Dealing With Global Warming and its Skeptics

I’m sure by now that we have all heard of climate change. As a well established consensus in the scientific community, one would expect the conclusions on the subject to be uniform. However, there is a lot of incorrect information out there about climate change that misleads people to different perspectives. This misinformation is caused by either people misinterpreting the science behind the change, or by people, influenced by lobbies, who have claim an exaggeration of the climate change data. My goal of this blog is to convince you of the right perspective on climate change: that is that it is real, and that we are already seeing the effects it has on our world today.

The Legitimacy of Climate Change

The National Academy of Science in the United States has concluded after years of research that anthropogenic climate change is real and needs to be addressed. The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has stated that they have a “very high confidence that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.” Their confidence that Global Warming is human caused is over 95%. Although Global Warming is agreed upon by most as a valid phenomenon caused by humans, it is still a group of scientific theories, therefore not absolutely certain. However, we can essentially say that recent warming due to human activity is a fact, although it is difficult to prove 100%. The IPCC comes out with a report every few years, stating the probability of human interaction. IPCC has presented increasingly higher percentages as the years have gone by, getting ever closer to the absolute fact that it is human caused.

Starting with the work of John Tyndall in 1859, we have known that water vapor and C02 in our atmosphere strongly determine the temperature of our earth. With the use of his spectrophotometer, Tyndall saw that gases like oxygen and hydrogen released very little radiant heat when warmed compared to CO2 and water vapor. He concluded that these latter gases must be the reason for the warmth of our atmosphere and oceans.  The more water vapor and CO2 in the atmosphere, the higher the temperatures will be due to the heat absorbing and radiating properties of the gases. Also known as the Green House effect, as the sunlight enters our atmosphere, it has more trouble leaving due to our pollutants.

As we have industrialized our society into pumping out large amounts of CO2, we have increased the amount of gases that absorb the heat from the sun. Nowadays, we receive roughly 66% of our energy from CO2 producing processes, not to mention the carbon footprint stemming from transportation. In the United States, around 32% of green house gases comes from electricity and heating, while 27% comes from transportation. If we can somehow find a way to reduce the amount of CO2 created by electricity production and transportation, we can decrease the rate of our CO2 output.

The most hazardous form of human pollution includes the burning of coal and fossil fuels to create energy and heat. Through the combustion of these materials, the carbon within them is made into a product of CO2 which is released into the atmosphere. The heat increase due to these emissions is known as Global Warming and is the cause of the global heat increase we have seen over the years. There are those who doubt that this heat increase is human made although, suggesting that the world is naturally emitting more CO2. Luckily, we have sufficient evidence to prove that the CO2 increase is anthropogenic, due to the unique type of CO2 we produce. The burning of coal and fossil fuels, releases a light, less dense form of CO2 as compared to other sources (such as natural processes caused by the ocean or animal respiration). Below is a graph showing the increase in overall CO2 (red line) as compared to our output of lighter CO2 gas (grey line) from 1981 to 2002. The graph shows that as we have increased our output of CO2 gas, the overall CO2 emissions into the environment has increased as well. This shows a strong correlation between our output and the overall trend of CO2 increase. 


Scientists have also shown that global warming is a trend that has happened for thousands of years through the recording of satellite data, ancient ice cores and fossilized trees. The trend shows that the earth goes through periods of warmth before getting cold again and starting an ice age. This is earth’s natural flux, as the CO2 levels rise and fall so does the temperature of the earth. People use this fact as an argument against human participation in the recent warming. What is most significant to note is that the rate of our warming is faster than anything ever seen before in history. Scientists conclude that even though earth is currently going through a warming period, we are speeding up the process too fast for nature to catch up. During the time of the dinosaurs, CO2 levels were high and temperatures were immensely hot. The reason these creatures and plants thrived at that time was due to the slow increase of CO2, which allowed evolution to adapt with the world. As humans quicken the process of global warming, we change the environment of animals and plants too fast for them to survive.

Below are the temperature and CO2 fluctuations that have been occurring since 450 thousand years ago. As you can see, the temperature correlates with the CO2 increases and goes through continuous waves of heating and cooling.

