Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 23, 2012

We are not winning this battle

Scientists pay attention to a very specific score card that most clearly indicates how the battle against man-caused global warming is going.  That score card is the measured level of CO2 in the background atmosphere.  That number is presently 393 parts per million (40% higher than the preindustrial era) and is rising at an alarming rate of 2 ppm per year (the greatest rate of increase observed over the last 800,000 years).  Thus, that score card clearly indicates that the battle is being lost and being lost badly.  Its a rout!!

Another measure of our “progress” is the level of international and national governmental actions being taken to address this problem.  For an excellent assessment of that score card see:  http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/159945795.html.   In short, that report indicates that essentially nothing is being done at the international level.  There apparently is not an “iota of optimism” that the once-promising Earth Summit on sustainability underway in Rio de Janeiro this week will produce any agreement of substance.  So that score card also indicates that a rout is taking place.

One reason for this rout is:  the  world’s best understanding of the science involved is no match for the deep pockets of the fossil fuel lobby.  That lobby controls the thoughts of the public and any politicians who hope to win an election.   Another reason for the rout is that media of our country does not yet get it.  Most forms of our media (including the News-Record) continue to present “both sides” of this issue – as though that stance is virtuous rather than stupid.  It should be noted that Mother Nature does things only one way – Her way.  Thus, there comes a point in all scientific investigations when opinions formed on one side of an issue becomes exceedingly more valid than those on the other – and that has happened in this case.  While the editors of America no longer allow their precious newsprint space to be used to promote the possibility that the world is flat, they do still provide at least half of their space allotted to opinions for scientific non-sense promoting the remote possibility that man-caused global warming is not occurring.  If there was a buck to be made by promoting the flat-Earth concept, I suppose they would be pressured into doing that also.

Perhaps our best hope for change within the next few years will come from another of Mother Nature’s score cards concerning the frequency of extreme weather events – one of the first expected effects of global warming.  As the Earth warms, the atmosphere will hold more water vapor and what goes in, must come out.  So dry places will get drier and wet places will get wetter.  Also, water vapor provides the major means of energy transfer throughout the globe – the process of condensation is accompanied by an enormous release of  energy.  The big question then is:  how many “once-in-hundred-year” catostrophic weather events will have to occur in the next few years before the public and their cowardly and/or scientifically illiterate elected officials dare to throw off  the death grip that the fossil fuel interests have on them?


Responses

  1. I love this blog, Dr. Grimsrud, and hope to check in and visit often. Thank you for such a comprehensive (and formidable) and exciting look at the consequences that face humankind today.

  2. You can’t win something which is not real…

    EPG’s response: Regnad, please get real!

  3. One reason for this rout is: the world’s best understanding of the science involved is no match for the deep pockets of the fossil fuel lobby. That lobby controls the thoughts of the public and any politicians who hope to win an election.

    Do you have any evidence that this is true? This mantra is repeated endlessly, but I have never seen any sign of it. I don’t doubt that the energy corporations buy their share of politicians, but that is true of any type of corporation. Until we the people fix it, the government (all of it) is for sale to the highest bidder.

    But, that’s not what is fueling the public opposition. There are a lot of smart, well-educated, and outspoken individuals who went on to do other things when you were aiming at academe. They don’t believe the science. They think it is unconvincing. And, they say so.

  4. Tom, How many of those well-educated people who don’t believe in AGW have actually studied the actually science of this topic via a legitimate science course such as that on my website? Very, very few, is my guess. Their opinions are probably based on a mix of “stuff” they pick up here and there in the public medial. The actual science is both relatively simply and very convincing. I wish more folks had the patience to learn it.

  5. I liked your post. Fossil fuel industry is an infra-structure. It cannot be removed overnight. What we should do is to enhance our technology and improve consumptions per one unit of work.

  6. I appreciated your seminar last night at Montana State. I just started teaching Soils at MSU, and we will soon come to the carbon cycle.

    More than half of Americans do not believe human activities contribute to global warming (http://www.climatechangecommunication.org/images/files/Climate-Beliefs-March-2012.pdf). That same report suggests 70% of Americans need “more information before they make up their mind about global warming.”

    Hmmm… I wonder who has information that might help Americans make up their minds? Scientists?

    Do you really think the fossil fuel industry’s “Teach the controversy” strategy deserves all the credit for this? I don’t.

    I think scientists have forgotten how to tell good, compelling narratives, in part because we are trained to talk and communicate like nerds. (I’m a subscriber to Randy Olsen’s mantra: “Don’t be such a scientist.”)

    The issue is further complicated because our audience (students, the public) may not be as scientifically literate as we think they might be. But that’s our fault as educators, not theirs. How many Americans know the 2 largest fluxes of CO2 on this planet–and that we take advantage of (and contribute to) every single time we eat something? How many Americans know what a gigaton looks like?

    I also worry a bit about the focus on that globally averaged CO2 concentration, as depicted at websites such as co2now.org (391.07 ppm), that you mention in this post. It turns out that the CO2 concentration outside my window right now varies quite widely hour to hour and day to day. My preference would be to educate folks on why that CO2 concentration is changing (e.g., how the Keeling curve indexes planetary “breathing”–non-anthropogenic fluxes still dwarf anthropogenic fluxes by nearly an order of magnitude) instead of how “bad” or dangerous our current value (greater than 350 ppm) might be.

    Thanks again for your seminar last night–and this blog and your efforts! Sorry I had to go pick up my kids or I would have introduced myself.

  7. Shouldn’t the score be the “Rising Temperatures” based on the “Rising CO2”? Just asking…

    • Reply to John B by EPG : You are correct. However,the effect of CO2 on temperature is delayed by the thermal inertia of the Earth, due mainly to its oceans and ice. Also, the changes in average global temperature are small, a few degrees C, relative to natural daily variations. Yet those chanages in average T are very important. Consider, for example, that a change in average global T of only about 5 C caused the Earth to change from its last glacial period to the its present condition. And we know that any increased level of CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for centuries – it takes a long time to get rid of it. Thus any existing CO2 level will have time to do its thing in decades and centuries ahead. We can’t afford to wait, of course, to see what all of these outcomes will be. Thus, the measured level of CO2 in our atmosphere is the score card we must pay attention to today.

      • Please bear with me, I’m confused now … [I am going through your short course (it’d be nice to have a transcript)] … but how did the warming from the 70/80’s to 2000 take place especially since the temperatures were trending downwards before then? That would’ve seemed to be a lot of inertia to overcome.

      • John B, Warming during the last several decades is thought to be mainly due to an increased greenhouse effect. This can be seen on a decadal basis. Thus, each of the last few decades has been warmer than the previous ones. Yes, there is a lot of thermal inertia that is very gradually overcome with time. The lag of T increase is thought to be on the order of a decade or two.

      • Yes and e’ve had one decade and are well into a second decade of statistically insignificant warming. (Besides which consensus on that matter has been a moving target – 10 years – 15 years – now “a decade or two” (funny how a decade or two averages 15)

        I have a few comments on your short course, I hope to post them on the appropriate comment thread soon.

      • John, Look forward to seeing your specific scientific questions. One at a time is usually best. Eric

        On Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 8:00 AM, ericgrimsrud

      • I tried one at a time – I now have three questions (last two are related…

  8. Thoroughly enjoying this forum and the posts–and reviewing again your wonderful course, Dr. Grimsrud. Thank you!


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