Yesterday’s fuel today

August 18th, 2003 § 12 comments

Cognitive dissonance is reading Coal: A Human History while standing on a busy street. You look up and see six lanes of cars, trucks, SUVs, and buses roaring past you; you look down and read passages like this one:

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, we’ve burned enough fossil fuels to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by about one-third, already bringing it to a level probably not seen in the last several million years. …There is plenty of evidence that the warming has already begun; the 1990s were the warmest decade since global record keeping began, around 1860. Indirect data from temperature proxies, like tree rings and corals and ice cores, indicate that the 1990s were probably the warmest decade of the last thousand years. Plants and animals are already beginning to shift their ranges in their efforts to follow the climate that suits them; permafrost is thawing, and on nearly every continent ancient glaciers are in rapid retreat. …

[A group of over 2,000 scientists gathered by the United Nations] predicts warming over the next century ranging from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. …Even at the high end of that range, it’s hard to be alarmed over such tiny numbers until you realize that these global averages can mask climatic changes of epic proportions. At the depth of the last ice age thousands of years ago, much of the land in the Northern Hemisphere was covered by an ice sheet about a mile high. The average global temperature at that time was only 5 or 6 degrees Celsius colder than today’s. At the high end of the warming range, we are looking at a warming in only a century about as great as the one that melted that ice sheet, with more warming in the centuries ahead.

12 Comments

  • machew says:

    But they’re almost out of fuel in Pheonix!
    http://www.fox11az.com/news/state/stories/KMSB_state_shortage_081803.1ccf6446.html
    Another good book to freak you out is “Riddle of the Ice”. While more conversational in tone, the author does a great job of conveying the idea that while we do not know “fer sure” (to quote certain persons in high places) how global warming works, certainly there is no denying that human activiy has effected some very complicated things about this little blue ball that we do not understand and that is well… a little scary.

  • Jeff says:

    Thanks for the tip. I’m currently re-reading The Ingenuity Gap, which deals with a similar topic. The author’s thesis is that we are creating very complex systems that cause all sorts of problems, and those systems are becoming so complicated that we can’t supply enough ingenuity to solve those problems. I may have recommended it to you before, actually. It’s definitely worth a read.

  • Christine says:

    Hell, I’m just happy I’m not the only one who reads on the street.

  • Brian says:

    I am compelled to point out that according to evidence left by rising and retreating sea levels, the earth is much, much colder now than it has been in the past few hundred million years. We are in an ice age. In geologic terms, what we have now is nothing to worry about.
    Of course, when you look at what has happened in the past couple of hundred thousand years versus what has happened in the past hundred… worry.

  • Jeff says:

    Well, sure, in geologic terms, everything is fine. We’re just unleashing a whole bunch of trapped carbon that used to be floating around in the atmosphere; there were plenty of plants and animals that thrived on it, decomposed, and turned into fuel over the millennia. I don’t think we’re going to destroy all life on earth or anything like that. If downtown San Francisco and lower Manhattan wind up underwater, though, that’s going to cause a few problems for the project of human civilization.

  • Christine says:

    You really think that kind of flooding could happen? Think of the big strong dyke system in both cities! Oh wait… wrong kind of dykes.

  • Jeff says:

    Yep, wrong kind. Otherwise it would be a tremendous waste for Northampton to be so far inland.

  • Christine says:

    Could totally apply to Amsterdamn, though.

  • Christine says:

    I mean, Amsterdam. Sorry. I keep forgetting it’s not a swear word.

  • Anonymous says:

    Manhattan underwater could be a wonderful habitat for all kinds of beautiful creatures, a marked change from its current state.

  • Jeff says:

    I don’t know who that last person is, but I suspect we wouldn’t get along very well.

  • Brian says:

    Just goes to show how much the internet distorts human relations, doesn’t it?
    - Brian

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