Lighting the fuse

Most of us have been hearing about mankind-induced global warming for some months now. There is growing realization that something must be done about our production of CO2 in the very near future. Or else all sorts of undesirable events will occur, with increasing frequency and intensity, globally. Despite the fantasies of the naysayers to the contrary, the scientific evidence is mounting that this is the case. There is a long trail of evidence that the natural sources of CO2 began to be surpassed in the mid 18th century, coincident with the start of the industrial revolution. At that time the atmospheric CO2 level was about 280ppm (parts per million). Now the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is closer to 430ppm. The result is that the earth’s atmosphere is warmer by more than half a degree (Celsius).

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Yet that small-appearing warming has already had serious effects, too many to repeat here.

Worse, there’s another effect that may have even larger impacts, sooner than we thought. Methane (CH4). There are huge stores of methane in arctic regions. Methane is at least 20 times more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent. The concentration of atmospheric methane in 1750 was about 680ppb (parts per billion). Now it’s about 1790ppb. According to Katey Walter, of the University of Alaska, in a February 22nd article in the Los Angeles Times this methane is a “time bomb” waiting for a trigger.

Here’s why.

Much of this methane is in frozen lakes and/or dissolved in permafrost. That makes it safe, right? Wrong! One of the features of the current trend in global warming is that the polar regions are warming faster than the more equatorial latitudes. According to Vladimir Romanovsky of the University of Alaska, “A third to a half of permafrost is already within a degree to a degree and a half (Celsius) of thawing.” If and when that happens, close to 2 trillion tons of carbon, more than double the amount in the atmosphere today, could be released. Now that currently-frozen carbon is some mixture of CO2 and CH4 but the exact nature of the mixture is unknown. Even though the methane concentration is now measured in parts per billion, don’t forget its global warming leverage as it reaches higher levels. In any case, whatever the mixture is, release of that amount of carbon would produce serious global warming, possibly a terminal heat wave.

And here we are happily combusting away, lighting the fuse for the time bomb.

Sadly, hydrogen cars are not commercially viable yet and may not reach that status for a decade or more. Other types of cars that are more fuel efficient—but still use carbon-based fuels—are becoming more plentiful and popular. But changing the composition of the automobile fleet to be efficiency-dominant can still take a decade or more. We need to do more. Now.

Telecommuting is available almost everywhere. It is energy efficient and increasingly green as power plants switch to non-carbon fuel sources. It reduces car use in direct proportion to the average frequency of telecommuting.

Try telecommuting, or increase the amount if you’re already doing it. Help cool your future.

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