Climate change is unfortunately politicised. Unfortunately it’s often no longer about the science but rather about the money and the left vs the right. People on the right call it a “religion”. People on the left think the right wants to destroy our world. Both think their side is being silenced. It’s crazy so lets unpack this and find common ground – because we actually all want the same things, but fighting is keeping us from acting. And right now we need ACTION.
I work in the energy sector, have a degree in applied science (engineering) and interface with many climate scientists – the company I work for is very passionate about being a good corporate citizen. Lets set one thing straight off the hop: climate scientists do not shun counter points. At all. Politicians with agendas do. And this is why climate science and politics needs to be decoupled.
The question shouldn’t be “do you believe in climate change”, but rather “do you understand climate change”. Because this is science, not religion. And I would say that 99% of the people who think they understand climate science actually don’t. Why? because they keep talking about carbon. This is only partially the concern, and if we fix those, then carbon isn’t even a problem – at least not CO2.
Now, I think the misinformation and politicisation of this topic comes from the fact that moving forward revolves on money (funding). And money and taxes is political. Unfortunately, for the Right, the bell has swung so far the other way that often people make the wrong conclusions that the “science is wrong”. And for the Left, the right are a bunch of coal rolling jerks in Ford F350s. They divide us, because them dividing us distracts us from the fact that they are leeching us and our planet.
Lets talk about what a climate model is, climate science, and how they change. This is a big talking point because at one point we were heading to global cooling.
“What the heck? Get your crap together you stupid scientists?”
Right? Lets talk about that real quick.
Physical modelling of the environmental climate systems is incredibly complex. I think that’s an understatement of a lifetime. Every one of the sub topics is just so deep and complicated. Anyone who has taken Heat transfer courses, radiation, all the Grashof number, Reynold number, Nusselt number, Prandt number, (literally hundreds of others).. it’s because of how empirical this area of science is. Remember Chaos theory stuff in Jurassic park? That’s nothing compared to the complexity of these systems.
If soil science has a million moving parts, climate science has a billion moving parts. Most of the models being used are largely empirical. That means that it’s observation and adjustment. The math gets way too complicated for humans or even computers to solve. So all the computer models are basically a technique called Finite Element Analysis style modelling, where we break it into small pieces and analyse each mini box – what goes into it, what goes out, etc. Then we have to measure and observe the real world data, and adjust the models. It just so happens that this takes TIME. LOTS of time. Like DECADES worth of time, ENTIRE CAREERS are dedicated to this, just to make small tweaks. However, each day that goes by, the models get better and better and better.
Often a big critique is that we were once predicting global cooling and now we are predicting global warming. Well, yeah, that’s how this works unfortunately. That isn’t a failure of science, that IS science. We also once thought the sun orbited the Earth, but then we got better information, updated our “models” and create greater understanding of our solar system. Again, that’s not failed science, that’s not stupid scientists, that’s just how science works. And imagine how dangerous it would be if we had a bunch of “Earth centralists” who just stuck their feet in the ground and didn’t adjust as new information came in and models were improved? Well, that did kind of happen – turns out humans are going to be human. Eventually the science “matures” and solidifies. This is largely what is happening in climate science right now.
We have politicians on the left saying the world is going to die and we need to create taxes to keep carbon in the ground. We have politicians on the right saying that the climate has always changed, so what’s different now. And we have scientific papers which justify both stances, from different time periods, using different assumptions, often using ones that are based on the old “global cooling” days – when the science has moved past that. And largely this is what I see with the carbon isn’t a problem crowd. Lets talk about that quickly before I lose people, as many may think that’s “their team”:
Carbon Isn’t The Enemy
Let me get that clear and out of the way. At least it’s not the complete picture in isolation. Anyone on the left that says it is, is just as ignorant as those on the right who think it is meaningless. Our water/soil situation is a massive problem. The reason that just talking about carbon is wrong is because there are few things at play here… it’s not just about amounts of carbon, it is about rates of change, the addition and removal processes, and the timing on when those happen. For example, you will hear a lot of people say “more CO2 means more plants, means more CO2 sequestering via root exudates” and they are right. They are also wrong though. And you have people on the left saying “CO2 is the devil, stop CO2!!!” when CO2 is a vital gas that grows trees.
