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I learned that the earth was being warmed by the burning of fuels that gave off carbon dioxide. They are called fossil fuels. They all come from organic matter buried in the ground millions of years ago. They were used only rarely until the invention of engines that could produce useful motion such as turning a shaft in a machine. The world was turned upside down by the first of these the steam engine.

Such machines proved so useful that thousands and then millions of such machines were built and they powered factories, trains, automobiles and much more. There use was assisted by so-called “oil companies” that processed the raw material that came from the ground into fuels such as gasoline, diesel, keroscene and others.

The oil companies did research to see if burning these fuels could be harmful and they found that it would, but kept the knowledge to themselves. They were also warned by the famous physicist Edward Teller when the oil companies celebrated 100 years of their business. Excepts from his talk are reproduced below.

1. Global Warming. Is It Real? What Is It? How Can We Know?

The sun keeps the earth warm, but light is not heat, so how does the earth get warm?

Sunlight, surprisingly is not heat, it is light and becomes heat only when it is absorbed by something. Then the energy of the light rattles the molecules in whatever it hits, and the bumping molecules are heat. The color of what the light hits matters. Dark objects (asphalt or plain dirt) absorb sunlight. Snow and anything light reflects the sunlight and stays cooler. (Which is why black cars get warmer than white cars.)

Without naturally occurring greenhouse gases, Earth's average temperature would be near 0°F (or -18°C) instead of the much warmer 59°F (15°C). The big worry is what happens if we add more greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide. (see the graph above for the increase over time of greenhouse gasses generated by humanity)

The carbon dioxide reflects the heat coming off the surface of the earth back to the surfac becomes warmer. The more CO2 the more heat reflected back. That is the story, the whole story and the big problem. So the first step in understanding global warming is to know that carbon dioxide (the most importanat of the greenhouse gases) traps heat in the atmosphere and makes the earth unnaturally warm. How much warmer? And what problems does it cause?

1. Carbon dioxide is the same gas that puts the fizz in spritz water.

2. For over a million years it has been part of the atmosphere.

3. It acts like a clear plastic blanket: it lets light through but not heat.

4. Light from the sun passes through and warms the earth (especially dark colors).

5. The heat tries to rise from the earth and disappear into space.

6. But the carbon dioxide traps it and keeps the earth just warm enough for life.

7. We create a huge amount of carbon dioxide and so the earth gets too warm.

9. The carbon dioxide accumulates and the earth keeps getting warmer and warmer.

10. Storms, heat waves, droughts become very serious problems.

11. At some point, large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

2. Only one degree C.

The earth (land, water, air) is about 1°C warmer than at the time of the Civil War.

It is hard to believe all the trouble that causes: you would think its not enough to notice.

But it is more than enough. Its not the temperature that counts its the total energy and that is enormous. There is such a huge amount of air, water and ground that gets warmed. The oceans get warmed down to hundreds of feet.

This is one of the biggest problems because the water expands raising the level of the ocean and the humidity above the water. Humidity is fuel for storms.

To raise the temperature of the planet one degree Celsius requires about 5 exaJoules (5 with 18 zeros after it) of energy. That’s the equivalent to the entire energy consumption of the US for 4 million years. Small rise on the thermometer, BIG rise in the amount of energy. And its the energy that upsets the planet.

This is a difficult science problem because it is not one problem but many, a different one for every area of the earth because the earth is very different from one place to another (like ocean and land for example) and so how the extra heat affects things varies.

There are many changes in the weather, and by that I mean temperature, precipitation (rain, snow, or no rain (drought), more severe storms (cover a wider area; drop more rain; higher winds); the earth’s average temperature; the maximum or minimum temperature; glacier melting, heat waves and much more.

What is significant is how rare these events are, how often they set records and especially how often they set all time records, or, in other words the most, least, etc. in recorded history.

This is where an approach is to use statistics. You know that if you flip a coin the odds are 1/2 that it will come up heads or tails. But if you say what are the odds of ten heads in a row the odds are 0.0009765 or about 1 in a thousand.

However you figure the events (6 temperature records in a row for example combined with a bunch of other rare events) the probability of all of these events happening as often as they do is extremely low so something is going on to make them happen so often. Additionally almost all the events are dangerous: record heat, record wind, record rain. And the reason is that we have added so much energy into the climate system and that energy is going to do somethings, or rather many somethings. So watch the slide show.

Then you find the glaciers are melting faster than normal and then much faster than normal, and ocean currents are changing and on and on. We would say that there is a very unusual number of weather anomilies, that is very unusual events happening far more often than one would expect and this is very frightening.

Here are some useful links.


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