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Climate Change

Blue Atmosphere

Earth's Atmosphere as seen from the Space Station
It's all we have -
Notice just how thin it really is.

Posted on January 8,2011
Revised on 7/27/2017

My article about ‘Our Changing Earth’ drew a lot of fire from you. You made it clear to me that you thought the CO2 pollution problem was nothing more than a way for those who want to cash in with cap and trade or somehow use global warming as a scare tactic for political gain. But I repeat, human activity can and does influence the climate and ecosytem. We discharge greenhouse materials into the atmosphere and generate heat - both serve to influence Earth's heat-gain/heat-loss ratio. But always be mindful that the Sun is the main contributor. Ultimately, what we do is only ancillary in comparison to the Sun. Only a few of you recognized CO2 for what it is, a semaphore signaling to us that those ingredients that make up the planet’s atmosphere as we know it, are changing. Like it or not, we are contributing to the process of climate change. And that change may or may not be beneficial to humanity.

The difference between having a warmer or colder world rests with the heat-gain/heat-loss ratio. Any change in this ratio results in a warming or cooling of the Earth until the heat-loss/heat-gain ratio rebalances at a different level. It will either be warmer of cooler depending on how the original ratio was unbalanced. The thermostat for the Earth is nothing more than the balance between heat gain and heat loss. It is analogous to maintaining the temperature in your house. In winter if you have allowed the house to get too warm, the problem is easily solved by getting rid of the excess heat by opening a door to release the heat, or, reducing the heat level being generated in the home. Our comfort depends upon managing heat.

The Earth, although the same principle applies to its being warmer or cooler, it is not as simple as opening or closing a door. CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it very briefly absorbs some of the infrared spectrum. Our atmosphere is our door for venting heat. CO2 helps to close the door. But on the good side, without greenhouse gases in all of their forms, Earth would turn into an ice ball.

Restricting the heat loss (insulation or closed windows and doors) or increasing the generated heat will change the temperature of the house. In the summer, staying cool means removing heat at the same rate it enters. To actually lower the temperature of the house, we must remove heat faster than heat can enter. After reaching the desired temperature, a good thermostat maintains the heat-loss to heat-gain ratio.

Change is inevitable if our atmosphere keeps gaining CO2 and other pollutants that delay heat trying to escape, the Earth will warm. Greenhouse gases act as restrictors to the heat trying to radiate into space. Additional restrictions to the escaping heat can only have one conclusion; it creates a backlog of heat waiting to escape. Any change in the rate of heat loss will create a warmer or cooler Earth, depending of course, upon whether the restriction of heat flow is increased or decreased.

But greenhouse gases only make up a piece of the puzzle that is influencing climate change. Another piece of the puzzle is our increase in the production and use of energy.

Besides CO2 generation, human activity attacks Earth’s heat regulation system from another place. One such place is heat generation through energy production and use. Practically every facet of human activity generates waste heat. One such source of waste heat comes from being mobile. Moving around the planet whether we move by car, plane, or train requires energy. Our way of life produces waste heat. Generating heat puts the heat-loss/heat-gain ratio at risk. If we could just open that window to get rid of the extra heat we generate, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Without a way to facilitate heat removal from the Earth - the heat we produce will ultimately increase the mean temperature of Earth. Again, it is just like in your home, when you turn the furnace up, the house gets warmer unless you provide a way to lose the extra heat.

The production and use of energy produces heat. We also generate waste heat when we move heat from one place to another. Remember, air-conditioning moves heat from where is not wanted to where heat is not objectionable. If the process of moving heat around were a zero-sum game, meaning, that if the movement of heat just meant shooing it from one location to another, all would be well. But moving heat around requires energy and since moving heat around is not very efficient, the process requires even more energy to overcome the waste. Heating and cooling our homes, and places of business combined with transporting people, goods, and services around the planet make up the bulk of waste heat we, as individuals, generate.

The waste heat and pollutants we generate will only increase as the population increases. We need to address those things that we can control before the Earth becomes uninhabitable from a human standpoint. We have no ability to control the Sun, so our only option is to control our activities. I am no tree-hugger but sometimes the hardest things to see are in front of your eyes. Take a good look at the picture at the top of this article. That very thin blue section is the atmosphere that we depend on for our existence.

