I appreciate the numerous emails thanking me for providing an understandable explanation of the global warming scenario. The book, Unprecedented Crime, about which I reported, caused me to start thinking more seriously about man-made global warming. I already was thinking about it, because capitalism owes its profits to the costs that it imposes on the environment, costs that are external to the capitalist entity.
I have been thinking about this since I addressed “external costs” in my 2013 book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism. I am thinking that if man-made global warming is indeed in the cards, as the current evidence supports, the external costs of capitalism will far exceed the total value of all the goods produced over the course of the industrial revolution. Past material comforts will be paid for by future curtailment of life on Earth.
Greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and pride will have proven to be the five of the seven deadly sins that were deadly for planet Earth.
I hope I can find the time and energy to get around to a book on the subject. For now, like you, I am learning. It struck me, as it strikes many of you, how a one or two degree rise in temperature can cause ice caps, glaciers, and the Greenland ice shelf to melt. We don’t think of the Artic or glaciers hovering on the temperature border of frozen and melting. It is not intuitive that small changes can make such large differences.
Like you, I also found it puzzling that as carbon dioxide is only a small part of the atmosphere, how its increase can have such dangerous effects.
While struggling to put what I learned into understandable language, I thankfully came across this explanation in Scientific American:
“Small changes in the Earth’s heat balance can lead to large climatic changes. For example, the ice ages during the last several million years–and the warmer periods in between–appear to have been triggered by no more than a different seasonal and latitudinal distribution of the solar energy absorbed by the Earth, not by a change in output from the sun. The geologic record shows that the differences in ice cover, sea level and precipitation as well as in plant and animal populations were quite dramatic between the ice ages and the warm interglacials. Yet the global average temperature differences corresponding to these radically different climates were only about 5 degrees C in the tropics and 8 degrees C in polar regions.”
In case you don’t understand what is being said, the message is that very small differences in temperature are the difference between ice ages and heat extinction ages.
Scientific American asks this question—“If carbon dioxide makes up only a minute portion of the atmosphere, how can global warming be traced to it? And how can such a tiny amount of change produce such large effects?”—and Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory, provides this answer: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/if-carbon-dioxide-makes-u/ Read it, and you will understand.
Keep in mind that however small the temperature changes seem to you, that it is not a theory but an observable fact that artic ice, the Greenland ice shelf, and glaciers are melting. Indeed, many glaciers have completely melted away. They are no longer present on Earth.
Ocean acidification is also an observable event. weather.com reports this from the just published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
Human Activity Is Dissolving the World’s Seafloors, Raising Alarm for the Future
Typically, the seafloor is milky white and comprised of the mineral calcite.
Today, excessive carbon emissions have turned the milky white seafloor a murky brown in some hotspots such as the Northern Atlantic and the southern oceans.
Ocean acidification driven by human activity is dissolving the world’s seafloors at an alarming rate, a new study says.
Typically, the seafloor is milky white and comprised of the mineral calcite (CaCO3), which is formed from the skeletons and shells of planktonic organisms and corals, according to the study published this week in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (PNAS).
Today, excessive carbon emissions have turned the milky white seafloor a murky brown in some hotspots, such as the Northern Atlantic and the southern oceans.
Dissolving calcite helps to neutralize the acidity of carbon dioxide and prevents ocean water from becoming too acidic. However, levels of carbon dioxide are so high in some areas and the water is so acidic that the calcite cannot meet the demand and is dissolving at a rapid rate. Researchers with Canada’s McGill University say it could take decades to see the full impacts of human-caused carbon emissions on the seafloor but the outlook is grim.
“Because it takes decades or even centuries for (carbon dioxide) to drop down to the bottom of the ocean, almost all the (carbon dioxide) created through human activity is still at the surface. But in the future, it will invade the deep-ocean, spread above the ocean floor and cause even more calcite particles at the seafloor to dissolve,” lead author Olivier Sulpis of McGill’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said in a press release.
Sulpis noted that the rate at which carbon dioxide is currently being “emitted into the atmosphere is exceptionally high in Earth’s history, faster than at any period since at least the extinction of the dinosaurs.”
“And at a much faster rate than the natural mechanisms in the ocean can deal with, so it raises worries about the levels of ocean acidification in future,” he added.
The researchers came to their conclusions by simulating the conditions of the deep sea in the lab. They replicated the bottom currents, seawater temperature, chemistry and sediment compositions.
Comparing the dissolution rates from pre-industrial and current times, the researchers determined recent human activity has significantly sped up the process.
“Just as climate change isn’t just about polar bears, ocean acidification isn’t just about coral reefs,” noted former postdoctoral fellow David Trossman, now a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin. “Our study shows that the effects of human activities have become evident all the way down to the seafloor in many regions, and the resulting increased acidification in these regions may impact our ability to understand Earth’s climate history.”
Nature is the leading British scientific journal. A just published report in Nature concludes that “ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates, with implications for policy-relevant measurements of the Earth response to climate change, such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases and the thermal component of sea-level rise.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0651-8
Last but far from least, here is a report from The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an independent agency of the United States Government: “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” :https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
This short easy to read NASA report makes clear that scientific evidence for man-made warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The NASA report will help you to regain your powers of independent thought from deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry. Remember, you live in a world of propaganda. Indeed, propaganda dominates our world and our history books. Most people lack the scientific education to judge.
Usually, I can figure out what the climate scientists are saying as I graduated from a top ranked scientific and technical institution and then went on to Oxford where my professor was the distinguished physical chemist, Michael Polanyi, teacher of a bevy of scientists who won the Nobel Prize in Science, including E.P. Wigner, Melvin Calvin, and his own son, John Polanyi. You have to decide who to believe—independent scientists who have spent their careers studying climate change or hired guns defending material interests.
I understand that scientists, like all humans, can be mistaken in their view of reality, but at this time the evidence supports the climate scientists, just as the evidence supported the US Surgeon General’s report on the link between smoking and lung cancer. The Surgeon General’s report did not prevent the material interests from casting doubt and preventing action for two decades. According to the evidence we have, we do not have two decades before we act on carbon emissions.
The material interests have the most reassuring story, but they lack evidence.
Humans are, of course, selfish, and they might choose to continue to live well in the present at the expense of the future life of the planet.
Our generations will all be dead. If no one is here in the future, what is the bother?
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts’ latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West, How America Was Lost, and The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.
The 21st Century