Friday, August 8, 2008

Global Warming

UPDATE: Some people may think it actually adds more confusion to talk about the ozone layer in discussions of global warming, but I don't think it has to. All you basically have to say is, "There are two problems with our atmosphere: depletion of the ozone layer, and global warming. One, depletion of the ozone layer, is getting better. The other, global warming, is getting worse, and is the one we are all concerned about now." If any more explanation is needed or asked for, you can just add what I suggest below-- especially since some of the confusion may remain without specifically explaining the difference about what each problem does.


Here is something I think about every once in a while: global warming and depletion of the ozone layer may, to non-scientists, sometimes sound like they're the same problem. They're not, but when people talk about global warming, they don't usually explain this, which may confuse a lot of people. This is especially a cause for concern since we've been hearing that the ozone problem has been getting better for a long while now, but in the press people talk about global warming more than ever before nowadays.

This used to confuse me, because whenever I would hear some environmental advocate give a sound-bitey speech about these issues years ago, they would often say "depletion of the ozone layer and global warming," one right after the other like that, which to some may make it sound as if the person is talking about the two effects of a single problem that will be solved (or not solved) together (and certainly to me, before I understood the issues better, is sounded like this). This chance for confusion is probably especially likely when the audience has a little bit of an understanding of what each of these problems are supposed to be, but not enough of an understanding. A person may-- like I did when I first started hearing a revival of talk about global warming a few years ago-- think "Hey, I thought we fixed the ozone layer years ago!" and wonder whether the people who are worrying about global warming are getting their facts straight.

Depletion of the ozone layer and global warming are not the same problem, of course. Global warming is when "greenhouse gases" (which don't have anything to do with plants, but actually come from toxic chemical fumes like car exhaust) end up forming sort of an invisible cloud high up in the atmosphere that traps too much heat in our atmosphere, and slowly gets more and more impenetrable and causes our planet to hold more and more heat. This makes the planet slowly get warmer, which can mess up the environment, cause unusual weather events to happen more frequently (some think increases in storms like tornadoes and hurricanes anre caused by global warming), make the differences between seasons lessen, raise sea levels as arctic ice melts (which will eventually put coastlines and coastal cities underwater), and so on. Depletion of the ozone layer is when a different cloud-sort-of-thing high up in the atmosphere that keeps too much ultra-violet radiation from entering our atmosphere gets torn down by different man-made chemicals (ones that used to be in air-conditioners and aerosol spray cans) from those which are the culprit in the global warming problem. This is a problem because it messes with the environment by causing species of plants, animals and other lifeforms to go extinct, and it increases the risk of skin cancer for humans.

These layman's explanations are perhaps not 100% scientifically the best, but they are a little better for a layman audience than those we sometimes hear. And any less confusion there is about what should be a big issue for us-- like global warming-- is really important. So it is important to say stuff like this every once in a while. It may seem to you like people should just realize that the two issues are not the same, but not everybody pays a lot of attention to environmental news, yet they still vote (or maybe would vote if they understood the environmental problems a little better!).

Also, here is something kind of related I saw in a comment on the Internet last night that I thought was worth passing on, at least for stirring up a little more urgency about fixing this problem:

“Dimming Sun,” a Nova episode was first aired in April of 2006, and was repeated Tuesday night. It’s a must see, even though global warming seems to have gone off the radar screen during the campaign, and certainly in the media. Tire gauges have gotten more minutes of coverage in a week than global warming in months. I don’t think anyone even remembers anymore why we need alternatives - we just need to drill for more oil according to most of the American people, because, well, importing oil is bad, although we import everything else and nobody seems concerned about that.

Anyway, the dimming sun is a very simple theory: there’s a cooling effect from smog, because the tiny particles in the air become surrounded by moisture, which reflects sunlight back into space. The thesis of the hour special is that the effects, which have been recently measured, are much greater than previously suspected. The other side of that coin is that therefore, the opposite phenomenon, global warming, is greater than we thought. So as we clean up smog around the world, which is much easier than combating global warming, and in fact the advanced nations have been pretty successful in their endeavors, global warming will accelerate. Models so far haven’t taken this into account.

It could be much worse than we thought.