See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis Urges Action on Climate in His U. S. Visit

Pope Francis visited the United States in September 2015.  He addressed the issue of global warming as a worldwide concern on several occasions.  He stressed that we have to begin now, acting in concert, to stabilize the planet and improve our common home, the earth in its entirety.  The need is great not only to protect the environment for our children, but also as a matter of justice for today’s peoples who are impoverished and cannot take action on their own to protect against the damages from warming.

Both the Old and New Testaments provide the basis for taking action; the moral foundation motivating Pope Francis is drawn from the Golden Rule.  Leaders of other religions also are calling for action at this time.

The Pope’s message, if taken to heart, can help inspire the world’s leaders to reach agreement on climate action at the United Nations conference at the end of this year.

Pope Francis visited the U. S. in September 2015.  He repeated the need for the world to combat global warming in many of his appearances.  Earlier, in June 2015, he issued his encyclical “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home” , in which he laid out theological and ethical underpinnings for combating global warming.  A major theme is the biblical urging that humanity should flourish by enjoying the bounties of the natural world, while admonishing that we not exploit those resources for profit and wealth, to the exclusion of others.

On Sept. 23, 2015, the Pope visited President Obama at the White House.   Addressing the President in his speech, he stated, “accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me … that climate change is a problem [that] can no longer be left to a future generation….We are living at a critical moment of  history.  We still have time to make the change needed to bring about…sustainable and integral development.”  He went on to say that we need to address the problem not only to improve the common home we leave to our children, but also to enhance the lives of the many peoples living today. He further stated “humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home”.

The Pope addressed the U. S. Congress, and other administration officials, on Sept. 24, 2015 (see image below).  
 Pope Francis addressing Congress as members give him a standing ovation.
 Source: New York Daily News

In his speech he expanded on the themes from the previous day. 
Referring repeatedly to passages drawn from his encyclical, the Pope stated

“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature….We [can] limit and direct technology…to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power’….”

The Pope recognized the important role that business can play in this undertaking, since it “is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity…, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”

Pope Francis additionally addressed the United Nations General Assembly convening for its deliberations on Sustainability Development Goals, on Sept. 25, 2015.  He addressed many themes of concern to him, including climate change and environmental justice, stating “[a]ny harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity….A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and the disadvantaged”.


Can Pope Francis speak to a scientific issue?  Some might consider it unusual, or perhaps even unwarranted, for a sitting pope to urge action on an issue so firmly rooted in science as global warming is. 

The unequivocal answer is that he can.  Scientifically, his early experience, now backed up by the resources of the Vatican, fully qualify him to state his position.  Early in his life he studied chemistry at a level corresponding to U. S. high school and early university training .  Perhaps this early exposure partly informs his current concern about global warming. 

But most important is the central role played by clerical and lay scientists who are members of, or associated with, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in preparing the encyclical “Laudato Si’” and earlier Vatican publications on this subject.  The input from both of these institutions forms the foundation of the encyclical. It blends strong abhorrence over unending exploitation of the earth’s fossil fuel resources (when speaking of global warming), for the short-term gain of the businesses involved, with the profound distinctions between developed societies and the impoverished peoples of the world. 

These concerns justify his position on global warming from an ethical point of view.  The Pope feels that our exploitation of resources degrades our “common home”; instead we should care for it for the benefit of future generations.  At the same time concentrating the benefits of economic activity among developed countries leaves the rest of the world without adequate defenses against the harms from global warming, and without adequate resources to develop proactive adaptations on their own to protect against future harms.

Pope Francis takes on global warming with grace and fortitude.  Watching video replays of the Pope’s three appearances mentioned here, one is struck by the combination of humility yet strong conviction with which he confronts global warming.  He speaks in universal, ecumenical terms of the need for all humanity to engage in fruitful dialog to limit further warming.  His position is firmly grounded in the theology of the Old and New Testaments, and on the ethics that flow from these texts.  He starts from the Old Testament blessing on humanity to prosper from our caring development of earth’s natural bounties.  He has repeatedly cautioned that this easily lapses into the unsanctioned exploitation of those resources for short term gain, profit and power.  He further bases his strong emphasis on social justice on the Golden Rule, found in both the Old and New Testaments, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Failure to attend to the needs of the less fortunate clearly violates this Rule.

