What can/should we do about climate change.
Opinions vary from nothing, to drastic action that would upset our entire social order and economic system. There are also two camps as to the type of action we should take, and to what degree. One side says to do everything we can to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and eliminate emissions. The other believes that is too costly and likely impossible anyway. They advocate adapting and preparing for a hotter climate, higher sea levels and possibly a higher incidence of severe weather.
There are those that envision an end of the world scenario but those are actually quite few. We have seen many predictions of catastrophe that have never come to pass. Of course, in some cases they may just have had the date wrong.
An interesting quote from after the Y2K non-event, “Some experts who argued that scaremongering was occurring, such as Ross Anderson, Professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, have since claimed that despite sending out hundreds of press releases about research results suggesting that the problem was not likely to be as big a problem as some had suggested, they were largely ignored by the media.”, from wikipedia.
So what has actually happened? It appears, not much of anything. The climate may have warmed a tiny bit, seas may have risen a tiny bit and it is possible the rate of change may have sped up a bit. It is also possible that there has been no warming in the last 15 years or so.
Have instances of extreme weather increased? Well there are quite a few who would like to convince us of that, but there is precious little incontrovertible evidence. In fact, a warming climate should decrease temperature gradients across the globe and as a result reduce incidences of extreme weather.
One thing is certain. Those that advocate drastic action, are almost exclusively setting their sights on anthropogenic GHG gases, and in particular CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.
I came across this quote “we know anthropogenic climate change is real because there is no other likely candidate cause, the CO2 rise is unquestionably the result of our activities” attributed to Coby in Science Blogs.
Who is Coby? I first thought this to be Coby Lubliner. “a professor of engineering science; I still have the title, with “emeritus” thrown in. My work involved primarily teaching, doing research in, and writing papers and books about the mechanics of solid bodies.” I apologize profusely to Mr. Lubliner. I am now fairly certain the author is Coby Beck, a blogger from Vancouver, Canada with no scientific background whatsoever and as such can be excused for making such an unscientific statement.
I am having fun with quotes. I will include a couple more.
"Only two things are certain: the universe and human stupidity;
and I'm not certain about the universe."
-- Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
"That's how science works — you take what you think is right, and you go ahead and see if you can prove it's wrong” Jessica Madeleine Theodor -Associate Professor Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.
That is the point. There is nothing in science that is unquestionable and I would question the thought processes of any scientist that uses the word.
One more quote.
“The force of gravity is relatively simple, and we can predict the position of the planets far in advance with great accuracy because gravity is just about the only force that needs to be considered in those calculations. But the complexity of the climate system, and especially how it varies, is orders of magnitude more difficult to understand. It currently exceeds our ability to usefully predict its future state.” – Dr. Roy Spencer
“Just because scientists work on a problem doesn’t mean they understand it.” – Dr. Roy Spencer
I recently came across a study where researchers ran a model out to the year 3000. Can you imagine all the possibilities for inaccuracies in a model trying to account for all the variables over 1000 years?
I have picked the following quote from an IPCC report but I find it many times in climate discussions. “Thus the climate is capable of producing long time-scale internal variations of considerable magnitude without any external influences.” Considerable magnitude? How do you calculate these variables into a model. Doesn’t the inference that external influences are not needed, mean that many things will be completely unpredictable? Does it mean, that almost anything can and will happen? I am completely at a loss as to how a model run out to the year 3000 could have any value whatsoever, You will have to read about it yourself and come to your own conclusions. It appears to me to be a fun project by students, that is taken altogether too seriously by media.
What can we do about climate warming? Is there some possibility of slowing it, arresting it or reversing it?
Well, reversing the trend could be dangerous. The planet has done it on its own several times in the past, and the consequences have been kilometers deep ice on top of where many of us live.
Arresting it? Well it appears that would require the end of almost all human activity on this earth as well as taking action against all natural tendencies towards warming.
Slowing global warming is at least theoretically possible. Eliminating anthropogenic CO2 emission from the burning of fossil fuel may slow the increase in atmospheric CO2 and perhaps slow that portion of warming for which it is responsible. This is an indirect approach, that relies on the assumption, that human produced greenhouse gases are a significant contributor to temperature rise. It also relies on the accuracy of predictions that see future temperature rises as a result of human activity.
