriculture. A warmer world equated to an easier life, and consequently freedom from pursuing only the necessities of survival led to an explosion of knowledge and innovation. Mankind advanced as the climate improved.
In terms of energy consumption, a more temperate climate means less demand for heating oil, natural gas, and electricity. More energy would be required for air conditioning, a luxury primarily reserved for a very small percentage of the overall human population and necessary only due to poor building design; however each of the members of this select minority typically uses five times the energy of the average person.
Fears regarding the desertification of areas around the world are groundless, being that it is rainfall and not temperature that governs the process. Many deserts are bitterly cold, while some of the hottest regions on Earth support dense rain forests. Less moisture trapped in ice and higher temperatures equals more rainfall.
If the world once again becomes significantly warmer, man, like all other living things, will adapt. Certainly, some species of plants and animals will naturally become extinct due to changes in the climate, but this occurs on a much grander scale during glaciation periods than in temperate times. The polar bear evolved as a species distinct from the brown bear over 200,000 years ago, and therefore has existed through both glaciation and warm intervals. The penguin first appeared in nature fifty million years ago, when the planet was completely free of ice and snow.
Based on what we can determine of the past, the climate should continue to improve, following a pattern that has repeated itself over the ages. However, there really is very little in the way of hard evidence to support this observation. We have been recording our measurements of the world around us for the briefest of intervals considering the time-scale involved. In terms of glaciation periods, it is like noticing a one degree increase in temperature over one day, and using that fact to project a five hundred degree increase over the next year and a half.
The most popular figure used by the non-scientific community is an observed 0.3 degree Celsius increase in temperature over a thirty year period. The fact that this number falls below the calculated margin of error for this particular study (IPCC) means that, in scientific terms, the result is statistically insignificant and therefore indicates no variance from the norm.
In truth, if we assume our snapshot in time represents a much broader trend, the temperature records support the opposite conclusion. Cities act as heat generators, causing a one to 5.6 degree Celsius increase in temperature within urban boundaries; this is called the ‘Heat Island Effect’. Since cities have increased in size considerably over the recent past, and temperature has always been measured in these locations, any warming trend must account for the increase in ambient temperature at the sampling sites. This is not done, therefore data indicates the world has cooled over this (relatively insignificant) interval.
So why the dire forecasts of a destructive period of global warming, when we lack solid evidence showing the climate is improving; and why the negative spin on something that is part of a normal planetary cycle favourable to the proliferation of life? Because inspiring fear is the most effective way to manipulate the public.
Phenomenal progress has been made, in terms of convincing the masses to reduce pollution and waste, during the very brief period in which the concept of global warming has been promoted by the media. Because the planet should continue to warm over the foreseeable future, this concept is a sustainable campaign: in that people would continue to believe in a “doomsday” scenario as long as the world did not experience a prolonged and dramatic cooling period.
Creating an irrational fear in order to mislead the public is certainly not a new methodology. For example: contrary to popular belief, the moral foundation of Christianity was no different than that of Judaism at the time Jeshua ben Joseph (Jesus) was preaching; he was simply repeating the enlightened words of Hillel the Elder, doctrine Jesus had learned as a child. The important difference between Judaism, a religion followed - then and now - by a tiny fraction of the population, and Christianity, a religion that grew at an extraordinary rate, was Jesus’ insistence that doomsday would occur in a matter of years. Of course, it turned out he was quite wrong, yet Christianity grew into the most popular religion in the world by continuing to forewarn of an imminent day of reckoning, capitalising on the fear that one might be caught unprepared for a final judgement, and consequently face eternal damnation or miss out on a perpetual magical existence.
Fear of future consequences is only effective if it is a selfish fear. Unless individuals believe they themselves will suffer, the majority will not take action. We have always known that one day fossil fuels will run out, yet as the end draws nearer, the consumption rate has accelerated; at a pace many times that of population growth. People believe it is a problem they don’t have to deal with because the crisis will come after they have gone. There is the belief that future generations will simply have to switch to alternative sources of fuel, and deal with the situation, but since the issue is more a case of the petrochemical compounds and not the fuel itself, people will find themselves without the compounds we now find essential to the construction of solar panels, electric cars, computers, and literally billions of other products.
So how can the notion that global warming is a crisis be so widely accepted, despite evidence supporting quite the opposite conclusion? ‘Belief’ and ‘truth’ can be entirely independent terms. The logic we use as a foundation for all of our technology and science dictates that there cannot be magical humanoid beings controlling the destiny of the universe, yet the vast majority of people will insist that their faith in a particular religion is a faith in the truth - billions of humans trust in the words of a handful of Bronze Age tribesmen over documentation representing thousands of years of scientific research.
