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Global Warming and Peak Oil

Global warming, or climate change, is now well understood by most people, at least the basic idea. On its own, dealing with global warming would be a costly, immense and difficult task: combined with the decline of oil and gas, it is likely to be calamitous.

earth on fire


Radiation from the sun, mainly as visible light, penetrates the atmosphere and strikes the surface of the Earth. It is reflected back towards space but mainly as infra-red or heat energy. Certain gases in the atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour) are transparent to visible light but not infra-red so the heat tends to be retained. This warms the Earth and is vital to our existence. If there were no ‘greenhouse effect’ (as it is known), the average temperature of the Earth would be -18°C instead of 15°C and life would not exist. On the other hand, if the greenhouse effect is too marked, the temperature could soar and we might end up like Venus which has an average of over 450°.

It does not take much of a difference in temperature to effect the environment. During the Ice Ages, the average was only 5° or 6° lower and scientists predict that the temperature at the end of the 21st century could be between 1.4° and 5.8° higher.

Global warming is still subject to dispute and the main arguments seem to be (a) whether it is occurring at all, and (b) whether man is to blame for it. The first question is pretty much answered in the affirmative. The Earth heated up by about 0.6° in the last century, and the 1990s were the warmest decade on record. Also during the last century, sea levels rose between 10 and 20cm worldwide, while recently glaciers have shrunk and huge areas of the polar regions have receded. The vast majority of the world’s scientists accept that the world is warming up.

The second question is harder to confirm as there have been natural variations in the Earth’s temperature anyway and it could just be an enormous coincidence that carbon dioxide levels have risen at the same time as industrialisation. In a way, it is irrelevant. Even if we stopped all carbon emissions tomorrow, the effects of the previous century will still take effect. Also, as oil and gas decline, and world economies weaken, the amount of energy used (and therefore carbon dioxide emitted) will fall. The question is not whether we are responsible for climate change or whether we can stop it, but how will it effect the post-peak world?

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The first and most effect is, as the name suggests, a change of climate. At its basis, this means that some areas will get warmer, some cooler, some drier and some wetter. This will cause problems with agriculture as certain crops will no longer be able to grow in their normal regions and the wildlife (which often contributes to fertilisation and pest control) dies off or moves on. Farmers who have specialised machinery for certain produce, such as dairy cows, will find that they have thousands of pounds of useless equipment on hand. There will also be problems in other areas of society; you only have to compare how a country like Norway copes with heavy snow compared with Britain. Transport, communications, government – all are designed for a certain climate and, when that climate changes, problems will grow.

Global warming is also expected to bring a rise in sea levels as glaciers and polar ice melt. This will cost governments and people enormous amounts of money as first flood defences are strengthened or built. Then, as many of these defences fail, millions will have to be rescued and moved to higher ground. Homes will be lost, thousands of hectares of essential agricultural land flooded, vital commercial ports and airports abandoned. The costs alone will be massive for governments already hit by oil rises and economies in recession. The security problems as hordes of refugees descend on other areas will be frightening.

A further problem will come from infectious diseases. Regions that grow warmer will find that diseases previously unknown will appear such as malaria and dengue fever. The large level of transportation will exacerbate that danger (at least until oil decline reduces movement).

On its own, climate change would be a difficult threat to combat; in a world of falling energy, it may prove the final straw for mankind.


Further Information
Interactive Google map of the effect of sea rises





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