Here are the organizations that back Global Warming with their records of increasing temperature since 1880:

Some figures like Alabama representative Gary Palmer, have claimed that scientists manipulate the data of weather stations in order to achieve their own agendas. People have accused weather organizations like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of increasing temperature measurements to prove global warming. Although it is true that scientists manipulate weather and temperature data, it is only to create more accurate data through a process called homogenization. Basically, any outlying data that doesn’t stem from climatic change is removed in order to accurately portray the climate temperature. The NOAA has thousands of weather stations around the world on land and water. When the NOAA changes their data, they do so by removing non-environmental factors that can skew data. These include the types of temperature monitors that stations use (liquid in glass or resistance thermometers) and/or human interference such as the construction of buildings near stations (casting shadows or changing wind patterns). The NOAA also does large changes to temperature for stations over the oceans; however, these changes actually decrease the amount of global warming that was previously thought. When scientists reported on their actions, they stated that if anything, “it is likely that maximum temperature trends have been underestimated,” disproving those who claim conscious temperature inflation. It is dangerous when people like Gary Palmer make public claims like this because it leads others in the wrong direction. Thankfully, we have scientific evidence to disprove them.

Another argument against global warming is the case that the amount of human made CO2 is minuscule compared to the amount that is naturally produced. In our atmosphere, there is a cycle of carbon being emitted and absorbed in a constant flow that keeps the equilibrium of CO2 stable in our environment. The total amount of natural CO2 emissions per year is 772 giga-tons, with 332 giga-tons coming from the ocean and 439 giga-tons produced by animal respiration and vegetation consumption. In terms of absorption, the ocean takes in 338 giga-tons with land plants absorbing around another 450 giga-tons. The 16 giga-ton difference keeps our atmosphere in a rough balance, with periods of low and high carbon dioxide in our air. Human created CO2 averages out to only 29 giga-tons per year, substantially less than natural amounts. Global warming deniers claim that 29 giga-watts is too small to make a difference and ignore the fact that it is enough to upset the carbon balance. Only 40% of the human made CO2 gets absorbed leaving 17.4 giga-tons unaccounted for. Because the earth can only absorb a set amount of CO2, the added 17.4 giga-watts per year creates a huge swing in the equilibrium causing drastic increase in our CO2 levels. Due to this rapid increase in CO2, our environment is showing signs of degeneration.

The Effects of Climate Change

As more CO2 gets put into our atmosphere, our Earth gets heated as a result. We have plotted our temperature since 1884 and have seen a dramatic increase since then. NASA has created a map showing the temperature difference over the years, and how we have rapidly been approaching the 1 degree Celsius mark. We currently lie 0.68C over the world’s historic average and are only expected to increase. The 9 warmest years on the 134 year record have occurred since the year 2000 with 2014 being the hottest year on record. Scientists and governments around the world have negotiated a 2C cap on the increase of heat. They have concluded that any increase over 2 degrees celsius would cause catastrophic changes that would irreversibly change the way we live as human beings. They have predicted with our current output of emissions for a 2040 reach of the 2 celsius mark unless immediate changes are made to our society. 

Recently, scientists have come out in protest against the 2C cap, claiming that we will easily reach the 2C mark and have to work for a 1C cap in temperature change. In order to avoid the rise of 2C (with it’s catastrophic implications) we will have to radically change the way we live in order to reach the newly proposed cap. Scientists predict that in order to avoid hitting the 2C mark, we will have to cut our emissions by 80-90% by the year 2050. This means making significant changes to our CO2 output as quick as possible.

For more information on rethinking the 2C cap:

With rapid rises in temperature, comes rapid melting of the Arctic ice. In 2012, we reached our lowest levels of sea ice in the Arctic since our start of satellite observation. The melting of sea ice in the arctic means that our oceans will warm due to the lack of ice and the increase of water. As the water heats up, it expands and takes up more space, therefore pushing it’s way onto our land. Although sea ice is a large factor to the rising ocean levels, it is the ice sheets of Antartica and Greenland that truly contribute to the rise in our oceans. Much like an ice cube in a glass of water, the water will remain the same height even with the melting of the ice. However, ice sheets have land ice, meaning that they do not contribute to the ocean mass already. As the world heats up, the glaciers and ice masses outside of the water melts, and eventually finds it’s way to the oceans. As of now we have reached a 20 cm rise in ocean levels since 1880. By the end of the century, scientists predict a rise of about 0.5m to 1m.

