Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are responsible for global warming, the long-term worldwide average warming experienced since the industrial revolution. GHGs arise from human use of fossil fuels for energy. Major emitters of GHGs include both industrialized countries and, in recent decades, developing countries as well. Higher global temperatures cause the extremes of hot and cold, and wet and dry, weather of recent years. This blog examines global warming and its effects.
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".
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).
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.
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.
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).
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
to collect Beirut’s garbage started in early summer 2015 and
at first presumably caused little alarm.
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.
recent decades dumping of GHGs into the atmosphere has accelerated drastically
and continues largely unabated.
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
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
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.