A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning

The New York Times has an excellent article on the history of global warming and Charles David Keeling, the father of global warming research—measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Here are a few quotes:

Fossil fuel emissions, they say, are like a runaway train, hurtling the world’s citizens toward a stone wall — a carbon dioxide level that, over time, will cause profound changes.

The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food. Many of these changes are taking place at a modest level already, the scientists say, but are expected to intensify.

Dr. Keeling was a punctilious man. It was by no means his defining trait — relatives and colleagues described a man who played a brilliant piano, loved hiking mountains and might settle a friendly argument at dinner by pulling an etymological dictionary off the shelf.

But the essence of his scientific legacy was his passion for doing things in a meticulous way. It explains why, even as challengers try to pick apart every other aspect of climate science, his half-century record of carbon dioxide measurements stands unchallenged.

The simple reason is that modern civilization is built on burning fossil fuels. Cars, trucks, power plants, steel mills, farms, planes, cement factories, home furnaces — virtually all of them spew carbon dioxide or lesser heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

As he watches these difficulties, Ralph Keeling contemplates the unbending math of carbon dioxide emissions first documented by his father more than a half-century ago and wonders about the future effects of that increase.

“When I go see things with my children, I let them know they might not be around when they’re older,” he said. “ ‘Go enjoy these beautiful forests before they disappear. Go enjoy the glaciers in these parks because they won’t be around.’ It’s basically taking note of what we have, and appreciating it, and saying goodbye to it.”


Another view of life on this planet traversing the cosmos…

No matter what your personal beliefs are on global warming, one has to be somewhat concerned about what this winter season has bought so far to Great Britain, California and the East Coat of the USA in the last week.  Is it just one of those bad Decembers?  Or is it something more at play here?

What does the future hold for us? For those who come after us?  What will history have to say about what we did to help the health of our planet, our queen? 

It is so true that the world’s economy is based on fossil fuels.  It is ironic that we are using as fuel the remains of a dead ecosystem wiped out by the Ice Age. 

What caused the Ice Age?  Controversy surrounds that question like it does global warming.  Of course, the answers are simple and complex and the theories and conjectures are like the dust of Mars—tranquil until a wind storm stirs them up into a planetary rampage.

Mars—perhaps how Mars is today is a good indication of how the earth may be tomorrow.  Of course, tomorrow is being measured in geological time, but will be it sooner? Rapid changes and destruction of life on this planet has a history which tends to repeat itself.  Is the time coming for ecological history to wipe out the present ecosystem and replace it with a better model?

Survival in such an ecosystem would be a challenge.  If humans cannot master their passions and work together for the betterment of the world, mastering global climatic events will not be a task with positive results.

Alas, when the planet, the queen, is dead, will our words be similar to Macbeth:

    To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.


G. D. Williams       © 2010