Monday, January 9, 2017

Getting Real about Global Warming

Before we begin, I need you to perform an experiment.  First, write down your estimate of the temperature of the water that you wash dishes (manually) with.  Next, write down your estimate of the temperature of the water that you bathe in (shower or bath).  In both cases, the hottest that you can tolerate without burning yourself.  After you write these numbers down, I want you to find your kitchen thermometer and measure how hot the water really was under both conditions.  When you have these four numbers, click below where it says “Read more »” and continue reading.

I bet you were surprised!  My own readings were the following: my hottest bath / shower temperature was 110ºF, my hottest dish-washing temperature was 115ºF, and the hottest indoor running water in my home was 143ºF (I used a turkey thermometer, so I can’t guarantee its accuracy).  How do your temperatures compare with mine?  I bet they are pretty close.

Now for some perspective.

The planet Venus, the 2nd rock from the Sun, is as close to a twin as planet Earth has in the Solar System.  Its radius is 95% of the Earth, its mass is 81.5% of the Earth, its density is 95% that of the Earth, and it has a similar geological structure and chemical composition.  Venus’ orbit is closer to the Earth’s than Mars’ orbit.  However, the average surface temperature of Venus is 864ºF (462ºC), hot enough to melt lead, hot enough to burn paper (451ºF), hot enough to fry human flesh, hot enough to boil off all the oceans (212ºF), and hot enough to kill off all life forms, animal and vegetable.  NASA isn’t spending a dime looking for life on Venus.

Venus is not that hot because it is closer to the Sun than we are.  The planet Mercury, the 1st rock from the Sun, is as cold as the Moon on its far side (facing away from the Sun).  What makes Venus so hot, even on her far side, is her “greenhouse atmosphere.”  A greenhouse atmosphere prevents the Sun’s radiant energy (that heats the planet’s surface) from bouncing back into outer space, heating the atmosphere instead.  A greenhouse atmosphere boils planet Venus.

At the far edge of the Global Warming debate are those who claim that doing nothing to check warming will ultimately result in planet Earth becoming as hot as planet Venus.  What it needs to do that is called a “Tipping Point.”  A Tipping Point is a certain (unknown) concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere sufficient to produce a “positive feedback loop.”  An example of a positive feedback loop is increasing surface temperatures from greenhouse gases, leading to increased water vapor (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere, causing further warming, ad nauseam.  Positive feedback loops that don’t stabilize may become “runaway.”

But the folks who believe that a Tipping Point exists, and that we are headed toward it and soon, are in the minority, they may be the lunatic fringe.  I want rather to talk about slow warming: what can we expect to happen if the planet heats up by only a few degrees per century?

Now back to our experiment.

Any contact with water that is hotter than our experiment’s temperatures will cause us pain or blisters or worse.   Any contact with air at the same temperatures will hurt us even more.  We all know that no human can cross Death Valley without heat protection, yet the highest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley is a mere 129ºF.  In a word, humans cannot tolerate air temperatures hotter than 110ºF or 120ºF or 128ºF, take your pick.  And we all have experienced a few summer days that were hotter than 100ºF or even 105ºF.  And we have all read news accounts of people dying in heat waves.  How much more “warming” do we need to get to deadly heat?  800 degrees?  200 degrees?  How about 10 or 20 degrees?  Won’t that be more than enough to be recognized as a crisis?  I am writing this on January 8th, 2016 in Washington, DC.  The temperature is 20ºF, quite typical for this time of year.  A high of 62ºF is forecast for this Wednesday afternoon, 30-40 degrees warmer than normal!

Global Warming is closer than you think.

Addendum: Thursday, 01/12/2017
The high for the day, 2:00pm ET, was 68ºF.  Sixty-eight degrees, not sixty-two.  Enjoy Global Warming while you can.