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Home » Archives » October 2007 » Letters On Climate Change

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10/05/2007: "Letters On Climate Change"


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County Climate Change Policy Is Good Policy


To the Editor:

The County Council is receiving comments from some of our citizens who think human caused climate change is a bunch of hooey and they don’t think the Council should take any action on the issue that just got 2500 UN Panel scientists and Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize. Well, they may be right because we don’t know 100% for sure. Then, there are even some who think we’d be wasting our time because it’s already too late, that we’re screwed, and why bother.

Here’s why. Most, if not all, of the actions in the proposed (related story) County Climate Change Policy are things we should be doing whether we are believers, skeptics or have given up all hope. The recommended actions will save energy which translates into saving money. They encourage more recycling and composting which reduces how much trash we pay to be transported to Eastern Oregon. They protect the beauty of our islands and the demand on our fresh water resources. Finally, they promote healthier living. All this with very little cost to the County!

If we are to be good stewards of our islands these will be recommendations we can all believe in. And please, before you send us articles by so called “experts”, Google them to see if they’re being paid by Exxon.

Howard "Howie" Rosenfeld
SJ County Council
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Myhr Was Correct About Those Light Bulbs

To the Editor:

I sat in on the County Council’s September 25 discussion on global warming and I want to share some observations and information.

Councilman Myhr made a very important point in response to Councilman Peterson’s observation that San Juan County is just a drop in the bucket. Citing information from the U.S. Department of Energy, Councilman Myhr pointed out that if each household in the U.S. were to replace just one incandescent light bulb with one compact fluorescent light bulb, it would save the energy equivalent of talking 800,000 cars off the road. This is a good example of one small action on the part of many adding up to a big result. San Juan County is a drop in the bucket, but if we all pull together, there will be a big impact.

In your story on climate change, you are correct that there are predictable long term cycles of cooling and warming. These are known as Milankovich Cycles, named after the Serbian mathematician who first identified them. They are due to the axis tilt, precession (i.e., wobble) and elliptical orbit of the Earth. Along with these major forcing mechanisms, there are other factors, such as volcanism and solar flares, that create smaller climate changes such as little ages and warming periods.

Gathering together information from many sources, scientists have found that temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have tracked each other up and down during the Milankovich Cycles. In the past, when temperatures rose, carbon dioxide concentrations rose; when temperatures decreased, carbon dioxide concentrations decreased. Now we have the reverse situation where increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases drive up temperatures. The scary part is that before the Industrial Revolution and even in the warmest interglacial periods during the last 650,000 years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere did not exceed 280 part per million (ppm). Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels have shot up to 380 ppm and are rising. The average global temperature is also rising, with the hottest years on record being in the last decade. If we continue with our current production of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide concentrations are predicted to rise to 800 ppm. Keeping in mind that temperatures will also rise, it is going to be a very different world.

Someday there will be another ice age, but not soon enough to ameliorate the harm that is currently being caused by global warming in the form drought and desertification in some areas, deluge and flooding in others, more frequent extreme weather events overall, loss of sea ice and glaciers, sea level rise along with increased shoreline erosion and loss of wetlands, the decrease in cereal crops first in low latitudes and eventually in high latitudes as things heat up, the spread of tropical diseases (think malaria, cholera, Dengue fever) increased destruction of forests due to fire and pests, accelerated extinctions and possibly mass extinction.

While the link between increased carbon dioxide concentrations and past mass extinctions has not hit the popular literature yet, scientific journals and conferences are full of papers and presentations on this topic. Dr. Peter Ward of the University of Washington and Dr. David Bottjer (one of my thesis advisors) from the University of Southern California will be presenting papers on this topic at the Geological Society of America conference in Denver this month.

Drs. Ward and Bottjer see a potential link between mass extinctions (at least six of the 13) and carbon dioxide concentrations when looking at the isotopic, paleontologic, and geologic records. Their theory goes like this. In the geologic record, we see periods of increased volcanism. Volcanoes release carbon dioxide along with other gases, which, in high enough concentrations, create a Greenhouse Effect and global warming. In a warmer world, ocean circulation becomes sluggish and oxygen is used up in the bottom waters by marine organisms. This, in turn, causes the demise of many marine organisms, although some are able to take advantage of it. There are certain microbes which love oxygen-poor water and they flourish. Unfortunately, these microbes produce toxic hydrogen which further poisons the water. Meanwhile on land, the increased concentration of carbon dioxide from the volcanoes, along with possibly lower oxygen concentrations and increased sulfur compounds, make it difficult for things to breath there.

While most people have heard about the asteroid that smacked into the Yucatan Peninsula at the end of the Cretaceous Period, causing the end of the dinosaurs, most people are not familiar with recent research that indicates that the Earth was “sick” and species were dying out for a long time prior to the asteroid impact due to higher carbon dioxide concentrations. If anyone wants links to scientific papers and articles on mass extinctions and carbon dioxide concentrations, I’d be glad to provide them.

Last spring, I heard a University of Washington professor give a very good analogy for what is currently happening with global warming. The International Panel on Climate Change (2,500 of the top scientists and economists, including eight Nobel laureates) has concluded that it is very likely that global warming is occurring and humans are contributing to some part of it. In their report, this translates into a 95% chance that it is occurring. Mind you, true scientists are trained to not say things with certainty unless it can be proven. An extreme example of this was Berkeley who said, “If I can’t see you in the dark, you don’t exist.” So for these top scientists to give it a 95% change of happening is pretty strong. Anyway, the UW professor likened this 5% uncertainty to playing Russian roulette. Only rather than playing with a six-chambered gun and one bullet, we are playing with a 20-chambered gun and 19 bullets. And we are not aiming the gun at our head. We are aiming it at the head of our grandchildren.

For those who are interested in the impacts from global warming around the Puget Sound, check out the report produced by the University of Washington through the Office of the Governor at http://cses.washington.edu/db/pdf/snoveretalpsat461.pdf. The International Panel on Climate Change has also produced several reports on world-wide impacts and those can be accessed at http://www.ipcc.ch.

Shannon FitzGerald
Friday Harbor

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