Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Climate Change?

Climate change?

I went to see a very old friend today. George, he's 97. If there could ever be a human capable of competing with the breadth and depth of knowledge store that google has, it would be him. Among the topics he educated me on today was climate change. Of all the things he has researched, has experience with and is concerned about, this one is the most critical on his list, given his very limited time here.

He pointed out the Keeling curve of CO2 monitoring which shows the steady increase in PPM of CO2 in our atmosphere since he (Charles Keeling) started recording it in 1958 (Keeling worked at the Scripps Institute about the same time George did). When I returned home today, I looked at this curve. There's not doubt that CO2 has accumulated in this period at an alarming rate.

However, the reason CO2 is of such a concern is because it is a "greenhouse gas". The higher the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, the more long wave radiation (heat) stays trapped between the atmosphere and the earth, keeping the earth warm. The CO2 acts similar to the earth as a windshield acts on the dashboard of a car.

I wish I could have spent more time with George today to ask him this: while the accumulation of CO2 maybe increasing steadily in our atmosphere, does that mean it has a linear coupling to the end result of heat build-up on the earth? If the answer is no, then this could be a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on which end is non-linear.

According to this (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/) it's non-linear but it's on the positive - shew! In summary, to the extent that CO2 can affect the earth's rise in temperature, that effect was maximized long ago (before the Industrial Revolution). The continued addition of CO2 now actually has little impact on any continued warming - if that article is correct.

However, George's concern of the cause of global warming was not in the increase of CO2 alone. He mentioned to me the heat added by our inefficient human activities. Let me illustrate: imagine the earth was inside a glass bottle. And that CO2 was like a silver mirror coating on the outside of the bottle which kept all the radiant heat reflected back to the source (the Earth). Now imagine that the bottle was effectively 95% coated silver. Well, finishing that last 5% of silver coating (adding more CO2) wouldn't really affect things. But what would make them worse at this point was if inside the bottle, the earth itself kept adding heat by burning itself up.

Now, the sun is a HUGE factor because it heats things constantly and in 24 hours puts down radiant heat energy on the surface alone at 527W/M^2 per hour, at the zenith. According to this source (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/) the man made contribution to heat is only about .5% as of 2005. It doesn't sound like much. But I have to admit that I was shocked to see the number that high (0.5%). But the complexities of trying to arrive at those numbers (for man's contributions) are likely fraught with error - it could be more and it's certainly changing fast, 2005 was almost ten years ago and that's a lot of time in today's world where so many nations are rapidly rising from third-world status.

George made the statement that man is incredibly inefficient in his use of energy. And for example, that nuclear power plants are incredibly inefficient. And while they don't throw off toxic fumes, or even CO2, they do heat the environment around them substantially just keeping the temperature of the reactor maintained. And let's suppose that we were able to switch every internal combustion engine over to hydrogen, so that it's burn was clean and pure. Still, 60% of the energy used by that type of engine is wasted in unnecessary heat production thrown off into the environment.

So herein is my next question: are we responsible for releasing more heat than can be radiated off into space at this point due to atmospheric reflectance? My sense for the shear proportions of thus (us on the surface compared to the enormous mass of the earth) is the answer is no. Mr. Sun is the oven burner, and we're the pilot flame. But, could I be wrong?
I normally try to offer solutions to problems here.  But my friends, if I had a solution to this one, it would entail understanding the problem, and I'm just not sure anyone does yet, let alone me.