In The Beginning, Middle, and End

Everything has a Beginning, Middle, and End. This page attempts to explain the Middle for our home, Earth. In the Beginning, I have no idea what happened, and faced with the paradoxical question of "How did the Universe begin?", the only possible answer I have is God. In the Middle, we have life on Earth, and while everyone should be happy and get along, we don't - we bicker about things like Global Warming. In the End, the Sun will die and that's pretty much game over. Ok, it will be game over well before that. Another story.

Energy In, Energy Out

To start out, we need to understand simple stuff like what does warm mean. The Sun warms the Earth. The atmosphere is like the Earth's clothing - it keeps some of this heat from escaping. Just like when people get cold. Your body is losing heat, so you put on clothes to try to retain some.

C02 - A Heavy Winter Coat

Certain components of the atmosphere have been given the name greenhouse gasses, because they are really good at retaining heat, like a warm winter coat. Carbon Dioxide is one of these. Thanks to a guy named David Keeling, we have an accurate measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, going back to 1958. This guy was measuring atmospheric C02 for reasons that had nothing to do with climate change, and fought hard to continue making these measurements, in the best place to make them - a pristine mountain-top in Hawaii. This is one of the most important continuous data records in existence. The point of this section? Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing at an alarming rate. No surmising, just a fact.

Weather versus Climate

Another important point to understand - weather is not climate. When someone points out the window at a snowstorm and says "some Global Warming!", this is an irrelevant comment. Weather, like many things, has extremes. Climate is the average, over a long time, of weather. Another fact: the average global temperature has been increasing steadily. The Earth is getting hotter.

Why So Stubborn?

What if we're wrong? We're just not. there is overwhelming worldwide consensus on this issue. Yes, there will always be a few prominent, vocal individuals who disagree and get press for it, like John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel. But think about this - a mere 30 years ago, the U.S. was mired in a huge political debate about whether or not smoking causes cancer. Many doctors at that time were arguing that there was no link between smoking and cancer. Looking back, it seems foolish. But think about where we were - scientists were gathering data, and doctors and politicians were being greased by the tobacco industry to deny the data and continue to say everything is hunky-dory. This is where we are today with Global Warming. The facts are here now, they are unarguable, but unfortunately it has become a political issue and therefore the media corporate wealth plays a big factor in public acceptance.

Human Induced?

Ok, so you admit the Earth is getting hotter, but how do we know people are causing it? First, who is better to decide this, you and me, or the best scientists in the world who understand and study climate change. These guys, e.g. the IPCC, now say evidence is unequivocable that humans are causing this change. And the explanation is really very simple. Carbon has sources and sinks. A source adds C02 to the atmosphere, a sink removes it. Some of the big sinks are trees and plant life (they breath C02), and the oceans. The biggest source, by far? People. There are now over 6 billion people on the planet, and on average each person generates 1 ton of carbon per year. This is what the Keeling curve is showing - humans are generating an excess of carbon dioxide, mostly by the burning of fossil fuels. When you see the chart below, and realize most of this population growth has happened in a blink of an eye on the Earth's timeline, Human Induced is not that hard to swallow.

The Natural Cycles Argument

Classic argument #1: The Earth goes through natural cycles, that's all this is. Classic answer: Yes, the Earth does go through Ice Ages. This has to do with a somewhat complex pattern relating to the Earth-Sun relationship. Essentially, Earth's proximity to the Sun varies over long, but regular intervals. The good news is we have a way to measure this. Just like tree rings can give an indication of seasonal changes over many years, ice cores of the Earth can give a view into what are now known as Milankovitch Cycles. Thanks to the Vostok Ice core, we now know that in actuality, we should be going into another Ice Age, but we are not!

Why Should I Care?

So I've convinced you? Probably not, but if you believe the data, why should you care? Maybe you don't care if Florida goes under water. Maybe you don't have any kids, and therefore don't give a rip how messed up the planet is in 50 years. That's your prerogative. What is our range of tolerance? The U.S. always claims to be a world ambassador, but we are dropping the ball here. The Precautionary Principle says we should play it safe. Yes, out of 100 people who smoke, not all will get cancer. So we don't know with 100% certainty the Earth will be ruined in 50 years. But we only have one Earth, err on the side of caution.

Dedicated to three of my modern-day heroes, Paul Westerberg, Ray Anderson, and Ralph Lau. Paul saved rock-and-roll, Ray became a model for corporate America, and Ralph is the about the best step-dad anyone could hope for - sure he's skeptical about this Global Warming stuff, but that just pushes me to try and explain it better.