A point that skeptics bring up in relation to sea level is the dip in sea rise that we saw in 2010. Critics of climate change stated that the sea rise wasn’t anything to worry about, because of the decrease during the 2010 year. What the critics didn’t mention though, was the mass flooding that occurred in Australia and Brazil during those times. As these areas received torrential amounts of rain, the land trapped the water from returning to the ocean. Normally, this amount of rain makes its way back to the ocean, but due to the location and dryness of the time, it was locked up in the ground. It took several months for it to seep back to the ocean, which is why we see a decline in our sea level during that year. Shortly after returning to normal, the oceans began to rise again and are now higher than they were prior to 2010. When dealing with climate change and science in general, it is important to include the entirety of evidence so that we don’t get focused on one detail which misrepresents the bigger picture.

Here’s more information including data on sea level rise:

If the scientists were correct in their 1m rise estimate by 2100, this would mean an end to many coastal cities around world. National Geographic states that if levels reach that high, it could cause “destructive erosion, flooding of wetlands, contamination of aquifers and agricultural soils, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants” (

Combatting the Climate Change

One of the most obvious ways to prevent climate change is the ways we can limit our CO2 emissions. In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created restrictions on how much CO2 can be emitted from new natural gas or coal power plants. In the future, the EPA will limit coal plants to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, compared to the 1,768 pounds on average today. For natural gas plants, the limit will be set to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour. It will be easier for natural gas plants to limit their CO2 output because natural gas on average creates less CO2. The modern combined-cycle gas plant already meets this new standard on CO2 emissions for natural gas, so it will be mostly coal plants that struggle to decrease their carbon emissions. The plan for new coal plants is to embed systems that will allow the plant to capture emissions and store them underground. If future coal plants wish to meet the new standard, they will have to bury between 20-40% of their emissions. These systems are still in development and will likely cost millions for the coal plants to install, so likeliness of burying CO2 for all coal plants is slim. The recent boom in natural gases makes it illogical to build new coal plants at the moment as prices for oil will likely stay cheap for the coming two decades.

Although the NRC has placed most of its importance on the mitigation of green house gases they have suggested other ways to prevent Global Warming. The two other strategies that the National Research Council have put forth are: the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere and, albedo modification. The removal of CO2 comes largely from reforestation projects which will aim to plant mass amounts of trees in order to absorb CO2. They also have suggested Iron Fertilization as a way of stimulating a growth in phytoplankton. Phytoplankton live on the surface of the ocean and absorb the CO2 around them in order to grow. Iron helps to stimulate phytoplankton growth, and would ignite an increase in phytoplankton population, as well as increase the amount of CO2 absorbed. The second way of reducing CO2 from our atmosphere lies in the reflection of sunlight in our upper atmosphere. Albedo Modification, also known as Solar Radiation Management, is the manipulation of sunlight that reaches the earth. Scientists have suggested the injection of sulfate aerosols into our stratosphere to reflect sunlight and prevent it from warming our earth. Because this solution does not address the the acidity of our oceans (due to increased levels of CO2), albedo modification is seen as a quick fix and not as a long term answer to global warming.

The first step in tackling climate change is to push for an ultimate consensus on the situation, so that we may act swiftly in order to change our future. It is important to keep our observations and data about our environment accurate, in order to intelligently address the problems at hand. Whether you are a global warming skeptic or simply indifferent to the matter, the evidence is clear and available to the public. There is no denying that our response to climate change today will be crucial to the way we live our lives as humans on this planet in the future.


Works Cited

“Anthropogenic Climate Change.” Global Greenhouse Warming. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
By Marianne Lavelle, National Geographic PUBLISHED February 28, 2014. “Scientists: Global Warming Likely to Surpass 2°C Target.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
“Climate Intervention Reports.” Climate Change at the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine. National Academy of Sciences, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.
“Climate Science Glossary.” Skeptical Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.
An Introduction to Climate Change in 60 Seconds. Perf. The Royal Society. National Academy of Sciences, 2014. Youtube.
It’s Time to Find Common Ground — Speed-Drawing Video on Bipartisan Solutions to Climate Change. Perf. Union of Concerned Scientists., 2013. Youtube.
“John Tyndall : Feature Articles.” John Tyndall : Feature Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
“Nothing False About Temperature Data.” FactCheckorg. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
Plumer, Brad. “Everything You Need to Know about the EPA’s Carbon Limits for New Power Plants.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.
“Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
“Sea Level Rise — National Geographic.” National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.
Sutter, John. “Climate: 7 Questions on 2 Degrees.” Cable News Network, 15 Apr. 2015. Web.
UQx DENIAL101x Sea Level Rise. Perf. UQx DENIAL101x Making Sense of Climate Change Denial., 2015. Youtube.
“U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” What Is U.S. Electricity Generation by Energy Source? N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
“Vital Signs: Global Temperature.” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.

