History of Global Warming Discovery
Few topics simultaneously involve the North Pole, accusations of imaginary made-up ideas, and the naughty-vs.-nice argument. Beyond Santa Claus, global warming is one such category – with ice caps melting in the North Pole, partisan debate politically present with fervor about whether the phenomenon actually exists (and whether it is being contributed to by our factories/carbon emissions/etc. – i.e. through mankind’s irresponsibility).
Historically, for about 2000 years before 1850 (the mass industrialization age, presumably), temperatures had been relatively constant. However, since then, and particularly since 1906, temperatures have been increasing slightly but significantly – with an approximately 0.13-0.22 degrees C increase since 1979 per decade, which cumulatively has led to a 0.74 degree C mean increase over approximately the last 100 years. In terms of energy “balance,” the energy leaving earth has been less than energy entering earth – hence, there is been warming. While land temperatures have increased twice as fast as ocean temperatures (due to ocean heat capacity), average Arctic temperatures have been increasing at almost twice the rate of the remaining world in 100 years.
The idea of greenhouse gases causing a “greenhouse effect” was proposed in 1824 by Fourier, and developed carefully based upon practical measurements into a model by Callendar in the mid 1900s. To understand what this means, consider that earth’s naturally occurring greenhouse gases cause a warming effect of 33 deg C (or 59 deg F) – without these, the earth’s temperature would normally be below freezing. Actual gases such as water vapor (about 60%), carbon dioxide (about 20%), methane (about 7%), and ozone (about 5%) contribute to this warming predominantly among such gases. Interestingly, since 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 36% and methane has increased by 148%. For those arguing that “this may just be cyclical,” supporters of global warming due to industry offer that these levels are much higher than in the last 800,000 years on earth (though higher values on earth were noted about 20 million years ago). Among components causing such increase, fossil fuel use (coal burning for 43%; oil 34%; gas 18%; and cement 5%, with gas flaring less than 1%).
Present-Day Global Warming
Perhaps equally interesting (and contrary to how the argument is often phrased), the ozone depletion is not necessarily related to global warming – in fact, there is evidence to some extent that ozone depletion in the stratosphere may lead to regional global cooling.
Also interestingly, whether by particulate matter from volcanoes or from human-caused industry by-products, a cooling effect has been noted from sunlight deflection from such particles.
By using satellite data from orbit around the earth, the amount of sun energy can be measured (hence excluding the sun’s energy increase as a source of global warming, as this has appeared relatively constant during this time period).
Based upon trends and such data, predictions for what may be expected include a rise in sea level of about 1-4 meters by mid-21st century by some estimates – this could, in turn, result in massive flooding. In the case of some islands, such as the Maldives, complete submersion of many key islands could occur. Landmasses with large ice components, such as Greenland, could be reduced to a fraction of their present sizes.
Future Global Warming Concerns
One of the plaguing questions is: so what do we need to do for the future, if global warming is happening to the detriment of the future? An initial step involves understanding both what such implications would involve, what is potentially causing such issues, and what we need to do to intervene.
Food production could be adversely threatened due to water from crops either being too great or not adequate, hence causing a mismatch – this, in turn, would affect human life, which may depend upon crop production.
So how should this be solved? In general, three responses have been proposed: (1) intervention to lessen the blow; (2) adjustment of lifestyle to accommodate such climate change; (3) engineering the climate to suit a more favorable result (beyond what would be done as simply intervention to lessen the blow). Among these, (1) involves the reduction of greenhouse gases by reducing carbon emissions – namely carbon dioxide and methane, as possible, via altered manufacturing processes leading to fewer such gases, planting greater trees and avoiding deforestation, and similar methods. (2) would involve accepting climate change, and adapting – e.g. changing locations of crop growing, preparing for floods pre-emptively, etc. Item (3) above, purposefully altering carbon dioxide, for example, may have many unintended side effects which may not be readily perceivable presently, and has been largely rejected as a method to presently try.
To balance out the argument, there are naysayers who will point to the “absent heating period from 1998-2012, with only 0.04 deg C increase vs. 0.21 in the past decade” post-El Niño, which occurred after severe climate changes in many parts of the world
Ultimately, a combination of (1) intervention in our present contributions to global warming (part of which has been done in certain areas – contrast Los Angeles to Beijing); and (2) adaptation to pre-emptively help reduce effects of flooding and improve potential future agricultural practices would likely help the most, with this recognized and potentially reversible (or at least minimize-able) problem. Ideas such as a “carbon tax” have been proposed to tie in financial and social measures. Such responsibility, and its political, legal, and life-related implications, should be recognized and addressed, before the effect is not so easily reversible or even containable.