Global Warming for Dummies
Science class -- for some the foundation for a career and life's work, for others the most painful times of an otherwise enjoyable childhood. Long words devoid of any personal significance like photosynthesis, thermodynamics and pi, thrown about carelessly by the instructor. Meanwhile, all the kids around you nod and take notes and you go about your business, staring out the window.But suffer through it, you did. And when finally you made it out, you said it was for good. From this point forward, you said, science and I are through.Only now, talk of this thing called global warming is everywhere. People on both sides of the issue are saying it's going to change the world as we know it, either because it will forever alter the environment or because preventive measures will result in new ways of doing business, fueling cars and homes and consuming energy. The issue is so big all the major nations of the world came together in December in Kyoto, Japan to discuss ways to slow the progression.The problem is this current hot topic of debate -- which definitely seems like something a modern citizen of the world should know something about -- involves a lot of confusing science. The kind of science some otherwise bright and learned people are incapable of grasping.To remedy the situation the following is sort of like "Microsoft for Dummies" or "Mutual Fund Investing for Idiots," but with global warming. It's global warming for those who failed science.Through extensive research, Electric City found it all starts with fossil fuels. Fossil fuels derive from the remains of old life forms -- plants and animals. Carbon is the primary element in plants and animals, so when a living organism dies, what's left after everything else has decomposed is carbon. After years and years, this carbon can be used as fuel either as solid carbon, in the form of coal, or carbon and hydrogen, in the form of oil and natural gas. These fuels, which come from dead organisms, are what are called fossil fuels because they are a source of energy (thus the word fuel) and because -- like fossils -- they come from the remains of living organisms (thus the word fossil).When fossil fuels are burned to create energy to run cars, heat homes and operate machinery, carbon dioxide is emitted. Carbon dioxide is an important part of life, plants need it to survive and animals need plants to survive. Too much of it, though, may be a bad thing.Carbon dioxide is what has been termed a greenhouse gas. There are other greenhouse gases, but carbon dioxide is the most abundant and therefore most troubling. Greenhouse gases are simply the name given to gases in the atmosphere that some claim cause the greenhouse effect.Next is the greenhouse effect. Earth's atmosphere is opaque and it lets sun light in which in turn sustains life and heats the planet. This radiation hits the Earth and then much of it is reflected back off into space. However, certain gases, greenhouse gases, trap the Earth's rays in the atmosphere like pains of glass in a greenhouse. For a more domestic analogy, like a piece of plastic wrap over a dish in the microwave -- all the heat and energy gets in, but little of the heat and energy gets out."Now the heat that would normally escape hits these gas molecules and bounces back down to Earth," Barry Finn, chief meteorologist for WYOU, told EC.The Earth's climate and environments are very delicate things. And if burning fossil fuels (which the entire world, our country especially, does) leads to lots of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and greenhouse gases trap the sun's light. Then, some believe, we may soon find that temperatures around the world have gone up, standing the climate of the entire planet on its head.Finn said if this does happen some possible troubling scenarios include the spread of tropical diseases to new and more populated areas, warm areas may become unlivable and mild climates may become quite warm and if massive ice shelves in arctic regions melt enough to fall into the ocean, sea levels may rise considerably. "Florida would be gone and Nashville, Tennessee would be a seaport," he said. In other words, if global warming is really going on, it won't simply be an inconvenience or few more days of summer.Bruce Smith, from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency's Air Division, said global warming may even pose a threat to life in general. "The trend is going too rapidly for life to adapt to it," he said of the rising temperatures. The example of the dinosaurs proved life can be endangered when major changes in the environment take place over a relatively short period of time.However, Ray Burgert, of the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said many scientists and climate experts wonder if the current trend to higher overall temperatures on the planet isn't just part of another weather cycle. Since the current data on climate and weather only goes back 100 years or so, one contradictory theory is that the Earth may have gone through many such warming trends in its history. And in a few years the trend will reverse and go back to what we consider normal.This theory has some knowledgeable support. A recent survey of 36 of the nation's 48 official state climatologists found that 44 percent believe global warming is a natural phenomenon. The study, conducted by American Viewpoint for Citizens for a Sound Economy, also found 58 percent disagreed with President Clinton's statement