The President and Democrats alike continue to justify the decision to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline. They try to say it needs more research or they were rushed into the decision. Why can’t they just say the Pipeline is bad for the planet and the future costs to the environment far outweigh the slight increase in jobs now? For political reasons Democrats cannot take this stance; even though scientists are on the same page a large portion of the population still does not believe in climate change.
Although I typically do not write on scientific issues I feel this one is too important to keep quiet about. Obviously I cannot write on all the science there is about climate change in this short blog but I do want to take on one argument: the planet is too big for humans to have such a profound affect.
A little background is needed first. When there is an increase in greenhouse gases like water vapor, methane or carbon dioxide in our atmosphere it increases the temperature on earth. Carbon dioxide gets the most publicity because it comes from burning fossil fuels. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is measured in parts per million (ppm) and small changes have dire consequences. In the past 400,000 years Co2 levels have never been above 300 ppm. Climatologists agree that levels over 350 ppm will have irreversible consequences in the future. Currently we are at 390 ppm. This means we will have to face the problems of climate change in the future and the continued increase of Co2 levels will result in more problems.
One of the problems are feedback mechanisms. They work in a loop, as the planet gets warmer it activates these feedback mechanisms to make the planet even warmer. One example is the ice albedo effect. When the sun shines on ice the ice reflects 90 percent of the heat back into space. However, as the earth continues to warm it melts that ice and unlike ice, water absorbs 90 percent of the sun’s heat, therefore warming the earth. Also cold water holds more Co2 than warm water. So as the water warms it will release more Co2 into the atmosphere.
Another feedback mechanism lies in cold regions where permafrost exists. As the earth warms permafrost will begin to thaw and then rot. The rotting vegetation will cause a release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is also a greenhouse gas which will cause the earth to warm. This will also happen in areas with peat bogs.
Also a result of increasing temperatures will be the drying out of the rainforests. Forests and trees absorb Co2 and as they dry out they will release those gases into the atmosphere. These are just a few among many feedback mechanisms and if you would like further reading on it I urge you to read Ice, Mud and Blood. This book lays out all the science behind climate change for a novice reader.
So what do these feedback mechanisms mean for the argument against climate change? It means arguing humans cannot have a profound affect on the planet may be true. But what we are doing now is increasing global temperatures and it is inviting a response from the earth. By continuing to burn fossil fuels we will push the planet to a tipping point. Even if you believe humans cannot affect the earth just know our actions are setting us up for the Earth to affect itself.