Fossil fuel and extreme weather

There is a growing belief that the increase in extreme weather, including drought, flooding and winds, is due to burning fossil fuels.

  • Aug. 13, 2015 5:00 a.m.

There is a growing belief that the worldwide increase in extreme weather conditions, including drought, flooding and destructive winds, is due to a sudden increase in global warming and that this, in turn, results from burning fossil fuels.

Geology shows that ice overlies the continents at times and at others the polar ice caps might melt and disappear. Scientists agree that climate changes result from variations in the amount of solar energy that reaches the surface of the earth. At times abundant plant life can accumulate as the first stage of coal production.

Roughly 10,000 years ago the ice sheets began to retract, and greening of the earth moved poleward. Finally, during the 18th century, the demand for coal grew greatly with the industrial revolution. Oil joined in during the 19th and natural gas during the 20th.

Coal is still a major source of energy. In 2013, its worldwide production was over 20 million tonnes a day. There is enough in the ground to last about one 150 years.

Coal is the dirtiest fuel, followed by heavy oil. Light oil and natural gas (after treatment), are next. All of these produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned.

Mark Twain said “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” CO2 measurements are generally accurate and they indicate that atmospheric CO2 is presently increasing annually at over two parts per million. This might not seem like much, but, depending on how the data is interpreted, it could be about 1,000 times the annual increase that existed before the industrial age.

Earth temperatures vary greatly in any one spot, and that one differs from all the others, so statistical values to show an annual increase probably fall into Twain’s third category. However, the relatively rapid loss of polar ice over the last few decades is good evidence of more rapid warming, and the marked increase of CO2 dissolved in the oceans points a finger at fossil fuels.

Geothermal and solar energies are the only ones which have no ecological drawbacks. Common sense suggests that if every possible type of non-fossil energy was developed, it would still take years to get rid of fossil fuels and there is no way of knowing how this would effect environmental change. It is reasonably sure, however, that extreme weather condition are not going to go away soon.

Jim DrummondQualicum Beach

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