Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Recycling - Part II

OK, no-one seems to have had any serious problems with the idea that we are a bottle garden.

What is on this planet, is what we have. It all just stays here and gets recycled.

Now that, logically, must apply to the total amount of carbon on the planet.

Carbon on the planet is found in three places: The ground (oil, coal, gas, carbonate minerals), the biomass (plants and animals) and the atmosphere (carbon dioxide).

The biomass stores carbon. Plants take it out of the atmosphere and convert it to wood or leaves. Algae also extracts a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A certain amount breaks down to constituents or is consumed by animals who store carbon as flesh but also exhale carbon dioxide. On a larger time scale, plant and animal matter will produce oil, coal and gas when conditions are right. Algae especially is a source of hydrocarbons as, when it dies, it falls to the seabed where pressure and time and geological luck convert it to oil, gas or coal. It is not a quick process.

Currently we are extracting and burning the ground-stored carbon at a rapid rate, where it transfers to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a by-product of combustion.

Concurrently, we are also clearing forests, often accompanied by burning of the felled timber.

So we are putting the stored carbon into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing the mechanisms that remove it from the atmosphere. The level present in the atmosphere must increase.

Nothing I have said so far is guesswork or assumption. It all follows logically from what we all learned in school about plants and animals and from the notion that we are a closed system.

The only item that I must take on faith is "what is the effect of increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?" The scientists say it leads to warming. I have no reason to doubt them.

When I posted earlier in the year about the ongoing drought in southern Australia and suggested that it was a consequence of global warming, I was poo-pooed by various climate change doubters.

I wonder if they still feel this way.


  1. It seems to me, as a layman, that the biggest problem on this planet is that people, in general, will always resist change or any ideas of change. You see this in religion, in any scheme for modernisation, in the minutia of every day life - we resist anything that will disturb our rigid concepts of what life is about.

    I'm not surprised you were poo-pooed, Lee, and I don't suppose that the arrival of the first shipment of Chinese teddy bears to Europe via the North-West Passage will change the minds of those who do not want to hear.

  2. Clearly explained, thank you Lee.

    The fragility of closed systems should be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to maintain a healthy goldfish bowl, an aquarium or a garden pond.

    As humans, we simply are not working hard enough to maintain our only home.

  3. I like to think of Wolfe's story, "Orlando" which taught me that there was a time, not so many centuries ago, where rivers froze that should not, and people starved and froze.

    I would never suggest that we are not the cause of this particular climate "hiccup" - nor would I suggest that it hasn't the potential to be the end-all/be-all of changes (at least for the infamous "life-as-we-know-it").

    Knowing that nature has devastatingly changed climates without our meddling makes my recognition of current changes - in which (I believe) we have meddled greatly - only more frightening.

  4. Nature has changed the climate before,and it is a parallel of what is happening now, only nowhere near as quick. Carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere, temperature rises, ice-caps melt, ocean currents cease, seas stagnate, algae flourishes and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, temperatures fall.

  5. Oh dear, here I go...

    So, it's obvious to me and lots of you out there that we are messing things up. I know things need to change on a grand scale and all that but WHAT are YOU doing about it? (not just you Lee...).

    Do you drive a car? Do you choose to walk, cycle or catch public transport? Yes, I know, often more hassle but thats what it takes.

    Do you refuse carrier bags? Do you leave all your lights on? Do you choose to buy green power?

    Woops, started preaching...how rude of me on your blog Lee!

  6. Preach away. They are all good questions.

  7. Ditto!! You and Gargoyle will go on for ever about this, his passion too.
    We do as Bee say, turn lights off, recycle, use boxes instead of plastic etc etc. Even our electricity comes 70% now from the Albany wind farms,we pay more but we want to try and do our bit.

    But yes, it will take for ever, no one listens and are to selfish to care is my opinion.

  8. OMG...when you put it that way...Now I started to feel scared.
    have I done my bits? I hope so. And many more need to be done.
    The success will depends on the entire population...
    and the Q again...how do we educate all this people?...

  9. We don't have to educate all of them - just the ones that make the decisions.

  10. I drive a car...not much into bicycle riding these days, particularly with the range road to face! And as for walking, well, it's a bit too far to the supermarket for me to do that...I would starve before I got there!

    I did burn some charcoal the other day for my barbecue...oops.

    I do recycle where possible, and don't cycle because it's impossible! ;)

    I think I do my small bit for the universe wherever and whenever I can.

  11. I suppose it is "better to light one small candle than rage against the dark", but the "third world" as we called it is now coming on stream (India and China) and they quite rightly are wanting what we have had. And so the vehicles multiply and the "dirty" power stations are building at a rate.
    I always cycle the 3 miles into town (and enjoy it), but I feel I am being overcome by the tide.

  12. we've had a drought here in NC too - water table is 20 inches below normal - people in parts of the county have their wells drying up - yet they continue to build lots of good asphalt roads and excellent shopping malls with no green spaces or bike lanes - sigh


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