Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Climate Change Deniers Say The Stupidest Things

I made the mistake of going to the internet the other day. I shouldn’t have done that. It is a dirty, dirty place. I discovered that it is inhabited by a great number of a very strange form of creature indeed. One name that I suppose could be applied to this odious form of electronic life is climate change denier. However, I think the term idiot is also quite apt.

Not all climate change deniers are idiots, indeed there are probably as many as three or four of them who are honestly confused about the issues and wish to learn more about the facts. People who are also in the not necessarily an idiot category are those who debate just what the exact effects of climate change will be or what the appropriate course of action to take should be.

However there are a great many idiots. And it is interesting to consider just what it is the climate change deniers are denying. Rather than deny that climate change takes place, what most of them tend to do is insist that climate change is natural and to deny that humans are affecting the climate and insist that nothing need be done.

Now this line of reasoning doesn’t seem entirely logical to me for even if one thought that climate change was an entirely natural process, it does not mean that one should do nothing about it. Being stung by a male platypus and then losing your mind and cutting off your own hand with an axe to try to stop the pain is perfectly natural, but still it's something that you still might want to avoid.

To believe that human beings are having no effect on the climate, you would have to believe either one or both of the following:

1. Carbon dioxide does not contribute to global warming.

2. Humans are not increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the air.

Statement one doesn’t make sense and cannot really be backed up. Carbon dioxide, or CO2 for short, is a greenhouse gas. Put simply, a greenhouse gas traps heat. It absorbs some of the heat that the earth would have radiated into space. The more greenhouse gas there is, the warmer the earth will be. There is no real way to get around this. You can debate what the exact effect of increased greenhouse gases will be, but you can’t say that they will have no effect, unless of course, you are an idiot.

The second statement doesn’t make any sense either. It’s not really possible to deny that humans are increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the air. I have in my possession photographs of people burning fossil fuels. In Japan kerosene is sold from the back of a truck in broad daylight. We have hard evidence that people use oil products to power cars and as shocking as it sounds, people have even gone so far as to generate electricity from burning coal.

Humanity currently adds about 7 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year by burning fossil fuels. The carbon combines with oxygen to create about 26 billion tons of CO2. This is about 90 times as much carbon dioxide as is released by volcanic activity. Carbon dioxide levels have increased by about 31% since the start of the industrial revolution. About two thirds of this increase has been in the last fifty years and has closely matched humanity’s consumption of fossil fuels.

But don’t take my word for it. Take a few seconds to do the calculations yourself. It’s very easy to work out how much carbon using oil alone adds to the air. World consumption of oil is about 80 million barrels per day, the density of oil is about 0.9 that of water so there are about 7 barrels to the ton and oil is about 85% carbon. As you can no doubt see just by glancing at these figures, humans add about 9.7 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere each day, or about 3.5 billion tons per year. Do similar calculations for coal and gas and you come to roughly 7 billion tons total.

Since the earth’s atmosphere weighs approximately 5,100,000,000,000,000 tons and each ton of carbon burnt combines with oxygen to form 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide, is easy to see that humans are increasing CO2 concentrations by about 5.1 parts per million per year. Since CO2 in the atmosphere is currently about 381 parts per million, if none of it was removed we would be increasing it’s concentration by about 1.34% per year.

Now some of this excess carbon dioxide released by humans should be absorbed by plants and rocks and itty bitty sea creatures, but the amount the natural environment can absorb is obviously limited, otherwise CO2 levels wouldn’t have increased to their current high levels. If we continue to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at the current rate and most of it stays there, then the current concentration will have doubled in about 75 years. These levels of carbon dioxide may actually contribute to some weak people dying, as CO2 interferes with the ability of blood to transport oxygen. The effect won't be large but it will probably be enough to cause death in some special cases. I intend to have retired to a hermetically sealed bubble by this point, but still, watching poor people die on TV will be most upsetting.

Now some people might point out that it seems unlikely that can continue to burn 7 billion tons of fossil fuels a year for 75 years, on account of how we may run out before then, but perhaps if we tried hard enough we could. For example, I’m sure we’ll be able to find plenty of coal and oil in Antarctica once all that nasty ice melts off it.

