FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Politics of Climate Change

by Dr. BRIAN MILLER and GEORGE WUERTHNER

Politics cloud the issue of climate change.  We have a global economy driven by fossil fuels.  Whoever controls the energy controls the power.  Some have it and want to keep it. Others lack it but want to grab it.

The first political argument often cited is a flat out denial that our climate is warming. However, the scientific evidence is very clear.  There are over a thousand years worth of data in tree rings, sediment cores, ice cores, corals, and historical records.  The retreat of glaciers and polar ice during the 20th Century has been quantified, and in the case of glaciers, is visible to the naked eye.   Along with lab experiments and 160 years of temperature records, the case for warming is undeniable.

A second political argument recognizes a changing climate, but does not ascribe that change to human causes. The evidence used to deny human implication in climate change is the shifts between 17 major ice ages and warming periods that occurred during the Pleistocene.

In light of that, we discuss natural triggers for changing climate.

Climate can be altered by short and long-term changes in the atmosphere, like volcanoes, global fires releasing greenhouse gasses, or the asteroid that ended the Cretaceous.  Every three to seven years there are linked changes in the atmosphere and ocean that cause El Niño events.  Every decade or so there is a sunspot cycle and every 75 years or so, there is an effect that modulates those sunspot cycles.  The latter can change climate for several hundred years in parts of the earth (but not all of the earth).  An example could be the Little Ice Age of Europe between the years 1100 and 1300.  Variations in the Earth’s orbit around the sun likely caused the recent ice ages of the Pleistocene.  Most of these methods increase or decrease energy from the sun to force climate change.

In our present situation, we see temperature increases in the lower level of the atmosphere and cooling in the outer atmosphere.  We also see night temperatures proportionately rising more than day temperatures, winter temperatures rising more rapidly than summer temperatures, and a greater increase in temperatures at high latitudes than at the equator.  All of those effects are the opposite of what you would expect if our warming was caused by an increase in energy from the sun.

On the other hand, global CO2 records are the highest they have been in 800,000 years of records taken from ice cores.  During these years, CO2 varied between 180 and 190 parts per million (ppm) during global cooling periods and between 270 and 290 ppm during the warm periods.  As of June 2012, we are at 395.7 ppm. The CO2 numbers have increased steadily since the Industrial Revolution.

Another greenhouse gas associated with human activities is methane. Methane gas has 20 times the heating trapping ability as CO2. The biggest human source of methane is livestock production. However, melting perma frost is also releasing methane that has been locked up frozen for thousands of years. Methane is at the highest level of the last 800,000 years.

Greenhouse gasses hold the heat, and that accounts for the lower level of the atmosphere being warmer than the outer level of atmosphere, night temperatures rising over day temperatures, winter temperatures rising more than summer temperatures, and polar temperatures rising more than equatorial temperatures.

The consequences of climate change on rising sea levels, acidification in the ocean, increasing desertification, and the loss of fresh water have been amply discussed.  Much of the time, these effects are discussed as if climate change moves in a steady, linear fashion.  Most of nature, however, reacts in a non-linear fashion, largely because of positive feedback.  For example, higher global temperatures mean that more tundra permafrost melts, which releases more CO2 and methane.

In turn, those higher greenhouse gas levels further increase temperatures, and that melts even more permafrost.  Or, rising temperatures melt ice.  Because ice reflects heat whereas darker surfaces, like blue water, hold heat, melting ice raises temperatures and that melts more ice.  The key is that not only do temperatures rise, they do so at an accelerating, or non-linear rate.  This has been quantified in measuring loss of glaciers, with the glacial decline accelerating over the last few decades.

Furthermore, there is about a 30-year lag between greenhouse-gas emissions and the effects that we see today.  Although we presently have CO2 levels of 395.7 ppm, the physical evidence we currently see comes from greenhouse gases around 1980, when levels were about 330 ppm.  That makes the belief that we can easily reverse climate change through technology change a fallacy.

Greenhouse gases are a serious threat, but we should consider rising greenhouse gas emissions as a symptom of a larger problem–our cultural belief that human population numbers can keep growing without harm, and that those with the means to do so, can continue profligate consumption as if our resources were unlimited.

Alternative energy is not a cure for that culture.  If greenhouse gasses were neutralized today, we would still face a myriad of environmental issues that are potentially catastrophic: desertification, deforestation, erosion of topsoil, dropping aquifer levels, destruction of habitat, pollution of water and air, overfishing in the ocean, growing dead spots in the ocean, salination of soils, and the propensity for humans to unthinkingly displace and destroy life.  Any resource that we use faster than it can be made will eventually lead to more problems.

Finite resources, of course eventually run out. And even so called “renewable” resources are unlikely to keep up with human numbers, needs, or whimsical consumption.  If sustainable means “without negative impact on the future,” then we face many unsustainable problems.  So far, we have been able to exhaust one resource and simply move to another.  But the Earth is a globe and if we keep gobbling what is in front of us, eventually we will arrive at our own back door.

Dr. Brian Miller is the director of the Wind River Ranch in New Mexico which seems to study and reestablish keystone species. He received his Ph.D. from the U of Wyoming studying black footed ferrets.

George Wuerthner is the Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology and has published 35 books, including soon to be released Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. 

Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail