Look, kanicbird, whether global warming is man’s “fault” is irrelevant! Forget about that. We know that the global temperature has fluctuated wildly over the last couple million years. We don’t really know what triggers warm periods and cold periods, and miniwarm periods in the cold periods and minicold periods in the warm periods. We honestly don’t know.
But we do know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Scientific fact. We do know that humans are outputting a lot of CO2. Scientific fact. We do know that only about half of that human outputted CO2 is being sequestered naturally, because we can measure atmospheric CO2 levels. Scientific fact.
What we’re not sure about is whether the earth would be staying about the same, or warming, or cooling, if we weren’t outputting that CO2 and other gasses and particulates. Maybe we’re heading for a natural global warming. It seems perfectly plausible to me that this might be the case. Except is this something we want? If we’re having a natural warming period, adding even more CO2 to the atmosphere is going to make the warming more intense. And subtracting CO2 from the atmosphere is going to make the warming less intense.
If we want to make the warming less intense we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, whether the warming is due to natural cycles or not. We know there are natural cycles, but we have our hands on several of the levers of those natural cycles, and right now we’re pushing it in one direction. If that’s not the direction we want to go we need to start pushing the other way.
And the scary thing is that we know from climate records that climate shifts can happen very rapidly…over a period of decades. The trend can be warmer, warmer, warmer…and then BLAM, straight into an ice age. This is probably due to things like the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm shutting down if temperatures get too warm, Europe cools off rapidly, lots of snow in Europe, increasing the albedo and you get a positive feedback loop that sends you into an ice age. But we’re not quite sure, of course.
So, we know for sure that climate is variable. We know for sure that there are lots of factors that influence climate. And we know that we are changing some of those factors. But we don’t understand what the results of those changes will be.
So at the very least we should do things that mitigate atmospheric changes that are also good things to do in and of themselves. More efficient use of gasoline is good in and of itself, because gasoline costs money, reduce the use of gasoline and you SAVE money. Cleaner burning coal plants are good because they reduce other forms of pollution, not just CO2. Small changes in incentives can potentially have large effects on outputs. Banning CO2 emissions is impossible and foolish unless you want to ban living human beings. A small tax on CO2 emissions could provide incentives to use less, while only very slightly slowing down the economy. Lots of travel we do is useless travel…guys traveling a thousand miles to sit at a meeting that they could have attended by phone. Stuff like that. Change incentives slightly and we could potentially see quite a lot of reduction in emissions…and this more efficient use of fuel could be good in and of itself.
And there are lots of other greenhouse gases besides CO2 that would be a lot easier to reduce. CO2 is a byproduct of burning carbon, pretty much the only way to get around it is to not burn carbon. But CFCs are much stronger greenhouse gases than CO2, and there’s no need at all to vent CFCs into the atmosphere. Low hanging fruit.
And this is the approach we should take. There are steps that could reduce our emissions that would be really expensive and difficult and result in marginal reductions. Those are bad steps. There are other steps that could reduce emissions that are cheap and easy to do, we’ll never notice them. Those are good steps. We should eventually find enough cheap and easy steps that we find that we never really need to implement the costly and difficult steps, we’ve outgrown the need to.