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An Inconvenient Truth – Part Two

Based on the evidence presented in Part One of this post, it should be clear to anyone who is prepared to analyse the data that the earth’s climate is changing. And it is not just changing in some parts of the world, but in ALL parts of the world. And not just on land, but in the sea as well.

Not only are extreme weather events being reported from all over the planet, but they are happening more and more often, and in more and more extreme forms. Statistical weather reports continue to break new historical records year after year.

So the inevitable question that follows is – what on earth is happening? What is the cause of all these extreme weather events? And why do they seem to be getting worse with every passing year? To pursue the answers to these questions, we need to go back to beginning of the 21st century.

The year 2000 witnessed the closest presidential election in United States history. The Republican candidate for president was George W. Bush, governor of Texas and the eldest son of the 41st President George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate was Al Gore.

Al Gore had served as Vice-President under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. At the end of Clinton’s second term in office, Gore was chosen as the Democratic nominee for the 2000 presidential election. It was a moment that was to define the rest of his life.

For instead of being elected as America’s 43rd president, Al Gore lost the election by a mere 537 votes, even though he polled more votes overall that George Bush. In fact it took a highly controversial 5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court Justices to decide the presidency in Bush’s favour.

Although he could easily have been devastated by this narrow loss and chosen to leave public life altogether, Gore decided to throw his energies into something that had occupied his attention for the previous quarter of a century.

During his time in political office, Al Gore had always been interested in environmental affairs. In 1994, he launched GLOBE (the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment Program), which became a world-wide science and education program focusing on the environment.

He also strongly supported and help to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol. This was an international treaty that was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997, and which entered into force on 16 February, 2005. This became the forerunner to the current Paris Accord on climate change.

So when Al Gore left office in 2001, he decided to devote his time to making people aware of how the decisions that they made were affecting the world’s climate. He did this by means of an illustrated slide show aimed at alerting the public to the “planetary emergency” due to global warming.

The Movie that Changed the World

It so happened that one of the people who happened to see this slide show was the American environmental activist Laurie David. Laurie was so impressed with Gore’s presentation, that she helped to persuade documentary  film director Davis Guggenheim to adapt it into a film.

The film was made and released under the title An Inconvenient Truth.

It opened in New York City and Los Angeles on May 24, 2006, and proved to be an immediate success, winning Oscars in 2006 for Best Documentary Feature as well as Best Original Song for Melissa Etheridge’s song “I Need to Wake Up“. It has so far grossed over $50 million in the U.S. and abroad.

Throughout the film, Gore discussed the views of various scientists about the causes of global warming. He also emphasized his view that the real challenge facing humanity was not so much the phenomenon itself, as it was a moral issue confronting every individual on the planet.

In fact he concluded the film with the following words:

“Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero.

“The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will. But in America, the will to act is a renewable resource”.

But although individual decisions could make a difference in the outcome, Gore claimed that unless people across the globe recognized the nature of the problem and changed their behaviour, the impact of global warming on the planet could be catastrophic.

The film included a variety of segments that graphically illustrated both the extent of the problems that existed, as well as the likely consequences if timely action was not taken. For example, it discussed the possibility of the collapse of a major ice sheet in Greenland or West Antarctica.

Not only would such a collapse raise global sea levels by up to twenty feet, but this would also inevitably flood low-lying coastal areas around the world, which could lead to political upheavals as millions of people were driven out of their homes by the rising sea water.

The critical issue facing the earth, Gore explained, was the amount of human-generated greenhouse gases. To emphasize this fact, he pointed to the fact that ice-cores drawn from the Antarctic showed Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels were higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the film An Inconvenient Truth focused the attention of the public on the problem of global warming to an extent that had never been done before. It also galvanized nations around the world to redouble their efforts to counter this problem.

In that sense, Al Gore may be said to have had as signal an influence on the environmental movement as the American marine biologist Rachel Carson in the early 1960’s with the publication of her book Silent Spring. For his contribution Gore was selected as joint-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

But perhaps his biggest contribution has been his insistence that because it is our own behaviour that is to blame for global warming, it will not get better until we change the way we live our lives. And this is the position that has increasingly been adopted by the scientific community.

Types of Greenhouse Gases

In 2013, an Assessment Report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded by saying:

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”, and that “the largest human influence has been emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide”.

The greenhouse gases that the scientists refer to above fall into four major categories. They are:

1)  Water Vapour (H2O)
2)  Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
3)  Methane (CH4)
4)  Ozone (O3)

Water Vapour

It is worth noting here that although the public perception is that it is the burning of fossil fuels that is the major cause of global warming, in actual fact water vapour accounts for as much as two-thirds of the greenhouse gases present in the earth’s atmosphere.