Other religions also support action on global warming.  A large group of American Jewish rabbis is distributing “A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis” proclaiming similar principles, and calls to action, as the Pope.  Likewise, an “Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change” has been issued .  It is a detailed exposition of both the science underlying the global warming crisis and an exposition of the foundations in the Qur’an for preserving the natural world from exploitation, while promoting the welfare of humanity.


There are many reasons to take action to address global warming and its damages.  These include scientific, economic, political and ethical bases for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to trends already under way.

Pope Francis has brought the moral force of his position as leader of the Roman Catholic Church and, more widely, as a recognized force for justice in the world, to urge all humanity to combat warming.  He is joined in this call to action by leaders of other religions, including Judaism and Islam.

All the nations of the world must coalesce around this common objective.  We must cast aside past parochial interests that have prevailed to prevent action.  The next climate negotiations, the United Nations Conference of the Parties (i.e., all the members of the U. N.), will be held in two months in Paris.  We need to work at all levels to achieve the needed agreement at this Conference to advance worldwide programs to limit emissions and promote thermal stabilization of our common home.

© 2015 Henry Auer

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

California Backtracks on Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Program

[Updated September 17, 2015]
California’s praiseworthy effort to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, initiated by former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, suffered a major setback when present Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators agreed to exempt petroleum from the program.  They succumbed to intense pressure from the oil industry. 
To minimize further global warming and its harms we all have to limit accumulation of additional atmospheric greenhouse gases.  The oil industry campaign in California has the opposite effect, ensuring addition of more gases rather than minimizing their buildup.   We and future generations will suffer the harmful consequences.

Former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, addressing a United Nations conference on the environment in June 2005, indicated his understanding that climate change is an indisputable threat.  He revealed his plans to combat global warming, stating

"Today, California will be a leader in the fight against global warming….I say the debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat and we know the time for action is now." 

Under the Governor’s leadership California enacted emissions reduction legislation, its Global Warming Solutions Act, in 2006 (read more). The Act imposes statutory limits on the annual emission rate of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) only until 2020, requiring reduction to the level of 1990 by that date.  Yet, recognizing that more drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required in order to minimize global warming, Schwarzenegger further issued an executive order establishing the goal of reducing GHG emissions by 80% below the level of 1990 by 2050, with an interim objective of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030.  These limits are modeled after similar goals established by the European Union.

Ten years later and now no longer the governor, Schwarzenegger has not relented, stating  

“The debate is over and the time for action is now….[T]his is the challenge of our time. And it is our responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it, but right now we are failing future generations.”


Oil Industry Lobbies for Exemption.  On September 10, 2015, however, according to a report in the New York Times, the Democratic majority in the California Senate and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown opted to exempt oil products from the rules of the plan. They faced successful opposition from Democrats in the California Assembly.  The report stated that the legislators succumbed to intense pressure from the oil industry, including  a massive advertising and mailing campaign, to let them continue operating unhindered.

This opposition asserted, incorrectly, that the restrictions could result in gas rationing and a ban on minivans, stating, for example, “This law will limit how often we can drive our own cars”.  The photo below shows a Los Angeles, California highway during rush hour, showing how important it is to “drive our own cars”.

