The Global Thermostat

Remember the story of the Three Bears in which after tasting two bowls of porridge, one too hot and one too cold, Goldilocks gulped down a third that was just right? Astronomers these days often refer to the “Goldilocks Zone” in which life as we know it can exist not only in this solar system but others as well. If a planetary body similar to Earth is too close to its parent star conditions will be too hot for life, and if too far the thing will become an ice ball. What we are doing now to the planet via carbon pollution is shifting Earth away from what Goldilocks would consider to be “just right” to the “it’s too hot to eat” zone. The Earth, even though being gigantic, is a finite body just like Goldilocks’ bowls of porridge.

As a thought experiment I’d like all reading to consider what mankind has done to the Earth. For the first time since the dawn of life of the planet, besides plants, a life form is affecting the temperature of the biosphere. Not only that, a lifeform due to intelligence is altering the Earth’s temperature via a gadget I’ll term the “Global Thermostat.” Science tells us that life has been on Earth for an inconceivably long time… over 3 billion years. In an extremely short time geologically from about 1750 at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution to 1980 man inadvertently has been warming the planet turning the Global Thermostat up so much so that the current planetary climate is unstable. For the first time since 1980 some people are consciously turning the Global Thermostat down. Yes, for the first time in the world’s history a species, Homo sapiens, can manipulate and perhaps control global temperatures, and thus the climate. The newly “invented” down setting on the thermostat links green energy, conservation, and energy efficiency in order to cool the planet.

Some of us remember when we were kids fighting over the household thermostat with our siblings and parents because we didn’t like how cold or warm the home was. The next “fight or scientific debate” among policymakers won’t be whether or not anthropogenic global warming is occurring… that to me is very passé… but what the exact setting on the Global Thermostat should be. Eventually this will need to be a majority opinion, but there are a lot of kids in the global house that need to come up with a consensus.😀 That’s right, if mankind survives global warming over the next century or so, we will try to twist the climate control knob back to cooler preindustrial levels to keep civilization in tact.

We’ve just “invented” the Global Thermostat during the early part of the 21st century. The thing does not have many temperature numbers for guidance. We just know that adding more carbon to the atmosphere will raise global temperature averages, potentially pushing the settings on the thermostat to much higher than the current reading of about 1.0C above preindustrial levels. Our best science has suggested that there are readings on the thermostat that the global house should not go above. In order to keep the climate stable global temperatures can be no more than 1.5C to 2.0C above preindustrial levels. We haven’t even defined what the level of “preindustrial concentrations” of carbon were in the atmosphere as a starting point or neutral setting for the Global Thermostat as was noted by Dr. Michael Mann this week. Was this around 280 parts per million?

Science now must determine how much “air conditioning coolant” is needed to get temperatures to agreed upon levels once the Global Thermostat is set to certain marks. In other words, for example, if we want the average global temperature to get no higher than 1.5C above preindustrial levels do we reduce concentrations of CO2 from 410 ppm to the highly suggested number of 350 ppm? What exactly would a ballpark figure for that ppm number be? I also challenge climate scientist to come up with better regional models to gage what effects different levels of carbon will have on local climate. Climate models are getting better, but I suspect that the debate determining exactly where the Global Thermostat should be set will last many more years.

Next, logically, we need fuel for the Global Thermostat to work on. The best fuel is plain old plants such as algae, kelp, and tropical trees to get carbon out of the air. As mentioned, the rapid transition to green energy is a great step that will aid in stabilizing the average planetary temperature. We might need a third method to get our Global Thermostat to cooperate once we decide the level to set the thing on to avoid extreme catastrophe. Yep, that may involve engineering.

I know some of my climate friends cringe at the idea of “artificially” adjusting the climate via methods like putting iron fillings in the sea or building giant solar reflecting mirrors in space. Nevertheless, if it is eventually determined by bodies such as the United Nations that plants can’t do the job over many centuries once our Global Thermostat is adjusted to a set level to lower the globe’s temperature downward, other methods will be deemed necessary. I’m an optimist believing in the human spirit and ingenuity. Hopefully, plants will be humanity’s ticket to a cooler stable future, but should that not be the case, unforeseen inventions may be answers.

Dr. James Hansen recently came out against negative emission proposals:

I along with others agree with him that most current artificial methods for carbon sequestration don’t pass the scientific sniff test, but what if an environmentally friendly technique came to fruition? This week there has been a “cocktail” approach suggested to employ various methods at once to adjust the planet’s average temperature downward:

I’ll emphasize here that methods beyond relying on plants should be a last resort, but I’ll never stop asking the question what if?

The Climate Guy


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *