David Moss: Climate change context
March 17, 2014
On Wednesday, Sarah Jones wrote a letter to the editor in support of sustainability. She called for the Steamboat Springs City Council to develop a climate action plan with specific energy-efficiency goals. On Friday, Steve Mendell replied with a letter that supported global cooling and free-market activity. Both letters were written by true believers, and time will tell who is correct about the global temperature changes and any actions needed.
The purpose of this letter is to try to put climate change in a larger context. Climate change began on the Earth when the atmosphere and oceans formed and will continue until Earth looks like Mars, probably as a result of the sun expanding to become a red giant.
Let us put temperature in a local context. Where I live on Seedhouse Road in North Routt, my house would have been covered with hundreds of feet of glacier ice during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. In contrast, in West Routt, the coal being mined formed in an earlier time when the area was much hotter, wetter and covered with large amounts of vegetation. The carbon dioxide level at that time was also much higher than now. It is worth noting that the carbon in the coal and other fossil fuels are part of the carbon cycle on earth and previously had been in the atmosphere. Our activity of burning it only speeds up the cycle.
So clearly, our local area has been both much colder and warmer than now. The climate will continue to change. Until we have a much greater understanding of this extremely complex process involving the sun, landmass, oceans and atmosphere, I doubt there is much man can do about it.
How rapidly can climate change, at least at the local level? It can happen very rapidly, probably because of changes in ocean currents, but again, who knows? My evidence comes from the mammoths frozen in the tundra in Alaska and Siberia. They are found intact with vegetable matter in their stomachs.
What this means, to me, is that the animals were eating on the tundra when a sudden massive blizzard caught them. Just as cattle on the range in Eastern Colorado do, they sought shelter in a low area and were buried by the storm. Unlike today, spring never came, and they did not decay or become food for scavengers. They were buried for about a thousand years in the permafrost that formed after the sudden cooling. Recent warming has brought them to the surface. I think this shows the cooling period came on suddenly and lasted for a long time.
So what do I think is happening now (and the emphasis is think, not know)? I think we are in a transition in global temperature from warming to cooling. This allows both sides of the debate to cherry pick data in support of their arguments. Time will tell.
People who talk about "stopping" climate change do not understand the big picture. We need to focus on developing a better understanding of the forces involved in climate change and their interactions before we even can begin to consider actions that might have a meaningful impact on the change. The current models are totally inadequate in this regard. Until we have a much better understanding, I think each person should make their own choices about how to behave and what to do to protect the environment.