What global warming? Look around!

According to news reports President Trump thinks that global warming is a Chinese propaganda plot and has no basis in fact (or at least in alternative fact). Therefore, Trump concludes, there is no sense ¬†in providing government funding for research on it. Why squander taxpayers’ money on something that doesn’t exist?

There is, of course, the troubling fact that thousand of scientific papers and scientific conferences worldwide have identified global warming with increasing accuracy. There is the troubling fact that some of the long term effects of global warming seem to be happening prematurely. Effects that weren’t supposed to happen for years seem to be occurring already. More intense weather: droughts; floods; windstorms are occurring more often than historical statistics would predict. Why is this?

The fundamental driver of global warming is the amount of gases, principally CO2, in the global atmosphere. The physics of these gases is that they reflect heat (that is, infrared energy) from whatever source. We live in a world in which we burn megatons of fossil (carboniferous) fuels. The burning process produces heat, some of which is useful, most of which is not, and CO2! The resulting CO2 acts to trap the heat in the lower atmosphere instead of letting it radiate into outer space. So the scientific community has fixed upon the level of atmospheric CO2 as an indication of the level of global warming that is in excess of where we were a century or so ago.

The consensus of the scientific community is that we should not let atmospheric CO2 levels get above 450 parts per million (ppm). Above that level, it is thought, it is possible that global warming will become irreversible, with disastrous consequences. That level of CO2 would result in a global average temperature of 2 degrees (Celsius) higher that it was in the pre-industrial age.

On April 20, 1971, the atmospheric CO2 concentration at the Mauna Loa (Hawaii) Observatory was 409.76 part per million for the first time in recorded history. The trend is up until humanity behaves otherwise. To get a more detailed look at the history of CO2 in the atmosphere please take a look at the Keeling Curve. Examine the graphs ranging in duration from one week to 800,000 years to get a feeling for the suddenness of warming in geologic terms. Clearly, we’re no longer creeping up; we’re rushing toward the edge of the global warming precipice.

Mauna Loa Carbon dioxide measurement for global warming 20 April 2017
Courtesy Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Atmospheric CO2 ran between 250 ppm and 280 ppm for the last 10,000 years until about 1800, after the start of the industrial revolution, when it reached 280 ppm. It got to 300 ppm around 1920, 350 ppm in 1988 or so and first broke 400 ppm in 2013 at Mauna Loa. Assuming this trend continues unabated we should get to the dreaded 450 ppm before 2038. Unless I’ve misread Scripp’s graphs.

CO2 isn’t the only greenhouse warming gas (GHG) to be concerned with but it is the one most directly connected to human activity. Another GHG is methane (CH4). Methane is more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent but it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as CO2 does. Weeks instead of millennia. On the other hand, as global warming increases, so will the level of methane increase in the atmosphere. This is because huge amounts of methane are trapped in the frozen tundra in arctic regions. Melt the tundra and release the methane. Boom!

Hopefully, science will find that we can exceed CO2 levels without disastrous effects. But don’t count on it. The consensus seems to be that we had better start seriously bending that CO2 curve down by 2020 or we will overshoot the 450 ppm target and suffer the effects.

But what does this have to do with telework? Easy. Telework allows people not to transport themselves here and there using fossil-fuel-burning vehicles. Save those trips and take a deep breath. Every trip not taken helps to slow down our mad rush. Buy and/or share an electric vehicle that’s fed from renewable power plants for those trips you need to take.

Good luck!

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