Cultivating a belief within the general population is often preferable to trusting in their ability to understand the truth. Although the public’s new captivation with environmentalism is not going to have any real affect on global warming, it is going to make a considerable difference in terms of mankind’s destiny. People are now recycling on a scale not seen since the Second World War. There is a real desire for alternative sources of energy, and an awareness of how damaging the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels is to our environment. Hopefully, if this trend is sustainable, we will eventually reduce our consumption of the planet’s finite resources and ensure that future generations continue to advance.
Of course, there are some negative aspects to having the public embrace a myth. Religion, intended as a system to impose morality upon those who might otherwise be entirely self-serving, has frequently been manipulated in order to commit some of the most horrific atrocities in history. Any methodology relying only on what people believe can be adulterated by the introduction of additional myths; being that a factual basis for anything related to the core belief is unnecessary.
It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the fear of global warming could be used to cause death and destruction similar to that brought about by the corruption of religious belief, and it is unlikely that man is capable of bringing about a glaciation period by interfering with the current warming cycle. Problems associated with present beliefs are primarily due to people taking advantage of the public’s willingness to accept any vague connection between a given concept and environmental stewardship, and a tendency to believe that individual responsibility is enough to change the world despite the actions of government and industry. To the elite, environmentalism is fine, provided it either benefits the rich, or has no significant impact on the bottom line.
Recycling computer components is now encouraged, and industry is willing to take them off your hands for free, or for a small fee. Of course, since a tonne of circuit boards will yield 80 to 1500 grams of gold and 160 to 210 kilograms of copper, and a mine would have to crush from 214 to1500 tonnes (235 to 1650 American tons) of rock to collect the same amount of gold, and crush over 16 tonnes of rock to match the copper, recycling has resulted in a tremendous increase in profits for the mines. Yet this has not resulted in lower prices for these commodities.
The idea of using less energy produced from the burning of fossil fuels is being encouraged. Of course, electricity is clean, and solar panels and windmills can provide it. Unfortunately, these two methods are inefficient, costly, and in reality produce an insignificant portion of the power consumed by the world. The burning of coal accounts for, by far, the greatest single source of electricity, producing fifty percent of all electrical energy. Contrary to political pronouncements stating that clean-burning coal will be a reality some time in the future, little or no meaningful progress has been made in the area, and coal continues to produce widespread damage to the environment and has a significant impact on human health. But coal is cheap, and even jurisdictions like Alberta, Canada, which has enough surplus to supply the United States with ninety-five percent of the dry natural gas America consumes, still burns coal to create half of its electrical energy.
Nuclear power is once again popular, being that the plants do not burn anything, and a facility has not experienced a critical disaster in the recent past. However, nuclear energy does produce 12,000 tonnes (13,200 tons) of deadly, radioactive high-level waste per year.
Meanwhile, environmental problems not linked to global warming are ignored. The oil industry uses 3.8 billion tonnes of water to extract petroleum products from the ground, 1.4 billion tonnes of that water is poisoned and lost deep in the earth each year. The northern tar sands projects use 349 million cubic metres (92 billion U.S. gallons) of water annually to extract oil from the sand, ninety percent of which cannot be returned to the rivers, and is held as massive lakes of lethal poison - so lethal that any birds landing in the water die immediately.
Some beliefs are questionable or even contrary to environmental goals. We chant the mantra that using less paper saves the forests, yet visions of majestic old-growth forests being cut down to meet our paper needs are in fact an illusion; mills actually grow their own timber for manufacturing paper - the mature slow-growth wood is too valuable for high end furniture construction, and too troublesome to harvest for the purposes of pulp production. Although it is debatable whether it is better to pour the bleaches and ink residue produced by recycling into our rivers, or exploit a renewable resource, recycled paper must still contain a proportion of new pulp in order to be usable. Either way, the paper industry profits and so it does not matter whether or not the belief is true.
Compact fluorescent bulbs are promoted as a good way to save energy, but this is not entirely true. Incandescent bulbs generate a surprising amount of heat whereas a CF bulb runs quite cool. In a cold climate, you will usually offset any savings with increased heating costs, and in fact may use slightly more energy. In warm regions where air-conditioning is thought of as a necessity, consumers will definitely lower their overall energy bill. CF bulbs are more durable under controlled conditions, but in reality, fluorescent lighting is very sensitive to power fluctuations and the ballast that runs the light is damaged by changes in voltage/amperage, significantly reducing its life-span; a situation that does not affect incandescent bulbs. In zones that have a stable power grid, a CF bulb will outlast a conventional bulb, but in rural areas and small towns, where the power is prone to variations, the advantage is lost. Despite any real or imagined efficiency and durability, the fact that one bulb costs up to fifty times more than the other means that you may or may not save some energy, but you will not save any money.
