Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Regardless of What You Think About Anthropogenic Global Warming, Burning Indiscriminate Tons of Fossil Fuels Is a Bad Idea

Here's another reason to be mindful of your carbon footprint even if you're skeptical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). From Yale Environment 360:

When we humans burn fossil fuels, we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat. But much of that carbon dioxide does not stay in the air. Instead, it gets sucked into the oceans. . . . When carbon dioxide enters the ocean, it lowers the pH by reacting with water.

The carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution has lowered the ocean pH level by .1. That may seem tiny, but it’s not. The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that there are 10 times more hydrogen ions in a pH 5 liquid than one at pH 6, and 100 times more than pH 7. As a result, a drop of just .1 pH units means that the concentration of hydrogen ions in the ocean has gone up by about 30 percent in the past two centuries.

To see how ocean acidification is going to affect life in the ocean, scientists have run laboratory experiments in which they rear organisms at different pH levels. The results have been worrying — particularly for species that build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, such as corals and amoeba-like organisms called foraminifera. The extra hydrogen in low-pH seawater reacts with calcium carbonate, turning it into other compounds that animals can’t use to build their shells.

These results are worrisome, not just for the particular species the scientists study, but for the ecosystems in which they live.

Here are some other non-global warming reasons to shrink one's carbon footprint:

  • Fossil fuels are nonrenewable resources. It could take several generations, but there will come a day when coal, petroleum, and/or natural gas will be scarce or too costly to harvest. "Clean" energy sources, by contrast, tend to be renewable.

  • Burning fossil fuels not only emits carbon dioxide but also several pollutants that have a negative effect on air quality and, by extension, human (and animal) health.

  • Many of the suggested ways to shrink one's carbon footprint—driving less, using less household electricity and gas, eating less meat—also are good ways to save money. And many of us could stand to save some money right now.

While I'm on the subject of anthropogenic global warming, does anyone else find it strange that AGW has become a partisan political issue? The questions of whether global temperatures are warming, whether global climate patterns are changing, and whether human activity is responsible for these changes are neither political nor moral; they are scientific. I find it strange that pundits and politicians (most of whom have very limited knowledge of the science behind AGW) answer these questions along party lines.

Finally a word to anthropogenic global warming skeptics. If you want to make a fuss about East Anglia, fine. And, if you want to point to data or research that supports your skepticism, great. But please avoid these two arguments:

  • "Record snowfalls on the East Coast prove that the earth is not warming." No they don't. Global warming involves earth-wide atmospheric temperature changes over long periods of time. If you can demonstrate that temperatures are dropping around the world, you may have a point. But a single regional weather event proves nothing. And if you're tempted to crack a joke about record snowfalls and global warming, know that it probably isn't very original.

  • "Global warming proponents have replaced 'global warming' with 'climate change' because they realized that the earth is actually cooling." This is just false. Global warming and climate change are distinct but related concepts. The EPA website explains: "Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer)." "Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns."

Hat Tip: Rod Dreher


Blogger Gerry said...

the "indiscriminate burning of tons of fossil fuels" has raised the standard of living of billions of people around the globe, that is a positive moral good.

Let's push forward with a global electrification project to bring the benefits of electricity to every corner of the planet using renewable energy where we can and fossil fuels where we must.

8:53 AM  

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