Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Global Warming

The issue of global warming has passed from being a question of scientific interest to being a religious topic. It provokes strong emotions among believers and disbelievers and you better think twice before offending the religious feelings of one of the followers of this religion, since they can be very zealous defending their object of worship. The clerics of this new religion, the so called "climatologists" don't research to make new discoveries about this topic but to prove their opinion that they already had.
The opinion about Global Warming doesn't depend much on the information that people have acquired about it, but rather on their overall political stance. As a democrat they will most likely believe that it exists and is man-made, as a Republican they will probably reject one of these two claims.
The scientists that work on this topic are furthermore only interested in possible economic and political impacts of the phenomenon and not that much of its biological relevancy. Global Warming is depicted as a disaster scenario for the global ecosystem in order to exaggerate its importance. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Some basic facts of ecology are simply ignored. The question if Global Warming may be positive or negative for the ecosystem is not even asked. It is taken for given that it is something negative emphasizing the rather exotic examples of some individual arctic species or micro-ecosystems.

But when judging the impact of Global Warming on the sustainability of life on earth, we have to look at the big picture and recall some basic principles of biology that are actually well-known but totally overlooked.

The Temperature Problem

The temperature range in which organic life can exist on a planet is basically defined by the temperature in which water can exist in a liquid state. Under the pressure of earth's sea level the lower limit is 0° C and the upper limit is 100° C.
This can vary insignificantly depending on solvents in the water (Salt water freezes at lower temperatures.) but not by a large margin.
It was formerly thought that the upper limit was determined by the temperature above which proteins would be unable to maintain their folding structure, which was assumed to be around 60° C, but this was disproved by the discovery of thermophilic bacteria that can survive over 100° C. So the theoretical limits for the sustainability of life seem to be determined only by the freezing and boiling point of water.
Now earth"s average surface temperature is estimated to be about 15° C, which is apparently much closer to the lower limit than to the uper one. There is no place on earth were the upper temperature limit is reached, but the polar regions are far below the lower limit and can't sustain organic life. There are still some carnivores living in those regions but their food source is produced in warmer climates. Plants cannot maintain a higher body temperature than their environment and they are at the base of the food chain.
This means the temparature of earth is not optimal for organic life. Earth is on the lower limit with large areas being below it. Further cooling would be a serious threat for life on earth, warming can only improve the situation, because it would make new areas habitable, which currently aren't. But there is no place on earth where a temperature increase of 20° or even 30° would bring it over the upper limit for sustainability of life, not even on the equator.
If polar and sub-polar regions become warmer, life forms from moderate regions would simply migrate there. The vegetation zones of earth would shift, but life forms adapted to colder environment would not just die off and leave a deserted wasteland. The opposite is true. The bio-mass of earth would actually increase.
So there is no temperature problem.

The CO2 Problem

Rising CO2 concentrations are described as a problem. However for many plants on earth CO2 is actually the limiting factor of growth. For this reasons many greenhouses artificially supply CO2 to increase the growth of their plants. While the normal CO2 concentration in the environment is 392 ppm, increasing the CO2 concentration up to 1,000 ppm results in photosynthesis rates, which are 50% higher. This is a well-known practice in commercial greenhouses to increase the production of crops. 
The CO2 concentration also was far higher in earth's geological past than today. During the Jurassic period  the CO2 concentration was about 2,000 ppm, 5 times higher than today. During the Cambrian period it even reached 7,000 ppm (almost 20 times higher than today) Whatever fossil fuel we might burn today, it once was already in the atmosphere, because this is how coal, oil and natural gas formed in the first place. They are fossilized bio-mass made from carbon in earth's atmosphere. Man has no means to produce carbon artifically and introduce it into the natural cycle of the ecosphere. Man can only use carbon that has already been either in the atmosphere or in the oceans at some time in the past. A man-made catastrophic accummulation of CO2 in earth's atmosphere is therefore technically impossible. We can only restore the COconcentration to a level that it once was. And an increase of CO2 would even be beneficial for earth's vegetation, since all carbon that is currently stored in fossil fuels had been taken out of earth's carbon cycle. By burning fossil fuels we only put the carbon back where it belongs.
The other question is to which extent COis the cause or the effect of Global Warming. We know that most of earth's COis in the ocean and that any warming causes water to release some of the COit contains. You can see it by comparing the CO2 released by a warm and by a cold bottle of Coca Cola. So the question is, whether an incrase of COin the atmosphere is the result of industrial emissions or the result of the warming of the oceans rather than its cause. 
Either way COis no problem to worry about.

Rising Sea Levels

Global Warming will indeed cause sea levels to rise, which is particular problematic because of the population density along the coast lines. But there is a simple solution to it, which is migrating further inland into less densly populated areas. It will of course reduce the available land surface of earth and aggravate the problem of overpopulation, but the problem of overpopulation is first of all due to high birth rates and a low mortality. So a loss of land surface would only contribute insignificantly to this problem. If we seriously want to deal with the problem of overpopulation, we would have a far stronger effect decreasing the natality and increasing the mortality than preventing an insignificant loss of learth's and surface. 
There are however economic and political difficulties involved, since several countries are at risk of disappearing completely like the Fiji islands or Bangladesh. But this is not a scientific issues. Nevertheless it is one of the reasons why politics and money get ivolved in the issue of Global Warming. It would require a new distribution of available land resources among the existing nations. And another reason is that COemissions are closely related to the issue of energy resources. This makes it highly relevant for politics and economy.
For the global ecosystem itself it is irrelevant, if the ratio between water and land surface shifts a few percent, especially when at the same time vast land surfaces in formerly too cold latitudes get suddenly inhabitable.
For the global ecosystem rising sea levels are therefore no problem, but for the human economy and political entities they are.

As we can see, Global Warming is not so much a biological problem but a political and economic one. And these are the factors that provide the funding of scientific research. And at the same time these same powers have a vital interest in a particular result of this research. So every scientist working in this area will always be biased depending on those who sponsor his work.
It is also closely related to the general political stance of these sponsors as well as the scientists. Global Warming has become part of one's ideology. As such it must not be questioned and defended against all critics and doubts. The question of Global Warming is no scientific question anymore, it touches all you believe in. It is a question of faith.

Therefore we don't need to expect any useful data about this topic to be published. Just as religious writings don't contribute anything useful to questions about the nature and origin of the world, papers about Global Warming won't contribute anything useful to the question how the global climate will develop in the future.
But it is comforting to know that this question is no threat to the ecosystem anyway. It can only be beneficial.

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