Historical Science by Richard Bleil
These days, everybody is concerned about Global Warming, or are hiding from the truth. There is so much I can say about this, but I want to discuss…the alternative hypothesis.
Yep, time was there was an active debate as to if the earth was going to have a catastrophic warming, or a catastrophic cooling. It was the ’70’s, when I was in middle and early high school. The competing hypotheses went as follows:
- With Greenhouse Gasses on the rise, they would trap high energy UV rays from the sun inside the atmosphere, reflected by the greenhouse gasses, that would otherwise escape into space. When they escape from the earth, they take their associated energy with them. By trapping these light waves inside the atmosphere, it will tip the delicate balance of incoming and loss of energy in favor of increased heat, causing global warming.
- With soot from pollution, incoming light will be blocked and reflected into space that would have otherwise reached the surface of the planet. This time, the reflected light would take its energy with them, again tipping the balance of incoming and outgoing energy, but now, energy that would have naturally entered the atmosphere would mean not enough energy would reach the surface, causing global cooling.
Yes, they were competitive hypotheses, and now we know, of course, that the problem is global warming, not global cooling. It might seem insane to think that global cooling was ever even hypothesized as a potential future crises, but it has to be remembered that although the clean air act was passed in 1963 (hey, the year I was born), the major amendments were not added until 1970 and 1990. Before the 1970 amendment, air pollution was horrible. In New York City, there is a church that was designed by a famous architect well-known for his use of brightly colored quartz stone, but the church was gray. It has been a point of debate and contention in architectural school and among scholars for years as to why he chose gray stone for just this church, but when I was living in the city in 1992, they finally power washed the outside of the church. It turns out the church was built using rose quartz, a beautiful pink stone, but the soot in the air was so thick for so long that it just coated the stone, and nobody seemed to remember.
Today, nobody thinks much about soot. There are still isolated pockets of trouble (especially in countries that burn coal with high sulfur content), but for the most part, the problem has been taken care of. And let’s take a moment to consider this, by the way. Air pollution in America had gotten so bad that it was a physical threat to our health, and in response, as a nation, we made a concerted effort to take care of it and reduce air pollution, and…we actually did it. We really can make significant changes for the good on our environment when we set our minds to it.
Competing hypotheses are relatively common in the sciences. Astrophysicists had two competing hypotheses as to how the universe will end, called “The Big Crunch” or “The Big Freeze.” To understand this, we must understand two things.
First, gravitational pull has no distance limit. Every mass, no matter how large or small, has a gravitational pull on every other mass in the universe, no matter how far apart they are. In other words, there is a force that wants to bring all matter in the universe back together. This is the “Big Crunch” theory. Eventually, all expansion of matter in the universe will slow, stop, and reverse because of gravitational pull, eventually bringing everything back together in a kind of re-wind of the big bang pushing all matter outwards from a single point in the first place. But, there is another factor to take into account.
See, there is also “escape velocity”. If you launch an object from the earth towards space fast enough, it will escape earth’s gravitational pull entirely, and go out into deep space. Gravitational force will still have a pull, will still slow down this object, but not enough to stop it and pull it back down. If the Big Bang instilled enough velocity into the universe’s matter, that is to say if matter was fast enough to have achieved escape velocity, then regardless of the gravitational pull, all matter will continue expanding forever, getting farther and farther away, until there is essentially nothing left.
Which one will win out? Well, if anybody is around long enough to see, I hope they’ll let me know.