"Global Warming" is a misnomer. It is not a disease which can be treated and using that buzz-phrase as the poster child for what is happening to the Earth is inaccurate in the extreme.
The Earth IS heating up in places and is getting colder in places, hence the confusion. What we are actually experiencing is the Sapien effect. From a global population of ~one billion in 1800 to almost seven billion humans today, something is happening that people cannot grasp, they cannot measure, and they cannot predict without looking at the entire ecosystem and all of the interactions within it. Unfortunately, that ability is still beyond us. We can make measurements and chart short-term trends after they happen — but we cannot put the pieces together. There are too many pieces and the way they interact is dynamic.
The problem is that we are sailing into a "perfect storm". Most of it is probably our own creation. Some of it isn't. And some of it is merely conjectural, hypothetical, or simply has not happened yet. I hearken back to one of my favorite storytellers, Richard Burke, who wrote and presented the book and television series Connections, for connections are what we need to understand.
Pieces of the puzzle are in place. Jared Diamond's books and Richard Dawkins — solid and informative. But they do not address the bigger picture, merely components of it.
Let me produce an hypothesis. It is not, nor could it be, exhaustive. Thus it is flawed and incomplete. But I should merely like to try to provide a simple, accessible example of the scope and depth of the problem. I will start a free-association and hope that I manage to accomplish my task.
Parts of the ecosphere are warming and parts are cooling. The same thing occurs with a pot on the stove, with or without a frog in it. That fact feeds the naysayers, but the problem is altogether different. Everyone notices that the weather patterns are "wrong" but since they are not universally warmer, the case is made that the ecosystem is merely responding to the natural order. Yes and no. The natural order without the influence of humans is very different than the natural order would be without us.
Ecological change is measured scientifically, in limited locations, for the equivalent of no time at all geologically speaking. Those changes measure what happened one day or one week or one month at a certain place, but do not factor anything external to the discipline of the scientists involved. Someone in Greenland can observe hugely abnormal ice-melt. Another person in another place can observe snowfall and ice-pack where it never occurred before. But these observations do not counteract one another. They need to be considered for what they are…unusual. We can place blame later, but first we have to understand what our Earth is doing.
I can list a very few of the gross connections at play, but I cannot detail the specifics of what is triggering what. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies and that we live within a closed system which is trending to chaos. That is to say that as some point in time all of the chemical reactions which can occur will have occurred. That portends badly for life.
We have been very successful as a species at producing food — both grain and meat — which has allowed our populations to explode. We now have almost seven billion people on a planet which can sustain ~3.5 billion. At seven billion we do not have sufficient food, water or energy. Creating more energy simply allows more food production which results in more people, all of whom want to eat, breathe, cook…and reproduce. Reproduction is not a choice. It is a genetic requirement and it happens successfully in direct proportion to food and water. It also happens in areas which have insufficient food and water and many people simply die from malnutrition, but the process continues.
We are running out of food and potable water. We have almost fished out the oceans. Obviously our reserves of fossil fuel are limited but arguing that issue is pointless, so I shall pass it by. We are dumping enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for it to have a measurable effect but many people simply refuse to believe it…so I won't bother with that, either.
But I will make a few comments. First, all of the methane which constituted the atmosphere of proto-earth is still here. It is simply locked up in ice and under permafrost. But it is being released more and more quickly every day. Forget carbon dioxide. The problematical greenhouse gas within the almost immediate future is methane from clathrates.
We (and the entire world) are dumping fertilizer at an enormous rate to increase crop yields. Fertilizer consists of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. A lot of it washes off and enters the river systems and then the oceans where it acidifies the water and creates dead zones. Dead zones (hypoxic/acidified) kill coral and prevent fish and crustaceans from living in the tidal zones, so there is a decreasing mechanism for replacing the fish we eat and those resources are then over-exploited — to extinction.
Algae blooms and the cycle continues. Ice melts where it shouldn't, methane is released as gas, the atmosphere becomes warmer, the oceans acidify and cannot support natural fish hatcheries, and the polar ice continues to melt. It does not make a bit of difference if Tibet is getting more snow than normal. Life as WE know it, as oxygen-breathing creatures, exists ENTIRELY at the air-sea interface. If the Atlantic Conveyor stops, the jet-stream will stop, weather will stop, and we will stop. And that could occur with days and almost certainly will. By the Solar Max of 2034, the Venus Syndrome will overpower the Earth's ability to prevent it.
The reason is simple. No one will stop doing what they are doing, mostly creating more babies and then being unable to feed, educate or even RAISE them to have a sense of personal responsibility and to think logically. The amount of change to the ecosphere isn't what was measured as change in one place at one time. It is an exponent of the RATE of change if all possible factors contributing to the change are included. At the moment that is an impossible task…so we cannot see what is really happening. We can only see small pictures from isolated areas.
We are on a quest for "green" energy for only one purpose: to allow the too many people we already have to make more people, who will breathe, eat, cook and demand even more energy to they can reproduce. We are simply not a sustainable species at this rate. We are already over the edge and in free-fall. If some internal or external event occurs to speed the process — an impactor, a nuclear war, a pandemic — we cannot deal with it.
In any case most of the green programs are either marketing ploys or guilt-assuagement programs. For instance, if you have a Prius, it required more fossil energy to build than you are ever going to save. You have simply sold your guilt to Toyota. So you feel better but the Earth doesn't because nothing changed.
The problem becomes immediately obvious. No one can say "We have too many people for this little planet….YOU have to go".
That won't play well. So half the world is burning coal faster and faster and oil and methane (natural gas) and they cannot be expected to stop. The other half is clear-cutting rain forest for firewood. We in the U.S. used to be able to to claim the title as the largest polluter. We have lost that title to China but not because we pollute any less.
(1) There can never be enough energy to appease the great maw of rapidly increasing populations, or enough food, or enough fresh water.
(2) We can never pay our way out of a rapidly increasing national debt. All we can do is force the lenders, by the threat of employing our incredible Gamma-ray machines on them, to keep increasing our credit line. That will not work forever. In fact, I think the President has already backed away from that concept.
(3) All of these issues interact, almost all of them in ways we cannot understand or do not even know exist. Because we cannot grasp the issues — and because we cannot act in concert on a planetary scale — we can never fully understand them. Thus we cannot mitigate them.
By the time the problem becomes obvious to everyone — and the first example which comes to mind is someone coming home only to discover their home completely engulfed in flame — there isn't much anyone can do.
Now..I have just told you a story, and you don't believe it. Of course you don't. People want and need to believe that someone is in charge and in control of the situation. Human nature.
But how many people live in California (just as an example)? And you KNOW that the San Andreas fault is going to cut loose eventually but you stay there. Do you know that when it does your homeowner's insurance won't cover the damage? Oh, no it won't. Call your agent right now and ask. And do you know that FEMA doesn't have the money to help you with that? I'll bet you did know but don't believe it could happen to you.
A really simple scenario might involve a moderate earthquake which cut the water supply to Southern California. How would you deal with that? Or maybe that's the wrong question. Have you ever considered "what if"?
So we could deal with any ONE problem — too much phosphorus in fertilizer, too much this, too little that — but mankind cannot deal with what will happen when it all comes together because we cannot imagine it happening.
It's out there for us to embrace.