Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where there is fire

We are about to enjoy a new world record. In the next few weeks the extent of arctic ice will fall to its lowest recorded level ever. The northwest passage will undoubtedly open up.

In the context of ice the idea of global warming sounds nice. The 24-hour sun of the arctic circle would facilitate epic party cruises in the now ice-free water. It could be filmed for a reality TV show of wanton excess; the show could be called “hotter than it ought to be”. Celebrities could be flown into the floating party by helicopter, and then shuttled directly to the set of celebrity rehab until they sobered up enough to return.

Perhaps the warmth will seep into winter, and it will be safe for kids to lick flagpoles year round without the fear of getting their tongues stuck.

I will be regularly tracking the data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center as we head to towards this record-setting event.

Perhaps I should not make light about the effects of global warming given the devastation some of the changes may cause, but there is something compelling in the exercise of seeing the potential good in global warming. We will most likely be forced to see the good in it if the trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated.

Some effects of global warming may constructively accelerate the rate of global warming. Some, like decreases in reflective heat loss due to ice-sheet surface melting, are somewhat abstract in the august of the Utah desert. There is at least one that becomes increasingly clear every day.

The west is on fire. Utah’s air has lost half its transparency. Much of the smoke is so old that it doesn’t smell like its birth fire. It is just some weather phenomenon. When the sky is clear the sunsets are dark orange. When clouds are added to the sky the result is a strange half twilight.

The vistas I so love about the Tooele valley are now what I would expect a patient with severe depression would create when asked to paint a picture of how they feel.

According to the USDA forest service the average amount of tree biomass per acre of timberland in the US is 41 tons. I expect that the amount out here is much less. I’m going to arbitrarily estimate the amount of burnable biomass per acre here at 10 tons. The average annual world output of carbon dioxide was estimated at a shade under thirty million tons in 2008. This means that 30,000 acres of fire would increase the carbon dioxide output of the world by 1%. The estimated carbon dioxide output of Spain in 2008 was about 1% of the world’s total.

A 30,000 acre fire would be a big fire. We recently had a fire that was barely a third that size burn the mountainside across from our house. It took days to burn through its acreage and was spectacular the entire time. The column of smoke was many times as high tall as the ten thousand foot high mountains it rose from.

At night the leading edge of the fire looked like a crack in the thin crust of earth. I could imagine the spot fires across the burned expanse were souls escaping hell and flaring up when they were exposed to oxygen. Perhaps I should not use word like “hell” and “soul” on an atheist blog as there are people who cannot see how I could use that imagery without actually believing that they are real.

This summer hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in the American west. This could result in a greater than 10% increase in the world carbon dioxide output. This is the amount produced by the entire European Union.

So another potentially self-perpetuating impact goes spinning off from the greater impact of global climate change. Global warming causes drought which leads to wildfires which releases significant amounts of carbon dioxide, which accelerates global climate change.

Perhaps the sunsets, already psychedelic in their hues, should be painted with paisley embellishments to capture the environmental dance that makes them so spectacular.


Joshua M. Kreeck said...

For the last several months I've come to a similar conclusion. If I'm not mistaken we have passed the point of no return. We have collectively decided we will take the unknown over the inconvenience of living a more sustainable lifestyle. Though I've always found it unbelievably naive when my friends in the environmentalist community truly thought there was any chance that Al Gore, his documentary and street theater would change a damn thing. This was always going to be the end game. We were always going to have to live in the mess we made. The power of the opposition didn't really lay in money or legislative strength or a desire to not change, it only truly offered the glimmer of doubt in the public imagination that has sucked the will to act from anyone in a position to do so. So my thoughts have turned to how do we survive? What are the immediate impacts of our community and our society at large? I'm unaware of any comprehensive models that may suggest what the next 50-100 years will look like in the American West? Any thoughts on that in the near and far term?

adult onset atheist said...

I’m fairly sure most of the models are bad. This is because of the nature of the modeling problem not because I’ve gone through a bunch of models and been able to dissect them. I’ve been hoping that a consensus will deliver up a “this is our best guess” model. In some ways they have, but there is conflicting information. For instance I’ve read that Utah will get an overabundance of rainfall, and that it will receive much less. The west is not the only place that has received conflicting info. Just recently the projected increase in sea level has been partially revised. There should be somewhere between 10 cm and 10 meters in sea level increase. What can you do with a range like that?

There is a large amount of outright lies being directed into the conversation about GCC. So some of the conflicting information I have may be also be crap.

Joshua M. Kreeck said...

That is where I am too. I won't pretend that I have the comprehension skills needed to understand a good deal of the models but it seems like there is no consensus on the effects that GCC will have. I tend to ignore many of the doomsday scenarios because they too frequently carry a general feel of hysterics and I have an immediate suspicion of apocalyptic scenarios. That being said there is always in the back of my mind that nagging feeling, most likely conditioned from having grown up in Western culture, that I should be out on a street corner warning that the end is nigh.

Sadly being an avid fan of Sci-Fi I have to say most of my concept of the future with GCC stem from there. Allowing for those possibilities I often find myself glad I live here and not in the mid west or north east or on a small island nation south of the equator.

adult onset atheist said...

Wouldn’t it be a more interesting if our national debate was about what GCC will do? Instead over 40% of the nation is not sure about GCC, and so the big debate appears to be about whether GCC is real.