By: Younus Sandeela
- What about the heat itself?
I am not a scientist and therefore, prefer to accept scientific theories as they are presented. I have always been happy to leave the issues like “what exists beyond the Black Hole” and “whether life exists on other planets” for scientists to figure out. I did this for two reasons 1) I obviously had absolutely no idea how to find answers to these questions and 2) I was quite indifferent to whatever the answers scientists got through all their hard work and intelligent research as it really did not affect me directly– well that’s what it seemed like, at least.
Initially, I had a similar attitude towards the symptoms, causes and consequences of global warming– arguably one of the biggest challenges faced by the human race in thousands of years. I expected scientists would figure it out for all of us and then things would start getting better. However, seeing pictures of horrific changes taking place around the world, particularly those of melting glaciers in the Arctic region, I began to get a bit nervous. I tried to pay attention to what scientists were saying particularly about the causes that were triggering this man-made catastrophe. I quickly realized that this was no “black hole” theory that did not directly affect people living on Planet Earth.
The question we need to answer is whether the issue of global warming be addressed if levels of carbon emission are brought down to the desired levels but the amount of heat produced by machines and other modern day gadgets as well as by way of heating up concrete, glass, metaled roads and steel structures remains the same?
I started to read on the subject. I read on the greenhouse effect, carbon emissions, CFCs etc. which cleared some haze in my mind but raised some new questions too. I also came across some bizarre theories that blamed cows for global warming. Being a beef lover I was heartbroken when I read recommendations suggesting something to the effect that all cows in the world be culled to save the planet! To my simple non-scientific mind, it was very confusing as to how cow dung be responsible for the thinning of the ozone layer. After all, animals inhabited earth before the most destructive species, the humans, surfaced! Did the droppings of ruminants not contain methane back then?
As I started to gain a somewhat better understanding of the phenomenon I realized that the entire focus seemed to be on carbon build-up as a consequence of burning fossil fuels (and of course the gasses excreted by cows!). It mostly talked about the atoms and molecules and how their build-up caused extra heat from the sun to get trapped within earth’s atmosphere. It did make some sense as unlike cows discharging methane gas, burning of fossil fuels was a relatively newer phenomenon. However, there was one little confusion that still kept bothering me. Our scientists put so much emphasis on additional solar heat getting trapped into earth’s atmosphere due to excessive buildup of greenhouse gasses, but there is hardly any mention of heat generated by humans within the earth’s atmosphere. We talk about carbon fumes emitted by cars using fossil fuel as source of energy. But we do not talk about the heat created by the engine. Once the car engine, or for that matter any machine, is left running for few minutes it heats up and emits heat energy. This is also true for engines using clean energy that do not emit any harmful gasses. Similarly, every light bulb, every air conditioner, even every computer generates heat energy and would continue to do so even if the use of fossil fuels to generate power is brought down to zero. Similarly, every concrete building, every metaled road and every steel structure reflects sunlight and multiplies heat. Use of glass in modern architecture has increased manifold, seriously aggravating the damage to environment as glass heats up far more than cement.
Collectively, all this heat remains trapped within earth’s atmosphere. On a given summer day, imagine the amount of heat generated by all air conditioners running in a medium-sized modern city. Add to this the heat generated by all cars running on the roads and all light bulbs that are lit during the night, including those used in the headlights of the cars. What about the jet engines? The amount of heat generated by all airplanes flying across continents must be huge. Heat generated by steel plants, oil refineries, fertilizer plants are only a few examples of heat created by the industry and left in the earth’s atmosphere. Where does all this heat go? There is no molecular buildup taking place of harmful gasses but an enormous amount of heat is being generated through the mechanical activity or by the reflection of sunlight.
To my simple nonscientific mind, it is critical that while carbon emission is being curtailed, production of heat energy must also be reduced to effectively tackle the issue of global warming. The question we need to answer is whether the issue of global warming be addressed if levels of carbon emission are brought down to the desired levels but the amount of heat produced by machines and other modern day gadgets as well as by way of heating up concrete, glass, metaled roads and steel structures remains the same?