However, water vapour is considered to be the major contributor to the greenhouse effect because, although it has a short atmospheric lifetime, it is the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere that determines the amount of evaporation and precipitation.

What this means in practice is that the warmer the temperature, the more water vapour can be stored in the clouds. And the more water vapour there is in the clouds, the greater amount of precipitation subsequently falls to the earth.

Carbon Dioxide

As pointed out above, although Carbon Dioxide emissions are considered to be the primary cause of global warming, they only make up about a quarter of the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere at any one time.

It should be noted here that Carbon Dioxide is part of the natural cycle of life. After all, we breathe in Oxygen and we breathe out Carbon Dioxide. Fortunately this is reversed with plant life, which breathe in Carbon Dioxide and breathe out Oxygen.

However, human beings also do things like manufacture products, drive cars, fly planes and so on. And in providing the energy to do these things, they burn fossil fuels such as coal (43% of total emissions), oil (34%) and gas (18%).

Scientists now report that atmospheric concentrations of Carbon Dioxide have increased by more than 40% since pre-industrial times. What this means is that levels have gone from 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in the 18th century, to over 400 ppmv today.

Methane

The amount of Methane in the earth’s atmosphere ranges from 4% to 9%. It is formed by both human and natural activities. For example, natural wetlands, agricultural activities, and the extraction of fossil fuels from the ground all emit Methane.

Scientists have noted that the amount of Methane in the earth’s atmosphere is greater now than at any time in the past 800,000 years, and that these concentrations have increased sharply during the course of the 20th century.

Ozone

The amount of Ozone in the earth’s atmosphere ranges from 3% to 7%. Although Ozone only has a short atmospheric lifetime, it is considered to be a potent greenhouse gas. This is because in addition to trapping heat, it is a pollutant that can cause health problems in people and damage to crops.

The Causes of Climate Change

As climatologists have pointed out, the temperature on the surface of the earth depends on a balance between the amount of energy entering the earth’s atmospheric system, and the amount of energy that is reflected back into space.

When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the earth, it warms up. When the sun’s energy is reflected back into space, it cools down. However it is important to note here the crucial role played by the atmospheric envelope that surrounds the earth.

If our atmosphere didn’t exist, we would experience a range of temperatures like a desert or the surface of the moon. The days would burn with heat, while the nights would freeze with cold. Without our atmosphere to protect us, the average temperature on the earth would be well below freezing.

The fact that life exists at all upon the earth depends upon a variety of factors that up until now have been successful in maintaining a balance from being too cold or too hot. But the geological history of the earth shows us that this balance is delicate, and can easily be disturbed.

So for example, we know from the fossil record that there have been times in earth’s history when changes in climate, such as during past ice-ages, led to the demise of many different species, and that climate change can dramatically reduce the chances of survival of those species that cannot adapt.

There are many factors, both natural and human, that can cause changes in the earth’s energy balance. The most significant of these are:

• Variations in the amount of energy emitted by the sun
• Changes in the reflectivity (Albedo) of the earth’s atmosphere and surface
• Changes in the amount of heat trapped in the earth’s atmosphere

Once it became apparent that the world was steadily getting hotter, scientists looked for something that would account for this phenomenon. And not surprisingly, they first suspected that this might be due to an increase in energy emanating from the sun.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a blind alley. For although scientists have a variety of satellites which can accurately measure changes in the energy output of the sun, they have not found a correlation between the sun’s output and the increasing temperatures upon the earth.

In fact they have now completely ruled out the sun as being the major cause of climate change. That is because the amount of energy the earth receives from the sun has not increased over the last seven decades or so. If anything, records show that there has been a slight downward trend.

So they turned their attention to the earth’s Albedo. The Albedo (the Latin word for “whiteness”) of the earth is a measure of the amount of solar energy that is reflected off the earth’s surface back into space. The higher the Albedo, the more sunlight that is bounced off the earth back into space.

Reflectivity can be illustrated by the different ways people who live in hot places use to keep themselves cool. Buildings that are painted white reflect heat, while those that are black retain heat. Lightly coloured clothing helps keep people cool in summer, while dark colours make them feel hotter.

But here again the scientists were confounded. That is because while there have been definite changes in the reflectivity index for certain areas of the earth, such as the melting ice-caps at the poles, this change in Albedo is not great enough to account for the rising temperatures of the earth.

