Thursday, May 25, 2017

Uh oh.

In the grand banquet hall, folks smile and chat cheerfully as they enjoy a wonderful dinner.  They eat and drink to their heart's content - food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens or Rome, or even in the palaces of a young Europe. 

When the waiter  arrives holding the bill, the diners are in shock.  Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill.  Still others deny eating anything.  From one table comes the suggestion that the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects.  Finally, the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away.  This is where we stand today on the subject of climate change and the associated human contribution.  

For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels, and the bill has come due.  Many continue to sit around the dinner table denying that it is their bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.  (paraphrased from Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes, et al.)

Our presence on the planet changes things, of course.
  • Humans annually absorb 42% of the Earth’s terrestrial net primary productivity, 30% of its marine net primary productivity, and 50% of its fresh water.*
  • Now, 40% of the planet’s land is devoted to human food production, up from 7% in 1700.*
  • Fifty percent of the planet’s land has been transformed for human use.*
*Vitousek, P. M., H. A. Mooney, J. Lubchenco, and J. M. Melillo. 1997. Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems. Science 277 (5325): 494–499; Pimm, S. L. 2001. The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth. McGraw-Hill, NY; The Guardian. 2005. Earth is All Out of New Farmland. December 7, 2005.

  • Equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster fifty times over, continuing oil spillage in the Gulf of Guinea has cost millions their livelihood, their communities, and their water.  Those who haven't abandoned the Niger Delta region are left in contamination and poverty; some are rising up in revolt.  It's been going on, the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez every year, for FIFTY years.  If it ever stops, recovery will take a century or more.
  • Pelagics (tuna and the like) are now at risk from pollution and illegal overfishing.  Total adult biomass summed across all monitored pelagic populations has declined globally by 52.2% from 1954 to 2006.  Certain regions have seen 90% decline in population bringing malnutrition and starvation among indigenous fishing communities.*
* Maria José Juan-Jordá, Iago Mosqueirad, Andrew B. Cooperf, Juan Freirea, and Nicholas K. Dulvyc, Grupo de Recursos Marinos y Pesquerías, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de A Coruña, 15009 A Coruña, Spain; Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada; Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Lowestoft, United Kingdom; European Commission, Joint Research Center, Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen/Maritime Affairs Unit; School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada - Global population trajectories of tunas and their relatives

  • Recent changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide are contributing to the ocean's acidification.  A third or so of our fossil fuel CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans; that's around 10 billion tons per year added to the ocean chemistry.  The changing aquatic environment is killing the coral reefs, and not slowly. The current rate of change is now 100 times faster than any changes in ocean acidity in the last 20 million years, raising questions of whether marine life can adapt to the changes.  The scope of impact is under continuing study.  NOAAThe National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
  • Since 1850, the industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 to 409.78 ppm. The international scientific community has concluded there's a better than 90 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth's temperatures over the past 50 years.  Update IPCC  NASANOAA
The debate among scientists and the weight of evidence are well past the basics of atmospheric processes and the mechanisms of radiative equilibrium.  Skeptics often focus on some arguable detail, and on that basis dismiss the wealth of established facts.

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on public health, environmental science, and other quality of life issues. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of pollution, pesticides, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. Interestingly, a small subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these problems.  Why might they pursue such a course?

Who would sponsor a campaign saying that smoking (including secondhand smoke) is not a health risk? (1965-1994)
Or that acid rain is not an ecosystem risk? (1974-1990)
Or that the ozone depletion was not an environmental problem? (1976-1993)
Or that air pollution (mercury & toxic chemicals, particulates) from power plants is not a health risk? (1967-2011)
Or that emissions from fossil fuel use have no significant environmental impact? (1998-2017)

Why would someone lobby against investigation and regulation of those industries involved and spend millions doing so?  
That's what they did and continue to do today.

"The recent shift in the community of global warming deniers from merely attacking mainstream climate scientists to alleging their involvement in criminal activity is an unsurprising but alarming development in the long campaign to discredit the established scientific fact that burning fossil fuels is causing the world to warm. This latest escalation fits seamlessly into a decades-old pattern of attempts to deny the reality of environmental ills — smoking, acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming. Similar or even identical claims have been promoted for decades by other free-market think-tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute, and, most persistently, the George C. Marshall Institute. These think tanks all have two things in common: They promote free-market solutions to environmental problems, and all have long been active in challenging the scientific evidence of those problems. ... 
the American public had been repeatedly fooled by the same strategy and tactics." ~Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

So, back to that banquet ...

              ... there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Unless we've reviewed the science, broadly and in depth, we don't have an opinion. What we have is a preference and perhaps a bias.

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