If you read my other writings about global warming, you will find that I am not a big proponent of CO2 generated warming of the planet. My personal feelings are that because of a very active Sun for the past century, the ocean temperatures increased and caused CO2 to be released in large quantities. But don’t discount the amount of CO2 being released by human activity. Any additional CO2 release just exacerbates the conditions on Earth.

The conclusion that CO2 is the culprit responsible for the uptick in the Earth’s temperature may be just jumping to conclusions. However, excess CO2 generation has other profound effects that we cannot ignore. CO2 flows into the atmosphere from the warmer waters of the oceans and absorbed by colder ocean waters in and around both the southern and northern pole. The rise in ocean temperatures due to an overly active Sun for the past century has warmed the oceans. Warmer oceans translate into an increase in CO2 levels and a decrease in the colder water regions where re-absorption of CO2 normally happens. Human activities add to the excess of CO2 and for the past decades, we have been registering an increase in atmospheric CO2. Other deleterious actions by CO2 may be more consequential to us than its contribution to global warming. Ocean acidification is one such contribution.

CO2 Ocean Acidification Process from: OZCoasts (

CO2 dissolves in water and there is a reaction between the H2O and CO2 to form carbonic acid (H2CO3).

[CO2] + [H2O] <=> [H2CO3]

This weak acid readily releases a proton (H+) and a negatively charged inorganic carbon ion.

[H2CO3] <=> [H+] + [HCO3-]

The release of the H+ into the water will make it more acidic, that is it will drive the pH down. This increase in H+ will also react with the carbonate ion (CO32-) to form HCO3-

[H+] + [CO32-] <=> [HCO3-]

The overall effect of CO2 dissolving into water is that the concentrations of H+, H2CO3 and HCO3- increase and the concentration of CO32- decreases and the solution is more acidic (i.e. a decrease in pH. The world's oceans readily exchange CO2 with the atmosphere. As the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere increases, so too does the level of CO2 that the oceans absorb and therefore increasing the concentrations of H+ in the ocean making them more acidic.

Increases in acidification of the oceans test the survival of shellfish and the coral groups. Human love for shellfish does not help. We dredge, trap, and seine huge quantities of these animals and allow the shells and carcasses to decompose on land rather than at sea. Depleting the oceans of the calcium carbonate present in those shells deny to the oceans a neutralizing ability to the acidification process. That calcium carbonate rotting in our landfills is doing nothing for the pH (acid content) of the oceans where normally they would be having a neutralizing effect on the acidity. Ocean acidification is just one more of the ecological disasters waiting to erupt into a full-blown crisis. I can only imagine the ecological nightmare from large-scale loss of shellfish and the coral reefs of the world that serve as a nursery to so much life.

There is no attempt here to give the impression that stopping consumption of shellfish will solve the problems associated with ocean acidification. Humankind can only control what humankind does. For instance, if we cleaned the shellfish at sea and returned the shells to the oceans, the human activity side of the acidification equation would diminish. Stripping those shells would be a good use for the fish processing ships already in use.

I am an advocate for doing what is possible and in our power to help maintain our planet for people. We are not in control of the Sun, but we are in control of those human activities that further aggravate climate change. Items on my wish list include – population control, efficient use of energy, vehicles that generate less waste heat, and power generation systems that avoid waste heat as a by-product such as steam plants. We do not have to sacrifice a way of life to improve the way we interact with our world. Opportunities are everywhere for the innovations that we need to make corrections to the way we do things. It is bothersome that we will probably wait until the last minute to try and head off disaster. Once we as a people reach the edge of the precipice, will it be too late to prevent tumbling into the abyss?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge..."
- Albert Einstein


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Here are other articles by Robert related to this topic.

Coming Ice Age---Solar radiation plays more of a part in climate change than the rise in CO2. Empirical data points more to global cooling than warming.

Greatest Challenges--- The challenges of our time are not world peace, economics, or political problems. Our challenges lie in controlling our expanding population and reducing our waste heat output.

Global Warming Article -- This article reflects a different position about CO2 and why CO2 is not to blame for global warming.

Our Changing Earth-- The Earth is changing - for better or worse. Human activities are reshaping our planet. We may elect to allow the changes or -- do what is necessary to maintain it as is.