Global warming: good news, bad news
Probably no scientific fact is more widely bruited abroad today than that carbon dioxide levels are building up in the atmosphere — with dire consequences. Three reports on today's midday national news were about the temper tantrums being put on by our atmosphere in response to the treatment we are meting out to it: one of the worst cyclones (hurricane) ever has just hit Western Australia, with wind speeds up to 172 mph (compared with 140 for Hurricane Katrina); water levels in one of Australia's largest cities, Brisbane, have dropped to 20% capacity; and farmers in Spain are struggling to survive due to changed climatic regimes. The bad news is never-ending.
I may just be an old fool, but I'm going to do it anyway — I'm going to make a good-news-bad-news prediction about global warming. The good news is that it will fix itself; the bad news is that it may take many decades to do so and it will cause cataclysmic upheavals in the process. Two sources of information suggest the above conclusion: Scripture and science.
For those who take the Bible to heart
Those who take the Bible seriously believe God knew what He was on about when He said,
I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Gen. 8:21-22).
Though these words do not promise perpetual balmy conditions, they provide assurance that conditions will generally remain favorable for human survival. Furthermore, the thrust of passages dealing with the last days of earth history prior to Jesus' coming suggest an age of great prosperity:
Judah also will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be gathered together: gold, silver, and apparel in great abundance (Zech. 14:14).
Such a description doesn't jibe with a world on the brink of eco-collapse. Remember, too, Jesus' words that in the last days men will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38) just prior to His return.
For those who take science to heart
Ironically, most Jeremiahs today are found in the scientific community, particularly among climatologists. We should applaud the constant stream of bad news they are churning out: if they are to get any action by politicians they have no choice but to paint the direst possible picture. But I suspect many scientists are secretly confident that eventually, on the other side of calamity, relief will come. The central theme of earth science is just this — earth's systems are geared towards maintaining a steady state of earth's key components. The salinity of the oceans; the heat budget of ocean and atmosphere; the budget of key chemical compounds in the rocks, the soil and the sea; the proportions of the various gases (including carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere, are all maintained within a certain range of values. When anything disturbs these values (known as a perturbation), nature fights back. Few wonders of creation sing the praises of God louder than this grand truth.
He has made the earth in such a way that it can maintain good health indefinitely — as long as the sun keeps shining to drive the almost infinite array of earth machines, earth will heal itself. In technical terms, earth processes make up “a highly complex entity characterized by multiple nonlinear responses and thresholds, with linkages between disparate components” (Jickells et al, Science, Vol 308, 1 April 2005, p. 67). All praise to the infinitely wise Creator!
God has built endless self-regulatory mechanisms into our planet to ensure stability. When one component in a machine-within-the-machine goes awry, a feedback mechanism communicates to another part in another mini-machine that something is wrong and that it had better do something quick. It works like a thermostat. When the temperature drops below a certain threshold, a sensor picks that up and tells a heater to get to work. When the desired temperature is reached, the sensor tells the heater to stop.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is actually a trace gas; before the industrial revolution it comprised about 0.032% of the atmosphere's gases. (Nitrogen and oxygen are the main components.) Today it has reached about 0.038% and continues to climb because you and I are driving cars and turning on lights. Carbon is also found in nature dissolved in the ocean, and locked up in seashells (as carbonate ions) and in living flesh as organic compounds. The linkages between these “disparate components” mean that they all influence one another. When a change occurs in any one, it eventually (and that's the rub for us today — it can take time) sets up complex interactions designed to bring the wayward component to heel. The interactions are so complex that I won't even begin to try to predict what will happen to rectify our runaway carbon dioxide levels. Lots of things are possible, for instance:
- When atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels double, grass growth planet-wide increases by 44%, sucking some up (Howden, Environment International, Volume: 27, Issue: 2-3, 2002 11 07, Pages: 161-6);
- Sea level rise will increase the surface area of the ocean, resulting in increased total evaporation and precipitation levels around the world, encouraging plant growth and the locking up of more CO2;
- Some areas of the earth actually become drier and, in tandem with stronger winds, throw up more dust. The limiting factor to plankton growth in the oceans is iron, which is carried to the oceans in dust. More dust, more phytoplankton, more sequestration of carbon as it sinks to the ocean floor via numerous pathways.
- Warmer temperatures turn tundra into boreal forest. Though some think that these new forests may contribute to global warming by absorbing more sunlight, commonsense suggests that they may help counter it by downloading more carbon than tundra plants do.
Other mechanisms kick into gear to get rid of excess greenhouse heat. Hurricanes suck excess heat from the sea and funnel it up to the highest levels of the atmosphere where it is kicked out into space. Expect more and bigger hurricanes.
In due course, these manifold mechanisms will succeed in undoing man's madness. The bad news is that they will cause considerable discomfort while they go about their business. We've only got ourselves to blame.