So lets talk about CO2…The main production is the respiration cycle (exhalation of animals, mushrooms, bacteria, etc), and decomposition cycles. The main sequestering cycle is trees via photosynthesis (and a few others, but lets talk about this one, because this is IMPORTANT, and I know this is long, but I really hope you read this, because this is maybe one of the most important things for human beings this day and age to understand). The real kicker here is the photosynthesis equation… CO2 + WATER + Photons -> O2 and Sugars. This is super important because what nobody (well rather, not enough of us) talks about is the water part!!!
The importance of water
Think of photosynthesis as two conveyor belts merging to a central point. At this point a worker joins one CO2 to one H2O, puts that in a black solar box and out comes O2 and root exudates. The crowd of people who chant “CO2 just makes more plants” misses one important fact… that in order for that to be true (and it is, in part), we need the water molecule increasing at the rate of increase of the CO2 conveyor belt. And we all know what’s ACTUALLY happening right now. Humans are being absolute idiots and cutting down trees. We are killing transpiration cycles. We are leaving soil bare by tillage and mono-crop agriculture. We are using civil engineering and city/residential development design to run water straight downhill as fast as possible into gutters. Almost zero water is absorbed in the landscape. It hits a roof, falls on a driveway and is funnelled into a sewer. Those poor plants that need this water, they get none. The soil gets none. The soil life gets none.We are ACTIVELY sabotaging our water cycle through “smart city design”.
At the same time, we are actively ramping up our CO2 generation (this isn’t opinion, this is measurable and is a fact). This may not be a problem in a make believe world where the water cycle correspondingly is increasing. More CO2 allowing for more trees and plants to grow faster and sequester more carbon. Unfortunately what REALITY is, is that our soils are drying up and we’re cutting down trees. Our rainfall cycles are getting destroyed, and the rain that does fall runs ON THE SURFACE of our hydrophobic soils.
I.e. The CO2 conveyor belt is ramping up, but the conveyor belt for water is empty.
CO2 happens to have a high specific heat capacity (again, this here isn’t opinion this is a physical property of the gas). And the reality now is that we aren’t growing more trees, we are growing less. And more CO2 isn’t going to make plants grow faster, it’s only going to make more CO2. And that’s not even talking about methane which is 100x worse of a greenhouse gas (GHG) for the first few decades of it’s life, and overall roughly 30x worse. But more importantly trees don’t use it for photosynthesis, so the same level of removal mechanisms for methane aren’t there. The only good thing is that it will slowly turn into CO2… eventually.
To make this more relatable and understandable… We have a flow of bread and cheese coming in, and we take 2 breads and 1 cheese and turn them into a grilled cheese. We now start ramping up the bread conveyor belt. We don’t think this is a big deal because we’re just going to make more grilled cheeses. Unfortunately, we aren’t ramping up the cheese production. Infact the cheese is limited and can’t keep up (and also some idiots are actually sneaking cheese upstream off the conveyor belt and eating it). So more bread isn’t making more grilled cheeses, it’s just making more piles of bread spilling off at the end of the conveyor belt. And this folks is climate science.
“So enough about problems. What is the solution? I want to “own” the other side with my flawless arguments.”. Is that you? Change your mindset and lets unify.
The SOLUTION is to plant more trees, stop disturbing soils, stop running water downhills, create more swales and ponds and dams, recharge aquifers to reduce evaporation, cover soils with mulch to reduce evaporation, plant trees in blocks to create windbreaks that stop transpiration losses, instead of pines in lines that allow winds to funnel and carry H2O away from inside forest corridors. There’s so much we can do, but our focus shouldn’t be on the CO2 side (well it should, but more so) it should be on the H2O side, and soil regeneration side. Stop cutting down trees, and start planting more. Stop levelling grasslands to create neighbourhoods. Start promoting wildlife corridors to create more nutrient cycling pathways. Have humanity grow upwards and not sprawling outwards, but we also need to reign growth under control.
