Here’s global warming in a nutshell: We live on this big blue marble, compliments of an equilibrium that has sustained life as we know it for many thousands of years. The chemical and biological processes that sustain that equilibrium, with the exception of solar energy, generally occur on or near the surface of the earth. You can go up from the surface of the earth, but you don’t really go down below the surface of the earth to any significant extent, in talking about what sustains that equilibrium. Sure, there are the occasional undersea geothermal vents, and the rare active volcano, but by and large what’s below the surface, especially far under it, isn’t really involved.
The problem is that we’ve gone down below the surface and brought back up a whole lot of carbon. Now, if we just left it in solid or liquid form, it wouldn’t affect the equilibrium. But we don’t leave it as a solid or a liquid – we burn it, and turn it into a gas (carbon dioxide). The result is that atmospheric concentrations have gone from something like 250 units per whatever to 400. At that point it does interfere with the equilibrium, and we’re not dealing with Republican laws or Democratic laws but with the laws of physics (which don’t care about party affiliation or economic interests). The laws of physics give us planet-wide heat retention from the new numbers.
Civilization is energy, and as long as we use energy derived from that subterranean carbon to support our civilization we’re going to keep increasing that number, A new equilibrium point will occur, but we may not like what we have then. It’s definitely global warning, not the more benign-sounding climate change, and we do need to do something about it.
The most sensible thing would be to stop using carbon-based fuels altogether – switch to solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear fission/fusion, or whatever. A sudden change would likely disrupt our current ‘civilization is energy’ situation. We’re switching from coal and oil to natural gas, keeping our carbon-based energy system, but that’s still subterranean non-equilibrium carbon being added to our equilibrium, and that’s not a long-term winner.
The article above offers biofuels as an alternative. Biofuels are renewable, and the carbon comes from what we’ve already added to the atmosphere/equilibrium. Since energy conversion isn’t 100%, in theory there would be some solid carbon left after burning the biofuels, which might gradually reduce atmospheric carbon (though very very slowly).
Are biofuels that pull carbon from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere what we need to use as a bridge until non-carbon energy sources become available? The article above points out that there are issues that need to be addressed; will that rule biofuels out, or do we really have a choice?
[Want to get rich? Invent a way to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (a scrubber of some sort) that would fix the removed carbon in a solid or liquid that wouldn’t re-enter the atmosphere. (If only…)]
There are a lot of implications from all this. The increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means that the atmosphere retains more energy – and our word for atmospheric energy is weather. That’s why we have a noticeable increase in extreme weather events. More severe storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes. More severe droughts, and more severe flooding. There’s a new normal coming weather-wise, and the predictions I read about this 25 years ago now come true in the news.
Add to that a world population heading from 7 billion now to 11 billion by the end of the century. If weather and heat trends continue as predicted, major areas could become either uninhabitable or unable to sustain large populations. If you think today’s migration issues (for reasons of war/conflict) are something, wait until you see what waves of climate refugees look like.
So, what should be do? Short-term? Long-term?