Oceans make up 70 per cent of the planet's surface but they absorb 90 per cent of the heat emitted by global warming. The remaining 10 per cent is carried in the atmosphere, the metaphorical tip of the iceberg. Those same warming oceans are absorbing something else, a great deal of our CO2 emissions. When the two are charted they look like this:
Our focus is rarely on the oceans. We look and measure and opine about what's going on in the atmosphere, what are the greenhouse gas levels up there, how much hotter are we getting here on dry land. They oceans, their heating and acidification issues, they're largely out of sight/out of mind. You won't hear our prime minister or our premiers arguing that we must reduce the acidification of the oceans, that we must stop pumping ever more heat into the ocean depths.
Wouldn't it be great if the oceans just ate up all that absorbed heat, if they simply made it go away? That's not the case. The oceans are instead a repository of that heat, a place where we have stored the bulk of our global warming. There's this thing, the first law of thermodynamics that trips up any wishful thinking. It's sometimes called the law of conservation of energy. The idea is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can, however, be transformed into different things: heat energy into kinetic energy into potential energy, that sort of thing.
The point is that heat isn't going to vanish. It's down there until it finally comes up to the surface and is returned to the atmosphere. Changes in prevailing surface winds have a big role to play in that. Those winds pumped a lot of that heat energy into the oceans and as they change, which they do, they may pump a lot of that heat energy back into the atmosphere. What goes around comes around sort of thing.
I'm not going to get into ocean acidification. That's way too dark for a Friday. If you insist, you can read more here.
So what's the point of this post? It's to recognize that the approach being taken by our prime ministers and our premiers is a political approach, not a scientific approach to global warming/climate change. They're trying to address one part of the problem, an important part to be sure but just one part. The stuff they're leaving out is vastly greater and far more dangerous than the portion that they're promising they will eventually, for sure, possibly deal with.
All these other forces are now in play: ocean warming, ocean acidification, natural feedback loops triggering the release of ancient methane and CO2 from the loss of the tundra and thawing of the Arctic permafrost, the slowing of major oceanic currents (heat conveyors), the broken hydrological cycle and the increase in atmospheric water vapour, the loss of albedo (ice caps, glaciers), our increasing overpopulation, our increasing exploitation of finite resources at wildly unsustainable levels. With all this and more going on, our response is carbon pricing and, in Canada, even that's far, far from a done deal.
Ever get that feeling that we're just dicking around, moving our food around our plate to make it look like we're eating?