Energy of the Future: Fusion and the ITER

The Energy Problem

As humans begin to deplete our fund of natural resources, we face a rising problem of uncertainty whether we will be able to sustain our current lifestyles in the future. We have become comfortable in our mode of energy consumption and for the vast majority are ignorant of our destructive patterns. We have abused the earth and are quickly facing a crisis unlike anything we’ve encountered. If we wish to continue living our lives with such extravagance and convenience, we must turn to other paths of energy production and management. Which is why I have chosen to write about the ITER and its potentially transformative features that will revolutionize how we get our energy. ITER stands for: International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and is an agreement among the international community to solve our energy crisis by the means of Nuclear fusion. The ITER and its mission to create sustainable energy in seemingly infinite amounts is one that should be supported by all international governments and promoted by all scientific organizations.

ITER and Cadarache

When people hear the word fusion, not much comes to mind. Perhaps some of them will know of the reaction that happens on our sun, turning hydrogen into helium. But when people hear about fusion here on Earth, they turn to disbelief. But what was once disbelief is now becoming a reality. Throughout the years of technological innovation and international cooperation, the ITER has come to life. The ITER project is based in the Cadarache facility located in the commune of Saint-Paul-lés-Durance.


The Cadarache facility has been functioning as an atomic energy research center since 1959 when Charles De Gaulle started France’s energy program. Though ITER’s aspirations are large, Cadarache is not the only place to house nuclear fusion research in Europe. Since 1970, forty laboratories have opened in efforts to learn more about fusion on Earth and how to make it efficient. Much of the research we have today is due to collaboration between scientists in Europe and from around the world. Due to France’s history of using nuclear power as their main source of energy, it was appropriate to house projects like the ITER in their country.


For more information about Cadarache or nuclear research in Europe click here (Cadarache) and here (Euro-Fusion).

What is Fusion?

The aim of the scientists working on ITER is to produce a machine (tokamak) that replicates the process occurring on the sun. When dealing with nuclear reactions there are but two different types, both releasing immense amounts of energy. There is fission, which is the release of energy by the splitting of an atom. This happens through either a nuclear reaction or radioactive decay and is used in the commonly known atomic bomb. The other type of reaction, which is greater in energy yield, is fusion. This is the process that takes place on the sun and is the transformation of hydrogen into helium. The reaction can only take place in settings of intense heat and or intense gravitational force. Inside the sun, the gravity is so strong that it overcomes the positive repelling forces of the hydrogen atoms. In a normal setting, hydrogen would simply bounce away from each other because they repel. Only in specific places like the cores of stars does this incredible phenomenon take place, due to the effects of gravity. Without the massive amounts of gravitational pull of stars, fusion would never take place. Gravity is the reason why solar dust from around the universe eventually collects together to create larger masses like planets, stars and galaxies. The reason the scientists want to replicate this reaction on Earth is because of its enormous energy gain. During the fusion between two hydrogen atoms, the resulting helium nucleus has less mass than the two hydrogen atoms combined. This is because some of the mass from the hydrogen atoms were converted into energy, satisfying the law of conservation. Calculating the amount of energy gained by such a loss in mass can be figured out by Einstein’s equation of E=mc2. Multiplying the mass lost by the speed of light squared is the amount of energy given off. This means that even the smallest amounts of mass can produce the largest amounts of energy. The big question is: How did scientists here on Earth figure out how to imitate this marvel of astral conditions? The answer is the Tokomak.

Here is a video showing the equations that follow the process of fusion.

