Oct 162008
Authors: Alex Stephens

Despite what some optimists might believe about the Earth’s temperature cycles, or the supposed increase of radiation from the sun, the phenomenon of global warming is still very real and very dangerous.

Our “out of touch” politicians in Washington have every right to be concerned, as do you and I.

In the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the worldwide scientific community is in agreement that humans are warming up the Earth to unnatural temperatures.

While the Earth has gone through temperature changes in the past, none have been nearly as sudden as what have been measured and recorded over the past 150 years due to the increase of human-produced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Proxy indicators, such as tree rings and pollen fused in hardened amber, are able to tell us about the temperature of the Earth up to 1,000 years ago, while frozen ice cores reveal the composition of molecules in the atmosphere from up to 420,000 years ago.

Scientists have found that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has cycled from about 180 parts per million to 280 ppm, depending on the glacial ice age (which takes about 100,000 years to complete before starting again).

Here’s the disturbing part: Within the past 150 years, since about the start of the industrial revolution and mass fossil fuel burning, the CO2 composition in the atmosphere has climbed to an unbelievable 380 ppm.

In other words, it only took 150 years to exceed what would naturally happen in an ice age cycle of 100,000 years.

It is a testable, reproducible, undeniable scientific fact that CO2 acts as a blanket in the atmosphere because it prevents heat, in the form of radiation, from escaping Earth.

The more CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere, the thicker the blanket will become.

It’s also a fact that several thousand years are required for CO2 to dissipate from the atmosphere, which means whatever is in the air now (and what will be put into the air) will remain in the air for a very, very long time.

Whether or not the sun is emitting more heat (satellites actually measure no increase of heat) is irrelevant to the physics of the atmosphere.

While America might be slowly converting to cleaner burning energy, the rest of the industrialized world is building more coal plants that thicken the CO2 blanket by the day.

It doesn’t matter that our economy is in a temporary depression. The economy will reverse itself, people will consume as they always have, and CO2 emissions will continue to climb.

Are we so shortsighted to worry about the ever-fluctuating economy rather than the irreparable atmospheric harm we are causing as if the two are mutually exclusive?

So what should all this mean to you?

First, realize humans cannot stop global warming because we do not have the technology to remove CO2 from the air.

Even if all global CO2 emissions were halted this very second and never resumed, the blanket would still exist and would continue to warm our planet.

Second, as temperatures continue to rise, mass flooding will occur in coastal regions and will dramatically impact our way of life by displacing hundreds of millions of people. Weather patterns will also change; snow might even be a thing of the past for Colorado.

All is not lost, though. Become informed of the impact of your every day consumption, from material waste to energy usage.

Write your local politicians and those in Washington to express your concern. They do listen to their constituencies more than lobbyists; you’re the one who elects them after all.

Donate to an environmental activism group (like Environment Colorado). Even ride your bike to class every day; it all adds up. We can take action to curb global warming, but how effective it will be, and how much of our Earth we can still salvage, depends on the involvement of everyone — regardless of global economic recessions.

Alex Stephens is a junior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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