Climate Change Is Not A “This” or “That” Proposition

Posted by Michael R. Honig

The article “Massive methane release sparks global warming fears” garnered a lot of reader responses. On in particular needs to be addressed directly here.

BillyMac11:
Does anyone ever bother to think that The earth goes through natural cycles AND human activities are contributing to global climate disruptions. When you fight over one particular issue or the other seeking to label it one cause or the other, it's just a red herring. We don't live in an either/or, this-or-that world with only one answer for anything. Often there are multiple variables at play at varying levels of impact. If there's plenty of reliable, well-documented science showing rising greenhouse gases in past epoch's of Earth's history caused widespread extinctions (there is), maybe we should thoughtfully reconsider all the massive fossil fuel burning that's been being done at an accelerating rate since the mid-1800s? There must have been a good reason the earth's natural processes were locking away all that carbon and methane and their buddies over millions of years and taking it out of the environment. Releasing millions of years worth of locked-away greenhouse gases in just a couple hundred of years, might be a problem.

That being said, if massive amounts of methane are going to start burping out of the earth because of melting permafrost caps, let's find a way to suck it up fuel.

Argue all you want, but what's the practical solution going forward?

BillyMac, you are person after my own heart.

It's always so tempting (and easy) for people to argue over whether a problem is caused by "this" or "that". In most cases, problems are caused by "this" AND "that". The solutions likewise require multi-track thinking.

It's undeniable to educated folks that humans ALWAYS change the environment when they colonize a place, going all the way back to pre-history. They are the most efficient hunters in any environment, which changes the ecological balance vis-à-vis animal populations. They cut down trees to farm, which changes the vegetative balance and water patterns. They hunt down and kill competing predators, which increases prey populations and affects grasslands forests. They pump groundwater, which changes runoff patterns and water supplies, causes subsidence AND also deposits minerals in the topsoil which creates underlying salts which many plants cannot tolerate. They pave over land, which also changes runoff patterns, flood patterns and solar gain/loss. The runoff from human-occupied areas always carries significant pollutants, not the least of which is automotive debris like motor oil and worn rubber from tires, and chemicals that leach out of our constructions into the water tables.

And of course, humans burn wood and fossil fuels, which adds to the ambient carbon budget in the atmosphere.

To put it bluntly, humans screw things up everywhere they go, compared to humans not having gone there. The “natural” environment (if you can actually use that phrase once humans become part of the equation) was able to absorb much of this abuse by humans until our population exceeded a billion people and our technologies allowed us to inject new and unnatural poisons into our environment as waste products.

Now we have to be cognizant of the fact that many great civilizations in history have collapsed or disappeared because climate change (heat, cold, drought, floods) drastically impacted their established way of life and their societies couldn’t cope or adapt.

It may be our turn to face this existential crisis.

Natural climate change over geological timeframes is a reality, but that doesn’t mean that humans don’t make a difference in the nature and degree of that change, and it must be conceded that climate change has the capacity to destroy the world as we know it.

To say anything else is just … well ... ignorant.