I’ve always had fond memories of coal. When I was a kid, my father burned it to heat his shop in our old garage, and he kept a big pile of shiny black anthracite rocks beside our driveway. He had an old iron stove near his machines and it was my job to keep the fire roaring, and I did so with enthusiasm. On wintry days I’d run outside, brush the snow away from the pile to find a suitably-sized chunk and wiggle it free from the ice. I’d open the old door and roll the chunk in to join the flaming embers. To this day I still love the slightly sweet smell of coal smoke, and I love the memories it brings back of our toasty garage on days when thick winter snow covered its roof. In my own personal ways, I actually love coal.
Because of my fond childhood memories, I understand how some folks still embrace the use of coal and other fossil fuels. I also understand how many people make their livings from the black rocks they pull from deep underground. Although I understand the dilemmas they’re facing, I joined the outcry against fossil fuels because I now understand the alarming realities behind them. It’s a very serious issue.
We’re already at the brink of climate catastrophe with only a few years to go before we reach what climate scientists are calling “The Point Of No Return”, the point at which we can no longer do anything to prevent global warming. Fossil fuels may be great sources of warmth for homes and abundant sources of fuel for power plants, but if we want to stop global warming, we must stop their use now. We must change our mindset and pursue clean energy alternatives. The greenhouse gasses released by fossil fuels — primarily carbon dioxide but also methane and nitrous oxide — contribute to the warming of our atmosphere by trapping reflected radiation from the sun which would normally escape into space to keep our atmosphere cool. As a result, our atmosphere becomes warmer instead of cooler. As our atmosphere warms up, our oceans warm up as well. The warmer oceans then cause the polar ice caps to melt and shrink.
The polar ice caps play a major role in the natural temperature regulating processes of our world. When the ice caps shrink, it’s not without consequences. The ice caps are very bright and reflect a significant quantity of solar radiation back into space which helps keep our world cool. When they melt and shrink due to the warming of the oceans, they lose the reflective surface area needed to bounce the sun’s radiation back into space, so the world becomes less able to cool itself. Instead of being reflected harmlessly back into space, the excess radiation is absorbed by the darker oceans of earth, and they become warmer as a result. The warmer the oceans become, the faster the polar ice caps continue to melt and shrink, and the less they can reflect the sun’s radiation into space, which accelerates the whole warming process. This is our situation now. We’ve known for some time that the average temperature of our world is increasing, but now we see that it’s increasing at an even faster rate. Alarm bells are sounding in all parts of the world but not so much in the United States, under an administration in complete denial about climate change.
The warming of our oceans not only causes our polar ice caps to melt and shrink, but it also causes floating sea ice to melt and disappear. Floating sea ice covers about 9.5 million square miles of oceans (equivalent to an area about two and a half times the size of Canada) and provides a vast protective surface over liquid water which prevents evaporation on a grand scale. As the oceans become warmer, the ice floating in the polar and Atlantic oceans melts and no longer covers as much of the open waters. By not having a preventive layer of reflective ice, the darker seawater is directly exposed to the air and absorbs the sun’s rays. This causes the seawater to evaporate in greater quantities than it otherwise would, producing an even greater amount of water vapor which then rises into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, water vapor is also a greenhouse gas and therefore also prevents solar radiation from escaping into space. As with the shrinking ice caps, the warmer our oceans become, the more quickly the sea ice will disappear (and expose even more areas of darker ocean water, which will cause our oceans to warm up even more, and so on.)
These types of problems not limited to our oceans. Since our atmosphere is also warming up, glaciers in mountain ranges are shrinking as a result. As the reflective glaciers recede, more and more of the darker land masses are exposed, and the earth itself absorbs radiation and gets warmer.
You may recognize something familiar here. This is the same principle behind people wearing light-colored clothing to stay cool on hot days, and dark-colored clothing to stay warm on cold days. Everyone knows that white objects reflect heat while black objects absorb it. It’s the same thing with our world. Earth is losing its ability to cool itself because it’s becoming less able to reflect the excess heat from the sun back into space. Essentially, Earth puts on dark-colored clothing when it loses its reflective white ice. And when we pump our atmosphere full of greenhouse gasses which prevent the beneficial escape of the sun’s radiation, it’s as if we’re dressing the earth in layers of dark clothing. What ends up happening is that Earth absorbs more energy than it reflects, and it gets much, much warmer.
