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Global Warming: Confronting the Truth

The Forward on Climate Rally planned by major environmental advocacy groups for February 17 is a step towards mobilizing the public on the critical issue of climate change, argues John Zangas. 

Global_warming_graphicSierra Club, 350 org, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and nearly a hundred other organizations have harnessed their collective energies to focus world attention on the imminent threat that global warming and subsequent ocean rise pose to human societies. High turnout on Sunday will hopefully also make some progress toward discrediting the disinformation campaigns deployed by fossil fuel industries.

Global warming is of serious concern to everyone because of its disruptive effects on climate. Eco-activists have been sounding the alarm about global warming for years and have linked it to the use of fossil fuels. Their efforts have been thwarted by energy companies whose interests would be adversely affected if fossil fuel use decreases. Yet the fact remains that if climate change due to global warming continues, it will negatively affect crop yields across arable land, produce more instances of extraordinary weather events and cause oceans to significantly rise and flood coastal communities.

What is global warming, and what causes it?

Global warming is the heat pollution and increase in temperatures caused by a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases–primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide–in the atmosphere. Although the atmosphere contains only small concentrations of greenhouse gases–only about .038 percent–their presence has more effect than other gases due to their weaker molecular bonds. Infrared radiation which would normally reflect into space is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases and produces heat. This heat is the cause of global warming and climate change.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 20 percent since 1960, according to NOAA, which has kept detailed measurements over the years. The higher build-up of carbon dioxide is why temperatures and climatic conditions are rapidly accelerating.

Hurricane Sandy engulfs the East Coast on Oct. 30, 2012. Global warming may be causing extreme weather events like Sandy.

Many people continue to refute the causal connection between human activity and global warming, but they are simply wrong. Global temperatures are rising primarily due to “human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.” These gases account for most of the earth’s warming over the past 50 years.

We have known since the early 1950s, when data first suggested there was a growing problem with man-made emissions, that energy production by fossil fuel-based sources contributed to global warming, yet fossil fuel use has steadily increased.

The effects of global warming last a long time because nature reacts slowly to filter these gases from the atmosphere. There is no technology to remove the gases once they escape into the atmosphere. A ton of carbon dioxide can take “many centuries” to cycle out of the atmosphere because photosynthesis, the main process to remove it, is slow. Plants absorb carbon dioxide by converting it to food for the biota and oceans can absorb part of it, but during the absorption period, the atmosphere continues to be affected by it.

Science shows it’s speeding up

Scientists have been warning us for years about the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The science on global warming is quite sobering when one looks at the cause and effect relationship between greenhouse gases and global warming. The temperature rise seen in the last 30-40 years can largely be attributed to increased greenhouse gas concentrations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has established this as a point of consensus.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its publication World Energy Outlook, the U.S. is projected to produce more oil than Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union by 2020. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking)–a highly toxic extraction process–can account for much of the increased output, according to the report.

World oil, coal and natural gas production has increased nearly 70 percent since 1971, and with it has been a corresponding increase in greenhouse gases due to carbon emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel emissions have increased temperatures and in turn created more frequent extraordinary weather events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has kept temperature records since 1880, proclaimed 2012 as the “warmest” year ever in the U.S. and the “second most extreme year on record for [weather].” The National Climatic Data Center reported 2012 global temperatures as the 10th highest on record.

The effect of temperature increases on Arctic Sea ice has been record-setting. This year the average sea ice coverage dropped by 290,000 square miles from the previous low point in 2007. Further, ice at the poles is melting “five times faster than it was in the early 90s,” according Erick Ivins of NASA. The polar ice caps have melted “faster in the last 20 years than in the last 10,000.”

A global disaster in the making?

Greenland Ice Sheet surface melting

Arctic expert Peter Wadhams warns that “a global disaster is now unfolding.” He predicts a total “ice collapse” during summer months at the Northern latitudes by 2017.

Why is polar ice important? It works as a “heat sink,” mitigating the effects of heat transferred from atmosphere to ocean. As polar ice melts, it absorbs 80 times as much heat than the oceans and reflects sunlight back into space.  But projections have indicated the northern ice sheets could be gone by 2040. Once this happens, their moderating effects will be gone. The earth’s temperature will then almost certainly accelerate upwards even more rapidly, and it will happen within the lifetimes of most of the people living today.

The forests as well as the ice are disappearing, compounding the problem. Green plants, trees and ocean algae are the largest consumers of carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen in photosynthesis.  Without plant life, there would be almost no natural mechanism to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  According to Global Change, about 16 million hectares of forest disappear each year. Now about half of the forests that once covered the earth are gone.

Global warming denial is well-funded

In spite of decades-long efforts of eco-activists to inform the public, response has been slow to rally the global warming cause on a large scale. One of the main reasons is the interest of energy companies in sustaining the  fossil fuel-based economy.

Energy companies have funded scientific studies to refute a causal relationship between global warming and greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. In fact, the Guardian reported that “anonymous billionaires” donated $120 million to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science. The notorious Koch brothers similarly spent $25 million.

The disinformation campaign has sown doubt regarding an otherwise settled question. The science of global warming is irrefutable, and there will be dramatic impacts on climate if we don’t take action now.

Confronting the truth

Given that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will remain in the atmosphere for centuries to come, eco-activists are implementing strategies to compel government officials to adopt new energy policies, ones that curb fossil fuel extraction and move toward renewable energy sources. If present trends continue, we will have no choice but to prepare for a future with a much warmer climate, less crop yields, and higher oceans.

The good news is that, in spite of decades of aggressive disinformation, large segments of the public have not been fooled. Confronted with the harsh realities of global warming science, they refuse to deny the truth–that human societies will be disrupted in a devastating way without intervention. Right now, 150 buses from 30 states are expected to arrive in Washington, DC on February 17 for the Forward on Climate Rally. For one day at least, the voices of the people will speak instead of vested corporate interests.

 The Forward On Climate Change Rally takes places at 12 Noon on Sunday, February 17 on the National Mall

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One Response to Global Warming: Confronting the Truth

  1. The Wall Street Bull

    In a world where some public officials believe that women can’t get pregnant from rape, citing “science” is tantamount to pulling a quarter out of someone’s ear.
    Future policy-makers are students in our education system right now. We MUST emphasize the hard sciences even if we have to cut back on school sports funding.

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