We haven’t yet had a post on the subject of global warming, though it’s been in the news and on folks’ minds a lot recently. I have long been of the opinion that we need a longer span of time to observe a geological process, as distinguished from normal weather and climatic variations. However, it doesn’t require a perspective in geological time to observe that humans have significantly altered the environment on a planetary scale. At issue for global warming are carbon and methane emissions (greenhouse gasses), not all of which are manmade but which have collectively altered the composition of the atmosphere fairly rapidly since the beginning of the Industrial Era.
I came across a book by Bill McKibben called The End of Nature, published in 1989. The ecology movement had been underway since the 1970s, but the book was still before our general awareness of potential ecological disaster. McKibben reports that scientists (in particular, Svante Arrhenius) have studied the effects of “evaporating our coal mines into the air” since the 1880s and even then created models that predicted with remarkable accuracy the rise in global average temperatures that have been confirmed in the past two decades.
Though I’m only 50 pages into the book thus far, this remark by McKibben caught my eye in particular, which is more about our rapacious consumption of fossil fuels than about global warming:
It is as if someone had scrimped and saved his entire life, and then spent every cent on one fantastic week’s debauch … We are living on our capital, as we began to realize during the gas crises of the 1970s. But it is more than waste, more than a binge. We are spending that capital in such a way as to alter the atmosphere. It is like taking that week’s fling and, in the process, contracting a horrid disease.