NC Media Watch

A quest for reason and accuracy in letters to the editor, guest editorials and other issues of interest to the citizens of Western Nevada County.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A broader view of climate science

Frederic writes in a comment:
“This is why serious science discussion is NOT "Is anthropogenic warming happening?" but "What is its extent? How much of it is natural and how much human? What will be the positive and negative feedback? What will be the real impacts?"
And he may be surprised to find out I agree, some anthropegenic warming is happening. And his questions are important. What is the extent, how much is natural and how much is human? I hope we also agree, that scientists need to look beyond just CO2. We must also consider the impact of farm fields awash in nitrogen and the potential forcing impact. Humans have turned billions of acres of desert and mountain slopes green with nitrogen fertilizer and water. More on this subject here. Methane is the product of rotting or digested organic material. Methane is 25 time more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Since the mid-1980s the average rate of growth in methane gas has slowed and turned negative in 2000.

If it continues on the current trend the question is: Could reduced methane be an off set to the anthropegenic impact of CO2? More important, why is the growth in methane declining? What is the human role? Are we paving over too many farmers fields, building too many paved roads. Are too many farmers in third world nations giving up their draft animals for tractors? Middle class Chinese demanding more roads, paving over rice paddies? More on methane and growing rice here.

As Frederic points out climate change is a very complex issue, and requires some good science to find solutions. Focusing on a single gas, CO2, as the problem, and curbing CO2 as solution is just not good science. We need broader view.

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Blogger Frederic Christie said...

Well, glad to hear it.

Scientists are looking past CO2. In a very introductory course on the environment I took at UC Davis, our global warming segment mentioned methane (particularly methane hydrates) and many other greenhouse gasses. The methane discussion includes reducing beef consumption and altering beef diets (also helping with the serious animal waste problem).

Humanity has done far more desertifying than the other way around. Consider Easter Island and the Sahara. Also consider our quite dangerous deforestation trends and the dead zones caused by the very nitrogen you identify that leave whole areas dead of all life, including the vital carbon sink called "algae". In any respect, you're identifying a very broad historical fact, which has very little to do with the new ecological situation.

Though methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas, even stronger greenhouse gasses have increased over that time period, and methane is a small part compared to CO2.

I agree with you, however, that the CO2 focus is very dangerous. But that's just a classic problem of the media underplaying ecological issues and not mentioning very basic issues.

Sat Oct 15, 02:20:00 PM PDT  

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