Thursday, November 30, 2006

Your Thursday Morning Voice Of Doom

So you're reading the paper and you come across this:Gaia scientist Lovelock predicts planetary wipeout

Ya might put down your spoon and read on...
LONDON (Reuters) - The earth has a fever that could boost temperatures by 8 degrees Celsius making large parts of the surface uninhabitable and threatening billions of peoples' lives, a controversial climate scientist said on Tuesday.

James Lovelock, who angered climate scientists with his Gaia theory of a living planet and then alienated environmentalists by backing nuclear power, said a traumatized earth might only be able to support less than a tenth of it's 6 billion people.

"We are not all doomed. An awful lot of people will die, but I don't see the species dying out," he told a news conference. "A hot earth couldn't support much over 500 million."

"Almost all of the systems that have been looked at are in positive feedback ... and soon those effects will be larger than any of the effects of carbon dioxide emissions from industry and so on around the world," he added.
Let me jump in and explain a little. Right now, the increases in carbon are additive: industrial and engine exhaust adding to the system incrementally. What "positive feedback cycle" in this instance indicates is best described by use of an apparently illogical statement: It's getting hotter because it's getting hotter.

See, the earth has maintained a fairly static temperature throughout man's existence, because just enough heat was created to compensate for the heat lost to space. Change either dynamic, and you have either a heat wave or an ice age, take your pick.

But because these were at levels that were self-correcting, and because no additional factors came into play until less than three hundred years ago, nature was able to balance the books and pay the tax at the end of the year.

Now, we're facing a real crisis, what other scientists have termed a "tipping point," where the additional carbon in the air has created circumstances that may cause runaway greenhouse effects that will only amplify themselves.

For example, polar ice caps radiate heat away from the planet because they're white. They also regulate ocean temperatures and cause ocean currents as ice melts to fresh water which then dilutes the salt water around it, making that less dense. The denser saltier water is forced under the lighter, less saline water, and thus you have a current.

Melt the polar ice caps because you've added heat to the atmosphere, and you've hit a triple whammy. Which means MORE heat is added to the atmosphere, because not only are you adding more carbon artificially, but you're removing the mechanism that can shed heat more efficiently.

In other wards, you're spending a buck but getting a $1.50 in matching funds. That's what a positive feedback cycle is.

That 8°Celsius number is important, by the way, because it represents just about the difference in temperature between the last ice age and the current planetary condition. Since the last ice age, as water levels have risen, the earth lost land mass equivalent to the continent of Africa. Africa represents about 6% of the earth's land mass currently, but also notice that with eight degrees more heat, there are vast tracts of land in Europe, Asia, and the Americas which would become thoroughly uninhabitable desert.

Just thought you ought to know.