that "the overwhelming balance of evidence and scientific opinion is that it is no longer a theory, but now fact, that global warming is for real."Burgert said part of the reason for the debate is the Earth's climate is so complex and constantly changing. "Some wonder, are we depicting the atmosphere correctly over such a large period of time? Are the computer models good enough to interpret and handle the data properly?" he said.Finn, for one, firmly believes global warming is a reality. He did a special series on global warming in November for WYOU and he recently attended a conference on the subject in Washington. He said it's a very serious problem, "not so much for you and me personally, but for our kids and grand kids."Those like Finn who think global warming is real point out that the future of the Earth's environment may be in limbo while the world engages in politics and in-fighting over what to do. Finn said time might be running out and if something isn't done soon, it might be too late."We've already had a several degree rise, again it's something that's highly debatable, but if our average global temperature went up another two or three degrees it would be a major problem," he said.If the solutions were easy most people would agree emissions of greenhouse gases should be cut just in case. But another argument, Smith said, against doing anything about global warming is that the solutions aren't easy and are potentially dangerous to the economy."The basic argument put forward by opponents is that there is insufficient evidence and the commitments to reduce emissions are going to affect U.S. businesses negatively," said Smith, who himself believes global warming is taking place.Forcing companies and nations to reduce emissions may cost huge sums of money. Current systems of providing energy may have to be scrapped and replaced at enormous costs to the businesses and the nation's economy.In general terms, it comes down to the old argument between the environment and the economy. Both sides speculate that if the other side comes out ahead the results will be disastrous and the future will be no place to live. These two factions have clashed before, and they've been known to use exaggeration to make their point and scare tactics to win supporters. With both sides refusing to budge, for the sake of a stable environment and a stable economy, one can only hope that's the case here.Sidebar OnePossible Effects of Global WarmingScientists and politicians are full of predictions about the possible effects of global warming. Predictions have been made on the human disease level, the economic level, the environmental level and the ecological level, but no one has yet done a study on the possible cultural implications of drastic changes in our climate. The following are a few possible scenarios that might not be far off.1. A topsy-turvy real estate market: The creeping surf line caused by melting polar ice caps will mean some trailer park for paroled felons in central Jersey may become waterfront real estate. Imagine the fun as ritzy Wall Street tycoons try to deal with Earl and his brother Mickey for their 30 by 10 plot of land.The hard-line negotiations might go as follows: "Sir, all of your neighbors have buckled. You gentlemen are the only ones left and we simply can't have it. Why for Pete's sake, your plot of land would fall directly where we're planning our living room!""Well sir, that'd be all right by us, we don't eat much and we hardly never act up 'cept Fridays, Sat-tra-days and Elvis's birthday." 2. Florida sinks with Atlantis: Florida will be washed under by high tides making South Carolina the new Florida. Speaking of culture clashes, elderly retirees and back-woods goobers sharing the same zip codes should make for some good laughs.If you think you get mad at poky and deliberate over-65 drivers, imagine how happy two guys jazzed up on white lightning, driving 85 down a dirt road in a rust and primer covered Ford pick-up would react. Granny ain't never been nervous behind the wheel until she's had a few cans of half-guzzled Bud lobbed her way. 3. Beach Volleyball in Ohio: The hot sun and sandy beaches of Cincinnati covered in mid-Westerners, their skin as reflective and white as summer linen. Hopping around on the beach in sandals and black dress socks.Guys like Karch and Kent will be replaced in the world of beach volleyball by people named Herbert and Art. Oakley sunglasses and Speedos will be replaced by cut-off corduroy hand-me-downs and theme park visors. In a few years' time, the sport most associated with cool and laid-back young studs and female, athletic model types will become the national pastime for the patchy-leg hair and V-neck T-shirt crowd. 4. President Clinton might finally tan: We already have the swingingest, happeninist leader in the free world, but he's always had one major flaw in his studly persona. The man is whiter than school-room chalk.Every time he and his gang of jogging buddies heads out to log a couple miles, the National Weather Service issues a warning like they do with a solar eclipse. Only where it should say eclipse they've changed it to "please, for your optical safety, don't look directly at the president's thighs."More sun should mean more opportunities for the big guy to remedy that. If he's already fairly irresistible ("I'm the most powerful man in the world" is a pretty sure-fire come on), just imagine the caliber of women he could get, bronzed over like a Thanksgiving turkey.