At present our planet home is a finely tuned place where just the right amount of stuff like sunlight, water and oxygen encourages life. But when the balance is thrown off kilter, living becomes hard. Life has changed that balance at least three times.
Three and a half billion years ago, cyan bacteria, a cell with no internal compartments, perhaps the oldest life fossil ever found, devised a process that completely changed Earth’s existing atmosphere. That process gave off a poison gas that killed most other existing life at that time. The process is called photosynthesis and the poison gas, oxygen. Slowly life adapted.
In the mid-1950s researchers discovered that chlorofluorocarbon gases released by refrigeration processes were destroying the UV-blocking ozone layer of the atmosphere. There were many deniers that a problem existed. DuPont, the leading manufacture of Freon, the “bad” gas, led the denial group of companies for 10 years. During that time they developed and patented other chemicals that could be used for the refrigeration processes. Their tipping point came in 1985 when the ozone hole was discovered near the Antarctic. Within days DuPont changed positions and promoted their new HFC gasses. DuPont made money.
The second problem, that of rising Earth surface temperatures due to increasing atmospheric CO2, needs no introduction. The correlation of these two was first observed in the early 1950s. This served as a starting point to seek answers to the all-important how and why questions that needed to follow.
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More observations confirmed the very strong correlation between atmospheric rise in CO2 and increasing Earth surface temperatures. But, if you want to understand details and results of the how and why questions that climate scientists asked because of this correlation, I recommend “Dire Predictions” 2nd edition (2015) by Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump. You can decide for yourself if there is cause and effect. The overwhelming consensus among people who have examined these investigations is that there is indeed cause and effect and that we need to think carefully about the implications.
Is there another DuPont type company that can save the day? Exxon tried (“Exxon, the road not taken,” 2015). Their research people spent decades focused on the problem while the company took a denier position. Even today there are no practical technical fixes in sight and the brute force fix to decrease greenhouse gas emissions has large financial/economic/social impacts. Exxon is still in denier mode. Further complicating matters is the recent election of a government that promises to even deny access to careful observations of climate change.
Studying the results of the how and why investigations will take up some of your time; it is not a small job that we citizens are asked to do. For the sake of my children, my grandchildren and yours, please do spend the time. Encourage others to do the same. Only then can we have an informed discussion on designing the road ahead.
Bob Kearney is a retired Professor of Physics from the University of Idaho.