Letter to the editor: Individual solutions can make significant environmental changes

Editor:

Earth Day. Perhaps a misleading term as the earth and planet are not in any immediate danger. The atmosphere and biosphere are undergoing rapid change that could at least make humans much less comfortable and at worse lead to a drastic and unpleasant reduction in our numbers. Ecology is a relatively new biological discipline. There is no instruction manual for the ecosystem, yet we tamper with it as we would not with our vehicles, cell phones and televisions…removing parts incautiously and haphazardly without thought to the impact on the biological system on which we depend. If you breathe oxygen, drink water and eat food you are an environmentalist, acknowledged or not.

We face three problem areas:

  • atmospheric and oceanic warming and ocean acidification caused by CO2 emissions from the massive burning of fossil fuels for transportation, generation of electricity and agriculture.
  • pollution as a function of population growth and increased consumption and the failure of recycling systems as well as chemicals from agriculture and lawn care.
  • a drastic rapid reduction in biodiversity; the number of species declines faster than evolution.

We as individuals are responsible for these problems as our impact is additive. It follows that individual solutions can add up to significant change:

  • Changing to electric vehicles can have a large impact on CO2 emissions. Transportation, mostly private cars, and trucks, produces approximately 60% of the CO2 emissions that contribute to the greenhouse effect and fizzy water ocean.
  • Shop less and with the source and the potential for recycling in mind. Chinese goods are produced with coal power. China now leads the world in CO2 production (while the U.S. is still the top overall contributor to date).
  • Converting as much of your lawn as possible to native plants will help counter the loss in biodiversity and eliminate the need for chemicals. Lawns, by some estimates, are the largest irrigated ‘crop’ in the US.  This monoculture destroys soil, requires chemical applications, excludes other plant species, and contributes to the decline of birds, bees, and other essential species.  Small gasoline engines, such as those used in lawnmowers, trimmers, and blowers, produce as much pollution as approximately 40 modern cars. If you must have a lawn, use electric tools.
  • Educate yourself using Web search tools or the library. For Web searches you can filter your search to educational (edu) or organization (org) sites. For example, to search for fossil fuel use: site:edu AND org fossil fuel. Your local library’s reference librarian can assist with searches and books on any and all of these topics.  I’ve included a sample of references below.

Some references:

https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/03/13/fix-recycling-america/

https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/massextinct_10

https://earther.gizmodo.com/lawns-are-an-ecological-disaster-1826070720

https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2010/06/04/the-problem-of-lawns/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090320164659.htm

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago/

http://econogics.com/en/smallpol.htm

Kolbert, Elizabeth The Sixth Extinction, Henry Holt and Picador Books, 2014

McKibben, Bill, Falter: has the human game began to play itself out? Henry Holt, New York, 2019

Robert Jamieson PhD
Edmonds

  1. Yes, exactly! But then sadly we depend on government to make changes for us and the idea of self sacrifice is something for the other people to do. On a personal and unconscious level there exist a myriad of rationalizations for not moving forward, instead maintaining the status quo. Except for the minority, most will not even be aware in any effective way let alone change until they are forced to or are somehow personally and dramatically impacted except in a few rare instances of the teachable moment. In my mostly liberal neighborhood there are but handful of us who have tiny or no lawns, know a robin from a towhee, pay attention to bees, take the trouble to try to avoid Chinese products , dont burn wood and so forth. On a positive note there are a few that are open to education in that teachable moment. If everyone who read your letter and took the risk of sharing your insights with those around them, the fundamentals of change may be furthered.

  2. With all the evolution that occurred and provided homo sapiens the opportunities to control/manipulate their environment, we now are faced with the consequences. The ability to dare and explore and exploit is manifest destiny. The environment has been ignored and degraded. Do we have the focus, courage and realization of what will be necessary?

