Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are responsible for global warming, the long-term worldwide average warming experienced since the industrial revolution. GHGs arise from human use of fossil fuels for energy. Major emitters of GHGs include both industrialized countries and, in recent decades, developing countries as well. Higher global temperatures cause the extremes of hot and cold, and wet and dry, weather of recent years. This blog examines global warming and its effects.
See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.
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.
Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".
Our daily routines, as we go about our lives in the early 21st
century, benefit from revolutionary changes wrought by science and technology
in the last 200 years.As a human
endeavor, science consists of a framework of inquiry into the natural world based
on open-minded investigation, rather than one in which scientists seek evidence
or arguments that support preconceived biases and reject evidence that refutes
phenomena came to light in recent decades that adversely affected human health
or damaged the environment.Rigorous
scientific study showed that, in each case, human activity involving products
or practices of large corporations turned out to be responsible.Those commercial interests sought to
invalidate the scientific results in the minds of the public, rather than
continue further research to develop sound solutions to the problems.
humans have welcomed the advances provided by science and technology.We cannot justifiably select the science we
like and dismiss the science that we don’t.
The Daily Routine
Janice gets up in the morning and gets ready to go
to work.She switches on the light and
the TV to get the latest news and weather.For breakfast, she takes a quick snack from the frig and heats it up in
the microwave oven.She gets into her
battery-powered electric car, which she bought just a few weeks ago; she’s
really impressed with its ease of use and responsiveness on the road.
Once in the office, Janice turns on a networked computer
which contains more computing power than the massive main-frame computers of a
generation ago.Her coworkers include
many colleagues scattered around the U. S., with whom she effortlessly
teleconferences directly from her workspace.This saves many hours that would be lost in travel time flying to
another location for a face-to-face meeting, as well as travel expenses.Her day is turning out to be highly
productive as a result, and saves her company money in the process.
Back home in the evening, Janice has a dinner composed
of foods grown using advances in agriculture that promote higher crop yields;
farmers benefit greatly from weather and climate research that helps them plan
effectively for the best sowing and harvesting operations.
The Science and Technology That Janice
Likely Takes for Granted
Science.As a human endeavor, science is a framework
of thought and experiment carried out in an open-ended, fact-based
fashion.Scientists seek to make sense
of our physical world, both animate and inanimate.By not having preconceived notions of how
they want an investigation to turn out, they probe physical reality in ways
that add to our body of knowledge, and that suggest further investigation of
questions that may have arisen in earlier work.New information obtained from these efforts may have direct practical
significance having the potential to lead to products that improve our lives.
or applied science, seeks to optimize characteristics of a system to solve a
specific practical problem or to make a specific article with an intended practical
Modern life.Like Janice, we all benefit from the progress
of science and technology in our daily lives, and relish the conveniences and capabilities
of new devices or processes as they reach the market.We, the public at large, accept these with
open arms, whether we “understand” the scientific principles that govern their
operation or not.We do not question the
truth or validity of the science that undergirds these objects that ease our
daily life; indeed, we welcome it with open arms because of the benefits that it
brings to our lives.
The scientific basis underlying some of the items and
phenomena that Janice encounters in her daily routine are set forth at the end
of this post in the Details section.
But some scientific questions, or
technological accomplishments, have turned out to provide adverse consequences.Smoking tobacco became associated with lung
disease, including cancer.Pristine forests
and fish in lakes downwind of coal-fired electric generating plants began to
die inexplicably, which was ultimately attributed to acid rain from burning coal.The ozone in the stratosphere, which absorbs
harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, became depleted relatively suddenly.Research showed that certain chemicals
developed to serve as propellants in spray cans were responsible.
Each of these cases is associated with a powerful and
lucrative industry.Careful scientific
investigation, using the same conceptual approaches as outlined above, in these
cases succeeded in providing a sound scientific basis for the harm that each
phenomenon produced.Yet the industries
involved mounted strong public relations campaigns (not based on science) to
discredit the science in order to sow doubts about the scientific
But we cannot cherry pick which science
we like and which science we disavow.Open-ended, unbiased investigation leads us universally
to the scientific progress we welcome and depend on.In the examples above, scientific study not
only explained the origin of the respective adverse effects but also suggested
how to remedy the problems.Thus, here
too the scientific method has led to benefits that promote our wellbeing and
the integrity of the physical world we inhabit.
Electricity.The laws of physics governing the
interactions between electrically conducting materials (such as metal wires)
and magnetic fields were identified during the nineteenth century.The phenomena are reciprocal: wires moving
through a magnetic field generate electrical current, and electrical current
flowing through wires generate strong magnetic fields when wound around a core.In other words, the opposite of generating
electricity is the use of wire-wound motors to provide rotational mechanical
motion by passing electrical current through them.
Thomas Edison on the one hand, and Nikola Tesla and Charles
Steinmetz on the other, developed differing ways of generating electricity.Tesla joined the Westinghouse company; their technology
won out. Steinmetz joined the General Electric Research Laboratories.
Refrigerators.The intrinsic physical properties of most gases
are such that when the gas is compressed it releases heat to its environment,
and when the pressurized gas expands it cools down, absorbing heat from the
environment.Refrigerators work by expanding
the gas in the chamber that needs cooling, absorbing heat from the food in the
chamber so that the food is cooled.The
refrigerator then compresses the gas outside the chamber, releasing the heat to
the environment.(In recent decades, the
reciprocal process has been applied in heat pumps: a gas is expanded in an
external environment, absorbing heat, and compressed inside a home, releasing
heat to warm the interior space.)
Microwave ovens.Physicists whose understanding led to
generation of electricity pursued their studies leading to suitable instruments
that emit microwaves.A second group of
physicists who developed quantum theory over several decades in the early
twentieth century understood that materials could specifically absorb
microwaves (among other forms of energy) according to the laws of quantum
physics.Water is one such substance,
which is warmed in the process.A
microwave oven generates the specific type of microwave radiation that water
absorbs.Specifically, the oven works by
efficiently warming the water contained in various foods using microwave energy.
Electric cars.Electric cars depend critically on high
capacity batteries.To date these are
based on lithium.The basis for this
technology originates in fundamental investigations by chemists, mostly in the
nineteenth century.One contribution was
developing the systematics of the chemical periodic table.Lithium is a very light material, atom for
atom, a first physical property favorable for use in batteries.Second, chemists found that the intrinsic
ability of lithium to provide electrical energy is among the highest of all
among the chemical elements.These two inherent
physical attributes of lithium make it an optimal choice for use in electric
car batteries.Current research and
development is directed to making the batteries as efficient and long-lasting
Agricultural production.The Austrian friar Gregor Mendel was the
first to discover the laws that govern inheritance of traits in organisms.Working with pea plants he showed by
conventional breeding experiments that intrinsic factors (now called genes)
govern how physical traits are passed from generation to generation.(His work was clearly painstakingly slow, since
only one generation of pea plants can grow per year.)
Agricultural breeders utilize Mendelian genetics to
enhance the properties of commercially significant plants and animals.These properties may include nutritional
value, hardiness, and drought and/or heat tolerance, for example.The results of these projects benefit us, the
consumers, as we make our grocery purchases.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a division
of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, conducts ongoing characterization and
forecasting of near-term weather as well as the longer-term seasonal climate.Farmers use the information provided by these
projects advantageously to plan their activities: planting, fertilizing, and
harvesting. The work of the ARS is
summarized in the pamphlet “Science in Your Shopping Cart”