There are other possible actions that could have some minimal effect.
How would we know what impact we were having on the climate? We probably would not have any evidence other than a possible decrease in atmospheric CO2 with an anthropogenic signature. Since we have no other planets to use as a control in this type of experiment, it would be nearly impossible to determine what part of any possible change we were responsible for.
That brings us all the way around. How do we know what proportion of perceived warming is a consequence of human activity. All we really have is a rather thin correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and planetary temperatures. How can we know what other factors would have come into play in the absence of human beings, or what factors may come into play in the future.
Right now, common sense, and even personal observation, would seem to indicate that we are having an affect on the earths climate.
Common sense would also seem to indicate that we can do little about it without having many negative effects on individuals and society. We have to be careful that any policies we implement as cures are not worse than the disease.
Forget about government, What can you and I do.
Well we won’t forget about government altogether. There are some excellent initiatives (like this one) by the government or by institutions supported by governments. What worries me is when governments take actions that discourage and punish rather than following a policy of encouragement. One example is taxes and penalties for carbon emitting. Many scientists advocate this route to reducing fossil fuel burning.
There are some areas where discouragement could do some good, such as higher taxes on needlessly large homes or vehicles or fines for needless burning of anything.
Little consideration is given to collateral damage. The immediate impact of this carbon taxation is to increase the cost of food, home heating and cooling and transportation in general. Of course it is the poorest segment of the population that will feel the most effect. There will likely be little influence on the habits of the rich past a little complaining at the gas pump. It will, of course, increase the competitive position of alternative energy and transportation methods, but does not in itself encourage research and development of better and cheaper methods.
But what can we do as individuals or communities.
As has been indicated before, there are two basic choices, remediation or adaptation. Each individual or local group can only have minuscule effect of remediation but the cumulative impact could make the effort worthwhile. Adaptation has its impact locally on local groups or individuals.
One of the more effective initiatives by individuals or groups is to convey ideas to governments. It is important not to convey ideas that will cause any significant harm to other segments of the population. They are difficult for governments to implement and have a tendencies to make enemies for any movement. Activists tend to make this mistake and become absolute nuisances to the general populous. Their messages and solutions are lost because they are impractical to apply and would cause harm to many. This is partly what I mean by encouragement as opposed to discouragement.
Do not underestimate the importance of local governments and institutions. Collectively they can probably be more effective than national governments or institutions such as the United Nations.
What can I personally due to directly reduce my impact on the environment in general and on warming in particular? Well, guess what, almost every action you take to reduce your environmental impact also has the effect of lowering your contribution to global warming. It all comes down to less energy use.
It is time to be more specific. I will deal with remedial action first. Basically reduced energy consumption.
Personal transportation choices are among the most important. Choose to travel less and walk or bike where possible. When you replace a vehicle choose the most efficient that is practical, but not replacing for a year or two longer will have even more impact. Choosing an electric or hybrid vehicle may be practical for you, and will at least reduce tailpipe emissions.
Installing solar panels or using other fuel free methods of energy production may be practical in your case. Remember that most manufacturing is energy intensive and careful consideration is needed. However, energy is the major cost in most products, so if it makes economic sense for you it will probably reduce your impact.
Growing as much of your own food as practical, and buying locally, reduces the need for transportation and can have economic and health benefits for you.
Depend less on prepared, heavily processed and packaged food. Cooking your own can be fun, healthier and much less costly.
Smaller, more efficient housing makes sense. Even going as far as net zero energy use.
Do your laundry in cold water. Take shorter showers instead of baths. Replace your incandescent bulbs with LED. Wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat. Don’t heat or cool rooms you aren’t using or the house when you are not there. Of course, in a cold climate you must keep your house above freezing. Save rainwater from your roofs for garden and landscape.
Use less concrete and metal (concrete and metal are large sources of GHGs during their manufacture) and use more wood. Wood stores carbon for an extended period. Plant trees for the same reason. Fruit trees are a way to provide food for your family and wildlife, as well. Trees also provide shade and, through transpiration will cool the immediate area.