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Letter: Relevant laws of physics explain climate change

Relevant laws of physics explain climate change

A recent letter questioned the science behind climate change. Some people just don’t believe it. Sadly, the laws of physics are unchanging and they don’t care what you believe.

Here is a brief summary of the relevant laws of physics. Coal, gas and oil are hydrocarbons. They are made up mainly of carbon and hydrogen atoms held together by chemical bonds. When they burn, the chemical bonds are broken, releasing energy.

However, a fundamental law of classical physics states that matter cannot be created or destroyed. It merely changes form. Since burning is really rapid oxidation, the carbon atoms combine with oxygen in the atmosphere and become carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide cannot be thrown away. In reality, there is no such place as “away.” Some of the carbon dioxide goes into plant life, to be released later when the plant decays. Some goes into the oceans, damaging vital coral structures. The rest goes into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide has been known to be a greenhouse gas for centuries. That means it allows the electromagnetic energy from the sun to pass through, but reflects radiant energy from the earth. The energy is therefore trapped in the atmosphere. Classical physics also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change forms. Electromagnetic energy can become heat energy, heat energy can become mechanical energy (wind) and so on.

While the earth’s climate has changed many times, it has never changed even remotely as quickly as it is changing now. You and I cannot feel the change because in human terms it is quite slow, a few degrees Celsius per decade, but in geological terms it is lightning quick. The results can be seen in melting ice caps, retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, changes in plant and animal distribution and rapid desertification.

Perhaps it is not possible to stop global climate change, but it is foolhardy to deny it.

Bill Gross


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