In a way, for those in the scientific community, arguing the science behind global warming is really kind of silly.
It's like arguing Newton's Laws of motion with people.
Newton's first law of motion, "Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it."
To most people, this law defies their common experience.
You want your tricycle to move? You've got to pedal it. You want it to keep moving, you've got to keep pedaling. It does not stay in moving.
Everything with which we interact requires us to put in energy or a working battery to keep it going: remote control cars, go karts, airplanes, automobiles, motor boats, snow mobiles, merry-go-rounds, and so on.
Even adults who've studied physics briefly in high school years later will read this law and respond, "Huh? That's not true. It takes energy to move things." The idea that you could shove a rock in deep space, and it would continue moving with no power source seems utterly impossible and entirely counter intuitive. How can things move without a power supply? And yet, they've seen the classic examples of a hockey puck that can continue to move around the rink far longer than it should be able to given it has no motor, and still it doesn't sink in.
Many, will continue to operate on the notion that keeping something moving requires energy, period. They might open the door a crack to the understanding, but that's all, a crack.
The same is true for the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect which I explained in one of my posts from long ago, "The Greenhouse Effect 101" [see external link] is a phenomenon that we've been able to observe working on our planet for over 100 years. The science behind it is as simple as that required to understand why a regular, non-electric, wool blanket keeps a person warm. Does the blanket generate heat? No, the person does. So, the heat stays in closer and keeps the person warmer. The layer of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere achieves the same effect. it acts as a blanket around the earth. If you throw on two blankets, you can keep yourself even warmer. As this layer of carbon dioxide thickens it acts like more and more blankets. The thicker the layer, the less heat that arrives each day from the sun escapes back into the cold of space. This warms our planet. For the previous 600-400 million years, organic plant life has been fixing the carbon dioxide in complex organic molecules. In fact, every carbon atom in every living organism on the face of the earth, used to be free and floating around as carbon dioxide. During that same period of 600-400 million years ago, a massive quantity of organic life lived and died trapping it's carbon molecules in massive form that over the hundreds of millions of years hence were pressed and fused into the organic fuels we now tap from coal to oil to natural gas.
We use these fuels in a chemical reaction that is familiar to any intro Organic Chemistry student and should be for any high school chemistry or biology student if they had an experience science major for an instructor...
organic fuel + oxygen ----> carbon dioxide + water + energy
It's a pretty simple, but powerful chemical reaction. In essence, the original source of the energy produced is that which arrived here on earth hundreds of millions of year ago, captured by the leaf of a plant, used to power via photosynthesis the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into a simply sugar called glucose. That molecule is then use to power the synthesis of all organic molecules used in living things. Wow!
To a self-respecting scientist, it is very simple to comprehend that if you destroy many of the world's photosynthetic engines (primarily forests and sea plants, algae, etc.) while simultaneously ramping up the destruction of the fixed carbon by burning organic fossil fuels, you are going to increase the greenhouse effect on earth. It's really that simple.
As human populations in the last 300 years have sky-rocketed, the demands on the earth's ecosystems to support that increased life and activity have been taxed. If humans planted a tree for everyone they cut, for example, things would be a fraction better, especially if that philosophy were universal in the sense of give and take. Burn a gallon of gas, but grow a plot of garden that removes a similar amount of carbon dioxide from the air – this by the way, is the source of the much belittled carbon footprint concept. Instead, however, humans live the opposite way, not only do we not replace what is taken, we go as far as we can in the other direction. When one considers the sheer number of barrels of oil each day that get burned, and nothing is done to return those now free carbon dioxide molecules to their previous form, the problem is amplified.
There is NOT a person alive who knows the consequences of this or can correctly predict them. We aren't even very good at predicting the weather, how on earth are we supposed to be able to predict the outcome of this one-sided process that releases hundreds of cubic tons a second of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere all over the world?
The worst part, when people talk about a tipping point in our atmosphere, they cannot talk with any authority. For all we know, the tipping point was reached 50 years ago, or 30 or 20 or in the next 5 or 100. We have no idea.
Just like it's very difficult for people to comprehend Newton's First Law of Motion, it's difficult for most people to accept that the concentration of a colorless, odorless, invisible gas is rising in our atmosphere, and blanketing our earth, trapping in heat, and raising the temperature.
