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“Climate change may have certain security implications, but generally speaking it is in essence an issue of sustainable development.”
  —United Nations Chinese ambassador Liu Zhenmin,
       First UN Security Council debate on climate change, April 17, 2007

Global Warming

During the last 365 days—one year—worldwide human activity has caused about 7 billion tons of carbon to be released into the atmosphere. This figure does not include carbon that is released by natural causes, such as volcanoes, forest fires or by naturally decomposing organic matter. The 7 billion tons of carbon produced by humans (Anthropogenic carbon) pours out of industrial smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes. The term anthropogenic is used to indicate the presumption of human influence.

When renewable biofuels release carbon into the atmosphere the emissions are considered to be carbon neutral because the carbon is continuously recycled from the atmosphere as new energy crops are grown each season to make more biofuels. This is not true for fossil fuels. The carbon released by burning fossil fuels is not part of the natural carbon cycle—because the excess carbon stays in the atmosphere. In contrast, carbon atoms released from the combustion of biofuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol, do not cause a net increase of carbon in the atmosphere because growing the crops takes an equal amount of carbon out of the atmosphere and releases oxygen back into the atmosphere.

Global Warming 101
Global warming could do more than just melt polar ice. It could change our maps, and displace people from cities and tropical islands.

Worldwide burning of fossil fuels will produce and release into the atmosphere about 25 billion tons of waste carbon dioxide (CO2) this year. How do we get 25 billion tons of CO2 from 7 billion tons of carbon? Annual global anthropogenic carbon released into the atmosphere is currently about 7 billion tons. When fossil fuels are burned, the carbon atoms from the fossil fuel combine with oxygen atoms from the air to form CO2. This is why oxygen must be present before fuel will burn—Removing oxygen from a flame is a very effective way to put out a fire.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Friday May 4, 2007 in Bangkok, Thailand

One CO2 molecule weighs about 3.67 times more than a single carbon atom [Q#9]. Consequently, one ton of pure carbon combined with oxygen will produce 3.67 tons of CO2; and 7 billion tons of carbon emissions will create about 25 billion tons of CO2. This also means that 18 billion tons of oxygen will be removed from the atmosphere to combine with the carbon atoms to make the CO2—oxygen that would otherwise naturally be available for air breathing creatures to inhale.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas (GHG) because excessive accumulation of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere will cause heat to remain in the atmosphere; heat that would otherwise dissipate into outer space. CO2 is only a problem when the total quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere becomes too much. How much is too much? When the average temperature of the planet's biosphere increases and begins to adversely effect the world's climate.

As globalization and modernization spread throughout the world, fossil fuel consumption is continuing to grow, steadily increasing the volume of man-made CO2. Fears of Global Warming are focused on CO2.

The Earth's natural systems can no longer absorb or recycle all of the CO2 that human civilization produces each year. The excess CO2 is accumulating in the atmosphere increasing the greenhouse effect (trapping the sun's heat within the atmosphere). If too much heat is trapped the average temperature of the planet and the oceans will increase. An increase of only a few degrees can cause the earth's climate and weather conditions to change dramatically.

If the earth is warming, why have there been so many snow storms?

High temperatures beat lows
Twice as many record-breaking high temperatures have been set compared to record lows across the U.S. in recent decades.
Record High Temperatures Far Outpace Record Lows Across U.S.
— Gerald Meehl, NCAR Scientist

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the ocean surface waters are always in equilibrium. As CO2 increases in the atmosphere more CO2 is forced into the ocean surface waters making the ocean more acidic. Ocean acidity, or acidification, is an environmental issue that may be more damaging than Global Warming. Ocean life forms: coral - plankton - and fish are sensitive to the PH conditions of the ocean. There is a limit to the acidity that they can live with. Experiments at Biosphere II have shown that acidity levels corresponding to twice the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 concentrations stunt coral growth by about 1/3. Pre-industrial CO2 levels were about 280 ppm (parts per million), and we are now at about 370 ppm. If humanity continues to release non-renewable CO2 into the atmosphere, at the present rate, CO2 levels will reach 560 ppm by the middle of this century.

Other than the acid effect on large bodies of water (and perhaps the acidification of soil), CO2 is not toxic, in fact, CO2 is a food for growing plants and trees. One of the arguments in favor of increased CO2 levels is made by those who claim that the increase of CO2 in the air will help farmers to produce more crops. Some arguments even claim that forests will grow faster and bigger because of the increased levels of CO2, and therefore will take more CO2 out of the atmosphere until a balance is reached. There is some truth to this. Some regions will benefit from increased CO2 levels. However, those benefits must be weighed against the evidence that global warming is contributing to the expansion of the world’s deserts. Heat and drought increase the amount of the Earth's land surface consumed by desertification (encroaching deserts). And, the increased warming will cause the Polar Ice Caps to melt. The projected long term problems are severe. The benefit of a few seasons of increased crop yield is far outweighed by the threat of expanding deserts and the expense of losing much of Florida and our costal beach cities to rising sea levels and storms.