We know what we need to do, we just need to stop fighting about CO2 being good or the devil, and just focus on planting trees already. And start protecting our darn soils.
There are other issues too, like timing on when this all happens. More CO2 means more trees (provided the H2O stuff above) but it takes decades for this to happen. Tree vegetative growth is highest in the 7-15 year range roughly. So planting trees today won’t start paying off in CO2 sequestration for about a decade. And forests aren’t strong when they are all the same age. So this is something that ideally should have started 50 years ago, but we absolutely need to get it going now – and stay with it. This isn’t a “fix the climate and plant 2 trillion trees and walk away” thing. This is a “plant the crap out of the planet and don’t ever stop” lifestyle change.
Then there’s methane, and that deserves another discussion all on it’s own. We can control CO2 removal easily, it is way harder to remove methane. Everyone is focused on CO2 when they need to be focused on water and methane. No more giant anaerobic piles of cow manure and industrial feedlot farming. More silvopasture. So many people think that cows are some evil climate change monster, but the cows aren’t the problem. The problem is the systems humans run them in. In feedlots, cows are one of the worst polluting animals (both water pollution and GHG creation via methane, and also CO2 in the feed and transport chains). But in silvopasture, the cow is a NET CARBON SEQUESTRATION TOOL. It goes from the problem to the solution (isn’t that a permaculture concept or something? How interesting). The cow becomes a key linchpin species. In fact, roaming Bison created the most fertile soils in the US.
Again, it’s about scale, and it’s about how we use them. Cows on concrete ARE bad. Cows in forests are INCREDIBLE. So “going green” and the “green movement” doesn’t need to be about no meat, just less meat, because we need to run our cattle in less density, and run them through forests. We need to plant said forests. And we need to start now. The problem with all this, and it’s so frustrating, is that the scientists know what to do. Then the politicians fight and rile up their sides, and BOTH have agendas and BOTH are wrong.
In the end, what we need to do is stop cutting down trees, stop moving water downhill, start prioritising soil and water retention, run more silvopasture systems and less feedlots, and plant the heck out of this planet. The worst thing that happens is that we have more natural ecosystems, more wildlife, more insect diversity, and we stop extinctions and clean our water and air. I don’t care if someone believes in Carbon, or global warming, or climate change.
We need action, now. Protecting our soils and ecosystems. Restoring them as the highest priority the human race has ever done. Don’t do it for the sake of Carbon. Do it for the sake of water. Focus on those things, because we can all agree that these things are good things to do.
Put the darn carbon pitchforks down because both sides are right, but more importantly (and in a much more accurate way) both sides are completely wrong. Why? Because each “side” has politicians creating division. The scientists are just horrified watching this divisiveness happen – for a topic that the future of the human race depends on solving.
Carbon is extremely important, but we’re making too much of it, and the main thing is that we’re also sabotaging our water cycles. So the “carbon just makes more plants” thing is just not going to work if we don’t fix the water situation first. If we do, then yes, more carbon = more plants = more root exudates = more sequestration. But if we don’t fix the water cycles that we’re destroying, then we turn Earth into Venus (eventually).
The problem? There are runaway effects that we can trigger, such as reversing the ocean currants, and methane release from “perma”frost that is melting. Note, PERMAfrost melting is not a good thing – it has happened before but events that reversed it such as the Azola event are no longer possible – so we are flying blind if this happens. This time is different.
Then there are irreversible things like how we are living inside the 6th major extinction event. People talk about bees but all insects experience complete and utter collapse. 150 species go extinct EVERY DAY. This is not reversible. We need to act now.
The good thing is, that the solutions are all the same. Plant more trees. Restore water and habitat by slowing spreading stopping and sinking water. Protect our soils. And stop the fighting and unite.