We are fiddling while Rome is burning.
Follow me down this road.
Look in the lower left for Toolbox and Tailpipe Tally
Here is what you would have seen. The site has been taken down, retired, as they say.
How could this be? How could burning 424 gallons of regular gasoline result in 4 tons of CO2? I decided to ask my friend Mark Baldwin, an atmospheric scientist. (The stuff he works on is way over my head.) He explained to me that carbon has a molecular weight of 12, but CO2 has 2 molecules of oxygen attached to it. Oxygen has a molecular weight of 16. Two times 16 plus one at 12 gives us a total molecular weight of 44. 44 divided by 12 is 3 and 2 thirds.
Imagine holding a container with a gallon of gasoline. It weighs 6.2 pounds. The carbon in that gallon makes up 85% of its weight. Now burn that gallon in an engine. When you look at the tailpipe of an idling car, you don't see anything coming out. You could assume that the gallon of gas has just disappeared. Except it smells bad, so you know you shouldn't breathe it. That's the pollution that causes smog. What you can't relate to is the invisible trace gas called CO2.
So the bad news is that when we burn a pound of carbon in fossil fuel, we end up with 3.67 pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere. A 2001 Ford Expedition 4WD generously contributes 16,505 pounds over the same 12,500 miles. 8 tons of CO2!
Whoa! This could add up fast.
Even the Prius and Honda Civic put out a lot.
What appears to be happening is that we have created a transfer process whereby we are transferring the carbon in fossil fuels in the ground into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.
This is happening through the miracle of the Law of Conversation of Matter. This is a real law. It says that there is no detectable change in the quantity of matter during an ordinary chemical reaction. Internal combustion is an ordinary chemical reaction. A nukeyouler reaction is extraordinary. So everyday, when we jump in our buggies and head to work, we contribute our part to a real problem.
Microsoft Encarta eloquently states:
What I find so surreal is that this issue is not more present in the public discourse. We are fiddling while Rome is burning. Various scientific organizations have expressed their concern and sometimes used terms like mankind's activities may have an impact on long-term climate change. Well, duh!
Day in and day out, all over the world, we burn fossil fuels to provide motion, warmth, coolth and light. We power our lives with fossil fuels. Is it inevitable that we would transfer all that subterranean carbon into atmospheric carbon? We would hope not.
There are those who dismiss global warming saying that there needs to be more study. Study and procrastinate at your peril. Fossil fuels contain carbon. Internal and outternal combustion changes the form of carbon into carbon dioxide. What's the argument? The more carbon we burn, the more carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. It's a law. It's tempting to say harsh things about people like Senator James M. Inhofe. He needs to have a sit-down with the closest junior high school teacher and then talk with Wally Broecker and other scientists.
You have to appreciate the chutzpah we are showing when we wonder if burning billions of tons of fossil fuels might have an impact on the chemistry of the atmosphere.
Nature had millions of years to stabilize an atmosphere at 20% oxygen, 79% nitrogen and a bunch of trace gases including CO2. There are sinks and sources of CO2. The oceans and forests are sinks. Fires, volcanoes and flatulence are sources. Especially cows. Cow farts are a major source of methane, another green house gas.
It appears that the data supports the law.
Increased atmospheric CO2 has had an effect on the oceans, putting Great Britain and Northern Europe at risk.
Think back 150 years, 1854. Just before the Civil War. People got around on horseback, heated their homes and cooked with coal, peat and wood. Life was a lot less energy intensive and there were far fewer of us. It is reasonable to say that mankind's activities had little impact on global climate. But by 1950, we had WWII behind us and we were growing. Lots of people were able to buy cars and move out of the city. We were told to see the USA in a Chevrolet. Suburbs were born. Suburbans were born. A new culture, based on low cost regular, was created and continues today with little concern for the future. It is outrageous that we are pummeled with ads to buy the newest SUV or manly truck, when the car companies know they are contributing to the problem. They are compelled by their boards and stockholders to maximize their investment by continuing to build these high profit models. These companies would argue that their people are as smart as those of any other company. If they know they are building products that make the problem worse, they have to rationalize it the way war criminals justify their actions. They have to know that every unit of fossil fuel carbon ends up as 3.67 units of CO2. This can't go on.
We have done a lot of damage already. Changes to the polar regions are apparent today. See http://www.climatehotmap.org/. Increased CO2 levels seem pretty closely tied to adverse climate changes. It appears to create droughts. Check out. All of the western states are in drought conditions. Combined with wrong-headed forest management practices, we are in for another bad season fighting fire. Forest fires are a terrible problem in Russia.
It also has negative impacts on ice shelves. And another article on nasty droughts. And hot summers. Violent storms will occur more frequently. Global warming will effect weather in many ways including hotter summers with more humidity. The oceans are going to take a beating. The insurance companies are getting interested in global warming as it represents the next big thing in claims. Recently, I read that the Blackout of 2003 gave University of Maryland researcher Russell Dickerson a unique opportunity to measure the impact on the atmosphere of shutdown power plants. Here is an abstract of his article. Here is another article about it.
We are going big bathroom in our kids' mess kits. We are going to leave them with a world for which they will despise us. What are you going to say in 20 or 30 years when your grandson tugs on your sleeve and asks you, "Hey Granddad, what kind of car did you drive back in the 1st decade?" It is easy to imagine life then as an extension of the lifestyle that we have created so far. It appears unlikely that that will be the case. We are experiencing the effects of Hubbert's Peak. As the world's demand for oil increases and production slows, the price will continue to go up. We are entering the Long Emergency. In August 2005, oil hit $66 a barrel. Refineries are maxed out. Pump price is headed for $3/gal. China and India are growing fast. What is life going to be like when oil hits $100?
York Times reports, "The nation's trade deficit surged in June to its
highest level in four months, pushed up by the rising cost of imported oil
and the reluctance of foreigners to purchase more of what America
It is clear to me what has to be done and equally clear about the momentum that the fossil fuel culture has. It seems like a very difficult undertaking to convert people to an energy conserving culture. (I love it when I see G.W.Bush interviewed on his Crawford ranch with a big ol' Ford F350 duelie in the background.) I don't know whether it is human nature or an American trait that requires an impact event, a 9/11. When the brown material hits the air circulation device, we will be awakened to the impact our lifestyle has had on the planet. The planet is going to get back at us.
Visit http://www.hydrogen.co.uk/h2_now/journal/articles/2_global_warming.htm for a weighty article. Also, check out this recent piece.
And now this...
"Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire
warnings could no longer be ignored.
Forbes.com has a good article right here.
I like serious TV. Recently, Alan Alda did a story for Scientific American Frontiers. See - > http://www.pbs.org/saf/1404/
The Europeans seem to be much further ahead of us in the culture change necessary to get on track from an emissions standpoint. Here is a CNN article.
Amory makes the most persuasive argument for dealing with the end of oil.
See Hard Path.