I wrote this back in 2004
Time to sell the snowmobile!
One of the really big and controversial topics of the modern age is global warming. As an earth scientist, I have been following the subject since its first appearance on the national news scene around 12 years ago. Such discussions seem to be trendy in the media but tend to only appear regularly on slow news days. This type of reporting falls into my category of scare tactic reports. I consider these stories to be a variety of “grab your attention” and try to get you to worry about something report. None the less, there is some interesting data that has been recently examined and is just now coming out.
The above paragraph might make you think that I believe global warming is not happening. You would be wrong. Almost all the evidence I have seen reported by scientific journals and the popular press indicates fairly clearly that we are going into a warming period because of the increases in certain green house gasses which trap heat (Carbon Dioxide and Methane are the big ones). There is no question that levels of green house gasses are rising at rates (atmospheric CO2 concentrations in 1995 were 385 parts per million, more than 37 percent higher than pre-Industrial Age levels of 280 ppm.) that are certainly capable of altering the way our world holds in heat. There are also some indications to the contrary. Our current atmosphere has much more particulate pollution than at the start of the industrial revolution. As a result of the particles seeding clouds, the amount of cloud cover has increased which in turn reflects more solar energy back into space. The net effect of that is to cool the atmosphere. Additionally, higher levels of carbon dioxide makes it easier for plants to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and thusly remove the excess. The same thing occurs in the largest remover of Carbon Dioxide which is the ocean. These feedback Carbon Dioxide removal mechanisms are alive and well but it appears, at least for the moment, we are gaining green house gasses like Carbon Dioxide and Methane. The bottom line is, most of the glaciers in the world are retreating. Hummmm.
Some of the largest sources of methane and Carbon Dioxide on the planet are termites, flatulent cattle, and volcanic sources like Yellowstone. In fact Yellowstone is one of the biggest polluter in the United States. There is no question, the burning of fossil fuels is a very significant contributor to the concentration of the gasses in our atmosphere. The decomposition and respiration of plants and animals is also a huge source. In 1950, two thirds of Carbon Dioxide came from natural processes and one third from man made sources. Today, it would take a 60% reduction in man made sources of Carbon Dioxide just to stabilize the gain we have witnessed in the last century. That my friends, would bring our current world economy to a halt. The widely touted “Kyoto accord” plans to reduce world wide emissions by 5% by 2012. This is a ludicrous drop in the bucket. Personally, I like the idea of removing excess Carbon Dioxide by spreading powdered iron (nutrients) over the relatively unfertilized central Pacific Ocean which would cause a huge bloom of Carbon Dioxide consuming plankton there. The resultant bio-mass of microscopic animals would take huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere directly and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. (This is not my original idea but I heard it years ago from a source I do not recall.)
Warming is not something new as the world has been much much hotter in the geologic past. There are dinosaur fossils in the Antarctic mountains along with plant fossils indicating a temperate climate where there is now an ice cap. In fact, there have been many many cycles of warming and cooling in earth’s history. I am always being asked about “the time” when the glaciers were here. I usually reply with a question of which time when the glaciers were here? The earths past is so long that all things we attribute as being single great events, (“the ice age”, “the great flood”, “the ocean was once here” etc,) are all way too simplistic a way to look at the earth. The rocks clearly record that there have been hundreds of glacial advances and retreats, many many great inundations, and the ocean has covered the mid-continent of what is now the United States hundreds of times followed by hundreds of oceanic retreats. None of earth’s history is as simple as we were taught in school. The world has been much more complex than it seems to the casual observer.
None of the news reports scare me very much. If the natural feedback loops don’t control warming, a big volcano might, by producing so much dust into the atmosphere that it throws us into a nuclear type winter. Worry leads to more worry which does nothing but cloud your perception and understanding of the danger which is a form of social control by our press. I find little question that the climate here in Powder River county will change and in the process change the way that we and our children live our lives. I have always said, “if you don’t like the weather stick around!”. I believe that by 2050, we will have the climate of New Mexico with accordingly less precipitation. This will lead to the introduction of warmer weather plants and animals into our ecosystem but you know that cattle are raised in New Mexico too. I suspect I (or my son) will find dinosaur bones easier because there will be less grass covering the hillsides but other than that, things will still be done the same old way. Well, except for hiring as ranch hands, those genetically altered, human brained smart horses cloned back in 2025.