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Our Changing Earth

Posted on December 20,2010

Warming and cooling the Earth uses the same logic as warming and cooling your house. When you produce more heat in your home than it loses, then your home’s temperature will increase. In order to maintain the same temperature, the heat gain has to be equal to the heat loss.

The Earth is no different. If the Earth loses more heat than it gains, then it will cool and vice-versa. Maintaining the Earth at a constant mean temperature means that the rate of heat-loss has to equal the rate of heat-gain. – So, what are the factors that affect the heat gain/loss rate?

Scientists and others who do the research on the Earth’s climate have estimated/calculated that the Earth has gained about 1 degree C. in the past century, and the prognosis is for more heat gain. Listening to these experts definitely leaves the impression that the Earth’s temperature is irretrievably increasing. The experts have narrowed the reason for this heat gain to changes in the atmosphere, with CO2 as the main offender.

However, the viewpoint that Earth’s temperature rise is solely because of atmospheric changes ignores other more significant influences on the Earth’s temperature. Namely the Sun, and heat generated by human activities.

There is one more ingredient that I will neglect because of the controversy surrounding it. And that is the influence of interstellar cosmic rays. Some scientists have suggested that cosmic rays influence cloud formation, which in turn shields the Earth from the Sun, and by that definition, cloud formation acts as an umbrella for the Earth. The cosmic ray variable will not be a part of this discussion. I mention it here only to note it as one of the variables that could be considered in a discussion of the Earth’s temperature. Clouds and particulate matter from volcanoes in the atmosphere have a cooling effect on the Earth by reflecting the Sun’s radiation.

This discussion will be contained to the three recognized participants of controlling the Earth’s temperature – The Sun, Earth’s atmosphere, and generated heat coming from the Earth. I will make no more foolish predictions about the future of Earth’s temperature because there are still a number of variables just waiting to grab those predictions and make the predictor look foolish.

The Sun: In a previous article, about The Sun in the 20th Century, The data clearly shows that the Sun has been an active participant. For almost all of the twentieth century, solar flux and sunspot levels were at least 2 to 3 times that of other periods. Even without the other participants in Earth’s temperature control system, the increased solar presence has to take some of the responsibility for changing the Earth’s climate.

The Twentieth Century: Our temperature rise in the twentieth century was the result of solar output increase, changes to the atmosphere and increased heat generation. All of these forces combined to deliver the climate change now going on. Recently, the Sun has decreased its output, but we still have a steady rise in CO2 and an increase in heat production.

CO2 is not a major greenhouse gas but it does trap heat briefly and thus slowing down our heat from escaping. We, on the other hand, are not helping with our increased heat production. Every additional car on the road, fossil and nuclear-fueled power plant, every fire we build, and our population increase all contribute to an increase of generated heat.

The increase in our population is responsible for a large percentage of the increase in generated heat release and changes to our atmosphere. A larger population means more of everything - cars, power consumption, food, and additional CO2 release.

I certainly have doubts about CO2 being responsible for a major share of global warming since the issue is steeped in politics. And, it is hard to make the case that CO2 alone in such minute quantities can have such profound effects. But there are other charges such as the acidification of the oceans by CO2. The chemistry of acidification is a fact, but there are a lot of problems with ocean acidification without the inclusion of the human element.

Humans take vast quantities of shellfish and other sea life from the oceans. Compare what happens in the ocean to what happens in your stomach. When a person’s stomach has too much acid, the result is heartburn, the remedy – an antacid. Most antacids such as Rolaids contain calcium carbonate that neutralizes the excess acid. The same type of cycle happens in the oceans. The only difference is that we are removing the antacids from the oceans. Decomposition of the bones and shells from shellfish act as the Rolaids for the oceans. Most of those structures are composed of calcium carbonate and other forms of acid neutralizing materials. One of the results of ocean acidification is the erosion of the shells of living creatures as the Oceans try and stave off ‘heartburn’.

It all means that human activity is once again acting in a way that is changing our planet. Who knows, it might be for the best. But unless we address how we influence the world chemically by our actions, the world will change. Our population has grown from 2 billion when I was a boy to over 6 billion today. Tripling our population in just 60 years puts an enormous strain on being able to maintain any status quo from an environmental point of view. It is fair to say that our planet will be much different in the decades to come – and it might even be better.

But for those of you who want to maintain the planet as it is had best be out there telling your story. If you manage to sell the world’s population with your ideas, then most everybody will be pulling on the same rope. If you do not make your case and there is a lot of divisiveness, we are in for a profoundly changed planet.

The Earth has both a waste heat, and an atmospheric change problem. Future climate change hinges upon whether or not we can control our populations, devise cooler methods of power generation, reduce power consumption, and reduce the number of internal combustion vehicles. Waiting for the inevitable crises to force us into making the necessary changes is definitely playing with fire. For right now, the Sun, the only participant that we can’t control, has given us a reprieve. But if we keep mucking up the things we can control, the future could really get ugly. Trends in CO2 is a good place to visit for CO2 data.

"Inanimate objects are classified scientifically into three major categories - those that don't work, those that break down and those that get lost."
- Russell Baker


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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.

Over Population --Population control is a BIG issue. People will soon reach the point of eating themselves out of house and home. As we dominate and destroy the ecology, we are factually making war upon ourselves.

Ecosystem at Risk-- Trying to look the other-way in the face of logical and scientific evidence demonstrating human activity is reshaping our climate and the ecosystem only wastes intellectual pursuit.