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Global Warming for VotesWe finally decided to address this issue of global warming because, as usual, nobody is doing it the way it should be done. This is so because -as we shall see- politicians screwed it all up and to make matters worse, people, regular people, do not understand science. No, we are not saying that they can't read a simple result or review a plot; what we are saying is that they do not understand the scientific process and its complexities. Let's begin.

HARDCORE SCIENCE

In order to understand what's going on with the science, we need to take a look at the science itself.

Warming

Is the world actually warming? Yes, but we need to understand the context. It is warm in relation to past temperatures. We have all seen the graph below:

Global Warming Temperatures

But not too many people have seen this one where we go back in time even more:

Global Warming Temperatures

It is obvious from this picture that the worry is that we have surpassed the peak temperature of the recent past. This is bad. But in order to obtain an even better idea of what's going on, we must move even further into the past. Take a look at this:

Global Warming Temperatures

It is obvious from this picture that we are not even close to the highest temperatures that the earth went through since the distant past. This is good.

Oh, but wait a minute; this is a contradiction. On the overall score, is this good or bad? Dear reader, welcome to science. Just because you can read a graph this does not mean that you can grasp all the implications. Nor that the graphs themselves are fully known. Nor that the data that was used to make those graphs is representative. Nor that data that is representative is error-free! See what we mean?

Fine. But what does this information actually mean?

It means that the earth is actually warming but it also means that we won't find the consequences looking at temperatures alone.

Why Is the World Warming?

There are many possible explanations but scientifically speaking, we have narrowed them down to greenhouse gasses.

The table below will give you an idea of the problem:

 

Gas

% in Atmosphere

% Greenhouse effect

% Gas produced by humans

Water

3 %

50 %

0 %

Carbon Dioxide

0.04 %

12 %

27 %

Ozone

0.00001 %

3 %

Don't know

Methane

0.0002 %

Don't know

60 % (maybe)

Others

Don't know

35 % (maybe)

Don't know

 

As you can see, the picture clearly points towards water. All we need to do is to remove water from the atmosphere and we will solve the problem, right? Obviously not. Water is natural. Then, what do we remove? Obviously the CO2 is not the culprit as its concentration is ludicrously low (only 0.04%). Well, no. Even at those low concentrations, it still has a significant effect. OK then, so we remove the CO2 right? Not exactly. We have a great deal of "other" gases with a much greater impact on global warming. So what do we do?

Excellent question grasshopper.

Now you are beginning to grasp the problem. The issue is not only which gas or gases contribute to global warming, but why? It so happens that the interaction between gases matters. The capacity of those gases to accumulate heat matters. The feedback (i.e. positive or negative reinforcement) of those gases on the greenhouse effect matters. And herein lays yet another problem. It so happens that we don't fully understand the positive feedback that the CO2 is involved into. Heck! For that matter we don't understand other feedbacks. Take for example Methane. Why is it rising? It shouldn't be. Is this a positive feedback from global warming or is it something else?

Sun issues

But how about the sun. Doesn't it provide the main source of energy for the earth? Yes, it does, but its contribution hasn't changed in a while, so this would indicate that is not the culprit, right? Well, not exactly. Huh? What matters in the end is the amount of solar energy absorbed and this amount changes with atmospheric dynamics, surface dynamics, feedback processes, thermodynamic states and the distribution of atmospheric gases. So, even if the sun is not to be blamed, it does have a role to play. Problem is, we don't exactly know how strong or weak this role is.

Models

In order to better understand the complexity of global warming, we develop mathematical models. In these models we introduce all the mechanisms we know and all the data that was measured and we came up with a previous-cast and a future-cast. This is how we test the models. They must be able to describe what happened in the past and also to forecast what will happen in the future. Thus, models are to be trusted, right?

Well, no exactly.

There are a few problems. The first one is that we simply don't understand the complexities of the world and so we don't know if we have included all the main variables in our models. Even if we did (and this is very unlikely), we don't fully understand all the involved processes. Even if we did, our measurements are far from being error-free.

And so, what does this mean? It means that models are OK as long as we don't trust them too much.

Other issues

As you can imagine, what we have just described above is only an infinitesimal part of the scientific knowledge that goes into researching global warming. It is not our intention to lecture about these issues, but to give you a taste of the massive problems that need to be elucidated and resolved just to understand global warming sufficiently for our purposes.

THE ECOSYSTEM

The problem is not that the earth is warming nor should we take any solace in the fact that is warming only a few degrees Centigrades, so little in fact that such variations happen in our lives daily.

The problem is that our ecosystem has evolved over millions of years to adapt to stable temperatures on average. And herein lays the problem. It's not that the world can't take some variation, it can and it does. The problem is that such variations oscillate around an average. If we raise the average temperature then underlying conditions have changed, regardless of the oscillations.

We understand this does not seem to make sense as it is not an easy subject. Weather on earth is all about a balance of energy. What gets it and what releases it and where it all ends up. Furthermore, this balance is dynamic, which means that it changes all the time. If this would not be so, meteorology would be easy!

It is the change of the average energy (represented by a change in average temperature) that is screwing-up the balance of energy throughout the world. As such, our ecosystem is being pushed outside its expected average temperature and into a range where it has not evolved to survive. If a system has not evolved to survive in a specific environment, it does not. This much we know with scientific certainty. This is the real, actual effect of global warming; that it is destroying our ecosystem and with it, us.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.
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