Science and understanding
Our weather systems are entirely driven by the laws of science.
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.“
So wrote William Wordsworth.
The last twelve months has been a period of untypical weather in many parts of the world. It’s easy to scratch one’s head with puzzlement and blame it on the most convenient and fashionable theory of the moment. Unusual jet stream pattern; polar vortex; aliens! You get the idea! However, the principle behind what is happening to the weather systems across our planet is very straightforward. Our weather systems are described by the laws of science.
Thus it is a great pleasure to offer the following guest post from a scientist: Martin Lack. Martin should be no stranger to readers of Learning from Dogs; his most recent contribution was the major three-part essay From Environmentalism to Ecologism.
Conserving mass, water, and energy
I must admit that I am rather fond of quoting Sir Arthur Eddington as having once said, “…if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.” Without quibbling over the detail, the Law of Conservation of Mass is pretty darn close; but what, you may ask, has this got to do with climate change denial?
Conservation of mass of water
Well, consider for a moment that scientists seem to agree that there has been a 4% increase in the average moisture content of the Earth’s atmosphere since 1970. That being the case, I am bound to say that this extra 4% is making its presence felt in the UK at the moment! This year we have had the wettest 3 months (April – June) in over 100 years; the wettest June on record; the rain is still falling (sometimes as much as 80mm in a day); and – we are now being told – there is no change anticipated in coming weeks. So, if you’re coming over for the Olympics, expect to get wet!
However, whilst the UK suffers from near Biblical levels of flooding, if the Law of Conservation of Mass is to be upheld and – all other things like terrestrial ice volume remaining equal(!) – the volume of water in the oceans is to remain constant, then it must be failing to rain somewhere else. If so, is there any evidence to support this
theory Law? Well, funnily enough, there is: Whilst the UK continues to receive more rain than it wants or needs (all hose pipe bans and drought restrictions have now been lifted), many parts of the World continue to suffer from persistent drought (in sub-Saharan West Africa) and/or record-breaking temperatures (in most of North America).
Sadly, none of this seems to stop self-confessed scientifically-illiterate English graduates such as James Delingpole from ridiculing the entire notion of global warming simply because it is raining a lot here at the moment. It may seem that he has just got a nasty case of tunnel vision and/or short-term memory loss but this is what the fake sceptics always do; they never look at the big picture: Rather than look at daily, monthly, or even annual average temperatures over multi-decadal periods to determine significant long-term trends; they just cherry pick data to reach fallacious conclusions such as “global warming stopped in 1998″.
I am therefore left hoping that the 57% of the British adult population that seem to fall for this kind of nonsense will soon decide that it is time to stop running down the up escalator and, by embracing the reality of what is happening, decide to become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. If not, climate change denial may well lead to a failure to conserve mass; with the mass in question being the sustainable number of humans this planet can support in the long-term.
Conservation of mass of carbon
If the Law of Conservation of Mass explains why anthropogenic
global warming climate disruption is not invalidated by any amount of cold weather or torrential rainfall in one place; can it be used to validate concern regarding a 40% increase CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere? Funnily enough, it can: Since the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th Century, a vast amount of fossilised carbon has been burnt; with the carbon it contained combining with oxygen in the air to form CO2. Note here that the oxygen was in the air anyway; whereas the carbon had been out of circulation for hundreds of millions of years. All this new carbon has to go somewhere and, given that it will be many more millions of years before any of it gets taken back out of circulation by nature, it is either making the atmosphere warm-up or it is reducing the pH of seawater (just enough to make life very difficult for corals and shellfish).
So then, what is the human response to all this? Shall we stop burning the fossil fuels now we know we’re causing a problem? It doesn’t look like it! It seems far more likely that we shall gamble the future habitability of all the planets diverse ecosystems on finding a way to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass by artificially removing this carbon from the biosphere: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). And do you know what I find most astonishing about CCS? It is the fact that our governments are spending huge sums of money on long-term tests to simulate the effects of CO2 leaking from a submarine CCS repository – to see if it has any noticeable effects on marine life?
Errr, hello-oh? If any CO2 ever escapes from any CCS repository, the entire exercise will have been a complete waste of time and money! The CO2 will be back in circulation and the Law of Conservation of Mass will have won (again). If the genie will not stay in the bottle we will all be in big trouble: Rather than being likely to“collapse in deepest humiliation”; such a failure to defeat the Law of Conservation of Mass will probably result in the collapse of the entire planetary ecosystem; because of our other big problem – the Law of Conservation of Energy: The reason the atmosphere is warming up in the first place; more energy is coming in from the Sun than is getting out into Space!
So, this year’s weather should be a wake-up call to all of us: Irrespective of the actual kind of extreme weather being experienced in any one place, the impacts on agriculture seem to be equally destructive and spiralling food costs the inevitable end result: All just as was predicted by people dismissed for decades as doomsayers: People like Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Meadows, E.F. Schumacher, William Ophuls, Mathis Wackernagel, Ernest Callenbach, and Lester Brown… It looks like that darn ‘wolf’ finally showed up!
Funnily enough, it turns out that a doubling in the size of the global human economy every 50 years is not sustainable after all; and worshipping at the Temple of the God of Growth has got us in some serious trouble; otherwise known as a global debt crisis (see the short video embedded below). We thought we could just lend imaginary money to each other indefinitely but someone blinked and the spell was broken. Sadly, it turns out the Emperor was naked after all; it’s just a shame that by the time we realised this we were all completely sold on the latest fashion ourselves: The New Clothes are everywhere; and we have all been left looking for fig leaves to cover our genitals.
Just as The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al) predicted all those years ago, the Earth is running out of the ability to cope with the effects of our chronically dysfunctional mis-management of it. This was why, as I pointed out six months ago, the failure of food harvests in 2010 led to the Arab Spring of 2011… Are you, like me, wondering what is going to happen this time around? My prediction is that some economist such as Tim Worstall will get himself on TV and tell everyone that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a load of old rubbish; and that technology will save us from the consequences of our selfish pursuit of profit at any cost; and from our failure to recognise that we humans are not superior to nature – we are part of it – and we cannot survive without it. Or, to put it another way, as a Native American tribal leader once did:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
I can add nothing to the above other than to thank Martin for giving me the opportunity to republish his post.