Clogged rush hour traffic recently on a Los Angeles, California highway.
The legislation remaining after the exemption for petroleum still keeps California on target in other segments of the energy economy, including energy efficiency and providing for renewable electric power.  Nevertheless, removing petroleum, which powers automobile traffic, excludes a major contributor to total GHG emissions from the overall emission limits.
This represents a major setback for Gov. Brown, for he strongly supports his state’s emission reduction program.  In addition, it clearly compromises the strength of his position before international negotiators involved in finalizing a worldwide agreement on emissions reduction under the umbrella of the United Nations.
President Obama highlighted the damages to Alaska resulting from global warming already under way, during his visit there the week before.  In a major speech he stated
“[T]he Arctic is the leading edge of climate change -- our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces.  Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average….  Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record….[a]nd the impacts here are very real….[Damages] could cost billions of dollars to fix.”
British Columbia’s carbon fee.  In contrast to the rollback of the limits on GHG emissions that California is carrying out, the Canadian province of British Columbia has implemented a revenue-neutral carbon fee.  The program went into effect in 2008.  It progressively raised the fee each year until 2012.  The fee continues in effect at that level.  It is revenue-neutral, because the increase in revenues from the fee are returned to British Columbia taxpayers by reductions in other taxes.
The more GHGs are emitted the higher the temperature of the entire earth system becomes.  The excess heat stored in the atmosphere, reflected in higher long-term global average air temperatures as well as in the total excess heat energy stored in the oceans (about 90% of the total heat), is directly related to the total excess burden of CO2 and other GHGs that accumulate in the atmosphere.  These GHGs originate from humanity’s use of fossil fuels to provide our energy.  CO2 emitted into the atmosphere remains there undiminished for centuries.  As long as we continue to emit excess GHGs into the atmosphere the total heat content of the air + oceans will continue to increase. 
This is the reason that it is essential to minimize annual rates of GHG emissions, ultimately reaching near zero annual emissions.  Only then will the total heat of the air + oceans stabilize at a new, higher value governed by the higher level of GHGs then prevailing.  So the faster humankind succeeds in reducing annual GHG emission rates to near zero, the less will be the increase in the new stabilized global average temperature.
This reality is why the action of California’s legislature is disappointing, indeed counterproductive.  The continued unconstrained emission of CO2 from burning gasoline and other petroleum products slows the needed reduction in GHG emission rates, resulting in a higher stabilized global average temperature.
California’s economy alone contributes about 1/7th of America’s entire economic activity, as of 2014; its proportional energy economy likewise is comparable since the various sectors of the economy provide the demand for energy use.  For this reason any backtracking in California’s ambitious program to reduce its emissions rate is a serious, and irreversible, setback.
Evidence of the devastation wrought by man-made global warming is already apparent in California.  Its multi-year drought has critically affected its agricultural productivity, and triggered forest wildfires that are more extensive than in past decades.  Droughts typically arise when rain and snowfall are less than expected.  But the current drought is more severe because of the excessive heat that worsens the dry conditions.  It is unconscionable that oil industry interests seek to perpetuate the activities that lead to California’s extreme drought.

[Update] Valerie Trouet and colleagues published a detailed analysis of precipitation in the Sierra Nevada mountains of eastern California online in Nature Climate Change in September 2015.   They focused on the annual mountain snowfall that on melting provides much of the water resources for the state, going back to 1500 C.E.  They found that the water originating as snowfall in the winter of 2015 was the least for the entire 515 year period examined.  The likelihood of such a low snowpack having occurred in the past is estimated at once in every 3,100 years, which points out the extreme nature of this year’s minimum.  In view of projected worsening of man-made warming in the Sierra Nevada, the authors fear “major future impacts” on the region’s water storage ability.
The self-serving exemption from GHG emission limits by the oil industry enhances its short-term financial gain, but also contributes to long-term worsening of global warming, with all its harmful and damaging effects on the world’s population.  Even so the companies’ executives and shareholders, and their progeny, will be affected to the same extent as others around the world will be.  This select group of individuals can’t build biosphere domes over their homes and places of work to protect them from harm.  Their own actions will come back to harm them and their children. 
This notion has been poignantly underscored by President Barack Obama, who said in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2014 : 
“Climate change is a fact.  And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
Conclusion.  The damaging effects of global warming are already upon us, and are made worse by our continued use of fossil fuels, and other GHG-producing activities.  All peoples of the world have to coalesce around positive steps to minimize further emissions and stabilize the heat added to the earth system.

© 2015 Henry Auer

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Beirut’s Garbage Crisis Mirrors Our Planet’s Global Warming Crisis

Just as Beirut’s current garbage crisis results in unconstrained buildup of garbage in its streets, so humanity’s continuing emission of carbon dioxide waste into the atmosphere results in unprecedented buildup of harmful greenhouse gases.  Ultimately the causes of each of these parallel phenomena lie in political intransigence among groups or nations unable or unwilling to resolve differences.  Recent developments hold considerable promise for reaching agreement on global warming.  These efforts should be welcomed and supported. 

Garbage has been piling up uncollected in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon this summer, festering in the heat of summer (New York Times, Aug. 27, 2015; see the photo below).

Accumulated garbage in Beirut, Lebanon.

