• Bizarre global warming facts

    Environment, Environmental Design

    Michael Specter has an interesting article in The New Yorker about global warming and how "dazzlingly complex" it all is once you start to take all of the factors into account.

    the calculations required to assess the full environmental impact of how we live can be dazzlingly complex. To sum them up on a label will not be easy. Should the carbon label on a jar of peanut butter include the emissions caused by the fertilizer, calcium, and potassium applied to the original crop of peanuts? What about the energy used to boil the peanuts once they have been harvested, or to mold the jar and print the labels? Seen this way, carbon costs multiply rapidly. A few months ago, scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute reported that the carbon footprint of Christmas—including food, travel, lighting, and gifts—was six hundred and fifty kilograms per person. That is as much, they estimated, as the weight of “one thousand Christmas puddings” for every resident of England.

    This passage caught my attention. We need to look at the whole picture and not just the impact of our individual actions. Remember all of the "save the rain forest" campaigns during the 1980's? My 7th grade science class wrote a letter to the Ecuadorian Embassy to encourage them to stop deforestation. It's great that carbon emissions are getting so much attention, but they're just a piece of the overall puzzle.

    Just two countries—Indonesia and Brazil—account for about ten per cent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Neither possesses the type of heavy industry that can be found in the West, or for that matter in Russia or India. Still, only the United States and China are responsible for greater levels of emissions. That is because tropical forests in Indonesia and Brazil are disappearing with incredible speed. “It’s really very simple,” John O. Niles told me. Niles, the chief science and policy officer for the environmental group Carbon Conservation, argues that spending five billion dollars a year to prevent deforestation in countries like Indonesia would be one of the best investments the world could ever make. “The value of that land is seen as consisting only of the value of its lumber,” he said. “A logging company comes along and offers to strip the forest to make some trivial wooden product, or a palm-oil plantation. The governments in these places have no cash. They are sitting on this resource that is doing nothing for their economy. So when a guy says, ‘I will give you a few hundred dollars if you let me cut down these trees,’ it’s not easy to turn your nose up at that. Those are dollars people can spend on schools and hospitals.”

    The ecological impact of decisions like that are devastating. Decaying trees contribute greatly to increases in the levels of greenhouse gases. Plant life absorbs CO2. But when forests disappear, the earth loses one of its two essential carbon sponges (the other is the ocean). The results are visible even from space. Satellite photographs taken over Indonesia and Brazil show thick plumes of smoke rising from the forest. According to the latest figures, deforestation pushes nearly six billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. That amounts to thirty million acres—an area half the size of the United Kingdom—chopped down each year. Put another way, according to one recent calculation, during the next twenty-four hours the effect of losing forests in Brazil and Indonesia will be the same as if eight million people boarded airplanes at Heathrow Airport and flew en masse to New York.

    Read Big Foot In measuring carbon emissions, it’s easy to confuse morality and science. by Michael Specter

    Via: The Frontal Cortex

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