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May 10, 2007 / Mridul

Politics changing with changing climate

Well earth’s climate is not the only thing which is changing. The political climate across the world is also changing and how.

Till a few years back the issues which used to dominate any major election worldwide were the respective country’s economic state, public health structure, and religion or security issues. But as the ice melted at the poles so did these traditional issues.

People are now more concerned about the changing climate than ever before. People around the world now easily relate the changing global climate to their way of living.Be it a hurricane on the Gulf coast, floods in central Europe or draught in Portugal or Spain, the first question that comes in the minds of the people is that are our leaders doing anything about the changing climate?

People now directly relate the rise in food products to the pressure on farmlands due to the change in climate which effects the growth of the crops. People now want their governments to switch from the traditional fuels to more clean fuels. People now think twice before buying a new car or installing a new air conditioner. It is clear from the industry trends that the consumers now want more fuel efficient cars.

With changing climate, the concerns of the masses are also rising. The people want to action; the people want to see the measures discussed in international conferences to be implemented.

It’s the first time the history of the American Presidential elections that the issues of climate change & global warming have become such a hot political property. Every potential candidate wants to get it right as far as these controversial issues are concerned. But the like the people around the world, the Americans are also divided on the issue of how or to what extent global warming is effecting our climate.

None the less, our politicians are fast gearing up to use these issues to their advantage to gain as much political currency as they can.

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One Comment

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  1. Brad Arnold / May 18 2007 12:03 pm

    There is a low cost, highly scalable, and technically feasible method of removing CO2 from the air:

    In Dr Jim Hansen’s testimony before the House of Representatives this year, he stated that “The dangerous level of CO2 is at most 450 ppm, and it is probably less.” Furthermore, he stated, “Note that I do not specify an exact fraction by which CO2 emissions must be reduced by 2050 or any other date…, but we can say that emissions must be reduced to a fraction of their current values.”

    The current CO2 level in the atmosphere is about 383 ppm, having risen 2.6 ppm in 2006. Mankind’s CO2 emission growth rate is now about three and a half percent per year. Furthermore, nature soaks up about half of mankind’s CO2 emissions now, but that is expected to reduce 30% by 2030. In other words, with business as usual, a growing and developing world population has less than 20 years before the CO2 level reaches 450 ppm.

    It gets worse. Using a more accurate measurement of CO2 equivalent, the total of all greenhouse gas (GHG) in the air is 459 ppm-we’ve already passed the 450 ppm mark. It has been calculated that to obtain just a 50% chance of preventing dangerous global warming, global GHG emissions must be cut 80% by 2050.

    Finally, it is fair that developing nations continue to increase their GHG emissions per person, so this means developed nations will have to cut their emissions by over 90% per person. In other words, by 2050 Americans will have to cut their GHG emissions over 90% from 2007 levels, and that is to only have a 50% chance of success preventing dangerous global warming.

    To lower the CO2 level of the atmosphere, mankind either has to decrease our CO2 emissions dramatically, or we have to improve nature’s ability to remove the CO2 from the air.

    Since world-wide demand for electricity is expected to double by around 2030, and coal-fired generation now accounts for about 30% of that, it is hard to see how mankind’s CO2 emissions can be cut by that much, that quickly.

    By the way, I haven’t even included other factors, like increased natural emissions from carbon sinks that become carbon emitters when the earth continues to warm, increased growth of fossil fuel powered transportation, increased agricultural GHG emissions, or even decreased global dimming if emissions decrease.

    Nature partially takes CO2 out of the environment with plants that convert it into carbohydrates, and animals that convert it into tissue, bone, and shell. Both are examples of autotrophs, which produce their own organic compounds using CO2 from the air or water in which they live. To do this they require an external source of energy, and almost all autotrophs use solar radiation to provide this.

    The GHG can reenter the atmosphere through decay or combustion. In fact, the CO2 level in the air naturally fluctuates by about 6 ppm per year as biomass grows and then shrinks with the seasons.

    Due to a bias against releasing genetically engineered organisms into the environment, removing the CO2 from the air with naturally evolved autotrophs would be best. The autotrophs that remove the most CO2 from the environment are trees on land, and phytoplankton in the ocean. Yet, neither removes the CO2 for long, before they die and it returns back into the air through decay. Besides, the expanding human population places land use for reforestation at a premium, while decaying phytoplankton depletes oxygen in the ocean, leading to dead zones and the production of hydrogen sulfide by bacteria.

    The Earth’s biosphere evolved to regulate the carbon cycle in an equilibrium that is conducive to life. This cycle has gone out of equilibrium many times in the past, causing carbon sinks to turn into carbon emitters. Mankind’s transfer of carbon from the geosphere to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels has upset the equilibrium of the carbon cycle big-time. According to Dr Hansen, “Humans are now in control of the global climate, for better or worse.”

    Engineering a biological solution to remove the CO2 from the air is abstractly quite simple. We start with a biological template; modify it to fill an environmental niche and to remove the carbon from the atmosphere back into the biosphere long-term. Using recombinant DNA technology we can add new traits by the modification of an organism’s genes. This is like cross breeding, but faster and more precise.

    For instance, choosing a jellyfish as a biological template (because the ocean has a large niche, and the jellyfish is tolerant of acidic water), we could insert a gene that makes the jellyfish tissue remove both oxygen molecules from CO2, and the grain of carbon will drift to the bottom of the ocean.

    In summary, since mankind probably won’t cut their greenhouse gas emissions so fast and so deep that dangerous global warming is avoided, removing the CO2 from the air is the only solution.

    There are several methods of mechanically extracting and separating the CO2, but they all require a large amount of energy, and are problematic to produce on a large scale. On the other hand, there are several biological methods nature uses to extract CO2 from the air, and separate it. Our Industrial Revolution mindset is bias against biological solutions because of a fear of unintended consequences. The advantages of a biological solution for removing CO2 from the air are cost and scale, which are the main disadvantages of a mechanical solution.

    The IPCC is now meeting in Bangkok, Thailand to identify the best ways to combat global warming. The debate is about how much it will cost, and who should pay for it. While environmentalists say any price is worth paying, governments and business want to be cost-effective. This is resulting in gridlock. While there are many little things we can do to cut our GHG emissions quickly, that is still a weak mitigation strategy.

    One last factor that isn’t being properly considered is abrupt climate change. The current climate models are programmed to predict gradual linear climate change with an increase in GHG. Instead, paleoclimate data suggests abrupt climate change is common. Frankly, I think assuming only gradual linear climate change by 2050 is wishful thinking, bordering on unfounded optimism.

    Generally, when a complex system is forced, it resists change, then abrupt switches to another stable state.

    Currently, our climate is in a sweetspot called the Holocene, where it is warm enough to prevent the formation of ice sheets on North America or Eurasia, but cool enough to keep ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. The Holocene has seen the rise of human civilization, because favorable agricultural conditions have lead to the formation of cities, technology, and larger populations.

    In the next few decades, I predict the Jet Streams will go further poleward, and droughts, higher high temperatures, and heatwaves will send eco-systems into death spirals. That will return our climate to a hotter dryer state that has seen massive extinctions many times in the past.

    Developed countries cutting their CO2 emissions over 90% by 2050 is unrealistic, but any non-linear abrupt global warming event would make it impossible. Furthermore, any planned resource intensive geo-engineering projects to mitigate global warming would have to be abandoned for lack of resources.

    dobermantmacleod@aol.com

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