I had never worried about climate because from what I knew about cosmology and the expected lifetime of the sun there should be two to three billion more years of viability for the planet, at least if I disregarded the views outside my automobile window, or more graphically outside my train window on the way to New York. I could only wonder what the trash was really doing to the earth. But I did not want another worry so I assumed it was just local stuff, until about 15 years ago when I began learning about global warming. Maybe it was time to come in from the cold.
Joseph Fourier first brought the greenhouse effect to our attention in 1829. As I look at the graph now, it appears that the earth's temperature began to rise in about 1940.
But why the backstory?
Because we do not realize our significnce.
The earth is part of the cosmos and despite DDT it seemed pretty solid, until I did more reading and some calculating with NASA temperature data. I hadn't forgotten all my physics and math and did some simple extrapolation of the NASA data. What followed was two years of depression. It felt a little like I had been pitching in the majors and could toss back any ball with the slightest blemish until reality hit and the ball came back wrapped in battered friction tape.
I think the worst stories of the time were what was happening to rain forests. I love trees and am well awaare of their importance to the environmrnt. I have spent the last 40 years photographing them from Oregon to Florida to Maine to Alaska and I know the most magnificent of them take a very long time to grow. Rain forests are irreplaceable.
Which brings me to one of my main points. As my Dad used to say "if there's a buck to be made..."
The picture was clear, then confusing and frightening and, I am afraid, it may be clear again, except that it may be a clarity we will not welcome. It is certainly one of the most difficult scientific and tragic topics.
The plural "climates" refers to what human climates bring to the party: the differnt cultures, philosophies of government, views of humanity, honesty, etc. I wonder, and doubt, if sufficient intelligence is ever brought to world government.
The "back—backstory" is not just where the earth came from, but about where "where" came from. It is so incredible that it is a "book" you must read, and eventually leads to the earth and then to climate change.
I have been curious about the cosmos since my early teens, wondering about the universe, how it began and what was "out there." In those days, rather than the big bang, the reigning thesis was George Gamov's steady-state-universe, one with no beginning nor end. I never quite bought into this, and it was a pleasure over the decades to read of the discoveries that lead to the big bang and the great number of revelations that followed.
The first clue was the "cosmic background radiation," the faint glow left over from the big bang. A vital confirmation of the back story was several satallites that orbited around the sun and into deep space for years literally mapping the universe by sensing and mapping the cosmic background radiation. The map looks like this. Someplace in the middle lies the earth. This is the "biggest picture" there is.
How the stars, solar systems, galaxies and planets were created and what is special about the earth...
The Backstory That Has No Backstory
Is this possible?
That this was a subject about which when I finished writing there would be nothing (and I mean ZERO) more to say?
Yes and No. "Ha! I knew it."
You are right. Except for one thing. This is the only story we can try to write that IF we finished it, there would be nothing more to say. Or at least that is what I am trying for. I am trying to do this, because the only way I can convey how important the earth is is to go back to its birth. And so harming it, as we are surely doing, is a very, very big deal. And it says a lot about us. But that is a story with an infinite backstory to and so I had better get on with this one.
Below is a "timeline," or in other words a history of the universe laid out like a ruler. It's o.k. but I have been searching for something better and it's a video from Fermilab. And I think it is great so click HERE.
Different categories of knowledge have different sets of concepts.
I became aware of this when hiring marketing people at Bose. I could teach marketing concepts to almost anyone, but technical concepts only to people with technical training. Marketing relates to everyday life. Technical concepts need to be learned in school or as intense hobbies. Climate is even more difficult because it is a group of scientific concepts that interact with each other while seeming not to be scientific at all. Climate is the long-term average of weather. Not as simple as it sounds because a surprise in weather ("its never been this cold here before") requires some depth of understanding to not throw off ideas about climate.
An example I read of a denier who insisted he was having a cool summer because it had been the latest date ever that the temperature reached 95°F, whereas the reality is that the weather can set records of all kinds while having no effect on the climate. Or: the pie crust can be perfect with burnt apples in a bunch of places beneath it. So how do we form our opinions about climate?
When we do not have a deep understanding, we believe what we want to believe, either from fear or from friends. A strong voice in a group will ridicule anyone who disagrees, and soon you dare not speak against the current, and you end up with a rock-solid set of beliefs. If you follow the news and there are enough spectacular weather anomolies and media that sheds light on the situation, you may begin to see the light. But media is unreliable. The news may be burried (as I have often seen in The New York Times) or too cataclismic to ever be explined and so is forgotten.
Then we add the greenhouse effect which is the source of our interest in climite and its problems.
Climate involves the sun, the oceans, land, atmosphere, all bodies of water, deserts, wetlands and so forth all interacting with each other to create the weather. The climate is the average of the weather. We can claim that the climate is stable while the weather is setting new records for temperature, precipation, storms, etc. and so it is difficult to sound credible to a non-scientist. We can claim the earth's temperature has risen by two degrees and have a record cold winter and so the climate issue gets blown off. Yet we are on our way to a potential calamity that could destroy the earth. We are at a place where just a bit more heat and we completely loose control. There are many signs already. Islands in the Pacific are being abandoned due to the rise in sea level. Sea ice off the coast of Alaska has melted and no long protects seacoast villages from giant waves and they have to be moved in land. In India Moonsoons are no longer reliable but heat is now deadly. The sea has risen a foot or so, but can rise another 120 feet. Government planners intend to put up sea walls to protect cities, yet these will likely be obsolete before they are finished.
Perhaps above all if a solid plan were proposed the cost of perhaps a trillion dollars would be laughed at.
The Paris Accords put a strong priority on holding the earth's temperature increase to 1.5°C but net emissions are not going down (see the graph below). Many scientists insist we can overcome these problems with nuclear power generation yet the public has become more and more freightened due to television series such as the one on HBO. Yet nuclear my be necessary.
The IPCC and various other science groups involved in global warming as well as most scientists seem desperate to hold the temperature rise of the globe to 1.5°C. But the oil industry is barging ahead, crude prices are up and the diagram to the left shows progress made toward zero emissions is about zero.
There are many attempts to move away from fossel fuels but no progress since the Paris Accord and the follow up Katovice meeting in Poland. And we are moving into a narrow channel of opportunity where much longer (20 years or thereabouts) and the earth's temperature will just keep risiing and we will be talking about 3°C or more. That is disaster.