Saturday, June 17, 2006

That Extra Blanket

While we were eating brunch today, we were discussing

An Inconvenient Truth.

As good as it is, (and it is good)

We agreed that the point about the biosphere being so thin,

although made, was not adequately explored.

I told the story about how in my speeches, I often ask my audience,

How much CO2 is in the air?

78%? About half the hands go up.

No, that's Nitrogen.

20%? Most of the other half goes up.

No, that's Oxygen.

1%? Only a few hands are left now.

No, that's Argon.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere used to be

270 parts per million.

Now, it 380, headed for 400, and then who knows?

That means we are putting enormous amounts of carbon,

into an atmosphere that is virtually free of it.

And that little tiny amount is what keeps us warm.

If 280 parts is 2 blankets.

400 parts is 3 blankets.

An extra blanket can make a big difference.

You probably don't need this, but just in case you do,

Here are two more stories that reflect

what I have reported on in the last year about feedbacks.

One is the melting permafrost.

Permafrost melt could speed up global warming
San Francisco Chronicle
June 16, 2006

Global warming might be significantly worse than expected during the next century because the melting of carbon-rich permafrost in Siberia could expel hundreds of billions of tons of extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, scientists warn in a new study.

Experts said they can't be certain how large the impact might be, because they can't accurately estimate how much of the extra greenhouse gases will be absorbed by plants and the oceans.

One of the more frightening possibilities is that the permafrost-caused warming could feed on itself in what one scientist called a "vicious cycle": That is, it could trigger the melting of additional ice, which would unleash more greenhouse gases and thus cause more warming, in a self-repeating cycle for no one knows how long.

The melting of Siberian permafrost that has been frozen for thousands of years could eject about 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the next century, scientists from Russia, Alaska and Florida report in today's issue of Science.

By comparison, at present the atmosphere contains about 700 billion tons of greenhouse gases.

"I'm a scientist, so we tend to be conservative in our language. But I would say this could make global warming significantly worse than expected", said E.A.G. "Ted" Schurr, a former UC Berkeley doctoral student who is one of the article's three authors.


The U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced an original estimate for global warming of 3 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, Govindasamy said. He added that the new permafrost data might push the estimate much higher -- to 5 to 15 degrees.

Then, there's this story in the Toronto Star

The climate change melody in my head
A lot of carbon dioxide out there
Toronto Star
Jun. 17, 2006.


In climate change, feedback loops pose the greatest danger, because they multiply the amount of carbon dioxide CO2 and methane entering the atmosphere. To make matters more complicated, there are compensating forces at work as well.

For instance, trees breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen, so as more CO2 becomes available, they breathe in more, grow faster and reduce CO2 levels.

Nevertheless, feedback loops will outpace the compensating forces. A prime example of feedback potential is the methane that can be released as permafrost melts in the Arctic — and there's twice as much methane in permafrost reservoirs as there is in all the world's natural gas reservoirs.


And now I come to what has been one of the most contentious issues of all: Is there a global warming feedback loop occurring in the soil?

New research conducted in England and Wales suggests there is.

Carbon is stored in soil as peat, as humus and as organic litter in the process of decomposing into humus. Soils usually contain more than twice the carbon contained in plants or the atmosphere.


The authors examined the carbon content of soils in 6,000 sites in England and Wales over the 25 years from 1978 to 2003. They found there had been a loss of carbon which, when translated into CO2 by two reviewing writers in a commentary, was equal to the entire amount by which the United Kingdom reduced emissions during the same 25-year period.

The commenting writers conclude: "These (carbon) losses completely offset the past technological achievements in reducing CO2 emissions, putting the United Kingdom's success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a different light."


In summary, then, trying to slow climate change is a terribly complicated undertaking, and it's not going to be achieved through the simplistic nostrums and the reliance on volunteer efforts that Canada's Prime Minister has been offering."

No, mitigating climate change is going to take real action, soon.

We will have to ban the burning of coal.

And we will have to start mining the carbon out of the atmosphere.

The good news is,

We'll use that extra blanket of carbon

to make the carbon nano power paints

that will move us from the age of fire,

to the age of light.


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Blogger respectisthehub said...

It's all about the branding. We need to stop talking about "the planet", which looks big and burly and indestructible from outer space, and start talking about what Gore called the "varnish" of the biosphere, which is wispy and fragile. I would also suggest that we popularize referring to the biosphere as "the halo", or "the life halo" or something similar to underline both the ephemeral and the sacred quality of where we really live. After all, this rock we're riding on is going to be just fine with or without our friendly halo.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Step Back said...

Finally saw Inc.Truth the other day.
I was disappointed that President-deelected Gore did not grok the human animal.

If only I held hearings in front of Congress, he says he thought, they would understand and they would rise up to do something about GW. But they didn't. He never asks, why? Why didn't the intelligent "representatives" of the "Great" Democracy rise up to do what is in the interest of "We the People"?

Gore has a good slide show for science minded folk, but little for the animal side that lurks in each of us human critters.

8:45 AM  
Blogger oZ said...

good point Lem, why didn't they respond to the science?

Why don't they now?

Why don't we?

Where you been lately?

11:35 AM  
Blogger Step Back said...

Just cause we don't post does not mean we are not out here reading your excellent blog on a regular basis. Keep up the good work.

Why don't "they" respond to the science?

Ah, that is sort of what my blog (lemmings on the ledge) is often about. "They" and "we" are animals --emotional, delusional, herd animals. We have all received an Edge-OK-tion that guides our perception of the world and tells us how to respond to our world models. Our specialist educations in freakonomics, business administration (MBA), computer science, stock market forecasting, etc., tell us that living on the edge is OK just as long as one makes a "profit".

We believe that "the markets" will always provide; the Invisible Hand will guide us in the right path; stay the course; government is here to help us; God will save us; "Technology" will save us; etc., etc.

"They" in Congress believe the same things. It's always worked before. So why should this time be anydifferent? Chicken Little has always been wrong up until now. If he weren't wrong we wouldn't be here, right?

This is all "sound" logic. We love the soundness of our "sound" logic. It's who we (and "they") are. Science is irrelevant. Feelings are what count.

3:52 PM  

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