Recently a college professor of mine, discussing breifly global warming and its relationship to human activities, shot down an argument by a fellow classmate that volcanos introduce more carbon into the atmosphere than humans. The professor, speaking as kindly as his politics would allow him, explained the difference between the carbon introduced into the atmopshere by volcanos, and that introduced by humans, and how human-released carbon is much more deadly. Interested in the global warming debate, I began to research my fellow classmate’s and the professor’s argument. Both seemed to fall through the floor.
Firstly, my classmate was mistaken. Humans certainly introduce more CO2 into the atmosphere than volcanos. A quote from a U.S. Geographical Survey:
Comparison of CO2 emissions from volcanoes vs. human activities.
Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1999, 1991). This estimate includes both subaerialand submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts. Emissions of CO2 by human activities, including fossil fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring, amount to about 27 billion tonnes per year (30 billion tons) [ (Marland, et al., 2006) – The reference gives the amount of released carbon (C), rather than CO2, through 2003.]. Human activities release more than 130 times the amount of CO2 emitted by volcanoes–the equivalent of more than 8,000 additional volcanoes like Kilauea (Kilauea emits about 3.3 million tonnes/year)! (Gerlach et. al., 2002)
Yet my professor was also mistaken. While Volcano and human emissions are different isotops of carbon, human-emitted carbon does not account for the current warming trends. Take a look at thisimage produced by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Notice the warming trend began before 1940; before there was large industry. Yet in the 70s, when huge development of industry was present, temperatures dropped. Any person of logic might then claim that perhaps the emission of carbon has a delayed effect on the temperature.
So I dug deeper. Turns out, according to ice core samples, after every single prior warming period in Earth’s history, high levels of carbon come years after. Here’s how that can be explained: our oceans hold the majority of the Earth’s carbon. Physics dictates that colder oceans can hold more carbon than warmer oceans. Now, make the assumption that global temperature rises without carbon levels rising. Oceans get warmer and they are unable to hold as much carbon. Carbon is then released into the atmosphere.
Human-introduced carbon, due to its insurmountably small make-up of the Earth’s atmosphere, couldn’t possibly be the cause of global warming. Historical patterns of globaltemperature changes and the amount of natural carbon in the atmosphere march to the beat of a different drum than that of humanity.
This is but only one avenue to the global warming debate. Many others, most far beyond my current knowledge, are out there. Most scientists come to the same perilous conclusion, but consensus is not science. Most of the industrialized world at one time had a consensus on the status of those with black skin. The United States, for years, was in consensus that women were too home-bound and uneducated to have a right to vote. Germans in the late 1930s were in a consensusthat their empire would spread and thrive for a thousand years. Radical Islamists operate under a consensus that freedom of thought is an obstruction of God’s will.
The world was once flat. The universe once revolved around the earth. Lightning was a divine weapon. Scientific truths have no room for assumptions, guesses, or leaps of faith. Those who believe the world is changing via the actions of Man have a huge argument, nearly all of which is under dispute by the few who have chosen to reserve judgement.
Should we be forced to change the way we live to help preserve the health of our planet simply because scientists says so? Absolutely not. Should we have the liberty to? Absolutely yes. Conservation is not a sin. Reducing pollution is not a fruitless goal. Breathing clean air is not a hopeless cause. But free people do not take kindly to being told what to do, especially if the jury is still out on the reasons why.
Don’t buy into the conventional wisdom simply because it’s the conventional wisdom. We humans have an amazing capacity to think for ourselves, and not let others think for us. Do yourself a favor: think for yourself.