19 July 2010

When Friends Sigh and Loved Ones Cry ... (It's that Damned Sulphur Hexafluoride)

I have confided this before, but sometimes I come home from grocery shopping or a meeting and find my husband weeping at his computer. He'll have just read some more devastating climate change news — and realize that virtually no one else cares.

This happened again today... and mere moments later, I received a message from a good acquaintance (not-quite-friend) who will be interviewing us on her radio show this coming Tuesday:

"After a series of very disturbing conversations and articles read, including some with people active in the general environmental movement and young people, I would like to open our interview with an extra question. I am finding that more and more people, including educated, thinking and socially / environmentally active people, are completely dismissing climate change as human caused. The 'scandals' with the IPCC and increased media attention to the honeyed words of corporate-paid scientists are, I believe, a huge part of this. So I would like to open with a question like:

"'I am hearing more and more people deny anthropogenically-caused climate change and wonder what you have to say to the increasing number of people who believe that we are simply in a natural cycle that we will pull out of in the next few years, that we are going through a period of intense sun-spot activity that will be over in the next year or two, or that there is no climate change at all, but that there is a concerted effort from some members of the scientific community to make us think there is for some nefarious reason, such as to destroy the western economy (which makes the scientists either socialists or in league with Al Quaeda) or they are in league with government and corporate powers to exert even more control over our lives and erode our civil liberties even further. What is your position on climate change? Does it, in fact, exist, and if so, do we have any active part in causing it?'"

Well, the short answer could be, "Can you say 'sulphur hexafluoride'?"

"Nitrous oxide and sulphur hexaflouride [sic] are increasing. Sulfur hexaflouride [sic] (SF6) is the most potent greenhouse gas on a molecule-to-molecule basis, and has an atmospheric lifetime of about 3,000 years! But, since SF6 concentrations are relatively low at present, their greenhouse effect will not be felt for many years [my emphasis]. SF6 is used in the electrical power transmission industry and its sources are mainly in the northern hemisphere."
Wikipedia explains it here:
"According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, SF6 is the most potent greenhouse gas that it has evaluated, with a global warming potential of 22,800 times that of CO2 when compared over a 100 year period. Measurements of SF6 show that its global average mixing ratio has increased by about 0.2 ppt [parts per trillion] per year to nearly 7 ppt in 2010. Sulfur hexafluoride is also extremely long-lived, it is inert in the troposphere and stratosphere and has an estimated atmospheric lifetime of 800–3200 years."
I'm hoping this will explain to the radio audience why one hacker and a few booboos don't mean that climate change isn't real, and will put to rest any notion that climate change is no longer a serious and urgent problem — of our own making.

Earth System Research Laboratory

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?