CLIMATE CHANGE: Necessity is the Mother of Evolution
Currently Earth is in a scientifically well-documented interglacial period. This means that we are coming off a glacial period in the recent geologic past (10-12,000 years ago). There have been, in fact, several glacial periods in the distant past (and interglacial periods necessarily between); there is no evidence that this pattern will not continue in the future. Earth’s temperatures can be expected to vary in such a dynamic system, and they do. In other words, global warming is a perfectly natural phenomenon and is currently taking place as is its nature.
Only one large volcano can cause massive alterations to global temperature suddenly and can continue over an extended period of time. Earth has experienced and will continue to experience innumerable volcanic events, all of which have contributed and will contribute to change. Nature adapts to change, maintaining a delicate balance that we cannot (and may never) understand at our present level of knowledge.
Water vapor is by far the most important ‘greenhouse gas’ (75% of the atmosphere); it exists as part of the natural (and necessary) hydrologic cycle which maintains the earth’s delicate water balance. Our understanding of all factors affecting the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is far from complete, but it appears that it can be lowered by decreasing evaporation over the oceans, a clearly impossible task for mankind. Regarding carbon dioxide (0.04% of the atmosphere) as a polluting greenhouse gas: consider that we breathe out, and vegetation takes in, carbon dioxide. As a necessary part of the natural process, it can hardly be considered a pollutant. We can’t survive without it, and we have no way of knowing how vegetation and the oceans maintain the delicate balance.
The very existence of greenhouse gases speaks volumes for the ability of earth processes to have created a balance necessary for life as we know it, and to make the corrections necessary to maintain what it itself has created—the biosphere (all living things). There have been countless variations and consequent adjustments to climate throughout geologic time. How does this balance come to be? The fact is that it’s a naturally-evolved system, not just a collection of neatly-categorized variables. To think that we can control an entire system without even knowing all of the variables is an exercise in futility. But we can deal with them reasonably.
Climate change is natural and normally proceeds relatively slowly. As it does, nature adapts in important ways over which we have no control. Necessity being the mother of evolution, balance is the key, and it exists with or without mankind (which is an essential part of that balance).
How is this balance achieved and maintained? Sometimes the answer to an important question is so obvious that it’s easily overlooked…
What’s so ubiquitous that we hardly consider it at all? Try WATER. Oceans cover more than 70% of the earth (that’s right—land is limited to less than 30% of the earth’s surface, and most of that is biologically unaltered). The amount of water in the oceans is unfathomable (pun intended)—312 MILLION CUBIC MILES of it. And water vapor is an integral part of the atmosphere—75% of all ‘greenhouse gases’–(think humidity, clouds, rain, snow). And the human body is largely water, as are the bodies of all living organisms. Water is not merely necessary for living, it’s the primary constituent of life itself.
The amount of earth’s water—the hydrosphere—(which includes solid and vapor phases as well as the ubiquitous liquid) remains constant. (Could the hydrosphere be a major part of the earth’s stability mechanism by virtue of its ability to move readily between its three phases? You bet it is.) The amounts in each phase are in constant flux but the aggregate remains the same. Much water vapor is a result of evaporation over the oceans (not incidentally a source of carbon dioxide as well),
Water exists naturally in all three forms of matter—solid(ice), liquid(!), and gas(vapor) and as such is indestructible, changing form easily within a temperature range tolerable by life: solid to liquid (or the reverse) at 32-degreesF, liquid to gas (or vice-versa) at 212-degreesF. What else is so rapidly adaptable to change? Or durable?
The earth’s water is constant—it neither increases or decreases—and remains balanced between its three phases, transferring easily between the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere so easily that we don’t even notice it. (And we adapt to it, without even thinking about it.) What else is so constant? Or mobile? Or reliable?
That water changes temperature readily provides a stabilizing influence. For instance, the temperature of ground water (that tapped by wells) tends to reflect the average temperature of the system of which it is a part (ground water varies in temperature from about 53-degreesF in the Northeast to perhaps 56-degreesF in the Southwest in keeping with the regional average annual temperature). It’s natural.
Could it be possible that water provides a mechanism whereby the earth system is kept in balance? Not only possible, but it does.
Earth’s water is constantly in motion, changing phases and moving over most of Earth’s surface by convection, condensation, evaporation, tides. (our living Earth has a regular tidal pulse caused by its moon, the seas rising and falling roughly twice daily in a range of two to more than thirty feet depending on latitude, necessarily affecting the overlying atmosphere as well). These varying tides cause horizontal movement of at least the top layer of water (although not analogous, think waves). Massive ocean currents move immense quantities of water in all directions over vast distances constantly, carrying climate with them.
Changes in Earth’s temperature are unremitting and automatic, part of the planet’s ability to sustain itself. Earth has survived glacial ages and periods of ‘excessive’ warmth. Through it all the total amount of water has remained constant while it changes form in response to temperature. Amazing? Actually not, because it is the system. We just have to accept it for what it is, and not try to control it (because we can’t). That these conditions may not last forever should be obvious, but just as obvious should be the fact that life adapts as the earth adjusts—that is to say, v e r y s l o w l y.