“If the world is on the brink, why am I not feeling it?”


Referring to the Huffington article [World Nearing Tipping Point For Disastrous Breakdown, Study Finds], someone asked me, “If the world is on the brink, why don’t we feel it?”

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The answer is three-fold:

1.  Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere are both immense.  Any cause-input will take 2-3 decades to produce the effect-output.  This said, the cause-input began becoming significant as of about mid-last-century, and it has been continuous and increasing.  So, in spite of the time lag, we’ve had measurable results, chief amongst which is the 0.9C mean global temperature rise from the baseline of 1880 when the Industrial Revolution began.  Also more than obvious are the melting glaciers around the world, including those in the Himalayas, Greenland and the Antarctic, and the Arctic sea ice.  Of course none of these is in anyone’s backyard, so, for those with no or little awareness beyond their own physical or event horizons, “nothing is happening”.

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2.  Carbon dioxide is a stable gas and is therefore cumulative in the atmosphere to continue warming the planet for centuries to come.  Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels yesterday, what we have already pumped into the atmosphere will be enough to trigger the deadly Methane Time Bomb.  But, for now, nothing SEEMS to be happening, and we carry on business as usual.

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3.  Least known is the mechanism of LATENT (hidden) HEAT.  Anyone who does not know what Latent Heat is will have a false sense of security.  It is not hard to understand if I do not use physics jargon.  Place on a hot stove a pot of cold water containing 1 kg of ice cubes.  Stir the ice water with a long thermometer and take temperature readings.  My question is:  When will the thermometer begin to show a rise in temperature?  Answer: After all the ice has melted.  In other words, all the heat from the stove would first all go into melting the ice, WITHOUT RAISING THE WATER TEMPERATURE.  The amount of heat entering a system WITHOUT raising the temperature of the system is called Latent Heat.  It takes 80 calories of heat to melt one gram of ice.  So in this case, the first 80,000 calories of heat from the stove went into melting the 1 kg of ice first.  Only when the ice is all gone will the water temperature rise, and it will do so until it reaches 100C, when the water will begin to boil.  Once again, Latent Heat comes into play, and the water temperature will stabilize at the boiling point – until all the water have changed from liquid to vapour, at which point the temperature of the dry pot will rise to the temperature of the flame itself.  So how does this apply to Earth’s climate?  Consider the Arctic Ocean to be a gigantic pot of ice water, and the sun as the stove.  For as long as there is still sea ice to melt, the Arctic Ocean will remain relatively cool, in spite of the ever increasing solar heat entering the Arctic ocean due to ever decreasing ice cover.  When the sea ice is gone in the summer, as early as the latter part of this decade, the Arctic Ocean’s temperature WILL STEEPLY RISE, and when it does, so will the global mean temperature, and all hell will break lose.

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So, enjoy the “Arctic Air Conditioner” while it lasts, and be prepared to sweat after it quits.  And when it happens, believe me, you WILL FEEL THE HEAT!

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