Neiman: Science is clear and observable

Neiman: Science is clear and observable

It’s the end of 2016, and we still have climate skeptics arguing with the prophets of climate doom about whether the Earth is round. A cluster of articles in recent issues of the good old Red Deer Advocate serve as a timely reminder that we need to look at the larger picture.

Yes, the planet is warming, and yes, the existence of billions of humans has a big part to play in that. Why are we still arguing about the existence of the obvious and observable?

This fall, we were told that the Arctic Ocean was a full two degrees warmer than the long-term average for the date of testing, at the sites where all the tests were being done. At both poles, the ice caps are smaller and thinner than they have ever been since we started measuring them. Closer to the equator, I have been informed that warmer seas have expanded to rise to the point where the storm sewers in Miami may not drain in a heavy rainstorm, if seas rise only a few centimetres more.

Retired science teacher and occasional Advocate letter writer David Mathias claims we are not using the full evidence of science when we document global climate change. He may be right in a narrow sense, but not in the larger one: climate change is accelerating, and humanity has its foot on the pedal.

Advocate columnist Lorne Oja expended a significant amount of personal energy to calculate the amount of heat dumped globally into the atmosphere by one single human activity: driving gasoline-powered cars. He needn’t have bothered, because the science behind his calculations is incomplete.

I was raised as a writer among an extended family of engineers, energy industry technicians, computer geeks and teachers. A left-brain minority of one.

Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned from decades of being corrected at the dinner table by my relatives who knew better: all the energy we produce and consume — every joule, calorie and erg of it — eventually ends up as heat dumped into the atmosphere. All of it.

If our nice warm homes suddenly lose power, if our vehicles stop running during a cold snap, what happens? They freeze. Where does the heat go? Into the air.

We don’t need to calculate the efficiency of a gas-powered car. That’s because even the small portion of energy used to turn the wheels is returned to the universe as heat when the car slows down or stops.

The only heat loss from the energy contained in fuel would occur if every car on Earth were to be driven to the top of a mountain and abandoned. If thieves broke into them and drove them down again, the universe would regain that energy as heat.

The law of conservation of energy is taught by high school science teachers like Mr. Mathias all over the world. It’s why satellites burn up when they fall out of orbit. The universe wants its energy back. All of it.

So let’s get past the obvious, and accept that our planet is warming, and is warming an at ever-faster rate. The real discussion should be what do we do about it, before the fields and wells dry up, and superstorms blast us in ways we’ve never seen before. And before so many of the living things we share the planet with become extinct.

Letter writer Ilse Quick observes a decline in activity at her bird feeder, and wonders about the cause. So do a lot of people.

I’ve grilled every biologist I know (I do happen to know a few) about the effects of Red Deerians for example, setting out several train carloads a year of seeds and suet in bird feeders. How does that affect winter survival rates, and subsequent summer success at raising the next generation of local birds?

To my surprise, it appears nobody has ever studied that. But I would hazard a thesis that mass feeding of birds through the winter has a lower positive effect on populations than that of habitat loss resulting from just all of us being here.

I say we owe them a few meals.

And the science all around us suggests that if we are to avoid the mass extinctions accelerating around climate change, we owe it the world to stop arguing about the cause.

It just makes observable sense to drive as little as possible, light and heat our buildings as efficiently as possible, lower the thermostats and dress for the weather. And put more resources into ways to use fossil fuels more wisely.

Winter is ending.

Follow Greg Neiman’s blog at Readersadvocate.blogspot.ca

Just Posted

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
Central Alberta MLAs comment on UCP members kicked out of caucus

A pair of central Alberta MLAs have commented on the two United… Continue reading

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Zack MacEwen (71), Travis Boyd (72) and Jimmy Vesey (24) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 15, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Big third period lifts Vancouver Canucks to 4-1 victory over Edmonton Oilers

Canucks 4 Oilers 1 EDMONTON — Matthew Highmore scored twice in the… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Canada’s vaccine rollout operation won’t miss a beat with new military leader: expert

DARTMOUTH — The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec premier argues province has power to amend constitution in letter to Trudeau

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault has written a letter to Prime… Continue reading

A demonstrator stands in front of riot police officers during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Paris, Saturday, May, 15, 2021. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris where riot police countered organizers who said they would defy a ban on the protest, ordered on the grounds that it risked turning violent. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Police fire tear gas on banned Palestinian march in Paris

PARIS (AP) — French riot police fired tear gas and used water… Continue reading

Photo by The Associated Press
NYC Pride parade bans police; Gay officers ‘disheartened’

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of New York City’s Pride events said… Continue reading

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Most Read