This essay on Global Warming will attempt to deal with a larger scope than the usual paper on this topic. I am very future-oriented in my reasoning, which means I will discuss a timescale much greater than the five-year, fifty-year, or even hundred-year scales to which we are used to in our culture.
Nothing is Constant
Our recorded history of five to six thousand years is scant enough time for us to have observed all the possible current cycles that influence the climate on our planet. However, it is safe to say that our climate is not exactly invariant, but can change over time. Sometimes, there have been a lot of changes over short periods of time.
When our planet was formed, the length of the day was about six (current) hours long, and the radiant energy received from the Sun was about 70% of what it is today. Scientists are unsure exactly how an effectively colder Earth could have given birth to life at this time, but there may have been help from greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well as volcanic dust in the atmosphere.
Throughout geologic history, friction from the Moon slowed the Earth’s period of rotation, and the Sun gradually grew hotter, but the major factor has been continental drift, which was once thought to be fictional, due to erroneous steady-state theories. Land areas have been constantly changing between tropical, temperate, and cold orientations. Continental drift can also have a lot of collateral effects, which will be denoted by an asterisk (*.) The major event in continental drift was the formation of a super-continent, called Pangea, about 300 million years ago.
Other factors were also affecting the climate:
· Meteor bombardments were intense up to 550 million years ago.
· *Carbon dioxide and methane stored deep in the Earth’s crust and oceans are subject to occasional release, sometimes in catastrophic volume.
· *Widespread volcanism often becomes rampant, especially during periods of weakening and even fracture of the Earth’s crust.
· *The divisions between large oceans and local sea beds have been in constantly flux, which affected how ocean currents distributed warmth around the planet.
· *Polar caps and ice fields, intermittently present on Earth throughout geologic history, can alter the climate by reflecting heat back into space, and by blocking ocean currents.
· As if this were not enough, the Earth’s orientation in space was constantly precessing, like a spinning top, though it had been somewhat held in check by the Moon. Today, the rate of precession is about twenty five thousand years, but it was much faster in the distant past.
· Occasionally, large asteroids or comets collide with the Earth and create temporary, but major, glitches in climate patterns.
· The Earth’s atmosphere is very unstable, since it is dependent on a number of factors, especially contributions from living organisms. Oxygen levels have always been fluctuating, but documentation has been difficult to produce. Atmospheric pressure could have been higher in the past, and loss of atmosphere could become a serious problem in the distant future.
Somewhat over three hundred million years ago, all the continents drifted together to form a super-continent, called Pangea. This configuration severely restricted terrestrial diversity, leading to extremes of climate throughout Pangea. With no ocean currents to help distribute inland warmth evenly, large, hot deserts grew in the center of the continent.
The break up of Pangea, and the drifting of the continents to their present location, led to the most dramatic ecological changes the Earth has ever seen. First there was the dramatic Age of Dinosaurs, followed by the equally dramatic Age of Mammals.
Biodiversity may have contributed to the self-regulation of the Earth’s climate for millions of years, by controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, about two million years ago, due to the Sun constantly growing hotter, and possibly for a variety of other reasons, the Earth’s climate began to convulse. Excess carbon dioxide may have been a major factor.
The Earth’s climate rapidly changed from dry to wet and back, with intermingled periods of heavy glaciations. Mass extinctions of various groups of animals became quite common. Arriving at recent times, animal species that at one time had existed in endless related species, ended up existing in just one or a few species, if they had not become entirely extinct.
It is an interesting coincidence that or ancestors appeared and expanded during this time. While teleological arguments abound that claim the Earth belongs to us, few have drawn the teleological implications concerning the rapid evolution of human beings, during a time of recent climatic convulsions. Intelligence in and of itself may not be that significant, but intelligence can enable us to find ways to deal with climatic problems in ways that other animals cannot even envision. Perhaps saving our planet is our actual purpose.
Teleology and Ethics
The word teleology has a range of definitions, but the most prevalent is an anthropocentric interpretation that any current state of reality exists the way it does, because that is the way it is supposed to be, especially if it involves human beings. There is a wider teleology that embraces all of Nature, but human concerns always seem to supersede this view. If teleology should be true , then it applies to all of Nature, and not just human beings. So, teleology itself does not guarantee any special rights to human beings.
The compliment of teleology is eutaxiology, where reality is made of up a combination of undetermined and determined events, with no current states having any special significance in and of themselves.
Western religion usually favors teleology, while science usually favors eutaxiology. However, until human beings evolved to dominate our planet, the difference was mute in Nature. While advanced non-human animals might ponder the meaning of life, they are hindered by having a very limited ability to do abstract reasoning.
