Comments that go beyond praise and nays Mary Ann raises two interesting points in her comments on Peak Oil. One is the situation described in the first chapter of Jared Diamond’s Collapse, that we all see different sides of the elephant, and so agreement is difficult. A wider perspective can bring us a more complete solution, or it can just lead to status quo or compromise as we cant agree how to move forward.
It is necessary to drive up the cost of using fossil fuels in order to discourage its use. The hoped-for consequence is that individuals will use less, businesses will use less, and businesses and business practices that depend on fossil fuels will be replaced by other businesses and business practices. Someone sent me a cartoon once: when a door closes, another opens, but the hallway is a bitch.
Mary Ann’s second point is on the difficulty of weighing choices, and on the importance of buying local over buying organic. An article on the subject discusses a report I haven’t read in the journal Food Policy: organic food is not better for the environment if you transport it more than 12 miles. Much more important is buying local food. The journal suggests that buying organic is approximately as important as whether you drive to the store; perhaps in Britain, more walk or take the bus to the store than do here in the US. There are other issues about organic food, such as how large meat production must be to totally grow large quantitites of organic food, but that distracts from the point of the article.
We need to find ways to make it through that hallway together.
The Climate Change Commitment
The latest Science magazine has two articles on the inertia in both temperature increases and sea level increase. Just as noon and June 20 are not the warmest part of the day/year, just as water set in the sun takes a while to warm and expand as it warms, the temperature and sea level will continue to rise from carbon already added. This has been known since the beginning of the discussion. This week however, Wigley from the National Center for Atmospheric Research made a new prediction as to how much warming commitment and sea level rise commitment has been made. These estimates, assuming no further changes in our atmosphere after 2000, represent the extreme lower end of predictions on climate change.
As the Earth warms, it radiates more infrared. It will take some time before this balances out, and then the Earth will be 0.7 C warmer than today (defined as 2000), for a total increase of 1.5 C from pre-industrial times. This assumes the continued cooling effect of pollutants, atmospheric aerosols (small suspended solid or liquid particles). By 2100, the increase would be a little less. The inertia in the warming ocean is greater: approximately 10 cm (4 inch) increase per century for several centuries. Additionally, there will be sea level increase of some 40 cm due to the melting of ice on land, not counting Greenland or Antarctica. All numbers include great uncertainties.
Meehl, et al, also from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also address in a different model How Much More Global Warming and Sea Level Rise? At any given point in time, even if concentrations are stabilized, there is a commitment to future climate changes that will be greater than those we have already observed.
Many (most? all?) climatologists would like to see atmospheric carbon levels fall below current levels. This could happen in the near term if the amount of carbon we added yearly fell below the amount the ocean absorbs (due to increases in atmospheric carbon, the ocean absorbs a greater amount of carbon than in pre-industrial times) and increased land productivity. The ocean is a temporary repository of carbon, but may last long enough to get us through this hallway (can anyone tell me more?) Ocean life will continue to suffer more, because carbon dioxide is an acid.
I rarely hear people talk about the importance of addressing climate change. Yes, we hear it all the time, along with exhortations for this or that. For most people, yes the environment is important, yes I’m glad others are working on it, it’s just not my focus. You think maybe there are already too many people addressing this?