Can We Prove or Disprove Human Involvement in Current Climatic Change?
I think we can. Once in a rare moment a discovery comes along that has very broad implications. While in search of an answer to one question, a scientist, in this case, found the answer to another.
At least such appears to be the case in a study on radiocarbon dating of archaeological material written up in the November 2015 issue of EARTH, a science magazine from the American Geosciences Institute.
The article is innocuous enough, and the authors never really touch much on the major implications of their discovery – that carbon released from burning fossil fuels is diluting atmospheric radiocarbon thereby requiring scientific dating tests be conducted differently in the future. Their discovery has much greater importance than that observation.
Basically, carbon-14 is created in our atmosphere in a cascading process when a particular atom of nitrogen is struck by a high energy cosmic ray. Although there have been some fluctuations, the ratio of carbon-14 to regular carbon-12 in our atmosphere has been relatively constant.
Living things – you, me, plants, all of us – are made up of a lot of carbon, mostly carbon-12, but some carbon-14. Which we ingest from eating plants that get it from the atmosphere, and it becomes part of us. We are what we eat. Obviously, when we die, we stop eating anything containing carbon 14.
We can measure both the amount of C-14 and the amount of the deterioration of atoms of C-14 to determine how long ago it was since that living thing stopped living and stopped eating more C-14. We know the rate of decline, and based upon the amount of C-14 left in the item we are testing, we can determine the starting point – its age – with a fair degree of accuracy. It is possible in this way to measure the age of things that are as old as 50,000 years.
As it turns out, the amount of radiocarbon in our atmosphere is being diluted from different, very old carbon- that no longer contains any carbon 14 – it has already decayed. That old carbon comes from our use of petroleum, coal, and natural gas.
To achieve accurate dating of old objects in the future, this dilution will need to be taken into account to prevent errors. As the ratio of very old fossil fuel carbon continues to be added to our atmosphere, the dating process will need to be adjusted.
What this discovery also demonstrates, however, is that it is possible to measure the amount and show the source of the carbon that is diluting the other atmospheric carbon. Because the carbon-14 in this “other carbon” has long ago decayed and is no longer present, that carbon can be sourced and it is from burning fossil fuels. While this is only one source of proof, it kills the argument of those that say no proof of human involvement in climatic change exists. It is the smoking gun!
This doesn’t mean humans are the only cause of atmospheric changes, but it does show that our activity over the past 150 years was a major contributing factor to the increase in carbon-dioxide in our atmosphere.
So what should we do about it? In my opinion we shouldn’t stop living our lives, or slow progress. We should speed up funding for research and for alternative sources of power such as molten salt reactors, discussed in a previous article, or for aggressive research into fusion energy. Fossil fuel power plants create a lot of pollution; here is a way to eliminate that completely. In the future, more efficient electric vehicles which will derive their battery charges from the above sources would put us way over the goals we need to mitigate the problem. Until these changes happen, be aware of what you do, and try to cause as little contribution to the problem as you can.
Tell me what are your thoughts on human contribution to carbon levels in our atmosphere?
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