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Sturgeon's House

Global Warming as a good and inevitable thing

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So, global warming is definitely a thing and definitely caused by human activity (see: vast majority of climate scientists, IPCC). And this makes sense, because humans have been, you know, digging up all the carbon laid down since the carboniferous and burning it.


And I have no problems with this at all.


Here's my logic:



Earth's biosphere is apparently slightly better at burying carbon than recycling it. Therefore, liberating a bunch of carbon is a great idea if we want there to be a lot of it available for the rest of the 4 billion years that our planet has to exist.



I love the idea of 2-metre millipedes and dragonflies with the wingspans of eagles. So I'm all for us returning to carboniferous levels of atmospheric oxygen (which is what an excess of carbon dioxide will eventually lead to as biomass increases)



I also love the idea of verdant plant life, so lots of CO2 does not faze me overmuch. I'll miss the grasses when they get shuffled to niche habitats in favour of dicots, of course, but that's a separate issue.



There is good reason to believe that humans are a massive fluke. After all, it took half of the lifespan of the planet for us to arrive and the earth has birthed no other similarly intelligent species in the past (as far as we can tell). Accordingly; there is good reason to assume that, once our species is gone, it will take at least hundreds of millions of years for something sapient to emerge. In the (unlikely) event that it ever happens again, it would be good for this new species to have a fuel source as potent as coal and oil to draw from. By liberating it now for recycling, we are making sure that it will stick around reasonably close to the surface for long enough to maybe get used by our successors.



I've heard some pretty convincing arguments that our present civilization simply could not have arisen without copious amounts of energy. So fossil fuels are a must. We as a species probably have only one shot at becoming truly spaceborne - if we somehow crashed back to the Neolithic now there would be no rung on the ladder of energy sources are to climb to the point where intra-solar spaceflight is viable. So we'd probably be stuck with pre-industrial populations and technologies, spinning our wheels until we exhausted our time on the planet.


If we want to get ourselves and our ecology off planet, then right now is the only good time. It follows that we should expend as much effort as possible to push ourselves upwards and outwards before we inevitably fuck everything up. I see no reason why we should not opt, as a species, to burn hot and use as much energy as we can in the hopes of improving our chances.



So, yeah. Global warming - our fault, pretty inevitably, probably not that great for our present environment, probably pretty good in the very long run, hopefully a necessary byproduct of manning up as a species and taking ourselves and everything we love off-planet. And if we fuck that up; hopefully whatever comes afterwards will be able to make use of the new coal deposits while wondering about the thin, faintly radioactive layer of hydrocarbons and metal oxides that represents humanity's final mark in the geological record.

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I don't have the time to really delve to far into this. But after fishing season, we often take a few days off in the Alaska town of Aleknagik that my wife's family founded in the Great Depression. There's a University of Washington fisheries program there which counts fish and has been studying the life cycle of salmon continuously since the 1950s doing wonderful things like tracking DNA of fish. With Sockeye salmon, they need streams to spawn in but - more important - they need a lake where they spend the first year or two of their lives as fingerlings/smolt before migrating to salt water oceans. 


The last time we were there, a couple years ago, we were chatting with the head biologist there who was every bit as much interested in our story of the salmon life cycle as we were of his. One of the things he related was quite the opposite of the standard theory of Global Warming and salmon in that the warmer temperatures kill the salmon which need cool streams to thrive. Instead he mentioned that warmer temperatures saw more microorganisms living in the water of lakes and streams which provide more food for fish like salmon. And then he joked about not telling anyone because he'd lose his funding.


Warmer temperatures. More salmon. Good for Don!


I'm not trying to make my anecdotal story of a conversation over steaks as evidence of some huge scientific phenomenon. It's not. But I do like to think that Mother Nature is a very complicated old bitch who has plenty of safety valves and thermostats which can regulate how Planet Earth operates.

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I think it's more a case of there being winners and losers, both plant and animal.

As an example, one of the guys in my old department was forecasting crop yields - he discovered that we'd be producing about the same number of calories with our existing croplands (or a bit more), but proportionally more would be in the form of potatoes than maize.

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