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Science Corner: Who’s responsible for global warming?

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Pogo was right – We have met the enemy and he is us

Who’s responsible for all this global warming/climate change? Recently, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was criticized by a climate activist when she proposed working with the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions. The activist accused the governor of working with “the enemy.” Is the oil and gas industry really an enemy? I believe it was Albert Camus who aptly stated - we are all innocent, even if we have to blame the whole human race and heaven and hell.

First, if they are the enemy, just stop buying gas and oil. Where does that get us? But in fact we ourselves are the enemy if there is one. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, carbon dioxide is the primary driver of climate change. Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a Swedish scientist that was the first person that we know of to claim in 1896 that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature.

By the 1940s scientists checked his proposal by analyzing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. To get a good average measure of the CO2 concentration for the world, scientists selected to measure at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii where there is little or no contamination from large local sources. Since 1959 the observatory has been continuously measuring carbon dioxide concentration there. Who uses fossil fuels? We do.

So let’s compare world population growth with the increase in concentration of carbon dioxide From 1959 to 2018 the carbon dioxide concentration has gone from 316 parts per million, ppm, to 409 ppm according to NOAA, a 29 percent increase over 59 years. See the graph “Atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory.”

The United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs reports that world population has grown from 3.0 billion to 7.6 billion people in the years between 1959 and 2018. This is an increase of 56 percent.  Look at the graph: World Population Growth. It appears that the ultimate driver of climate change is population growth.  The two graphs show us a pattern.

With the scientific method one often makes a prediction and then determines a test to determine the validity of the prediction.  In a sense that is what has happened. The Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius made a prediction in 1896. And the world by its action has tested his “hypothesis.” Of course because two things happen at the same time does not mean there is a causal relationship.

However in this case we have the knowledge that the burning of fossil fuels makes carbon dioxide and that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does trap heat. Since we certainly have increased our use of fossil fuels since 1959, we are on pretty solid ground here.

The World Population Growth graph shows how the energy revolution has allowed mankind to thrive.  But our population growth is accelerating at an unsustainable rate. We rapidly run out of water, food and land.

What is to be done? First, let’s not blame the fossil fuel industry for the industry’s and our success in creating a much more comfortable world than we had in 1700. But we do have an urgent issue to deal with. We are all in this together and we need to work to have a better world.

Read more: https://www.lenntech.com/greenhouse-effect/global-warming-history.htm#ixzz62dFw7ada.

By Mike Daly
Guest Columnist