- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Fiddling while Rome burns, Frenchy?

Posted by: Farinata ( L'inferno ) on December 19, 1999 at 20:54:35:

In Reply to: is global warming good? some seem to think so. posted by Frenchy on December 19, 1999 at 14:57:15:

: Delucia’s study further implies that the overall scientific hypothesis of
: skyrocketing atmospheric carbon is wrong because plants are so good
: at absorbing it and turning the earth greener. If the findings extend
: globally, then by 2050, the world’s forests will eat up fully half of the CO2
: emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels. Kyoto becomes irrelevant,
: and SUVs could be even bigger!

Except that the current evidence is that sink saturation occurs at the level of emission you are describing; fifty years after fertilisation occurs, the CO2 comes back into the atmosphere; which means no net storage at all; merely a 50-year delay in emission.

The IPCC's conclusions acted on in Kyoto were based on the assumption that carbon sinks were essentially limitless; in fact, they appear to be an equilibrium reaction; pass the equilibrium and the reaction reverses; the level of CO2 in the atmosphere causes the trees to stop absorbing more as their capacity is filled.

(Read this article in the 23/10/99 issue of New Scientist...)

There is also the small matter than trees are made of wood, Frenchy.

They burn. And when they burn, the carbon they contain is released into the atmosphere. The Indonesian rainforests and peat bogs contain one sixth of the Earth's carbon sinks; and at the rate at which those forests are being cleared, they will be gone by 2015. Which means that the level of atmospheric CO2 will have gone up by 1/6th.

That's also neglecting to mention that you've cited one particular species of tree; hardly a representative cross-section of the entire flora of Earth; this article points out that a doubling in the level of atmospheric CO2 could wipe out the entire Amazon rainforest by 2099. Which is not good news if you like breathing oxygen.

: The head of the International Council of Scientific Unions (which itself
: largely cheerleads for Kyoto), Mihkel Arber, shot back:

: Your letter on the need to temper scientific findings with
: political considerations, published in Science today, is a
: chilling testimonial to the current trend to limit objective
: reason in deference to political ambitions...The open
: rebuke of a scientific, peer-reviewed paper on political
: grounds…is unacceptable to the scientific community and
: serves only to tarnish the scientific reputation [of those who
: signed the letter]. Your letter confirms…the observation that
: a disturbing amount of politically correct research is being
: done with little care for scientific accuracy.

: Sadly, Bolin’s attempt to intimidate objective scientists is not without
: precedent. In 1996, the IPCC’s longtime chief scientist, England’s Sir
: John Houghton, wrote that climate change is a “moral issue.” Before an
: important 1996 U.N. conference in Geneva, a gathering that greased the
: skids for the Kyoto Protocol, Houghton wrote of his agreement with the
: World Council of Churches, “which calls upon the Government to adopt
: firm, clear policies and targets [read: Kyoto], and the public to accept the
: necessary consequences.” He further stated that reducing greenhouse
: gas emissions will “contribute powerfully to the material salvation of the
: planet from mankind’s greed and indifference.”

: But the truth of the matter is that those pine trees keep growing, and our
: continent continues to become greener.

You can't eat loblolly pines, Frenchy.

The most important crops to the human species are maize, wheat, millet, rice, barley and soya. Commercial strains of these crops are less vigourous than the weeds they have to compete with; this is why a modern crop needs weedkiller and fertiliser. Given a high-CO2 atmosphere, the plants that react to it the best are also the ones that are the most vigourous and adaptable in the wild; viz weeds.

Weeds just love changes in climate; since they tend to be the most adaptable forms of vegetation around; if a CO2 rise means that useful crop yields rise by 10% and weed spread rises by 15%, then you've got a major agricultural problem.

: How 'scientific' is environmental science if those who are qualified to speak on the matter do not agree? And more importantly, what is the WCC role in science?

The vast majority do agree, Frenchy. Climate change isn't an abstract branch of science; if the conclusion was utterly important, then it would be perfectly OK to debate about it ad infinitum. It's not a blue-sky subject; billions of lives depend on it; and the general consensus is that the evidence is strong enough to make some fairly definite predictions now.

While it would be lovely to carry on debating it until the science was utterly 100%, the 90% we currently have is sufficient; global warming is taking place.

Read here - 40% of North Polar ice has melted over the last 40 years; reported 16/11/99.

Read here for more on the subject; an amount of ice sheet with the surface area of Texas has melted in the period.

Read here - unchecked carbon consumption over the next two centuries could melt the Antarctic completely; leading to a sea level rise of ~70m.

Read here - due to a combination of overfishing and climate change, the Atlantic is no longer a suitable habitat for cod; resulting in the EU cod fishing quota having to be reduced by 50%; leading to the collapse of a lot of small businesses.

This is not just because the fishermen are more adept at catching them; the actual number being caught in 1980 was on average 300,000 tonnes per year; with the same technology, the amount is typically just over 100,000 tonnes per year; climate change is the only mechanism that can really explain this dramatic decline.

The oil lobby and the GCC can fund any amount of research; because they are very very wealthy; but they can't counter the fact that the climate is changing; that the global mean surface temperature has risen by 0.5C over the last 30 years; they can't counter the fact that 4 of the hottest years in meteorological history have occurred this decade. And they can't alter the fact that 1998 was the hottest year this millenium; and 1999 is set to become it; despite the absence of an anomaly like El Nino to skew the data.

Human food stocks depend greatly on our not contributing to further global warming needlessly; and the evidence is strong enough now; to stop any positive change just because the oil lobby is against it would lead to mass death and suffering. This isn't pure science; it's the world around us; and quibbling over procedural niceties when people are suffering and dying as a direct result of it is somewhat callous.


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