Monday, June 15, 2009

Will you feel guilty when the 'CARBON COPS' call?

by Paul Oates

Recent news report of the Australian Federal Police now being tasked withpolicing Climate Change Regulations. However, with all the debate about
carbon sinks, carbon sequestering and climate change, it seems almost impossible to get a 'helicopter view' of what is actually happening.

Firstly, we are told the Earth is going through a warming phase. This has happened a number of times in the past without disastrous results (e.g.
around 1,000 AD) so why is it so important this time? Well, it seems likely that the use of fossil fuels (coal and oil) have over the so called
'Industrial Age', helped accentuate this warming. Some may argue as to how much, if at all, our burning fossil fuels has contributed however, when you compare these man made emissions against those caused by natural causes such as volcanic eruptions and bush fires.

So how will this global warming affect us? Can we really do anything about it?

Prior to the current level of political consternation, the use of coal and from last century, oil, seemed to be the only way world societies could
progress and develop. The problem was that those with the resources and power kept the benefits to themselves and those without the power to use
their resources were severely limited in their prospects.

As the global village developed over the last 20 to 30 years, there are some recognisable changes emerging. There is a power struggle going on between Europe, North America and East Asia. China and India (the world's most populous nations), are emerging as industrial giants and challenging the status quo.

During the last 30 years, the world population has doubled and is set to double again. If everyone in the world today enjoyed the same standard of
living as the so called developed nations, we would need the resources of two and a half world's to meet that demand. Clearly that can't happen. So
what's the answer? Is it just a battle between the haves and the have nots? Traditionally, these battles have allowed those with resources to believe
they will always come out on top.

Now we should all know where this horrible deluge of carbon is coming from. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the Earth was much warmer and had an atmosphere many times richer in Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Why? Well it has been suggested that the natural atmosphere of our solar system's planets is made up predominantly of CO2 and Methane as is the atmosphere of Venus today. So what changed our world? During the 'Carboniferous period', the huge forests grew in the warm climate and used the CO2 to grow. This growth in plant life then released a huge amount of free oxygen (O2 then estimated to be over 20% of the Earth's atmosphere), and this allowed an explosion of animal life that depended on this oxygen for life. As the carbon based plant life died and was eventually covered by rocks, the resultant coal and oil lay untouched for millions of years until humans discovered and used these resources during the last thousand years.

Now here comes the conundrum. Why won't this balance between CO2 and O2 happen again? What's the difference between the Earth regulating itself previously and any increase in CO2 naturally increasing the world's plant life? Surely an increase in plant life will eventually decrease the CO2 and release the O2 back into the atmosphere (i.e. a natural carbon sink)? Surely the only difference in today's equation is people? When the natural 'carbon sink' previously happened, there were no people around to be affected. If the predictions are correct, the Earth may warm by an average of 4 degrees by the year 2100. BUT, by that year, unless something different occurs, the Earth will be so over populated that there will not be the resources to feed and house all these extra people. Earth's human bio mass is currently only second to krill in overall total size. In less than 30 years, it will double again. This is far, far sooner than any cataclysmic disaster that may be caused by climate change.

If the world's oceans do rise by some meters as the ice caps melt, the areas on the Earth that will be most affected are those that are heavily populated
now (e.g. Bangladesh). Where will these people go to find safety, food and shelter? No government seems prepared to 'bite this bullet'.

So while the world's leaders wring their collective hands and lament abouthow they can wean their people off their CO2 producing culture, the only
answer seems to be by legislating to make energy (coal, oil and electricity) more and more expensive in real terms. Agriculture is being told that they will have to pay for the amount of CO2 it produces. This will also cause an increase in the cost of food and yet more overheads on already stretched famers to try and keep pace with an increased population.

So what timely alternatives are being put in place to make a real difference? Like the recent inability to stop swine flu, nothing seems possible to stop the world's population from increasing exponentially. What will then stop these extra billions from chopping down any surviving trees to live? History is full of examples where this has happened. A classic example is the original population on Easter Island. The people there eventually
used up all the available resources and their society 'imploded'. The strong defeated the weak but eventually they too died off as there were no
resources left on the island.

So when it all becomes too hard and too complicated, a diversion is needed to get governments past the next election. Recent examples could be the Year 2000 bug, The war on terror, Oil prices, and now, bring on the concern about climate change....... Two thousand years ago, it was bread and circus's.

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