  3. Roselee, the effects of additional CO2 have been overwhelming positive. The planet is getting greener as plants now have more food. I think everyone agrees that cutting down the rain forests is a horrible consequence of human industrialization. However, what’s worse is cutting down trees and not feeding new growth. I’d argue that burning fossil fuels has saved the planet. We breath oxygen. Oxygen is pollution. It’s an unstable element that reacts and destroys most things. Oxygen is the byproduct of plant life. CO2 is a product essential to life. It’s also false that more CO2 leads to warming. There is a greenhouse effect, but there’s a logarithmic relationship between CO2 concentration and heat retention. We’d have nearly the same green house effect at 200ppm as we have at 400ppm. From 400ppm to 600ppm, there’d be little-to-no mathematical effect. Throughout the entire planet’s millions of year history, it’s always had more carbon, and has been both warmer and cooler with less and more CO2. Plants want 1200ppm on average.

    1. The role of oxygen in green house effects seems like an distraction.
      CO2 from fossil fuel has been proven to be the cause of the green house effect and acidification of oceans. Plants’ use of CO2 is limited by the photosynthetic process.
      I’ve researched this extensively for four decades and not seen a peer reviewed article that supports your contentions; not even in the analysis sponsored by Exxon.
      References to science articles that document your claims would be very interesting! Thanks

      1. NASA has published decades of data pointing to the fact that the earth is getting greener:
        https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth

        The more CO2, along with a 1-2 degree increase in tropic temperature is causing the tropics to widen and is reversing the devastating effects of desertification. The planet is loving the CO2. The papers on this are countless.

        The reverse of what you’re saying has proven to be true… CO2 is usually the result of temperature increases, not the cause. Before it was proven otherwise, ice core samples where provided to the world as being the evidence for CO2-caused warming. Then, it was revealed that CO2 lagged temperature increases at every inflection point in the ice core record. An 800 year lag on average. It’s only definitive proof if it supports the theory apparently.

        https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11659-climate-myths-ice-cores-show-co2-increases-lag-behind-temperature-rises-disproving-the-link-to-global-warming/ <- look at this back-pedaling

        The green house effect is real, and it's already been had. It's logarithmic. Princeton's Dr. William Happer equates CO2 to painting a barn red. One coat makes it red. A second coat doesn't make it twice as red.

        As for ocean acidification, CO2 *leaves* the ocean as temperature increases. The ocean out-gasses. They still don't have a good measure of what CO2 is in the oceans. It's not ubiquitous. Nor do they have good record for the past. Both would be useful to make and test a theory.
        "After 30 years of measurements, the ocean carbon community is realizing that tracking human-induced changes in the ocean is not as easy as they thought it would be."
        https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/OceanCarbon <- they're mostly relying on models.

      2. I published a paper for the USFS on another topic, but I included a graph on page 25 which shows how lasers and radar can be used to measure vegetative mass. It’s need to see vegetation visualized. I think the NASA satellites are using spectrometry where certain light hits the ground through the leaves where other light is blocked by leaves.

        http://www.canaanavionics.com/MULTI-LINK%20DROP%20COMUPTER_REVC.pdf

  4. Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out. A colleague pointed out (thanks) an error that I made. Transportation accounts for %28 of the CO2 and %60 of that is cars, i.e. daily travel.

    1. Today, most CO2 comes from aerobic animal life living in the oceans. The majority of CO2 comes from natural processes. Humans are creating a surplus of CO2 beyond that. There is a one-way carbon sequestration process. I understand that volcanic activity replenished the CO2 in the atmosphere millions of years (Permian) ago when it was low like it is today. Now humans are replenishing CO2 at a slower rate, which is good considering the planet no longer has that volcanic activity.
      https://miro.medium.com/max/660/0*3Vm0copgT8K-pcRm.gif

  5. There are a number of CO2 myths that have been used to debunk climate change, such as: there is no correlation between CO2 and temperature.

    The chart in the reference below shows the changes in CO2 and temperature over a 600 million year span of time. It turns out that there is NO correlation between CO2 and temperature: CO2 goes way up while temperature goes down, and vice versa and everywhere in between. But the reason for this is that during those 600 million years, earth was going through such extreme convulsions that the effects of CO2 were muted: continents were moving all over the place, much of Siberia was covered with a miles thick volcanic covering that massively affected the atmosphere of the whole planet, there were 5 great extinctions of life caused by major geologic upheavals, the sun was getting warmer, etc. These massive changes obscured any effects caused by CO2.
    https://staff.washington.edu/larryg/Energy/LLC-Class2.pptx slide 25
    But if you look at a quieter time, say, the last 800,000 years, the correlation between CO2 and temperature is very strong.
    https://staff.washington.edu/larryg/Energy/LLC-Class2.pptx slide 26

    1. Yes, temp increases in the last 800k year are causing CO2 increases. More Temp is causing more CO2, which can be seen in the graph on page 26. The light blue line is changing about 800 years before the dark blue line.

