April 12, 2017

Global Warming Has Serious Implications: Thoughts About Its Impact On Our Future

To the Editor:

It’s easy to assume the recent renewed advocacy of actions to combat climate change (a euphemism for anthropogenic global warming) means somebody found another money-making scheme. But global warming has serious implications few talk about. Among the reticent are climate scientists who are justifiably circumspect because some reportedly lost their jobs when employers didn’t like their conclusions. So let’s take a look at what some conclusions may hold for our future.

In New Jersey, for example, coastal barrier islands will be flooded as the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melts. Based on the geological record, a sea level rise of more than 10 meters is eventually likely, turning Princeton’s canoe rental locations on the canal into saltwater seaports. As the ice in the Arctic melts, the albedo (reflectivity) of that ocean surface declines from about 75 percent to less than 10 percent, the water warms above 38ºF and may release a huge burp of methane (natural gas) from clathrates accumulated on the ocean floor over millions of years. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) much more potent than the primary GHG, carbon dioxide, creating a (bad) positive reinforcing feedback loop.

The idea that the town of Princeton can somehow do something to reduce global warming is ludicrous; we can only prepare for its effects. First, if we cut back our fossil fuel consumption to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, that fuel will be used by others elsewhere, perhaps even generating electricity for our “environmentally responsible” electric vehicles. Second, there is no proven method of quickly and permanently sequestering great amounts of carbon dioxide. Proposed systems also require large quantities of fossil fuel, generating even more carbon dioxide. Third, the effects of atmospheric GHGs take a long time to peak after their release, more than 30 years in the case of carbon dioxide.

From the latter, we can expect that before any worldwide corrective actions bring results, global warming will significantly reduce the human habitat — the land on which food crops can be grown. The sea level rise previously mentioned will inundate and salinize important farming areas such as river deltas around the world. Rising air temperatures will make the American Southwest especially vulnerable. Not only will temperatures increase to the point where crops cannot grow in some areas, but the rainfall there may decrease, providing less crop irrigation water. Such a hot drought is an underlying cause of the current unrest in the Middle East. The ensuing famine could occur anywhere, even in New Jersey, and it may be prudent for us to prepare for it.

The world population is over seven billion, but the most optimistic learned estimate of the carrying capacity of the Earth, after the exhaustion of fossil fuels, has been two  billion people. Global warming will only reduce that carrying capacity. When an animal’s habitat is destroyed, that animal population declines or dies off. Why would this be any different for the human species?

For sources, please visit my website: http://home.earthlink.net/~princetonsfuture/prinfut00.pdf.

Ronald Nielsen

Humbert Street