Corvid-19 is a wake-up call to a problem most people have significantly underestimated. I’m referring to climate change. The similarities between Corvid-19 and climate change are many and more than a little disturbing.
Corvid-19 is a virus. It began with one person in Wuhan, China. From there is spread around the world. Eventually it will impact millions of people. But, as a virus, Corvid-19 had a beginning, and an Apex, and at some point it will go dormant. As time goes by the scientific community will develop a vaccine and eventually Corvid-19 will become another seasonal flu. The expression most often used by our leaders is, “Will get through this together.” And indeed we will. When that happens, mankind will have dodged one more viral bullet.
Unfortunately, this will not never happen when it comes to climate change. Climate change is here to say; it cannot be stopped at this point, and it obviously cannot be reversed even though some people, like Bill McGibben for instance, say it can. But we should all pay close attention to what is happening with Corvid-19 because the same thing is happening with climate change, albeit, it is happening much more slowly and on a far grander scale.
The reason Corvid-19 is just like climate change has to do with the lag-time. That’s the delay between contracting the virus, and before the symptoms show. With Corvid-19 it is about 14 days. We all know what has happened to our country, and our economy, because the virus was allowed to spread for 14 days before people knew about it. If think’s that bad, the lag-time with climate change could be as much as 40 years! This delay, however long it lasts, is disguising the full impact of climate change and thus allowing us to continue with our lives as if nothing was happening. Unfortunately, something is happening and it is time for us to wake up.
The figure below shows the earth when the concentration of carbon (CO2) in the atmosphere was just right.
Photosynthesis reduces the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at the rate of 1 ppm per century. It took nature tens of millions of years to decrease the CO2 concentration to where the climate calmed down, the weather became predictable, and agriculture could evolve.
The decade’s long lag-time before the carbon reaches the troposphere is called the Carbon Delay. This delay has allowed our civilization to live in exactly the same manner we have for the past one hundred years; seemingly oblivious to the disruptions that lie ahead.
The Carbon Delay can be measured simply by comparing the total amount of carbon released per year when fossil fuels are combusted at ground level, to the rate of increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere as measured in ppm by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. (Mauna Loa is located at 13,700 feet, or about half way to the troposphere.)
In the 1950s about 6 GtCO2 (giga tons of Carbon) were released into the atmosphere every year. At that time the rate of increase of CO2 into the atmosphere was .7 ppm/yr. Today we release about 36 GtCO2 at ground level, six times more than in 1950, but the rate of increase in the CO2 concentration is about 2.1 ppm/yr., which is only three times greater than 1950. These measurements are being recorded continuously.
The reason for the difference between the amount of carbon at ground level, and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, is called the Carbon Delay. The Carbon Delay is a measure of how long it takes for CO2 to rise up to 13,700 feet where it is measured by the Mauna Lao Observatory. While the numbers in Figure 4 are known with a high level of confidence, no one knows for certain how long it takes for CO2 to get all the way into the troposphere. The best estimates for the time-lag range from 20 to as much as 40 years.
This decades long Carbon Delay means the increased frequency and severity of the weather we are experiencing today is the result of CO2 released at ground level decades ago. This also means that when mankind is finally able to stop putting carbon back in the atmosphere, the earth’s temperature will continue to increase for the same amount of time as the Carbon Delay.
Climate change cannot be stopped, or reversed. Even slowing climate change will be challenging because of the self-reinforcing positive feed-back loops; things like melting ice, thawing tundra, thawing methane hydrates and changing ocean currents.
These natural phenomenon have managed to both disguise the full impact of climate change, and guarantee it will continue for decades. In the 32 years since Dr. James Hansen addressed the US Congress, this Carbon Delay has helped to lull the public into thinking that climate change will be a major inconvenience, but a manageable one. Based on the Carbon Ratio and Carbon Delay, this is a false statement, one with dangerous consequences for the public.
It is time for us to stop fooling ourselves. The only answer to this global delusion is to find some way to tell the general public the truth. Just as Gandhi said, “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” The Earth Ship Program is a cost-effective way to tell the wider world the truth.