The Big Picture of Global Warming
The predicting of how fast the earth will warm and what the specific effects will be at some time in the future is complicated and open to debate. This is best left to those like the scientists in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with the expertise in the needed scientific disciplines. However, I find the basic tenets of GW to be fairly straightforward, based on well established science and supported by much collected data. As anyone with the capability to read should understand, we are putting significantly more CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than we did 150 years ago and the main reason for this is our accelerated use of fossil fuels.
The advent of the industrial revolution with its increased manufacturing and mass production gave us many conveniences at affordable prices but it also caused a rapid increase in fossil fuel use with its inevitable air pollution and other environmental concerns. Adding to the need for fuel was the increased world population's use of energy for transportation, electric lighting, heating/cooking, agriculture and other needs and wants.
Thus we are reaching a critical point. We are generating so much carbon dioxide, along with other greenhouse gases, that the earth's natural processes that act as CO2 scrubbers, the oceans and the forests & other vegetation, have become overwhelmed and cannot remove the CO2 as fast as we are generating it. Then this atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbs heat from the sun that has reached the earth and been radiated back into the atmosphere. Some of this heat is then re-emitted back to earth,warming the lower atmosphere, the soil and the oceans.
While it is the emissions from burning fossil fuels that are at the heart of many problems, there are certainly other issues related to fossil fuel extraction/use that are also causing environmental destruction. Oil spills have too often caused large environmental disasters, and even some deaths -- events like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and many oil-carrying train accidents. As recently as last month there was a significant oil spill from a Shell Oil & Gas Company pipeline in the Gulf. There have been 147 oil spills in the Gulf since 2012!
Here in Pennsylvania we are very familiar with the water pollution from acid mine drainage which will continue for many more years. Natural gas extraction is a newer problem, but despite the gas industry's denial, there have been a number of confirmed cases of water contamination in PA with varying degrees of severity, including some new cases just discovered this year.
When discussing natural gas it is necessary to understand some of the chemical and environmental properties of methane, its major constituent which can be up to 98% in some areas. Methane is the smallest organic molecule and almost half the weight of air. What this means is that it is very difficult to contain methane in tanks, pipes, or some soil/earth formations and thus it is always escaping into the atmosphere. Methane has a global warming potential 80+ times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period which greatly exacerbates the earth's warming.
So where do Americans stand on the issue of GW and our human contribution to it? A Gallup poll in March of this year indicated 64% were worried about this issue. In April a National Geographic WILD poll found "...94% of Americans believe our planet is warming and 87% that humans contribute at least a little bit to climate change." An overwhelming number of scientists agree that the planet is warming and humans are the primary cause. Temperature tracking indicates that "most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 15 of the 16 warmest years on record occurring since 2001." The U.S. Defense Department believes that GW will aggravate a number of problems that will lead to further political instability in the world.
If such a large percentage of Americans believe the planet is warming and we contribute to this at least a little bit, why do a significant number of our politicians and leaders not believe in global warming and fight efforts to combat it? For example, EPA's Green House Gas Emissions Standards are being challenged by 29 states.
A few interesting facts:
The G20 nations spent $77,000,000.000 on direct subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2014, but only 6% of that amount for adaption to climate change.
In the US the fossil fuel industry spent over $350 million in 2013-2014 in campaign contributions and lobbying. This industry then received over $41 BILLION in federal production and exploration subsidies – a return of $119 for every $1 spent on political change.
What could our lawmakers po$$ibly be thinking?
I will close with a most pertinent quote from Wendell Berry:
The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.
This is a condensed version of a longer article, complete with photos to illustrate the issues, titled “Will Ignorance and Disaster Win Out?” found at www.responsibledrillingalliance.org.
Ted Stroter, RDA Chemical Advisor