You may have noticed that the relationship between the melting ice and the warming of our world is self-reinforcing. When the earth warms, it melts ice. When the ice melts, the earth warms up. When the earth warms, it melts more ice, which warms the earth again, which melts even more ice… and so on. This is a positive feedback cycle, and when we reach the point when we can no longer prevent this from happening, it will have become a runaway positive feedback cycle. Earth will then be in global warming overdrive. It’s what will happen if we reach the tipping point… The Point Of No Return, judged by some to be only 17 years away. The fight against global warming will have been lost and the human species will simply be going along for a ride they can no longer stop. It won’t happen overnight. It will be a long ride in terms of human lifetimes, spanning a few generations… but beyond The Point Of No Return, the climate problems on Earth will only be getting worse. It’s therefore very important to understand that we’ve not reached that point yet… but we’re almost there. We’re at the brink. We need to change how we feel about this now if we expect to rescue ourselves before it’s too late.
We’re already seeing rising ocean levels, receding ice caps and glaciers, and earlier seasonal snow melts. On average, our summers are hotter and our winters are milder. We’re seeing unusual weather patterns and an increase in heavy rainfall events, as well as an increase in the frequency of more powerful hurricanes. All these are attributed to human caused global warming because none point to natural causes. We’ve seen a nearly 2 degree Fahrenheit increase in the average temperature of earth’s surface since the late 19th century, with most of the increase occurring in the last 30 years. If we continue on our present track, we’ll eventually see ocean levels rise to the point where islands and coastal cities will be submerged, causing the displacement of millions of people to inland areas. As the atmosphere gets even warmer, weather patterns will continue to change which can transform lush farmlands into parched deserts. Crops which once flourished in these areas will no longer grow and there’s no guarantee that prime growing areas will transfer to other parts of the world. Continued global warming will likely mean crowded land masses with less food and water to go around per person.
Once global warming has passed the Point Of No Return, extinction of plant and animal species including our own may not be far behind. Earth would continue to get so warm that life may eventually be unsustainable. Life on earth is a delicate balancing act and it’s difficult to predict how it will end up after a runaway greenhouse event. The earth would reach equilibrium at some point… maybe with no ice left at all or perhaps only at the poles and in much smaller areas. It’s anyone’s guess whether life would exist at all, or simply in forms which may or may not include human or animals. Things would be very different. The earth we’ve always known would be gone forever.
The problem with warning people about climate change is that it’s so unimaginable that it seems like science fiction, and people simply can’t bring themselves to believe it. Some people refute it by saying periodic warming trends of our earth are natural events, all while completely ignoring the evidence that human activity is the cause. Another problem is the time frame which is involved. None of these ominous predictions will take place tomorrow or next week. In fact, nobody alive today will live to experience the environmental doomsday predicted by scientists. We’re free to believe it or not. It’s our choice in how we want to go forward, subject to our conscience and sense of morality. We can choose to care for our world and leave it in better shape for the people who live after we are gone. If we choose not to, our children and grandchildren will notice the affects even more so than we are now. And it may be that our great-great grandchildren will have to pay the ultimate price for our apathy, complacency and states of denial.
One has to wonder. With mountains of evidence proving global warming and climate change is happening now, why do so many people in the United States refuse to believe it? That’s the new question of our time. The obvious answer is that the USA is so politically divided that few people accept any ideas put forward by ‘the other side’. Americans have become so entrenched in their politics that they’ve forgotten to think for themselves. We see this on both sides of the Divided States Of America, but never so much as we see it on the political right. It’s a matter of public record that the Republican Party is anti-science. President Trump epitomized this attitude recently when he tweeted to his millions of followers that the frigid cold snap over the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday weekend was proof that global warming was not happening. In light of all the evidence presented that global warming is real, the ignorance of his statement – like Donald Trump himself, or the fact that he became president in the first place, or that people actually voted for him – is simply beyond human comprehension.