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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.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Centennial Commemoration of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

A Fable

It was December 2115, the hundredth anniversary of the agreement to a climate treaty reached among all the members of the United Nations, in Paris.  The members of the Petrex extended family gathered to mark the occasion.  By that time, three to four generations after the event, the clan had grown considerably, and had established for itself a fully self-sufficient environment inside its terradome.  For the occasion the space was opulently fitted out with an artificial lake in which were moored several model oil rigs.  The pipe linking the rigs to shore ended in an internally illuminated fountain gurgling champagne.  Scattered about the artificially-turfed land areas were several working model oil wells erected in mud fields of black caviar, pumping dark chocolate and coffee liqueurs, and other reminders of the black gold that had started the Petrex fortune, more than one hundred years earlier.

Back then, the clan founder, Malvolio Petrex, chairman and chief executive officer of the largest oil company at the time, had come to realize the inconsistencies of his, and his company’s, position.  They were, at one and the same time, using all their financial power and political influence to perpetuate, indeed to expand, the use of the oil they extracted from the ground, while correctly realizing that their exploitative activities were worsening the global warming already well under way.  After all, the Paris agreement itself was reached in response to expert scientific findings, reported for at least the preceding twenty years, that burning oil and other fossil fuels, such as those his company and others were pulling from the ground, added irreversibly to the atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Malvolio Petrex knew that global warming was going to get much worse in the coming years, because his company and others were continuing to produce fossil fuels at ever-increasing rates of growth, year after year.  After all, more and more energy was needed to fuel the demands of economies all over the world, being used to expand their economies and raise the poorest peoples of the world out of poverty. 

He wasn’t too worried about his own welfare, though.  Thanks to his immeasurable wealth, he already had peppered several secure estates around the world, in various climatic and ecological settings.  But as any other dynastic figure that we may encounter throughout history, he was concerned about the wellbeing of his progeny.  He knew that the travesties his business activities were creating would worsen after he was gone, impacting the lives and indeed the safety of his scions.  He understood that worsening warming would lead to economic and political unrest among the impoverished and others less well off than he because they would be suffering the harmful effects of warming: flooding in some regions; droughts, wildfires and famine in others; and inexorable sea level rise driving millions around the world from their traditional homes and livelihoods.

And so he embarked on a program to develop self-contained environments for himself and his family.  The environments would insulate his family from the unpleasantness of dealing with the effects of climate change by keeping the open atmosphere out, and the family’s living quarters and areas for amusing themselves in.  The first models were installed on the grounds of his existing estates, and were relatively modest. 

Now, one hundred years later, after many rounds of development and improvement, this Petrex estate was enveloped in its own protective terradome.  It was a large, fully enclosed environment covering almost one square mile, incorporating the estate’s mansion, its recreational areas, and fields producing much of its food needs.  The terradome insulated the estate from the worst “weird” climate and weather events brought on by the extreme warming that the world had attained by then, as well as keeping a portion of the sun’s warming light from penetrating to the land within it.  The Petrex family had practically no need to travel outside the terradome; it was almost entirely self-sufficient.

As a result, they were insulated as well from the harms and damages induced by the warmer climate that most of the peoples of the world were suffering.  Or maybe they knew and, just like Malvolio Petrex a hundred years earlier, chose to ignore it.  The population at large was subjected to far worse conditions than Petrex’s world had experienced one hundred years earlier: debilitating heat waves and droughts, intense storms bringing on severe flooding, encroaching oceans because of the severe degree of sea level rise, all brought on by the excess global warming that burning fossil fuels induced. 

By the time of the centennial anniversary the opportunity for effective action to combat global warming had long passed.

                                      *        *        *        *

President Obama delivered an annual State of the Union speech on January 28, 2014, as reported by this writer earlier.  He stated what is probably the most profound and basic motivation for attacking the problem of global warming:   

“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.”  

Importantly, we know with practically complete certainty that the excess warming of the planet is due to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels to power our economies.  The President’s statement illuminates the core of our attitudes and behavior about global warming, namely, the strong desire we all feel to pass on to our children and further progeny a secure world not threatened by the consequences of our present environmental actions. 

Moral basis for climate action. President Obama laid down a forceful imperative, that of working to abate global warming for the welfare of our children and their children, and by inference, our future progeny whom we will never know. We can consider this the most powerful, fundamental driver for action against global warming. It is a principal motivation for the faithful, who consider that we are stewards of God’s creation, responsible for preserving its bounties for ourselves and our progeny. It is an important guiding principle for others as well who direct their actions to the betterment of the world and the lives of their fellow humans.

The effects of global warming pervade the entire earth.  Once fossil fuels are burned, the carbon dioxide they produce is distributed worldwide throughout the atmosphere.  The stronger greenhouse effect that results leads to unprecedented warming of the earth system, its air, water and land.  Indeed, heating is occurring about sixty to one hundred times faster than during any earlier warming or cooling interval uncovered in the geological record going back almost one million years.  The greenhouse effect warms the atmosphere, but over 90% of the excess heat enters the oceans.  It is stored there long-term and recirculates back to the atmosphere as ocean currents change. 

Warming affects all inhabitants of our planet, poor and rich, weak and powerful alike.  It is folly to think that those having wealth and exerting power can be insulated from its effects.  The Paris agreement opened the way, for the first time, for all peoples to make concerted efforts to minimize further warming of the planet.  We all must ensure that the agreement is implemented, and extended in the way it calls for.
© 2015 Henry Auer

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