It bothers me is that some local people shrug off evidence of global warming and say it’s a fabrication. They say it’s a conspiracy by scientists to get more funding for more studies and a wedge to get laws passed forcing people and companies to reduce gas emissions into the atmosphere.
They don’t read the science literature describing temperature rises, receding glaciers, and sea ice loss and call global warming just a temporary warmer phase in the Earth’s weather.
They look outside every day in California and the weather seems about the way it was 15 or 30 or 50 years ago.
To me, one thing’s sure: 1,000 years ago man (and woman) could hardly affect the weather even in their immediate surroundings. The population was much less then and about the only thing we threw up in the atmosphere was a little smoke and a little heat. Nowadays, with a gazillion engines burning gasoline and diesel fuel and kerosene, we recognize that we do have the power to impact this globe that seems to become smaller and more vulnerable every year. Years back there was a margarine ad on TV in which a woman spoke the memorable words: “Don’t fool with Mother Nature!” How true that is today.
Those who keep weather records say the average global temperature over the past 100 years has increased about 1.4 degrees. To most that doesn’t seem like much, but look at it this way – if you deliberately wanted to increase the worldwide temperature that much, can you imagine how much heat you’d have to generate to accomplish that rise?
And that small 1.4 degrees has been having a big impact. The arctic sea ice has been disappearing at an alarming rate. In the old days, a northern sea route between Alaska and the Atlantic Ocean was blocked by ice year around. I think that route has now opened or is very close to opening, at least in the summer months. Huge hunks of the ice shelf off the coast of Antarctica have been separating and floating out to sea, to eventually melt. I grew up in Wisconsin, and when I was a kid in the 1940s and 1950s, we had full winters – snow piled up on the ground all through the winter. Nowadays, there are periods in the winter up there, I’m told, where the ground is bare because the snow has melted soon after falling.
And this is all happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted. One contributor is that when sea ice and snow on the ground melt away, more dark water and darkish land are exposed that absorb more sunlight, speeding up the process of global warming. Snow reflects sunlight back into space. It’s a vicious cycle.
The second-largest contributor to the greenhouse effect that is thought to create global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) from engines and other sources. Back 1,000 years ago, there was a balance. Certain processes created carbon dioxide (forest fires, volcanos, animal breathing and so on) but the CO2 was absorbed by living plants, which in turn gave off needed oxygen. Nowadays, we’re dumping so much CO2 into the air from vehicles and factories and fires that the ocean and plants can’t absorb it all, and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is slowly increasing.
I did some calculations you might find interesting. One morning at eight o’clock I walked out near Freeway 80 and counted the vehicles passing by in both directions. The number was about 100 per minute. Every gallon of gasoline, when burned in a vehicle’s engine, creates about 171 cubic feet of carbon dioxide going out the vehicle’s exhaust pipe.
Getting out my calculator, I figured that every six minutes, vehicles travelling along Freeway 80 between First Street and A Street generate enough carbon dioxide to fill one average single-story home completely with the gas.
If one giant C4 Galaxy cargo jet from Travis AFB were flying over that same short distance of highway, it would generate enough carbon dioxide to fill approximately one-half of that home.
Every year the U.S. generates enough carbon dioxide to cover the 50 states with 13 inches of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by five years and you have a CO2 layer of five and one-half feet!
There are more and more C02-generating vehicles around the world as more nations join the industrialized bloc. China and India are the most prominent examples. Owning your own car is a sign of having made it.
To try to remedy the problem, the federal and California governments have been keen on mandating better gas mileage for vehicles. Still, the average today is only 21 miles per gallon. My wife and I drive two Priuses, which typically get 45-50 miles per gallon. When we were shopping for our last car, I wanted to buy the all-electric Nissan Leaf, but its range wasn’t quite enough to handle my wife’s daily commute to work. I had hoped to put solar cells on our home’s roof to provide free energy to charge the Leaf (that is, free energy after the solar panels have been paid for).
Locally, it would seem that the energy generated by wind turbines (windmills) and solar panels would be the best answer to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, by powering cars that run entirely on electricity.
But getting people to change their driving habits is hard. Only when the price of gasoline gets outrageously expensive will most folks begin to car pool or take public transit or ride a bicycle to work. Or get an electric car.
So what will this rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the air cause, in addition to plain old rising temperatures? Well, as ice melts, ocean levels will rise. In a worst-case scenario, if most of the Antarctic and mile-deep Greenland ice melts, ocean levels could rise as much as 20 or 30 feet around the world. Fortunately, my hometown of Dixon’s elevation above sea level is around 60 feet. Much of the San Francisco Bay Area would be under water, including San Francisco and Oakland.
The rising air temperatures would disrupt current agricultural practices. When my wife and I were visiting Great Britain a few years back, they were experiencing the hottest July in history. We heard that England was now warm enough to grow grapes commercially.
The rising temperatures would also greatly affect the weather. I’ve heard that if the current trend continues, southern California weather could gradually move north, and we would end up receiving the smaller amounts of rainfall that they now receive. Along with that, there would be less snow falling in the Sierra Nevada, and more snow melt would be absorbed into the ground rather than running off into rivers that flow into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Generally, then, there would be less water available for household and agricultural use. Also, there would be more intrusion of salty ocean water into the Sacramento river and perhaps into the delta area.
Also, there’s much speculation about warmer temperatures causing more extreme weather events that cause expensive and widespread home, business and agricultural damage. There could be more tornadoes, hurricanes, generic high-wind and high-rain storms, plus long-term droughts or flooding. Only long-term weather records will confirm or deny this trend.
If global warming is a fact, and I believe it is, it could cause a degradation of our standard of living. One day we may look back on the year 2012 and realize that these were the good ol’ days, when just about everyone owned a gasoline-powered car and could drive it anywhere they pleased, that agriculture reliably produced a bounty of cheap and wonderful foods, the weather was generally mild and commendable, and government didn’t interfere all that much with our pursuit of happiness.
Too bad we haven’t run out of oil. That would’ve forced us to look at alternative energy sources.