Year 4, Month 5, Day 7: There Went The Sun

The Portland Tribune talks about coal. It’s bad stuff:

My greenhouse is covered with a thin plastic film. A few molecules of plastic are all it takes to make it 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer inside than out.

When coal, gasoline and natural gas are burned, they produce carbon dioxide that traps heat just like the plastic film of my greenhouse.

Green plants recycle carbon dioxide, but they can’t keep up with the amount that we put out. Two hundred years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels were 280 parts-per-million; now they’re more than 395 ppm. Every year globally, we burn 9 billion tons of fossil fuels. None of this is disputed.

The debate is about whether there are any consequences. Six years ago, the consensus among climate scientists was that man was accelerating climate change by burning fossil fuels.

The Earth’s climate has always changed, but never as fast as now. The change we are experiencing is a response to the coal and oil we burned 50 to 100 years ago. Our average temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the pre-Industrial Age. Sea levels are rising due to thermal expansion.

The scientific consensus is that a rise of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit would be bad, but survivable. Even if we stopped burning carbon today, scientists forecast that we would blow past this mark just from what we’ve done during the past 50 years.

Each year that we continue our reliance on fossil fuels will add $500 billion to the cost of mitigation. Warmer oceans produce stronger storms, so New York is planning to build a seawall. The Clark County (Wash.) Health Department is planning for refugees coming from the hot southern states by 2030. The forecast is for the oceans and the Willamette River to rise 2 feet by 2050.

It’s all solar. The only difference is how long it’s been sitting around. April 25:

If humans are to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, we need to transform the way we think about oil and coal. For too long we’ve considered them an easily-extracted source of cheap energy (just dig a hole!), while ignoring all their costly externalities (health effects, oil wars, environmental pollution, climate change). This faulty accounting has to change, of course.

But something else needs to find its way into our thinking. Fossil fuels are the remnants of the ancient sunlight which shone on the dinosaurs; when we carelessly idle our cars we are burning solar energy that is hundreds of millions of years old. Just as we are outraged when ancient cave paintings are despoiled, so should we be repelled by the profligate destruction of one of our oldest planetary inheritances in the name of convenience. We’ll do far better if we harvest sunlight when it’s fresh.

Warren Senders

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