  6. There are a number of CO2 myths that have been used to debunk climate change, such as water vapor is the chief cause of climate change:

    Water vapor traps heat even better than CO2. But while water vapor levels change a lot during a given day, they normally stay much the same year to year. But when you increase CO2, you trap enough extra heat to vaporize more water, which in turn traps more heat. So the constant increase in CO2 is the mechanism which increases the rate of evaporation, which in turn traps more heat. For case (4): There is a natural mechanism on earth which changes the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by an amount far larger than what humans do. But at the end of the year we are right back where we started because these changes are cyclic. But while the amount of CO2 that we add is far smaller than this cyclic change, the difference is that it is CUMULATIVE: it keeps adding up every year. We know the concentration of CO2 for over 800,000 years, and during that time, up to about the year 1850, CO2 typically ranged from about 180 ppm to 280 ppm (which it was around 1850). But now it is 417 ppm and growing every year. Is it reasonable to believe that for over 8,000 centuries natural CO2 stayed roughly between 180 ppm and 280 ppm, but on the exact the same century when we humans dramatically increased CO2, nature did the same? Or that nature suddenly increased the rate of CO2 production by a factor of 30 to 40 times faster than we have ever seen it in the past, just this last century? If you go to my climate class web page at https://staff.washington.edu/larryg/Energy/LLC-Class2.pptx and look

    1. There likely was no Artic ice cap 8k years ago. I don’t think the climate has been as stable as we thought. They’re also theorizing a comet impact previously unknown in Greenland. I think climate has followed mostly the same rules no matter what epoch we look at. Carl Sagan developed theories about global warning looking at Venus. People take stock in that. I’d rather develop theories about present day climate based on looking at climate a million years ago over looking at another planet.

  7. Some believe that more CO2 is good for us, because it increases plant growth. But increasing CO2 reduces the nutrient quality of the food. Also any benefits of increasing CO2 quickly level off. More CO2 combines with H20 to produce more carbonic acid in the oceans: the oceans today are 30% more acidic than a century or so ago, and this carbonic acid is devastating coral reefs. But even these negative effects are absolutely dwarfed by the increase in temperature caused by increased CO2. Massive downpours caused by ever increasing evaporation which have destroyed nearly an entire season of crops as recently happened in India; massive droughts because the location of moisture had changed, sea water incursion which poisons plants that used to be far enough away from the ocean, temperature peaks that destroy vegetation, along with the micro organisms that live in symbiotic relation with them.

  8. Addressing climate change is often viewed as a means to avert tragedy though sacrifices, limitations, restrictions, and higher costs. While some sacrifices and higher costs may indeed be necessary, the majority of things we need to do to address climate change are so positive, so desirable, and so beneficial, that we should want to do them even if climate change were not an issue.
    For example, to address climate change we need to replace fossil fuels in transportation, mainly with electricity. I drive a Tesla Model 3, the best selling electric car. Why would I ever want to revert to an old fashioned, rough, dirty, and noisy gas car, which has inferior performance, handling, responsiveness, and less fun to drive, which is way more expensive to fuel and maintain, whose drive train has ½ the lifespan, is less safe, has a worse depreciation rate, and less convenient to use? In general, 95% of the climate changes we make to travel will result in a quieter, cleaner, safer, more capable, and less expensive means of travel.

    Or consider regenerative agriculture, which eliminates tilling or ploughing the soil. In addition to drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere, it improves the soil, reduces water runoff, reduces chemical fertilizers, is more drought tolerant, improves crop yields, and cuts the energy needed to sow crops in half or more.

    In general, addressing climate change will bring about a much better way of life with improvements across the board.

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