Monday, June 23, 2014

Don't Go Near The Water


     "What's all this fuss about the oceans becoming more 'Hasidic'? I know lots of Hasidim and they're very fine people."
        "Emily."
        "And they're also very modest. When they go swimming, they always wear those long bathing suits that go all the way from their ankles to their neck."
        "Emily."
        "And besides, the oceans belong to everyone and if the Hasidim want to swim in the oceans, well, what business it that of..."
        "Emily!"
        "What?"
        "Not 'Hasidic,' Emily. 'acidic.' The oceans are becoming more acidic because when carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it combines with water molecules, hydrogen ions are generated, and the ocean becomes more acidic."
        "Oh. Never mind."
                                                              ***
        So, is this really a serious problem or, like Emily Litella, should we just...'never mind?' Here's what you missed that day you were absent from Science class,  
        The pH of a liquid tells us how acidic it is. Pure water has a pH of 7 and is neutral. Liquids with pH lower than 7 are acids and greater than 7, bases or alkaline.
        Since the start of the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the pH of the oceans has declined from 8.2 to 8.1 so that it would actually be more correct to say that the oceans are becoming more 'neutral', i.e. less alkaline, than to say that they're becoming more 'acidic'.  But 'neutral oceans' just won't get those juices flowing the way 'acidic' ones will,
       Think someone is trying to snooker us with all this stuff? More taxes? More loan guarantees? Help out the Green People a little? Maybe we should ask to see their emails. Oh, all the hard drives fell into the ocean and got eaten by sharks? Well, it could happen."
         

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is Carbon Dioxide Getting A Bad Rap?


        Maybe you've seen The Graph, the one with the two wavy lines, one for carbon dioxide and the other for temperature, and have also heard...The Speech,
        "Look at this. Anybody except a Republican can see that carbon dioxide always increases when earth's temperature increases and, if we don't do something soon, we're...cooked! Only question is, boiled, baked, or fried?" 
        Well, while it's true that carbon dioxide and temperature have fluctuated   together for millions (billions?) of years, take a closer look at that graph and you'll notice something that scientists, but apparently not former Vice Presidents, have known for years, i.e. temperature goes up before carbon dioxide increases.
        But how can carbon dioxide cause global warming if the warming comes first, before the carbon dioxide increases? The most widely accepted scientific explanation for all this is that,
        Earth's climate has always fluctuated between ice ages and warming periods due to 'natural causes', i.e. changes in earth's orbit around the sun, changes in the way the earth tilts toward or away from the sun while it's orbiting, changes in solar activity...in other words, anything that can't be controlled by Exxon-Mobile.
        As the planet warms, the oceans also warm and carbon dioxide comes out of solution (the oceans contain 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere). This additional carbon dioxide then enters the atmosphere where it absorbs energy from the sun which it then radiates down onto the earth's surface. It's how 'greenhouse gases' work.
        In other words, carbon dioxide didn't 'cause' all that warming over the past  4.5 billion years. It just 'amplified' the warming that was already going on. When the planet cools, the same thing happens but...in reverse.
        "But this time, things are different. We're burning lots of fossil fuels which is adding even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere which is adding to global warming and making the seas rise even faster. We're all going to die!"
        Whew! Maybe time to take a deep breath and chill (ha, ha) a little.
        While it's true that burning fossil fuels has added some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and that this may very well be causing some warming and increase in sea levels, the important question is, how much? And is it 'dangerous' or, as some have suggested, might it even be a good thing if it prevents, or at least delays, another ice age? Or is it maybe just..... inconsequential?  
        Anyway, over the past 130 years, the planet's temperature has gone up, ready?... less than one degree, 0.8 degrees Celsius to be exact. And during the last 15 of these years, we've had no surface warming to speak of at all. A 'pause' in the warming, an end to the warming, or maybe even the beginning of a new ice age? No way to know until we can look back on these years someday and see what actually happened.
         And the seas? Over the past 130 years, the seas rose...eight inches. Looks like we're not going to have to swim to work for at least a little while longer.