November 13, 2013

Global Warming Is Not The Problem

Global warming is not the problem, at least not for Mother Earth. The planet will do just fine for the next billion and a half years or so, until the sun begins to nova. Then we got a global warming problem. No, global warming is more a symptom of a much more immediate problem, the rapid combustion within a couple of centuries of millions of years worth of stored carbon.

This quote from Fifty Years of Global Warming puts things in perspective: "In 1829, British coal production was 15 million tons. In 2006, world coal production was 6.2 billion tons. At the turn of the 20th century there were about 8,000 cars in use in the United States. At the turn of the 21st Century there were about 200 million cars in use in the United States, 450 million or so world-wide."

Global warming is the inevitable result of this intense burst of fossil fuel combustion. As such, it is a symptom of a larger problem. We are going through the readily available supply of fossil fuels at an alarming rate. The global economy runs on cheap energy from burning fossil fuels. Long before they run out, the high price we will have to pay for petroleum products will begin to put real pressure on how we live.

That being the case, what would be the appropriate response: (a) reduce the rate of consumption to stretch out supplies; or (b) accelerate the depletion of fossil fuel stocks? The answer the world has chosen is: (b) accelerate the depletion of fossil fuel stocks. As Plan B's go, it's not much.

In short, we are addicted to fossil fuels and, like any addict, we are powerless to control our desire for more, even when we know it is harming us. Going cold turkey is out of the question. But we could take the methadone approach, substituting a harmful substance with something less harmful. In the energy world, this would be alternative fuels such as solar or wind power.

This hasn't happened because the market does not price fossil fuels to include the damage they do or, more precisely, the cost of limiting or undoing that damage. We are just starting to do that with coal, accompanied by howls of despair from the coal mine owners. Meanwhile we have an addiction to feed, so we are jonesing on fracking, the crack cocaine of fossil fuels.

Let's review. We clearly have given the planet a fever. This is affecting the atmosphere and the biosphere, from sea to shining sea. The source of the fever is our addiction to fossil fuels. The cure is obvious: cut back on our intake of fossil fuels. This would be a twofer in that we would not only slow down the rate of global warming, but we would stretch out the supplies of fossil fuels, buying time to retool our societies to other forms of energy less damaging to the environment.

So far, the voices of denial and greed have enabled our addiction to fossil fuels. Don't worry. Global warming isn't real. You're not hurting anybody. Have another snort. It's okay. The task of weaning us off of fossil fuels is complicated by the undeniably high cost of change coupled with the still somewhat remote worst consequences of our current behavior. It is hard to get a politician to think much past the next election, never mind the next generation.

As the song says, "we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do." That could be our anthem as we head into a future that should have been far brighter than it will likely be.

Below is a YouTube video that helps put the problem of carbon dioxide emissions into an alarming perspective.

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