Teleology combines with reasoning to create ethics, which define the desirable ranges of human subjective activity. However, I question the value of a model of ethics that tries to suppress diversity, versus a more natural model that would try to maximize and preserve diversity.
Dominion versus Stewardship
If we are here to save the planet, we are the worst imaginable rescue team! Ever since we evolved from hunter-gatherer status, we have steadily made things worse by destroying diversity. History is filled with grandiose visions of civilizations that all crumbled, because people consistently ignored the need to be objective as well as subjective.
Our planet has only finite resources, so the natural balance sheet cannot be ignored. One really cannot put off problems in the objective infrastructure to the future.
Religion and social customs have helped aggravate the situation. A usual interpretation of the Bible claims that God gave us Dominion over the Earth; just a few translations state it as Stewardship, instead. Despite how individuals might interpret such passages, for centuries, our leaders have taken it as a right to plunder the Earth. The animals, which were here before us, were stripped of any inherent rights and slaughtered on a whim.
Fundamentalist religious groups often consider the Earth to be mostly irrelevant, since only human beings matter, pausing on this intermediate port, on the way to a promised celestial paradise. It is no accident that all visions of heaven are wholly anthropocentric. Animals and all the rest of Nature are stripped of their essence and turned into convenient things. Our endless brush wars do not just kill people; all the surrounding life and environment suffer severe collateral damage.
The State of the Planet
Global Warming has always been with us, but now it has become a hot topic, and it is not trivially going to go away! There are likely a lot of contributing factors, but we share a great deal of the blame. While we have wasted our time on violence and war, we failed to devote the necessary resources to advance our technology. The only way modern civilization got this far is by developing technical solutions just in time. Conservation is fine, but since a major part of the world (i.e. China and India) is in industrial overdrive, conservation will, at best, be mostly token efforts.
Here are factors as I see them:
· The northern polar icecaps are melting far faster than ever thought possible. This is the number one indicator of major changes to come.
· Our output of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going up exponentially.
· We are stripping the world’s vegetation and forests much faster than we are replacing it.
· We are polluting the oceans and decimating entire species of fish.
· Organized religion, public sentiment, and even secular humanism all drive the mindset that the people come first, and that plundering of the planet is our right.
· If we should suffer a period of global vulcanization, the carbon dioxide output could go up as much as ten-fold.
· The Sun may be going through an unexpected short term increase in temperature, because warming affects are now evident on Mar and Jupiter. This does not exonerate us; it just means we are in a larger crisis.
As a technical analyst, I am very good at detecting trends and issues; however, I am not socially adept enough tackle ultimate solutions. Fixing things is up to the subjectively-oriented people in charge, who may finally take the time to listen to those of us who are objectively-oriented analysts for help. Clever social skills will not be enough!
Here are the matters I think we need to tend to now:
· We need to take responsibility and assume a role of stewardship for the planet. We need to forget any ideas that external powers, such as God, will step in to save us at the last moment!
· We need to stop wasting resources and time. This should include the most wasteful pursuit of all: militarism and war!
· We need to replant stripped forests and protect what is left. Forests are always a valuable resource for eliminating excess carbon dioxide.
· We need to set aside vast areas in which animals can live. We need to reduce the occurrence of extinctions; throughout natural history, extinctions have always been a measure of environmental stress.
· We need to develop massive advances in technology, especially technology that does not pollute our planet. This should include better modeling of all the factors that can affect our climate.
· Of course, we need to practice conservation. However, while this might work in advanced countries, there will be little interest in developing and poor countries.
· We need to scale back corporate greed and politics, which often go together to waste resources for temporary monetary gain. Cleverly manipulated stories will not help us at all.
· We need to extend our timescale to a thousand or even ten thousand years into the future; we are entering an age where the consequences of our actions now will be far-reaching indeed.
The current warming might only be a temporary glitch, in which case the urgency might go away on its own. However, we may also be entering a new period of major climate convulsions, or even another ice age.
Part of the distant future is very predictable. No matter what happens, the Sun will keep getting hotter. In five billion years, the Sun will expand and destroy our solar system. However, life on Earth does not have a five-billion-year future.
Global warming will keep getting worse without our input. In 200 million years, the continents will come together to form Pangea again. This could lead to climate extremes too intense for significant life to exist.
People tell me that such a time scale makes this irrelevant to us. But it is all part of the same problem: what can we do to save the planet? We need to reverse our priorities. Instead claiming that we are sacred, we need to anoint our planet, instead. Until we become stewards and forsake dominion, all life will eventually be doomed.