Monday, 26 July 2010

The true climate threat from industrialisation

Concern has occasionally been expressed in the comments to some of my scribblings about the ability of our planet to sustain many more human beings than are in existence today. Can enough food be grown? Where will they be housed? How will sufficient electricity be generated? Will we run out of plastic for all the additional roll-on deodorants? The questions never end. There is even a body supported by one of the Attenboroughs calling for huge reductions in world population and citing alarming guesses about the dire consequences of allowing lesser beings to have children. Although these modern day eugenicists overstate their case quite pathetically there is a smidgen of truth behind what they say.

Resources are finite and occasionally we run of stuff. At my local fish and chip shop it is usually fish at about ten o'clock on a Friday night. On a larger scale the world has run out of mammoth skins for coats, dodo eggs for omelettes and any number of reptile skins for shoes. So far ingenious humans have found alternatives and we have been able to sustain more and more people in more and more comfort as the years have passed. But it seems to me that along the way we have done far more damage to the earth than has yet been reported. No doubt it is just too frightening a prospect for the powers-that-be to allow it to be known. A recent paper has quantified the damage but it's very technical. Hours of work have resulted in my humble self being able to distill the gist of the problem. Please bear with me while I explain.

Calculations that are central to our understanding of the physical world make certain assumptions - sometimes broad and sometimes narrow. It is, for example, assumed that the planet orbits the sun once a year (or so), that it turns on its axis once a day (or so) and that there are small wobbles in its movement. These assumptions lie behind our calculations of time but, more importantly, they underpin all assessments of how our climate will change.

The problem, recently explained at length in the paper I mentioned, is that human beings have affected each of these assumptions. They have done so by disturbing the weight-balance of Earth and by interrupting natural air flows so as to change both the rate of rotation of the planet and many other things beside. One thing and one thing only that has done this damage - building.

As weight is transferred from on or under the planet's surface in the form of clay, rock, stone, slaked lime, slate and pozzolans into above-ground structures in the form of buildings, the natural balance between that which is at or below ground-level and that which is above ground level is altered.

Artificial height blocks the air that would otherwise flow freely above the ground, pushes it higher and causes it to increase its speed in order to reach its destination at the originally planned time. The buildings themselves act as buffers, slowing the rotation of the planet just as a parachute fired from the back of a fighter jet slows its progress after landing.

In addition removing natural products from the surface thins the crust of the planet and creates man-made hollows that attract water not intended for that place. As time progresses these artificial lakes will erode the surface further because a hollow created anthropogenically is a very different thing from a natural crater. Being a forced tear in the surface of the planet it cannot heal as a natural crater heals and will not retain water because it will not have the natural seal that forms on the surface, of nature's craters. Instead the surface will be weak and flaky and will be eroded quickly by water that settles in it, especially if that water is agitated by human activity such as boating, fishing and ducks-and-drakes.

If that is not already enough, the news gets worse. Where these materials, ripped from the very womb of Gaia, are piled high into monstrous icons to the wickedness that is industrialisation they add weight to the surface, weight for which it was never designed. Albeit it very slowly, ground level at the edges of our largest cities is rising as the weight of the city presses down; but that is a minor problem. Of far greater concern is the effect it has on the balance of Earth's rotation.

It is not by coincidence that we measure rotation by examining what happens to the Greenwich Meridian. When such matters were first thought about it was clear to all that London led the way. Just as a dancer executes a spin by moving the lead shoulder first (the right shoulder for an anti-clockwise spin and the left if turning clockwise) so our planet spins by moving London first. The more weight we add to London, the more difficult it is for the turn to start and the more difficult it is for it to stop at the expected time. Even a minor delay or overshoot can upset the balance of the climate throughout the planet.

Unless we spread weight more evenly and, in particular, reduce the weight of London, we can expect ever more floods, hurricanes, droughts and pestilence because the natural balance will remain disturbed and Mother Nature will take her revenge.

This might seem somewhat far-fetched to those who have not studied the source materials in detail. But if you think this is silly, you should read what people say about carbon dioxide. I urge you to read the detailed paper to which I refer, I think you will be persuaded, you will find it here.


Man in a Shed said...

I had no idea Dodo omelettes could be so dangerous. I'll have to stop making them ...

John M Ward said...

I agree, MiaS. It's now not so much a matter of Dodo as Don'tDon't!

Mark Wadsworth said...

TFB, I hope that's a well written spoof?

Anonymous said...

I am hoping for a spoof too.

That small construction work done by Gaia herself that we call the Himalayas doesn't seem to have wiped all life from the planet. So a few small buildings is unlikely to cause too many problems.

Anonymous said...

ClimateGate’s Lies and Deception to Hide the Decline: The Heat’s On, Dump the Data!

Climate change data dumped

john miller said...

Normally, I look to your blog for cutting edge science, given your profession as a barrister.

Sadly, this time you have let me down.

This really is old news. Far sighted GPO technicians realised years ago that the revolving restaurant on the top of the (then) GPO tower was causing gyroscopical torsion effects. They consulted the University of East Anglia who confirmed that continued use of the super caff would, in only 3 years 11 months and 21 days, result in the reversal of the spin of the earth.

Leaving aside the obvious disruption of having to get up before you went to bed, it would result in catastrophic elimination of all life on earth.

Please can you stop boring us with old news and resume your normal coverage of topical science.

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