When we look at the big picture in terms of the drive to legislate CF bulb usage throughout the Western world, a couple of environmental questions arise. Although fluorescent lights contain only a small amount of mercury, while incandescent bulbs are benign, is it to our advantage to spread contamination from billions of units wherever bulbs are broken - in landfills, our homes, stores, warehouses, transport trucks, etc.? At this time, all CF bulbs are manufactured in China. As has been the case over recent history, we are reducing our domestic pollution by allowing China to produce the product on a grand scale; a country that has little in the way of environmental regulation. If the belief in global warming is in fact a global problem, isn’t it counterproductive to produce a product allegedly superior to the traditional item, yet do so in a manner that causes considerably more overall pollution than before?
Humans naturally try to conform, and because environmentalism is currently popular, most people will try to appear to be as “green” as they perceive the majority to be, regardless of their own true tendencies. This type of social obedience is certainly not driven by a rational evaluation of all available facts, but rather is formed by a mishmash of opinions, data, and half-truths.
There are scientists who perform studies under strict guidelines and report accurate conclusions; and then there are the scientists and pseudo-scientists who draw conclusions from incomplete or shoddy research in order to supply the media with dramatic or unique information that will provide fame to those who crave the spotlight. Which appeals to the media: an expert producing dull numbers and charts showing trends that may or may not have an impact over the next few thousand years, or a character making poorly substantiated claims of exciting or scary events in the immediate future? Many of the “science” programs on television still treat the theory that dinosaurs were destroyed by an asteroid as fact, a notion originally espoused by two Stanford university staff members, yet the entire scientific community (including Stanford itself) quickly dismissed the idea because it does not match the real timeline. Quantum Physics is treated as reality, despite most scientists considering it to be more of a religion than a science. Stimulating stories improve ratings, and the media responds to the public’s need for titillation.
We are in a situation where the mass media is merely providing what the public demands, and consequently a desire is reinforced as a fact in the minds of those who trust in what they are told by that media; the cycle feeds upon itself. This will continue until people no longer perceive a threat, whereupon the public loses interest in stories relating to the issue. During WWII, Americans car-pooled, recycled, and saved energy on a scale we have yet to match, but the day after the war ended, and the threat was no longer imminent, everyone returned to their wasteful ways.
So it should be evident that the myth of a global warming crisis provides us with a remarkably effective means of manipulating people’s attitudes. Solar and wind may be unrealistic sources of power now, but a renewed willingness to support funding for research may eventually result in significant progress. The economy, rather than any environmental concerns, has the only real affect on oil and gas consumption, but the current interest in alternative fuels and efficient automobiles may one day lead to affordable options.
The majority of people really don’t comprehend what environmentalism literally entails, they simply do as they are told. The public is concerned about CO2 emissions, yet otherwise western society is far more wasteful than in the past. We now have single-use mop heads, dusters, and toilet brushes. Years ago, automobiles were expected to last for decades, and now many are replaced after five years. Paper towels have replaced a simple scrap of cloth. People in the past were not necessarily concerned about the environment, but rather practicality in terms of where their money was being spent, so marketing throw-away products that replaced everyday items was unthinkable.
The key to expanding the current global warming mindset to include other important issues is to somehow connect each issue to the primary motivating consideration. This is not all that difficult to do. Whenever we have an exceptionally warm season, it is blamed on global warming. When we have record cold snaps, they too are somehow linked to the same cause. Extended dry periods and times of constant rain are both attributed to global warming. You don’t need to prove the logic behind your statement, you simply have to give the public the impression that what you are saying is what most others believe.
For example, we are running out of fresh water, primarily due to industry, and particularly due to oil extraction; a single oil well can consume as much water as a small city. It is only a matter of telling the public that as a consequence of global warming, most of our water will end up in the oceans as a result of melting snow caps and glaciers. This, of course, is a lie; but oil companies are not going to curtail the use of water and steam extraction at the expense of profits without political pressure. Politicians are not going to place additional restrictions on the corporations that donate so generously to their campaigns without public pressure. Convince the public that the issue threatens their immediate future, and we begin to resolve the problem.
There has never been a concerted effort made to eliminate religious belief, since the consensus opinion has always been that it causes more good than harm. This may not be the case, and mankind has never explored the alternative. A fear of global warming can be used to cause considerable good in terms of protecting our planet from further harm. We have already explored the alternative, and found it to be a framework for disaster. There will be those who blindly accept a myth, and there will be those who accept the existence of that myth because there is money to be made from it. There will also be those who know that this situation should be tolerated because the ends ultimately justify the means.