Global Warming?

Yet still more posted to What is real

Question of the Day May 5th, 2011 ~ Global Warming?

How much effect has human activity had on global warming?

I see merit in all that has been said, and I see it slightly differently (surprise surprise 😉 )

I loved the Carlin skit, and there is a lot of truth to it.

Oil is a renewable resource, but it is renewing far more slowly than we are extracting it, so there is certainly a sense in which we are “mining” it at present.

Certainly there are many cycles and many causes of variation in temperature, and the recent solar maximum is one of those, and we do certainly seem to be making a difference to CO2 levels, which will have an effect on many things.

We have also altered many things on the surface, turned forests and grasslands into deserts, turned forests into grassland, and turned some deserts into productive land.
We have made lots of mistakes, and continue to do so, and we have also learned lots of lessons, and in some areas are doing very well.

The idea that the planet has a stable balance is a nonsense. Globally sea levels oscillate over a range of about 150m (500 ft) on a semi regular basis. The relative stability of the last 10,000 years is the exception rather than the rule. Imagine all the port cities being several hundred feet about sea level, and you have the global average sea levels of the last 6 million years.

The planet is also prone to periodic large scale volcanism, with the resulting massive die off. A die off that caused 99% of most individuals to die would be unlikely to be noticed in the fossil record. It would take something that killed off 99.99% of individuals to result in the extinction of a few species, and the chance of being noticed. Imagine the effect on human society if only 1 person in a hundred survived (which would probably mean the death of all city dwellers, and the survival of only a few rural communities in reduced numbers).

It is interesting also to see all of the contra forces to global warming, like the effect of the contrails of jet planes on reflecting sunlight back into space. The impact of 9/11 and the grounding of the US air fleet is very interesting in this regard. The average US air temperature increased 1.5 degrees in those 3 days. So some of our uses of fossil fuels are offsetting some of the other effects.

Then there are other trends.
Most people have a lot of difficulty imagining exponential effects.
Solar photo-voltaics currently provide about 0.1% of humanity’s energy needs.
The install base of Solar PVs has been doubling every two years for the last 50 years.
To get from 0.1% to 100% is a factor of 1,000.
10 doublings gives a factor of 1,024.
So based on the exponential trends of the last 50 years, we can expect solar PVs to deliver 100% of humanity’s energy needs within 20 years. And based on similar exponential decreases in cost, they should be doing so for less than 20c/watt (total system cost).
Is it any wonder that the oil companies, faced with this obvious threat, have engineered making as much profit as possible from oil while it still appears like a scarce and valuable resource. When it is being extracted at 30c per barrel, and sold at $100 per barrel, the profits are substantial.
But the societal costs of this small group making this vast profit is a reduction in productivity that threatens societal survival.

At another level again; all technologies are toxic at certain levels.
Horses are great at low densities, but diseases from wind blown horse manure were a real problem in cities 120 years ago. Cars were a great improvement on that, and at a certain density, their air pollution becomes critical also. Electric will be better again.

There is no such thing as “is poison” – all toxicity relates to concentration.

I agree that we need to be mindful about our effects, but in a world controlled by economic forces, it is very difficult to discern truth when it conflicts with the short or long term interests of powerful economic forces.
It is not just economics that interferes with mindfulness in this way, but also social and political factors.

Most people have not made the effort to become conversant with logic and science, and feel uncomfortable in such considerations; and thus tend to revert to older cultural paradigms. Often these paradigms were quite successful in a cultural past that was very different from our rapidly changing present.
This tendency to “turn back to the old ways” and to “mistrust the new” is probably the greatest danger to society.

It is relevant to the global warming debate, and it is relevant to all debates about the future of humanity that have a political aspect.

It raises the very deep moral issue – if you can see a danger threatening someone else, and your best efforts at making them aware of the danger have failed, is it morally acceptable to save their lives by overriding their political freedom; or does their political freedom require that they die en masse?

Global warming has an aspect of that, but it is far from the most immediate of concerns. Other high impact low probability events are far more probable to cause the problem.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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2 Responses to Global Warming?

  1. holessence says:

    I love the question that you pose at the end:

    “if you can see a danger threatening someone else, and your best efforts at making them aware of the danger have failed, is it morally acceptable to save their lives by overriding their political freedom; or does their political freedom require that they die en masse?”

    Now if that isn’t food for thought, I don’t know what is!


  2. Hi Laurie

    Yes – I wish it were purely hypothetical.


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