The landfill that had been used for Beirut’s waste for 20 years accumulated four times its intended capacity, and its neighbors finally blocked further access because of the odor.  Lebanon’s government is essentially nonexistent.  Its presidency has been vacant for more than a year, and the parliament, long divided along sectarian lines and essentially dysfunctional, had to reelect itself in order to stay in office.  As a result, the garbage remains in place on the city’s streets.

Beirut’s citizens have protested the street garbage, adopting a “You Stink” motto directed against those in power.

Normally governments provide refuse collection to cities and towns in a reliable fashion.  This is no longer the case.  What was routinely taken care of behind the scenes is now accumulating with worsening consequences as time passes.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important greenhouse gas.  Its concentration in the atmosphere from 1700 to the present time is shown in the graphic below, in parts per million (ppm; volume of CO2 gas in one million volumes of air).

Experimental measurement of atmospheric CO2 concentration from 1700 to the present.  Cores of ice taken from glaciers contain tiny air bubbles characteristic of the atmosphere at the time the bubbles were trapped.  Their CO2 levels are shown in the thin line before 1958.  From 1958 on the results are from direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 taken at a laboratory at the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
It is seen that the CO2 concentration increased gradually above its baseline of less than 280 ppm as the industrial revolution took hold by the mid nineteenth century.  Since then it has grown drastically up to the present, reaching over 400 ppm.
The amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, as well as a particular molecular property of atmospheric CO2 , over the same time period follow the same time-dependent trend as the CO2 result above (please see the linked references).  This shows without question that the additional CO2 burden in the atmosphere originates from humanity’s use of fossil fuels. 
The excess build-up of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) leads to global warming with negative consequences worldwide.  It has produced numerous examples of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts with consequent reduction in crop yields, heavy rain and snow with resulting flooding, and increases in forest wildfires.  These incur widespread damage as they occur, whose costs are not included in the pricing of our fossil fuels.  Rather, we wind up paying the added expenses, for example, in higher insurance premiums and higher taxes, whose revenues are needed to pay out higher compensation and protect against future harms. 
Beirut’s garbage crisis may be considered a metaphor for the world’s inability to deal with global warming.  Just as household and commercial waste gives rise to the garbage accumulating in Beirut, the CO2 that we emit into the earth’s atmosphere is the waste, or “garbage” originating from our use of fossil fuels.
·        Failure to collect Beirut’s garbage started in early summer 2015 and at first presumably caused little alarm. 
In the industrial revolution, emissions of GHGs began slowly (see the graphic above) at a level that did not cause perceptible global warming.
·        As Beirut’s garbage accumulated, it was stacked in huge piles reaching two or three storeys high. 
In recent decades dumping of GHGs into the atmosphere has accelerated drastically and continues largely unabated. 
·        The stench from Beirut’s garbage has become intolerable, causing passersby to hold their noses or wear masks (seen by this writer in photos not included here).  Some were sickened by the smell.
Although CO2 and other GHGs are colorless and odorless, their increased concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere have led to rising long-term average global temperatures.  This has had noticeable effects such as more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, reduced crop yields, heavy precipitation, flooding and wildfires.  A visible effect has been the persistent unhealthy smog pervading many cities in China.  The costs of these damages are unaccounted for when we use the fuels.
·        In Lebanon, the paralyzing political situation, originating in long-term conflicts among its many ethnic and religious sects, has resulted in a dysfunctional government unable to resolve the garbage crisis.
Similarly, annual international negotiations surrounding the global warming issue for the last two decades have made little progress.  These occur under the umbrella of the United Nations, involving all its member states, numbering just under 200.  Here too, long-term differences persist among developed industrialized countries, developing countries, impoverished countries and small island nations.  Over the years many of these nations have intransigently maintained their widely divergent positions as negotiations have continued, resulting in insufficient progress.
The past year or more has, however, achieved important breakthroughs in the global warming negotiations.  The 2015 conference takes place in Paris in early December.  There is new hope that, in view of groundwork already under way, the nations of the world can come together at that time.  If an agreement is indeed reached, it will have to be ratified according to the procedures in place in each nation.  It is hoped that ratification will proceed on schedule so that the agreement can enter into force on schedule.  The accelerating emissions trend of recent years requires nothing less, and none too soon.
Likewise, we hope that the Lebanese can resolve Beirut’s garbage crisis soon and restore civil life to a once-vibrant city.

© 2015 Henry Auer