Q: Why isn't the temperature rising uniformly all over the planet?
A: Why wasn't the earth completely covered in ice sheets? There are countless dynamics at works in a complex ecosystem.
Q: Why do people say that in some places the temperature is actually decreasing?
A: In some places it may be. Have you ever felt an aerosol can after use? Or a propane tank in use? When you decompress a gas it cools the surrounding. There are any number of reasons why it could be getting cooler in some areas despite the increasing Green House Effect. Complex systems are incredibly complex to predict let alone figure out how to fix.
Q: So, the Green House Effect is real, but is there proof that humans are the cause?
A: Sadly, the proof may only come when it's too late to do anything but build ark ships and search for a new planet. So, no, there's no proof, other than thought experiments that humans are the cause. We know that no other animal that's ever lived on earth, releases carbon dioxide like we do. We could sit down and calculate the amount we release every day. Armed with the figure we could attempt to guess what the consequences of that release would be. In some ways, it's too bad it doesn't kill us right away. It's too bad it's insidious and causing its effect little by little. If people were dying right now every day, it would be easier to get people on board with a solution.
Q: Could people be wrong? Could it be that the Green House Effect will actually be good for the earth and humans if not all animals? For example, these conditions are good for plants, right? They should thrive, making there more food for the animals, etc.
A: Oh definitely. These conditions are great for plants, unless the sea level rise due to the melting of all polar ice and thermal expansion of water to the point that most land plant life is submerged. Land plants usually cannot live submerged. Regardless, if the impact is what most suspect, any period of 'bonus' food and California weather in Maine will be short-lived. The problem with the balance of any system of interacting chemical equations and processes is that nobody can correctly ascertain where the equilibrium in the system will re-establish. If it ends up in a zone that's inhospitable to human life, it won't matter. When you put pressure on a system, it responds in kind. Sometimes that response, however, is unexpected and undesired.
Q: Should I panic?
A: No, but you should get moving. And by moving I mean to reduce your carbon footprint. If every American citizen cut his or her carbon footprint in half, it would have immediate consequences for the better. Now, it might already be too late. It could be that we are already on the downswing toward that equilibrium that will lead to our extinction. In which case, there might be nothing we can do. On the other hand, it is more likely that immediate changes and improvements on our part would have immediate effects.
I've said this before to the conservatives who choose to ignore the fundamental and basic science involved in dire global predictions based on our burning of massive quantities of fossil fuels, who knows, maybe you are right, maybe it is not ever going to have an effect. But, is that a gamble you are willing to take? Are you willing to gamble that if we burn up, as you so richly desire, every last lump of coal, drop of oil, and vapor of natural gas, there will be zero consequences to our planet? Because if you are wrong, there won't be humans on the planet to know one way or the other.
Republicans claim to be the party that protects life? Why do they not care about it once it is born? How are you so high and mighty as to be able to ignore the basic science, attribute all of this hullabaloo to Al Gore (a Democrat, and therefore evil and wrong and self-motivated and fraudulent Nobel Prize winner), and maintain that the green movement is one founded on the principles of destroying the American economy with a carbon tax? Are you really that arrogant as to believe that you know it all, that you couldn't possibly be wrong, and that there are no cracks in your venerable armor that has so protected this country for 200 years? Seriously?
The ironic thing is that this problem/issue is one that shouldn't have anything to do with party lines. It's unclear that if George W. Bush had authorized the Kyoto Treaty, it would be a party issue. Back then, the party were his willing disciples who would have agreed that the earth was flat had he said so. It's entirely possible that had his conservative, Republican government in 2002 enacted the toughest carbon taxes in the history of the nation, we'd be in a very different situation where all citizens of our nation were working together to ensure our survival. Instead, his actions have fractured the science along party lines. But, science doesn't have a party. Photosynthesis doesn't only work in the plants on conservative farms. It isn't only the jet skis of Democrats that move according to Newton's Three Laws of Motion. But people in the United States have been working hard since the Scopes Monkey Trial to put science in a party. They forget that it is only through science we can truly understand our natural world.
The time has come for all people everywhere to put down their gloves, stop fighting, recognize the logic of the science, and work to minimize human impact on the planet. It should not be about profits or margins. It should not be about who is right and who is wrong. It should be about doing the right thing for this planet which we share.