Environmental Hypothesis by Richard Bleil
Many years ago, when I was in middle school, there was a debate raging. This would have been the ’70’s, when people were arguing if we would see global warming because of the greenhouse gasses, or global cooling because of the soot in the air which blocks the sunlight and prevents it from reaching the ground. Now, forty plus years later, scientists overwhelmingly agree that it’s global warming winning out, in part, though, because the EPA finally stepped up and forced industry to clean up their soot output which resulted in far cleaner air.
As I write this, the Amazon rain forest is engulfed in a forest fire. The other day, on my way to work, I stopped off at a gas station convenience store to buy a Diet Coke (my addiction). The young woman working there was outside, taking a smoke break, just staring at the sky. As I walked up she asked me if I have ever seen the sky that color, and asked what caused it.
The fires in the amazon is causing it.
You may have noticed that the skies in the evening and the sunsets are rather more colorful than they often have been. This is because the fires in the Amazon are a global phenomena. In World War I, the plumes of smoke sent up by the big cannons engulfed the earth, causing the same phenomenon. When Mt. St. Helen’s erupted in 1980, so much volcanic ash was thrown into the atmosphere that as far away as Boston, literally on the other side of the Continental United States, had a sheen of volcanic ash settle on all of the cars with enough thickness to be visible. Every time a nuclear bomb is detonated on the ground or the air, from anywhere in the world, the nuclear fallout can be detected in every place on earth.
Yes, ash from the Amazon is encircling the earth, and as the Northern Americas head into winter, the Southern Americas are pushing on into summer. I believe that we will see a statistically significant dip in the global temperatures because of the soot from the fires. This is not completely unprecedented. In 2000, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the US shut down all air traffic over the US with the exception of military aircraft for several days. This resulted in statistically anomalous temperatures over that period of time because air flight over the US churns the air and changes the temperature.
When you scuba dive, there are “thermal gradients” that you will reach. Water is densest at 4oC (about 39oF), which means that water that is at this temperature is near the bottom of the lakes and oceans. Divers will actually feel this sudden change in temperature, and colder water also reflects more light because it’s denser. If you churned the water, more light would reach the bottom of the water, and the temperature would rise. The same goes for air. This demonstrates just how fragile climate truly is.
So, we have several problems. The Amazon is burning with far more frequency than it used to. Short term, this throws soot into the air, which I expect to cool the planet for a bit. At the same time, the upper atmosphere is getting a large injection of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. This, longer term, will cause an increase in temperature. But wait, there’s more.
See, it’s plants, and to a large extent trees, that scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert it to oxygen. Unfortunately, the largest rain forest in the world, the amazon, is what’s burning. The ability to scrub this gas from the atmosphere is damaged because we’re losing too many trees and plants in the fire.
Ordinarily, forests that suffer a fire reforest quickly. The ash has burned out weeds and dead undergrowth that choke the forest, and the ask acts as a fertilizer for the remaining trees and seeds that have not been burned to the point that they cannot grow. Unfortunately, the rain forest isn’t just a normal forest. Much like a barrier reef, it’s not just trees that can regrow. To replace itself, the entire ecosystem must regenerate, including the trees, plants, tree canopy that is important to for holding moisture in, the insects and animals that play a critical role in spreading seeds and far more.
The current world leaders are right now businessmen. In probably the two most critical countries in the world, the US and Brazil, the leaders are very much businessmen with more concern for businesses than people or the environment. Just a day or two ago, in fact, the approved funding from the G7 organization was turned down by Brazil.
Watching these events unfold, I can’t help but wonder if it’s too late. Scientists have been predicting that we are only a few years away from the “point of no return” to avoid an environmental crisis of unprecedented scale. Now, with these fires, there is not only a sudden influx of the very gases that are the root cause of the crisis, but worse, we are losing probably the most important tool for scrubbing them. This one-two punch may mean that it’s already too late.