Experimenting with the planet Earth

We’re now in the midst of an experiment whose subjects are everyone who lives on the surface of the planet Earth.

The experiment is to determine how much greenhouse gasses can be injected into the atmosphere without reaching a tipping point of irreversible global warming.


We know that methane, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses trap the reflected heat of the sun and make the Earth warmer than it otherwise would be.   Without this greenhouse effect, we’d be living in an ice age.   The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 275 parts per million 200 or so years ago, when the industrial revolution was in its infancy.  The concentration is steadily rising and will soon reach 400 parts per million.  Some climate scientists say that it would be catastrophic to let the concentration get above 450 ppm; others say we need to get it down to 350 ppm.

I don’t know who is right, but it would be too bad to find out the hard way.   The only things of which we can be sure is (1) there is some concentration that will be a catastrophic tipping point and (2) if the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses continues to increase, we will reach that tipping point, whatever it is.

Click on 400ppm: A Tree Falling in the Forest | 400 Parts Per Million for more about the 400 parts per million milestone (and a hat tip for the chart).

Click on The Science of 350, the Most Important Number on the Planet for an essay by environmental writer Bill McKibben.

Click on The ‘Climate Change Debate’ Is Science  Versus Snake Oil for a list of organizations that accept the reality of global climate change and a list of those that question it.

Now it is true that evidence suggests that, in past geologic ages, the carbon dioxide concentrations were greater and the temperature of the Earth was a lot hotter than it is now.  The evidence also suggests that sea levels were 75 feet higher than they are now.  This would be another interesting experiment—to see how extreme conditions can be without crashing civilization.

[Update]   My friend Hal Bauer sent me some links to good information on things that can be done about climate change.

City of Binghamton Energy & Climate Change Action Plan

Climate Smart Communities – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Case Studies: Develop a Local Climate Action Plan – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

How Green Is My Town?

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2 Responses to “Experimenting with the planet Earth”

  1. Richard Brown Says:

    Invisible to most Americans is the aggressive moves by China to contract with 3rd world nations for their natural resources. Since we no longer make anything, the U.S. is not much in the running. The Chinese are big believers in the tear-it-all-down-and put it on a giant cargo ship. they are in Tanzania right now. They recently contracted for the clear-cutting of Guyana, a nation harboring much of the best untouched Amazonian rainforests. Together with their smokestack industries, China figures to be “the big tipper” in the climate struggle. The WTO is unlikely to allow us a say in the matter.


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