Monday, June 27, 2011

Rick Santorum Doesn't Care About Minority Gases

Hi all – time to dip my toe into the Santorum pool (ew!). A quick intro to my point of view – I’m a scientist with a research background in environmental chemistry, climate change, and renewable energy. As such, I’ll be focusing more on the science-y aspects of Santorum’s policies and opinions. I promise that not all of my posts will be as long-winded as this one. So let’s get started, shall we?

In an interview with Rush Limbaugh earlier this month, Santorum voiced his belief that anthropogenic climate change is not only hogwash, but a liberal conspiracy to regulate your life.

Santorum Sez:

“The idea that man, through the production of CO2 - which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas - is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd when you consider all the other factors – El Niño, La Niña, sunspots, moisture in the air."

Okay. Let me first state that the Earth’s climate is very, very complicated. I would be going way outside of my role to sit here and try to explain what is going on, and precisely why the above statement is moronic within the larger context of climate research. Instead, I will focus on a few simple facts.

First: El Niño and La Niña are part of the climate. Blaming them for climate change is kind of like saying, “Abraham Lincoln died of blood loss. To imply that this has anything to do with his getting shot in the head is, I think, just patently absurd.”

Second: Carbon dioxide is a trace gas, yes, in that it makes up less than 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere. However, the major component gases are nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, none of which are greenhouse gases. As for man’s contribution to CO2 in the atmosphere… for more than 600,000 years, levels fluctuated between 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm), with an average level around 220 ppm. Since the Industrial Revolution, these levels have jumped to around 390 ppm. That’s a 30% increase over the previous maximum, and a 77% increase over the previous average.

To get a better sense of what this “trace” increase of a “trace” gas really signifies, it’s Back of the Envelope Calculation Time!

Let’s represent the major greenhouse gases by the Pacific Ocean. In the atmosphere, water vapor is about 4000 ppm; methane is 1.8 ppm (it has increased since the mid-19th century, but we’ll leave it at current levels to provide a conservative estimate for CO2 effects). We’ll use the pre-industrial CO2 average as a baseline, giving a relative makeup of 94.7% H2O, 5.2% CO2, and less than .1% CH4. The average depth of the Pacific is around 15,000 feet, so in our analogy the CO2 represents 780 feet of that average depth.

Now, if this depth component were to spike by 77%, that represents a total depth increase of around 600 feet (183 meters). If the oceans were to rise by 600 feet, the following cities would be among those completely submerged: New York, Philly, Baltimore, Memphis, DC, Boston, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Seattle, Miami, Newark. (This is based on the maximum elevation of these cities. 36 of the 50 largest US cities would be at least partially under water.) So a relatively small percentage increase in absolute ocean depth equates to a devastatingly huge impact on land.

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that the above is just an analogy; I am in no way suggesting a simple correlation between CO2 and ocean levels. Realistically, sea level increases are expected to be 1 meter or less over the next hundred years. I’m just using the analogy to put these “trace effect” numbers into a more concrete perspective.

My point: Minority gases do matter. To put this in terms a politician might be able to grasp: water vapor is like your solid base, the people that are going to vote along party lines in a general election no matter what. Sure, there are a lot of those people, but you can’t really control how many or how they vote. CO2 is like the swing voters and niche demographics – they may represent fewer people than the party-line folks, but the swing votes are often the ones that tip the scales and determine the victor. Your political strategists make you pay attention to those people, so why is it so hard to understand that a trace gas can have influence over climate change?

Immediately following the above remarks, Santorum added:

“There’s a variety of factors that contribute to the Earth warming and cooling, and – to me – this is an opportunity for the left to create… it’s really a [too mumbly to transcribe] a scheme because they know the earth is going to cool and warm, and they know it’s been on a warming trend so they go, ‘Let’s take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it’s getting warmer.’”

Seriously? Really? So decades upon decades of research conducted by thousands of scientists is all part of a conspiracy culminating in the democrats increasing environmental regulations because… I guess because it’s fun? The liberals want to impose pointless rules that are economically problematic just to get their rocks off, and all the scientists except me (and a couple of guys who were snagged by the fossil fuel lobbies) have been on the take to fabricate data in order to facilitate said rocks off-getting? Well then. Don’t I feel dumb.

2 comments:

  1. One very important thing I don't hear being discussed at all in the whole global warming is or isn't happening is the effects it will have on the oceans, you listed off major cities that would be submerged if the pacific will rise, but what really concerns me is the way that melting ice caps and climate change will effect the great ocean conveyor belt, the system that is almost completely responsible for creating weather systems on this planet. The continuous circulation of cold and warm water is caused by differences in temperature in sanity and temperature in the water, and if temperatures continue to rise and the ice caps melt, there will be a significant decrease in sanity and an overall increase in the temperature of the ocean, causing the conveyor belt to stop churning, the last time this happened it led to mass extinction and general stagnation of the planet, on both sea and in land. I suggest more people educate themselves on this subject, and use it to make jack assess like this feel like the assessing they are. what's really ironic about all this is that the bullshit part about climate change is the way it's being exploited by big business, things like carbon credits are purely a scheme to capitalize on the general fear of something people don't fully understand, shouldn't republicans be supporting that?

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  2. that's supposed to be salinity not sanity, pretty big difference, although the auto correct on this phone is definitely making me wonder about my sanity.

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