Last weekend, Oregon State University professors came to Eugene to discuss the science of global warming and how climate change is impacted by forestry practices in the Pacific Northwest. The program was called “Clear cutting the climate”.
Mark Harmon, Richardson Chair & Professor, Dept of Forest Science, Oregon State University was the first to present, and he set the stage for the day by putting global warming science into context.
“There is a lot of confusion on climate change because you can only see one little piece of the truth,” Harmon said, and he laid out some confusing aspects around global warming science:
Carbon Dioxide only one of five greenhouse gases, including water vapor, CFCs, methane and nitrous oxide. Methane and nitrous oxide are much more powerful greenhouse gases, but are far less plentiful than CO2.
Global warming is actually an old idea — a scientist named Svante Arrhenius (1903 Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry) knew that fossil fuels would warm the climate. “People thought he was kind of nutty,” Harmon said. “He had no idea the rate at which we’d increase the use of fossil fuels.”
I always thought of green house gases as like a sweater around the earth or like fiberglass insulation. But hearing Harmon explain it, it’s more like a mirror. The Sun’s energy comes through the atmosphere as shortwave radiation. It reflects off the earth as long-wave radiation and heads back through the atmosphere — but the green house gas reflects the energy back to the surface. The atmosphere above the greenhouse gases actually get cooler.
Another confusing issue… atmospheric CO2 comes from tons of different sources. Volcanic activity, ocean degassing (upwelling zones), respiration (organisms, decomposers), wildfires, fossil fuel burning and lastly cement manufacturing — cement manufacturers heat limestone and drive off carbon dioxide. Concrete is a huge factor in global warming… who knew?
This is the first post in a series on global climate change and it’s impact on Oregon. I’m headed to Washington, D.C. in a couple weeks to lobby on global warming legislation, so it’s time to get educated about the issue.