24 February 2007

Al Gore’s Dirty Little Secret

Assume global warming is a result of more carbon dioxide (CO2) being released into the atmosphere thereby trapping more heat. Global warming is caused by people then. The more people, the more CO2 is emitted. To reduce global warming you need to reduce the number of people, not just the cars and trucks and coal fired power plants. That is the dirty little secret, or inconvenient truth, Al Gore does not want you to know about. If you truly believe that people cause global warming then carbon caps alone will not address the problem.

Imagine for a minute that you replace all the cars and trucks on the road right now with hybrids. That would make a remarkable difference where air pollution is concerned. At some point, assuming we have not kicked the oil habit, the CO2 emissions from the increase in the number of hybrids over a certain period of time due to population increase will equal that of the current emissions. Then what? My hope is that technology will have improved by then that we will not be reliant on fossil fuels. But if you think beyond cars and look at the overall impact of people just consuming to live, the picture becomes much worse.

More people require more resources. Whether you live in Brazil, Germany, Japan, Senegal, or the United States of America, more people consume more. More food needs to be grown, more food is consumed, more energy is expended for cooking food, more energy is expended to cloth people, more energy is expended to house people. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is claiming that our hunger for meat requires more cows. More cows means more methane which contributes to more global warming.

In 1900 the estimated world population was 1,650,000,000. In 2005 the estimated world population is 6,453,628,000. In 105 years the population has increased by an estimated 4,803,628,000. That is a huge impact on the system. Even at the base level, more people emit more CO2 just breathing. According to a study by the USDA, an average person's respiration generates approximately 450 liters (roughly 900 grams) of CO2 per day. That is approximately 1.98 pounds per person per day. On a global scale we have increased the amount of CO2 emitted annually, just from us breathing, by 3,478,000,000,000 pounds of CO2 per year (that is 1.739 billion tons of CO2 annually). With the current population at 6.453 billion we emit roughly 4,673,000,000,000 pounds of CO2 annually (2.336 billion tons of CO2 of annually).

You can demand that the Kyoto Treaty be implemented. But the reality is that we will never be able to meet the Kyoto goals if we do not address population. And that is the reality that a leer jet environmentalist, who won an Oscar for a questionable documentary, can not comprehend or does not want to address. It does not fit nicely into his little box of understanding. It is easier to blame big business than to look in the mirror. You really want to achieve the Kyoto goals? Plant billions of trees, stop flying around in jets, and replace cars with the horse and buggy. That in my opinion is the only way to “stop” global warming if it is indeed the result of human activity.

I agree with some of Al Gore’s recommendations like using energy efficient products and living in energy efficient homes. I, for one, am tired of being beholden to Islamic fundamentalists and communists for our energy supply. You also cannot complain about saving money, can you? But instead of investing in dubious schemes like carbon trading, let’s invest in the research into technology that will increase energy efficiency in the home and at work. We need to further the science and engineering of energy if we are going to make a difference. Such an investment will be good for our economy as well. We also need to embrace technologies like wind and solar power; even it that means that your “precious” views are spoiled by wind and solar farms. Sacrifices need to be made folks – although sacrifice is sadly not in many people’s dictionary nowadays.

Now, let's assume that there are other factors responsible for global warming, I mean climate change. The other thing the leer jet environmentalist crowd cannot accept is that climate changes and has changed over millions of years with and without humans roaming the surface. Glaciers have formed and receded. That pesky science called geology gives us this knowledge. The leer jet environmentalists (let’s lump the dopey Hollywood crowd in there) think we can keep the earth static. These are same people that want to “preserve” the old growth forests – even when it is not healthy for the forest to do so. Nature changes. Climate patterns change. Our sun’s output changes. We change.

There are so many variables with regard to our climate that is folly to think we can model it accurately enough to foretell the future. I am by no means an expert in computer modeling, but I did take a computer modeling course in graduate school and I do use computer models in my work. I would argue that I have more of a perspective on modeling than an average person does. Modeling is as much art as science in my opinion. Even simple models, a groundwater model for example, can be difficult to get right. The interactions of complex models, like our climate, are very hard to figure out (we are still uncertain of how clouds form and interact with the climate). In order to use a model you need to calibrate it against real data – you need to figure out how it compares to a known data set and tweak it until the model correlates reasonably well with the known data set, only then can you make predictions of how it would react under other inputs. We only have about 150 years of decent data for calibration of a climate model (I do not consider ice core data as valid for model calibration mainly because it is interpreted data). That, in my opinion, is not enough for such a complex model. The models out there are much better than the ones that were used in the 1970’s when global cooling was a concern, but they still lack sophistication in my opinion. The current models predict global temperatures rising anywhere from 1 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a huge spread.

If CO2 is inexorably linked to temperature increase, why were we so concerned with global cooling in the 1970s? The amount of CO2 emitted did not go down in the 1970’s. It has steadily increased along with population. Why was there a warming period several hundred years ago that allowed grapes to be grown in England? We were not emitting nearly as much CO2 back then. I am not convinced that CO2 emissions by man are solely to blame for an increase in global temperatures. We think we are so smart that we can deduce without a doubt that man is solely responsible for this trend in global temperatures. I say that we are not very smart and cannot jump to that conclusion no matter how you massage the data in a slide show. Don’t forget that CO2 is only part of the “problem”. There are also other chemicals such as methane and the chemicals that replaced CFCs that contribute to more warming than just CO2 on a pound for pound basis.

Another “impact” of global warming is a supposed increase in “extreme” weather. There is growing fear of more massive mudslides and floods due to global warming. Is it really due to global warming or is it due to poor land use planning? More population means you end up building where you are not supposed to. New Orleans and southern California come to mind. In New Orleans communities were flooded when a major hurricane hit that city. The city is below sea level, what do you expect to happen? It was not global warming it was just that the likelihood of this event happening was foretold decades before it did. In California, poor land use planning results in mudslides during heavy rain. I see it here in Kansas City as well. Poor urban planning has resulted in flooding during heavy rain events. Even without global warming you are going to have heavy rainfall events that exceed design parameters. There is a certain amount of risk accepted during design and construction. Designing to the 1,000 year rainfall event would be cost prohibitive. Do I need to mention that there were no major hurricanes to hit the United States in 2006?

In the end global mean temperatures may or may not continue to rise whether we do something to curb CO2 emissions or not. Honestly, even if we wanted to I doubt we can do anything about it in the next 50 years. It requires a global political will. We can not see eye to eye on even the most basic issues. More people means more CO2 emitted from their overall actions. China and India are growing by leaps and bounds and everyone wants to live like an American. We need to take the next 50 years and invest heavily in energy research; a Manhattan Project type effort if you will. Blacklisting scientists who do not agree with your point of view in a McCarthyian effort will not solve this problem.

One also has to step back and wonder if man can truly reverse or control what he has supposedly set in motion. Maybe it would be better for the world if man leaves it. We have thousands of years of history that illustrate that we behave like little children and never grow up. Maybe global warming is Nature’s time out for mankind.

1 comment:

dreamy said...

Peta is right, quit eating meat or even consuming less meat helps the situation too :)