Minority Opinions

Not everyone can be mainstream, after all.

Disposable Carbon

with one comment

I’ve never been quite certain what to make of global warming.  On the one hand, there seems to be a fair amount of evidence for it, and a plausible mechanism by which we might be causing it.  On the other, each datum of evidence is a bit squatchy, having passed through too many hands that might have tampered with it, and the time period for which we may have been doing anything is miniscule in geological scale.  For my part, I’m about to ramble about the rise of dinosaurs.

Reptiles evolved during a time when six-foot dragonflies and other huge insects owned the skies.  A time when huge trees provided massive amounts of oxygen to the air.  A time when the rainforests of the carboniferous era were about to collapse due to global cooling.  Large amounts of plant matter were buried to become lignite and coal, quite possibly because a new protein called lignin was trapping loads of carbon in an almost indigestible form.

It’s certainly possible that reducing global carbon dioxide levels led to an ice age.  It’s also possible that methane released from the ocean floor contributed to the Great Dying by raising the global temperature, though it had fluctuated between warm and cool throughout the Permian period.  I’m not a geologist, and not really qualified to say for certain.

That doesn’t keep me from speculating, however, on how we’re affecting the carbon cycle.  Yes, we’re burning about a billion tons of fossil fuels every year, releasing loads of carbon dioxide.  But we’re also trapping large amounts of carbon in a new form, one that micro-organisms are still struggling to digest.  Maybe, just maybe, our obsession with gadgets will produce enough plastic to offset the air pollution.  Perhaps it’s even better to produce new plastic than to recycle the old.

Then again, it seems better to dump all that excess plastic in landfills, where it just might become a new civilization’s fuel source, than in the ocean, where it breaks down into pieces small enough to ingest but large enough to kill.

Yes, some environmentalist will hate me for this post.  My only defense is that life is always more complicated than it seems, and I don’t really want to get worked up about issues that will probably be resolved through a few decades of reasonable discussion.


Written by eswald

15 May 2012 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Lifestyle

One Response

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  1. I guess a good rule of thumb is to defer to the true experts. The sad thing is that non-scientists don’t generally have good signals for who the true experts are. Like I know that stuff published in PNAS is highly credible but most people, I presume, don’t know that. So if I cite the following, for example, as evidence that there’s no real disagreement about this issue then someone less scientifically clued in has no way to know if it’s legit or if it’s propaganda:


    16 May 2012 at 9:41 pm

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