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The Third Rock Forum - Where is the Devil?

Article Title
Climate Change
Topic Section(s)
Where is the Devil?
Where is the Devil?
Submitted : 24-12-2010 14:41
Amended : 10-11-2014 13:05
Status : Approved:  
Likes : 0
Dislikes : 0

“The devil is in the detail” is a very wise observation. But, occasionally a subject emerges where the devil is in the premise of an argument. Consider the following.


A recent gathering by those who aim to fight climate change pledged a sum of about $200 billion to help finance the world’s efforts to prevent climate change. What is the background to this international effort?


Scientists have gathered enough knowledge to build up a picture about climate change through millions of years on Planet Earth. There is enough evidence to suggest that Planet Earth creates cyclical Ice Age periods lasting approximately 100,000 years. These periods are interleaved by warmer climate periods, lasting between 15,000 and 20,000 years.  During an Ice Age period, most of North America and Europe, for example, were covered in a blanket of ice which in warmer climactic periods recede, even the poles were occasionally free of ice. Greenland was at some time a green land as a result.  Our current warmer climate period has already lasted about 18,000 years and, scientifically, our period is still considered to be at the end of an ice age due to the fact that two poles are still covered in ice. 


So, the proposition is that we, humanity, have interfered with this cyclical climate change by burning fossil fuels during the past 250 years, causing a temperature rise of between 1 to 4 degrees depending on who is talking.  Furthermore, the proposition goes, we can prevent this climate change by burning 30-40% less of fossil fuel and  eplacing the energy deficiency by green, renewable energy sources, such as windmills and tidal energy power stations among other measures.  Looking for “the devil” in this argument I do not think that we need to bother with the detail.


If I may lower the tone of this submission, I have a close second proposal for preventing global warming. We should  lower the  temperature of the Sun by firing icebergs at it at high speed, probably the speed of light, to prevent the icebergs melting before they hit the target. This proposition will only cost 100,000 trillion dollars and would  provide continued employment to Al Gore and several scientists and engineers, not to mention lawyers.


Status: Approved
Reply Date : 29-12-2010 16:05
Author : Nick
Our responsibility
The fact that there have been extreme climatic changes in the history of our planet does not mean that we should disregard any impact our behaviour might have on the well-being of our planetary home. (After all, it is generally thought we put a hole in the ozone layer which a reduction in CFCs will hopefully plug.)

Whether the planet is warming is still debatable but most scientists seem to feel it is happening. How far man is responsible for the warming is also debatable, perhaps more debatable, but our production of greenhouse gases is, at the least, unlikely to help the situation and probably will aggravate it.

All that said, the real point is that humans are now such an important factor in the well-being of the planet that we have really got to start managing it. Just like anyone who is responsible for a closed, finite system, it is important to try to keep it in balance and to keep it running smoothly. Our planet is such a system. When we were just another animal, we could rely - and had to rely - on the self-regulating functions of the planet but now we are the masters, now we extract and exploit all the planet’s resources, we must learn to manage the system and accept the responsibilities that management entails.

Of course, nature may throw at us climatic changes we can’t handle – another prolonged ice age, massive increases in temperature caused by a hyperactive sun. Nevertheless, we owe it to our species to do what we can to give our children, and theirs, the best prospect of survival.
Status: Approved
Reply Date : 05-01-2011 19:36
Author : georgebundle
Our responsibility
Nick’s comment is respectable and highly motivated, well intentioned. But we need to be objective when we consider Climate Change. If there is an impact on climate change that arises from human activity it is only about 250 years old. The amount of CO2 and methane – the two most relevant gases - that we produce is only about 6-8% of the total that reaches the atmosphere. For that reason, if we want to manage the changes in the climate on Earth, we should manage the Jet Stream, the Volcanic Eruptions, the under sea Earth Plate movements and the vegetables that rot on the surface of Earth and the animals that metabolize the vegetables, grains and pulses on Earth. Except the Jet Stream itself, all the above activities produce greenhouse gases up to 92-94% of the total. We would also have to do something about the activities of the Sun. When are we going to be Masters of all these constituent elements? Because these are the elements we have to conquer in order to master the climate, regardless of what resources of the planet we extract and exploit. Barring one, that is, deforestation. We could stop that but we are not likely to do that.

There is one other issue concerning what we pass onto our children and our children’s children and it has nothing to do with mastering the elements. We will pass onto our descendants the massive cost of all the futile effort so far being considered by the signatory governments to the ‘letter of intent’ that emerged recently. That is definite.
Most of these governments use borrowed, printed money whose value diminish by the day, every time the printers start up.
The bad news is that our descendants may not have any idea what climate they will inherit 100, 500 or 1000 years from now no matter what we do today. We also have no idea except the modeling based on past history. Delusions will not help the future but it may make us feel better now.