excerpted from Chapter 5 of Stephan Malone's upcoming book titled:
"Polar City Dreaming: How Climate Change Might Usher In The Age Of Polar Cities"
A simple and effective way of visualizing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is to imagine a Big Jar filled with 1000 colorless marbles. Of those 1000 marbles, color just 3 of them red, then go ahead and throw them back into the Big Jar. Those 3 little red marbles are responsible for all life on Earth as we know it today. Every animal, tree, insect, person, fish, blade of grass, bacteria and flower can only exist if there are about three or maybe 4 red marbles in this Big Jar of a 1000 marbles. These 3 little marbles represent the approximate volume ratio of carbon dioxide in the entire atmosphere of Earth. Take 1 marble away from the Big Jar, and the entire surface of the Earth would freeze over. Add 2 or 3 red marbles to the Big Jar, and the Earth becomes super-heated by a positively ramping greenhouse effect whose energy input is greater than it’s radiative and absorbing outputs. Sometimes, losing one’s marbles isn’t always analogous to being crazy. In fact, gaining more marbles may prove to be more detrimental.
A good example of extreme runaway greenhouse effect is found on the planet Venus. Venus is very hot, about 460° F, but not because it is closer to our Sun than our Earth. In fact, it is hotter on Venus than on Mercury, even though Mercury is about 60% closer to the Sun (Mercury’s orbit comes closest at about 0.3 AU, or 28 million-ish miles from the Sun, compared to Venus’ 0.73 AU perihelion, about 68 million miles or so.) The difference between Venus and Mercury is that the atmosphere of Venus is very dense, and is almost entirely carbon dioxide, about 95%. Because of this, anything living on the surface (excepting, perhaps, the hardiest thermophilic organisms) would be cooked in it’s own tissues unprotected. Most metals would soften on her surface. Solder, used to hold most modern electronic components together would melt or at least soften to the degree where electrical conductivity would become severely compromised. It is very difficult to land anything with a computer onboard onto Venus without it failing soon after it’s arrival. The current record for an operating probe on the surface of Venus as of March 2012 is a mere 127 minutes, achieved by the Soviets back in 1981 with their Venera 13 spacecraft. Venus is very hot simply because it’s atmospheric Big Jar is almost entirely filled with red marbles.
Using my Big Jar analogy, you can easily explain to just about anyone how important it is for those of us trapped on Earth to have only about 3 or 4 red marbles, and not 5 or 6 or 10 out of 1000. To be sure, it’s is easy to visualize how we will be adding a red marble here, a red marble there, into the Big Jar of A Thousand Marbles, as we continue burning our way through the remainder of our fossil fuel driven pseudo-utopian dream-state.
(c) 2012 Stephan Malone
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