Evidence supports the prediction that global warming will continue until human civilization stops releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (and stops cutting down the world's forests). There is disagreement among scientists regarding global warming, but the dark side of the argument predicts ecological devastation.

A number of scientists continue to reject the idea that global warming is influenced by CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere
We believe that there is substantial doubt that carbon emissions are the cause of global warming (GW). Much of the warming effect attributed to carbon dioxide is in our view due to a natural increase in solar irradiance accompanied by a related increase in atmospheric water vapor levels. The latter is more effective as a GW forcing agent than carbon dioxide (we estimate its GWP = 1.75 compared to 1.0 for CO2) and is present in the atmosphere in far greater quantities. We therefore believe that water vapor, rather than CO2 is the dominant forcing agent in global warming (with a little help from the sun and perhaps from other greenhouse gases) and that the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels is a secondary effect.

A rebuttal to the theory that global warming is caused by a natural increase in solar irradiance accompanied by a related increase in atmospheric water vapor levels:
         The problem with the theory is that solar irradiance is not increasing - rather, it is decreasing. This is due to pollution reflecting sunlight back out into space. Incident sunlight on the atmosphere (before pollution has a chance to reflect it) hasn't had a general upward trend, as some greenhouse effect opponents want to claim. It has fluctuated, and there is a general correlation between that and temperature. Sunlight is the prime factor in earth's temperatures.
         The increase in warming we've seen over the past 100 years simply cannot be due to these fluctuating sunlight levels, since there has not been a general upwards trend, and not nearly enough of an increase in sunlight (reaching the atmosphere) to cause the warming we've seen. Plus, pollution is reflecting more and more sunlight out, which would by itself result in a DROP in temperatures.
         The question of how much of an impact CO2 has is still a wide open debate. But, it is undeniable that increasing CO2 levels DOES have an impact. How much is the question. Since it has to have an impact (since it essentially acts like an insulating layer to trap in heat), it is simply prudent to avoid increasing CO2 levels if possible.
         Consider that if you sit in a parked car (with no air conditioning) in the summer, the temperature inside the car gets hotter when it's sunnier than when it's cloudy. So yes, of course sunlight levels have an impact. But, that doesn't mean rolling your windows up instead of having them down wouldn't trap in more heat. CO2 in the atmosphere essentially acts like having your windows up - as it traps in heat (while allowing visible light to pass through).
         The fundamental flaw in logic used by most who don't agree that warming is being caused by CO2 is they want to argue that if we can find any one thing that does have a warming effect, that must mean it is the cause of ALL warming, and CO2 cannot therefore have an impact. The problem is that none of the causes they want to blame can come anywhere close to what we've seen. It's a combination of factors - with CO2 being one of them.

-Michael S. Briggs
University of New Hampshire Physics Department


Global Carbon Trading Scam UNITED NATIONS — An obscure U.N. board that oversees a $2.7 billion market intended to cut heat-trapping gases has agreed to take steps that could lead to it eventually reining in what European and U.S. environmentalists are calling a huge scam.

Health warning issued for global warming —Climate change could bring more smog, floods, drought

NASA puts its weight behind warming signs —Press release on ice sheet survey follows internal changes

Could Global Warming Become a Runaway Train? —Scientists say warm weather adds to global warming because of “feedback loops.”    In a feedback loop, the rising temperature on the Earth changes the environment in ways that then create even more heat. Scientists consider feedback loops the single-biggest threat to civilization from global warming.    Past a certain point ? the tipping point, they say ? there may be no stopping the changes.

China triggers alarm on melting glaciers —Report warns of worse droughts, sandstorms as plateau warms up

Oceans to acid—Oceans act as giant sponges for CO2 - but what eases global warming harms marine life.

Probe into rising ocean acidity—The UK's Royal Society has launched an investigation into the rising acidity of the world's oceans due to pollution from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The change could have catastrophic consequences for marine life.

Climate warning from the deep—Strange things are happening in the North Sea. Cod stocks are slumping faster than over-fishing can account for, and Mediterranean species like red mullet are migrating north.

Acid oceans spell doom for coral—The increasing acidity of the world's oceans could banish all coral by 2065, a leading marine expert has warned.

Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification—Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2C by 2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved. Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems.
     Science Magazine - December 14, 2007
     Vol. 318. no. 5857, pp. 1737 - 1742

References:
Greenhouse effect
Greenhouse gas (GHG)
Definition of Global Warming
The Discovery of Global Warming
Scientific opinion on climate change
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
What Are the Types of Greenhouse Gases
The U.S. DOE Carbon Sequestration Projects
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
—The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change is the leading body for the assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences.

Recommended reading:
Climatic Change and World Affairs By Crispin Tickell, is one of the first books to highlight the dangers of human-induced global climate change.
Are We on the Brink of a 'New Little Ice Age?' By Terrence Joyce, Senior Scientist, Physical Oceanography and Lloyd Keigwin, Senior Scientist, Geology & Geophysics
   —Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises The National Academy of Sciences

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