Monthly Archives: January 2018

Global Warming – A Brief History

As early as the beginning of the 19th century, over 200 years ago, scientists recognized that the atmosphere may be capable of trapping heat. Joseph Fourier, a French natural philosopher and mathematician hypothesized that there was a link between certain gases and the temperature of the earth, when the concentrations were lower the planet was cooler and when higher, warmer.

He was an avid mountaineer and familiar with glaciers and the scars they left from their grinding away the surface. He was likely the first to speculate that the earth may have been much colder and hence covered with much more ice in the distant past. Simultaneously he posited that earth could likewise be much hotter under other conditions.

In the 1859 an Irish physicist, John Tyndall, was studying invisible “heat rays” now known as infrared radiation. He was the first to recognize that the gases Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere are capable of trapping heat and therefore their presence, even at low concentration, can impact the temperature of the air.

Probably most important in the history of global warming and climate change is the work of Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist . He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1903. The prize was awarded for his work in understanding certain features of chemical reactions and especially for his mathematical treatment of the rates of reactions. Basically he was the first to quantify the speed of chemical reactions.

Less well known at the time was his work examining the impact of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere and the climate. In 1895, Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” His work went beyond that of his predecessors by mathematically modeling the impact of varying amounts Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere.

As crude as his tools of the time were, he did make the connection that more Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere would result in an elevation of the earth’s surface temperature. He also pointed out that burning fossil fuels would serve to raise the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.

Flash forward to the 1950s. Professor Charles Keeling began recording the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere first at Antarctica and then in 1958 at Mona Loa observatory in Hawaii. The data collection continues to this day and is now know as the Keeling curve. The simultaneous observation of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and rising global temperature began the modern era of the recognition of anthropogenically driven global warming.

We also know that more than the temperature of the planet is at risk. Much of the Carbon Dioxide emitted from burning fossils fuels, about 30 %, does not remain in the atmosphere but is absorbed in the oceans, causing acidification.

The threat of global warming, climate change and ocean acidification have long been known. These threats are not a Chinese hoax but rather an existential threat to much of the life on this planet.

The Size of Trump’s Button – Oh My

One would have to live under a rock or not be plugged into numerous media to not be aware of Trump’s button size. In responding to Kim Jong Un’s comment on having a nuclear button on his desk, Trump tweeted “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.”

He brags about the size of his nuclear launch button? This is the behavior of a child, a schoolyard bully, not the president of the most powerful nation on earth. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, hundreds of thousands, even millions of South Koreans are threatened. Seoul South Korea is within artillery range of North Korean forces. And did I mention the hundred thousand American troops and their dependents in South Korea and Japan? They are clearly in harm’s way in the event of a conflict in the region.

So this is where we are, the president of the United States is in a shouting match with a near child dictator of North Korea. It would be laughable were it not that this is a confrontation between nuclear-armed nations. If this argument were to spin out of control it could put millions of folks, worldwide, at risk. Frighteningly, we are depending on a thirty-three-year-old dictator of the most cloistered country on the planet to be the adult in the room, the responsible individual who will act in the best interests of all.

At least the pattern is consistent. Trump couldn’t get past his inauguration without serious puffery. He claimed, and had then spokesperson Sean Spicer repeat, that the crowds at his inauguration were the biggest ever. The National Park Service which oversees these events no longer comments on the size of crowds but even a cursory examination of aerial photos of the event compared to those of previous administrations proves Trump wrong. When Kelly Ann Conway commented on the discrepancy she brought us the phrase “alternative facts” to justify Spicer’s rendition of Trump’s lie.

His buffoonery and bombast seem endless. Although he won the electoral college vote and therefore the presidency, he lost the popular vote by three million votes to Hillary Clinton. Rather than simply accepting the situation that allowed the outcome, he denied that he lost the popular vote, claiming that illegal (popular) votes turned the tide. He even created, since disbanded, a commission to look into illegal voting in the absence of any credible evidence supporting such a claim.

Most troubling is his resolute rejection of reality. He lives in his own world which is completely distinct from average Americans. He began life with a multi-million dollar grubstake and parlayed that into, if you believe him, a billion-dollar real estate empire. He claims to be a populist but his every action as president is to enrich his cronies at the expense of the rest of us. Want just one example? He has instructed the labor department to inform the owners/management of restaurants that it is acceptable to keep the tips given to their wait staff. Really.