Many thousands of years ago early humans discovered how to overcome their fear of fire; learned to use it. Possibly to protect themselves from dangerous animals; most animals seem to be afraid of fire. Fire is warm and it gives light. Probably one of the first steps in leaving the so-called animal kingdom and the first step in our War on Nature.
At first we burned wood; some people still do. There is some evidence that the desertification (making a desert) of for instance the Middle East was caused by too generous burning of trees. Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the South Pacific is an example of how almost total deforestation destroys a island (local) ecology.
Eventually we discovered ways to burn other materials than wood. We learned to burn peat and coal. Peat is condensed, pressed, aged heather (more or less dried: it makes more smoke). Coal is what wood becomes after a million years being buried under ashes and rocks. Much more recently we discovered oil, also the end result of plant life buried for a long time. Even "natural gas" is ancient nature.
For a long time we have been burning nature to make light and heat. Then we burned to make steam for the newest invention of the 19th century, the steam engine. And now we burn coal and oil to run generators that make the electricity that runs the world
Burning anything makes smoke. That smoke goes up in the air. There is an ever thicker layer of smoke way up in the stratosphere. The definition of the word smoke says it is "a mixture of chemicals depending on what is burned." Smoke can be from burning wood or oil or coal or even natural gas (of course coal and oil are just as "natural").
This smoke cannot escape the atmosphere. It is a layer of various chemicals that lets heat from the sun in but does not let reflected heat out away into space. That is why we call global warming a "greenhouse effect." A greenhouse has to have ways to let some of the heat out. That is how greenhouses control the temperature most beneficial for what specific plants need. The planetary smoke that is rapidly accumulating in the high reaches of the atmosphere cannot escape, there are no openings to let heat out. Our atmosphere is getting hotter.
The effect of that is melting ice on the Poles and the snow of glaciers, the source of most big rivers. Warm water expands, and so ocean levels rise. And, as we know, hot air is more moist than cold air. Hence torrential rains and resulting floods in some areas. Large areas of land, away from an ocean, get droughts of hitherto unknown severity.
What we now call Climate Change is simply the consequence of burning ancient plants that makes smoke. We continue burning in order to generate electricity that drives our civilization while the heavy layer of smoke makes the atmosphere, and so the planet, hotter.
Of course we now know that there are other ways to make electricity; we need not burn. We can use the heat from the sun directly with solar panels or capture the energy of the wind. Several other techniques are also used or in development.
If we want to slow down, or perhaps stop climate change--and we'd better!--we must stop burning.
Easier said than done.
What stops us is the power of the oil and coal industries that make enormous amounts of money. They own the Media and bought our government. Last year they made more profit than ever before and last year was also the hottest recorded in our history.
Climate always is local but Global Warming is global. Our war on Nature continues but now Nature is fighting back.This year and all years from now promise to be hotter and wilder (super hurricane Sandy). Fires, droughts that kill growing food. Enormous nation-sized floods.
Global warming is a planetary phenomenon. Think how easy it is to push a rock over a cliff: difficult if not impossible to stop the rock. The whole world must stop or greatly reduce burning fo have any effect. As soon as possible. How likely is that?
The 18 yearly United Nations meetings held to come to some kind of global effort to stop burning have been discouraging to say the least.
The worst polluters of the atmosphere for the past half century have been the US and China. They are responsible for more than half of all the smoke we pushed and sill push into the air. Together these two countries have less than one quarter of all humans but are responsible for more than half the smoke. Scandalous profits are what is behind unstopped global warming, climate change. A very very few humans have amassed enormous heaps of money while preventing us from knowing what is really going on so that we could have done something about it. One of these days--if not already--it will be too late.
You know the story of the frog. The frog that swam in a large pan on a stove. Frog was not too happy with the small area so he swam around to get warm. Soon: hmm, nice warm water. Frog relaxed. Very comfortable. Frog laid back, more relaxed. When he realized it was getting too hot, it was too late. He was cooked.
We are that frog.
This what is happening where it is summer to our winter
image from Australian government
robert wolff lives on the Big Island, called Hawai'i
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