The climate change deniers are so good at what they do because they are unencumbered by the truth. They have no trouble with inconvenient facts they don’t happen to like. Scientists don’t have this freedom. While scientists can definitely state that humans are affecting the climate and causing the earth to be warmer than it would be otherwise, if someone asks a climatologist a direct question such as, “Can you state that the earth’s average temperature will definitely rise over the next 30 years?” the scientist will be forced to answer, “No.” At this point the climate change deniers start hooting wildly and claiming that this scientifically “proves” there is no global warming, but unless you are an idiot the statement does no such thing. The climatologist has to answer no because we don’t understand enough about the earth’s climate. Historical records and scientific research show that the earth’s climate isn’t stable and constantly varies for reasons that are not currently well understood. Currently we don't know for certain if the earth would be getting naturally cooler or warmer without human interference. However, they do know that increased levels of greenhouse gases will make the climate warmer than it would be otherwise. 

Even if the earth is entering a period of naturally lower temperature, current elevated greenhouse gases are probably more enough to counteract it entirely and cause the earth to experience elevated temperatures instead, which are likely to result in significant problems. It is also possible that we will have a dramatic increase in temperature with severe detrimental effects such as dangerously rapid increases in sea levels. So it would seem that the logical course of action would be to err on the side of caution with regards to climate change.

Another fairly idiotic tack of climate change deniers is to say that the earth will be better off with a warmer climate. If I happened to be a dinosaur I’m sure I would agree. While it is certainly likely that some places will be more pleasant with warmer temperatures, most human beings are extremely likely to suffer from worse conditions. Most humans live in or near the tropics and it is quite hot enough there already, thank you very much. Farms and flood controls currently only exist where they are suitable or necessary. It is not very easy to move them in response to climate change. Also, the vast bulk of humanity live only a few meters above sea level. If sea levels rise by several meters, most coastal cities would be swamped. The costs of relocation and flood control would be enormous. At the moment sea levels are estimated to be increasing by about 3mm per year. This may not sound like much, but even small increases raise the risk of storm flooding in coastal areas. The rate of sea level increase has the potential to greatly accelerate in the future.

Many of the creatures on the internet insist that slowing or preventing climate change will be massively expensive, but they are wrong. Over a period of decades, fifty dollars a year per person in the developed world should be enough to cut CO2 emissions by half or more. Compared to the possible costs of climate change this is likely to be a very good investment. However, I can discuss the details in another essay. Currently I feel I’ve written enough about idiots and how wrong they can be.


At 4:35 AM, Blogger Hal said...

Your initial statement has an inherent fallacy, namely, the internet doesn't really exist.

Always check your references!

Long live Jesus!

(or as we say in America's Wang, ¡Vive Sr. Jesus!)

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Ronald Brak said...

Well Hal, I was going to reply to your statement about how the internet doesn't really exist by saying something profound along the lines of, "Well no wonder I've never gotten pregnant from internet porn then," but I decided not to, as this is a serious post about a serious matter which requires me to seriously respond in serious ways. So, as penance please leave a serious comment about climate change. Such as, "Will Canada become habitable for humans," or "If we all opened our windows and cranked up the air-conditioning, would that prevent global warming?"

At 11:44 PM, Anonymous jfarm said...

How ironic that the Green movement scared the public into all but killing new nucear reactor development, forcing the burning of fossile fuels instead. Instead of possible local disasters, we now appear to have a certain global disaster.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Steve Kanter said...

There is no denying that CO2 has some impact on global warming. The question is how much?

when we only have accurate temperature measurements for most of the world back to the second world war, the science is hard to prove. And you can program computer models to reflect your underlying assumptions. If your assumption is that CO2 buildup will cause global warming, then thats the result you will get.

I find it hard to believe fully the extent of human responsibility for climate change, when only in the last thousand years it was much warmer (in the dark ages) and much colder (mini ice age).

When we don't understand the fluctuations in the earths orbit, tilt (beyond every years change), and the amount of energy the sun produces (during the mini ice age it was noted the sun had no sun spots on it) how can we even begin to model these complex problems.

Middle of the road is the way to go. Mandatory car emissions standards, nuclear, hydro, and wind power, while tackling smog and particulate polution in a big way.

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous The Bard said...

"Being stung by a male platypus and then losing your mind and cutting off your own hand with an axe to try to stop the pain is perfectly natural, but still it's something that you might want to avoid."

There's something I think about every day. Really though, apocalypses are baaaaaaaad. Exit Mundi has a lot of them. I hope I remembered how to write html.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Nishu&Nicks said...

Errr... I don't wanna nitpick - but maybe I do...

Its not CO2 that restricts the flow of oxygen in the blood, it is CO. CO2 is carbon dioxide, CO is carbon monoxide...

Also, if it were actually possible to open our windows with the air conditioners on, it wouldn't get cooler, just hotter and hotter... air conditioners act as sinks, sucking in heat from inside and pushing it outside... of course the air they push outside is hotter than what they pulled from inside - thats coz they use energy to work and this energy gets turned into heat


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