So scientists were forced to look elsewhere for an explanation. They have now done so, and the theory that they have come up with is one that has now been accepted by most of the countries of the world. It is the theory known as the “Greenhouse Effect”.

The Greenhouse Theory

Most people are familiar with the concept of a greenhouse. Usually made of glass or some other transparent material, a greenhouse is an enclosed structure that allows sunlight in, but does not allow the infrared rays to escape, thus causing the temperature inside the interior space to rise.

In a similar fashion, say the scientists, greenhouse gases generated on or inside the earth rise up in the atmosphere where they become trapped, thus creating a sort of umbrella-like effect which causes the temperature underneath this umbrella to rise, just like it does inside a greenhouse.

So according to this theory, the “Greenhouse Effect” is the process by which the absorption and emission of infrared radiation by gases in a planet’s atmosphere, causes the temperature on the surface of the planet to increase, as shown in the following diagram.

Credit Wikipedia

Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, which began around the year 1760, human activity has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Based on data taken from ice cores, the concentrations of Methane have increased by 36%, and Carbon Dioxide by 148%.

It has been estimated that burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) has accounted for three-quarters of the increase in Carbon Dioxide over the last twenty years, with the other quarter being the result of changes in land use, particularly deforestation.

And as reported by the WMO (World Meteorological Association) in 2016, monthly global concentrations of Carbon Dioxide recorded by NASA have now exceeded 400 ppm (parts per million) for the first time in millions of years, and fully half of this is trapped in the atmosphere.

In December 2015, all of this led representatives of 195 countries to conclude an agreement within the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, to set targets for controlling the emissions of greenhouse gases. Because this was signed in Paris, it has become known as the Paris Accord.

The Paris Accord

In terms of this agreement, each country that was a signatory was required to set a “Nationally Determined Contribution” towards reaching the goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions around the world. This agreement went into effect on 4 November, 2016.

Unfortunately, there was one glaring exception. One country in particular has so far failed to ratify this agreement. That country is the United States, which is by far the greatest contributor to the problem, and accounts for a full quarter of all the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

One of the biggest sceptics that greenhouse gases are the cause of climate change is Donald Trump. During his campaign for the presidency, he called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese, and vowed that if he was elected President he would undo Obama’s climate action plan.

Since that time, Trump has said that he will definitely pull out of the Paris Accord, or that he might do this, or that he is still thinking about it, or that he might go along with some parts of it. But if his words have been confusing, his actions have left little doubt about what he really thinks.

In his Earth Day statement in April, Donald Trump failed to make any mention of the threat of climate change. In fact he issued an Executive Order seeking to suspend, rescind or review various Obama-era rules in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels.

Not only has Trump promised to bring back jobs in the coal industry, but he has recently approved oil drilling in the Arctic, despite the hazards which this would pose for the environment. Even his choice for head of the Environmental Protection Agency seemed to make no sense.

For in choosing Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, he picked a man who had sued that very agency 14 times while he was attorney general of the state of Oklahoma, arguing that it should be left to the industries themselves to decide what actions should best serve the needs of the environment.

The Inconvenient Truth

There are two things that should be obvious to everyone living on the planet today. The first is that the climate of the earth is changing, and the second is that more and more extreme weather events are happening around the world, and that they seem to be happening more and more often.

There is also almost unanimous agreement among those countries that have ratified the Paris Accord, that climate change and global warming are twin effects of a common cause, and that this cause is the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases as a result of humans burning fossil fuels.

But although scientists are undoubtedly correct in their belief that greenhouse gases produced by humanity are indeed polluting the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse effect, they may also be victims of an inconvenient truth.

The suspicion is beginning to grow, even amongst those who were formerly staunch supporters of the greenhouse theory, that the generally accepted explanation of global warming provided by scientists may be nothing more than a cover story designed to disguise a deeper and darker truth.

They base their suspicions on evidence indicating that the U.S. military has been actively engaged in a clandestine campaign for more than a quarter of a century, in which they have released into the atmosphere toxins that are far more dangerous than any greenhouse gases.

And because they have continued to deny both the existence of such a campaign, as well as their involvement in it, this suggests that they are hiding the truth from us, and that the earth may well be facing a threat far greater than anything that we have previously been told.

For as we shall see from the following instalment, it is beginning to look as if the dangers facing humanity at this time are not so much the result of what we are doing ON the earth, but rather what is happening TO the earth, emanating from sources beyond the solar system.

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Allan, An Inconvenient Truth, May 6, 2017, 12:40 pm

10 Responses to “An Inconvenient Truth – Part Two”

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