Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Here's the Dirt

The presentation above is from The UC Davis Chancellor’s Colloquium Series, a 45-minute presentation with question and answer for 30 minutes. It's presented by Ralph J. Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences and Chair of the National Research Council. His expertise is in atmospheric chemistry, and he's one of the pre-eminent scientists speaking out on documented climate change in order to mitigate the increasingly critical impact of human activities on the global ecosystem.

In a nutshell, earth's climate is changing, as can be seen from measurements of rising air and water temperatures, decreasing amounts of polar ice and rising sea levels worldwide over the past three decades.Human-caused increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, chiefly carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel combustion, are the likely cause of contemporary climate change. The rate of rise of carbon and greenhouse gasses has become frightening in the rapidity of change that's now being observed, particularly with the increasing rate of the melting of the polar ice caps. The changes in the last 50 years are unprecedented even in geological history.

The bathtub analogy is used to show how it's necessary to manage the global carbon dioxide cycle. The challenge of scale that it will take to reduce the carbon going into the ecosystem is daunting. Energy efficiencies are an approach that can be tackled immediately: greatly reducing oil and coal consumption through various strategies. Cicerone lays out approaches to geo-engineering that are possibilities that affect the factors of population, energy consumption and technology. A global per-capita emissions cap agreement (contraction and conversion model) seems to be the most necessary step in reversing the carbon impact that is projected in the future, particularly from developing countries.

Carbon capture doesn't seem to be a very viable part of the strategy; however, there are some steps being taken that produce possible solutions to creating more carbon sequestration. A big problem on the planet is the acidification of the oceans that results from the carbon absorption over the earth's seas that takes place as a result of increasing carbon levels. Research and examination of a science-based response to our impending self-inflicted catastrophe is critical. However, putting carbon genie back in the bottle is essentially a zero-sum game, once its released it takes eons to absorb it back into the global structure.

And time is of the essence; a 3 to 5 degree temperature rise in this century is inevitable, bringing us to the cusp of catastrophic climate change in the relatively near future.