Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saving the Planet is So Complicated

I will laugh very hard if all those people who obsess over their carbon footprint (while somehow budgeting enough indulgences carbon credits to jet off to Aspen to ski and live in a mansion) are the true planet killers:

Human emissions of fossil carbon into the atmosphere and the resulting increase in temperatures may be holding off the next ice age, according to research from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

“We are probably entering a new ice age right now,” Lars Franzen, a professor of physical geography at the university, was cited as saying in an online statement today. “However, we’re not noticing it due to the effects of carbon dioxide.”

Interestingly enough, he says that human activity may have ended the Little Ice Age in the 19th century, as well as preventing a new one from emerging today.

So if true, the climate changers would at least be right that human activity--even a couple hundred years ago--affect the climate a great deal. Reductions in peat land that acted as a carbon sink in past ice ages might be the cause, he says.

However, there is some circular logic involved:

“The spread of peat lands is an important factor,” Franzen said. “If we accept that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to an increase in global temperature, the logical conclusion must be that reduced levels lead to a drop in temperature.”

That is, he's assuming that carbon dioxide levels do cause the changes in climate rather than being the reverse--with a lag of 800 years--as other long term studies of carbon dioxide and temperatures suggest if you look closely enough.

So I guess Prius drivers can heave a sigh of relief and others can keep sorting their recyclable garbage safe in the knowledge that they really are saving the planet.

And Hummer drivers should hold off on plastering an I Heart Gaea bumper sticker on their mobile carbon dioxide factories.

But for now, I can chuckle a little as the science continues to settle.