Are We Toast?
In the 1990s, Newsweek magazine looked at the growing mountain of evidence and concluded that global warming was real and there was nothing we could do to stop it. They used the example of President McKinley burning a log in the White House fireplace. The particles from that log, they said, were just now falling back to earth after completing a hundred years round-trip into the earth’s upper atmosphere.
Even if today, they wrote, we stopped the burning of all fossil fuels we could not stop harmful gases from making their way up trough our atmosphere and transforming it into the equivalent of a greenhouse enclosure, permitting the sun's rays to pass true and heating the interior, but not allowing excess heat to dissipate into space.
The question that remained to be answered they said, was whether the temperature would stop rising after reaching a new average planet-wide equilibrium of between two and five degrees; or would it be a run-away greenhouse effect with the temperature continuing to rise until the earth's atmosphere reached a temperature comparable to Venus.
Based on the United Nations' latest report on climate change, it would appear that the odds of a runaway greenhouse effect have increased substantially.
Global Warming - Bring It On!
Climate report finds 'irreversible' damage to planet Humans risk is causing irreversible and widespread damage to the planet unless there’s faster action to limit the fossil fuel emissions blamed for climate change, according to a leaked draft United Nations report.
Bloomberg News, Aug 27, 2014
Canada is well on its way to becoming the world's largest per capita producer of greenhouse gases. The atmospheric pollution from the mining and processing of tar to make the dirtiest crude on the planet will continue to grow, nullifying most global efforts to reduce the doomsday gas and avoid a planet-wide catastrophe.
Canada with its large land mass located in the northern latitudes will be one of the least affected countries if the destruction of our home in space is not complete.
Continued support of tar sands development would suggest that we don't care about global warming, only about the short-term wealth the mining and refining of tar will generate and the geo-political gains to be made from being the coolest place on a hot rock, if only for a short time.
Steamed or Baked?
If we are witnessing the beginning of a runaway greenhouse effect, death will come in mainly two ways. In areas where rainfall is still plentiful, the air will become saturated with moisture whose temperature will increase beyond that found in a suffocating steam bath. In arid and semi-arid regions of the planet people will be baked to death.
The CEO of Exxon believes that being steamed or baked to death is not suffering. At a shareholders meeting in Dallas in May, 2013, Rex Tillerson asked his audience: “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”
The Truth About Mining Tar for Oil
The most damaging and lethal by-product of mining and processing tar to make easily combustible materials are greenhouse gasses (GHG) by the megaton (thousands of tons). These gases which come from the burning of fossil fuels* have the potential of extinguishing all life on earth, even the deepest ground-dwelling bacteria.
In the mining of tar to make gasoline large quantities of fossil fuels are burnt to make fossil fuel. Fossil fuels, including natural gas, are wasted to heat tons of fresh water daily (three barrels of fresh water for every barrel of oil) which is then used to wash the tar from the sand and rocks. The water becomes contaminated and may be undrinkable for perhaps a thousand years.
The toxic water is stored in ponds which have grown to the size of lakes that have poisoned thousands of unsuspecting migrating birds and threaten to contaminate the ground water and the springs which feed natural lakes and rivers for thousands of square miles.
More fossil fuels are burnt to transform the washed tar into an easily combustible product. From one quarter to one half (depending on the method of extraction) of the equivalent of a barrel of oil must be burnt to make a barrel of oil from the Athabaska Tar Sands, wiping out much of the reduction in the generation of greenhouse gases from more efficient internal combustion engines.
If the reckless exploitation of the tar sands continues at the current pace, it is only a matter of time, perhaps only a few years, before the tipping point, a point of no return is reached where the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes a runaway increase in global temperatures which won’t stop climbing until the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere approaches that of Venus, 460 degrees Celsius.
Think of a baking oven with a door (greenhouse gases) that can’t be opened and a heating element which cannot be turned off (the sun). The oven will eventually melt and whatever was baking inside will have been burnt to a crisp. This is what will happen to the earth if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reaches that tipping point.
* Burning fossil fuels also releases sulphur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere. SO2 is what acid rain is made off. Canada solved its acid rain problems a few years back by mandating that "scrubbers" be installed on smokestacks at smelters and such.
Acid rain is making a comeback due to the large amount of SO2 generated during the mining and processing of tar to make oil. Acid rain is again killing lakes in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Ontario and Québec are next, as the corrosive rain slowly but inexorably moves west.
A Temporary World
It had always seemed a little bit odd to me that in discussions about climate change it is couples with children who often seemed the most vocal in denying its implications. It should have been obvious.
Subsequent to the release of the 2014 United Nations' report on climate change, my wife and I drove into the country to have lunch with two retired university professors whose hospitality and insightful conversations we have enjoyed over the years.
Over coffee, I brought up the subject of climate change and started rambling on, as I often do, about the implication of a runaway greenhouse effect, which the Report indicated was now a real possibility, when I was cut short.
Our host interrupted me with a succinct uncharacteristic admonition: "We will not be leaving our grand-children a temporary world which will vanish after we're gone," he said.
I changed the subject.
There may still be time to save humanity from joining the dinosaurs in the fossil record. It's up to us!