Monday, December 5, 2016

The Climate-Change Debate (sic)

We are in the Holocene ('entirely new') epoch of the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic ('recent life') era.  The Holocene began about 10,000 years ago when the last ice age ended.  We have been warming since then.  That is, we are currently living in an interglacial period, a warmer period that is sandwiched between two ice ages.  Global warming is thus not a recent development.  It is, in fact, the primary influence that has allowed our civilization to develop.

The current debate about 'global warming' stems from the theory that it is the result of human activity ('antropogenic global warming', AGW), that it constitutes a bad thing, and that it can be 'corrected' by human activity.  None of those positions seems entirely credible, and the science surrounding those claims is often highly speculative and emotion-driven.

James Lovelock in his book "The Gaia Hypothesis" suggests that the Earth (Gaia) is more than capable of seeing to her own defenses, does so regularly, and will correct imbalances although perhaps not in a way we would approve.  It is the fear that Gaia will correct us out of existence that drives the AGW hysteria.

Organisms either adapt or go extinct when faced with changes to their environments.  What we know from our experience is that our species adapts supremely well, in fact sometimes changing the environment to suit our present adaptation.  We have colonized the planet from pole to pole, almost literally.  We have been, briefly, to the deepest depths of the oceans and we are now venturing into space.  We travel farther and faster than any other terrestrial species.  We are at the top of the food chain, but all of that could change in unpredictable and possibly unpleasant ways, we are told by AGW alarmists, if we do not change our sinful ways.  Prime among our sins:  using fossil fuels that produce 'greenhouse gases' such as carbon dioxide and water vapor. 

Note that water vapor precipitates out of the atmosphere as rain, does so regularly, and has been doing so since the Earth first cooled from its pre-life Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), 3.8 billion (with a 'b') years ago, forming Earth's oceans, and setting the stage for the development of planetary life.  If water vapor is a problem, it's news to Gaia.

Note further that carbon dioxide is the primary food for all earthly plant life, supplemented by water.  When carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase, two things (among others) happen:  plants thrive and the oceans absorb additional carbon dioxide allowing organisms like coral to flourish.  At the same time environmentalists are complaining that corals are declining in the oceans, they are trying to starve them into extinction.

Plants, by the way, shit oxygen, and we are very happy that they do.  The molecules they retain are stored as carbohydrates, some of which are very pretty, while others are quite tasty.  It's hard to interpret these facts negatively, at least for me.

Now, it's true that dealing with eons and dealing with epochs are two entirely different matters, and that we mustn't confuse the two, but physical processes don't change with the passage of time.  Boyle's Law worked long before there was a species that produced Boyle and will work long after the human species goes extinct, if such be our fate.  It's also likely undeniable that eventually this planet will slip back into another ice age — that's why we're said to be in an interglacial period — and we'll really really wish we could provoke a little global warming... or a lot.

In fact, if GW is actually anthropogenic and if we can keep up the good work, perhaps we need never worry about glaciers advancing south and covering New York a mile deep in ice.  Again.

On the other hand, there could be worse things than New York covered by a mile of ice.  'New York not covered in ice' springs to mind.

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