The Tokamak

The Tokamak is a machine using magnetic fields to contain gas in a chamber and heat it into plasma. Soviet Russians built the Tokamak in the 1950’s shortly after WWII to see the true effects of nuclear fusion in a controlled environment. The machine creates two different types of magnetic fields–the torodial and polodial– which keep the plasma contained within the machine and prevents it from touching the walls. The temperature required to stimulate the atoms into fusing is 100 million degrees Celsius, which is why Americans back in 1955 were skeptical of such a scientific accomplishment. The Tokamak runs like a ring around a central coil, by which the ring itself is covered in separate coils. The plasma is created by releasing gas into a vacuum chamber and then is heated by running a current through the gas.

A diagram of the Tokomak RIng
A diagram of the Tokamak Ring (


The magnetic fields created in the Tokamak are made by running a current through the plasma, therefore creating a magnetic field that runs vertically. This works because plasma can conduct electricity well enough because of it’s exited state and movement of electrons. Additional currents and magnets are used in the center of the ring as well as above and below to create the Torodial field which runs horizontally around the ring. The combination of these two fields creates the flow of plasma needed to create the right conditions for fusion. The heat created by the current running through the plasma in the ring is only one third of the amount of heat needed to reach 100 million degrees celsius. This is why scientists have come up with other ways such as Neutral Beam Injection and Radiofrequency Heating to make up the last part of heat. Neutral Beam Injection works like a thrown baseball getting slowed down by air resistance. Scientists shoot neutral hydrogen atoms into the plasma which is moving at incredible speeds. The ions in the plasma react with the neutral atoms and ionize them in the process. As these ionized atoms slow down, they create friction with other plasma particles and give off energy as heat. Radio frequency heating works much like heating food in a microwave. The Tokamak creates additional oscillating currents around the ring, and matches the frequency of the current to heat up certain areas in the plasma with high energy absorption. After all of this the Tokamak will hopefully reach temperatures above 100 million degrees and begin to smash the hydrogen atoms together.

Here is Discovery Channel’s dramatic take on what goes on in a Tokamak.


Click here to see how the magnetic fields affect the plasma within the Tokamak.

Inside the ITER

Within our specific ITER Tokamak, the scientists decided to use deuterium and tritium–both isotopes of hydrogen– to be the atoms fusing together to create Helium. The reason the scientists chose these two isotopes is because they create the highest energy gain at the lowest temperatures. This means a higher efficiency in terms of how much energy the scientists need to put in versus how much energy is gained from the system. When at a temperature of around 150 million degrees Celsius (ITER’s fusion temperature), the deuterium and the tritium will combine to create one helium atom, one neutron and a lot of energy.


The energy created will be in the form of heat and in the motion of the neutrons released. Because these neutrons will have no charge, they will leave the plasma and hit the walls of the Tokamak transferring their motion to heat. In the ITER, the heat is absorbed by the walls and is then sent to cooling towers to be measured and processed. Because the machine is dealing with temperatures ten times hotter than the core of the sun, scientists must figure out how to contain this heat and store it as energy. This is one of the biggest problems scientist face working on the ITER and is why they need more time before they build an operational plant that produces and stores energy.

Hydrogen Production

Because the ITER will use large amounts of hydrogen for the ultimate goal of fusing it into helium, the Tokamak will need a constant supply. Hydrogen is all around us in nature, but extracting it from compounds takes time and energy. The production of hydrogen can be done in many ways (such as Electrolysis), but is usually created through the process of Steam Reforming. Natural gases such as methane are mixed with steam at high temperatures and the hydrogen attached to the CH4 (methane) and H20 (water) gets knocked off. This produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide which again is mixed with more steam to create carbon dioxide and more hydrogen. The ITER itself will not result in CO2 emissions, making it a clean energy source, but the preparation for the nuclear fusion will . Although there are ways to prevent the CO2 from being released into the atmosphere (injecting it into oils or natural reservoirs), these preventions are not usually used.

Additional Research

The goal of the ITER is to receive 500 MW of power from 50 MW of input power; in other words, ITER strives to make ten times the energy that was put into the machine. The record amount of energy produced from a fusion reaction was 16 MW at the JET (Joint European Torus) in Culham UK. This happened almost twenty years ago, so the experiments have a long way to go before they are able to produce ten times the energy. Still, scientists are optimistic because the Tokamak at the JET, the MAST,  has produced over “30,000 man-made stars”. The MAST is under improvements to make the “stars” stronger and hotter so that more energy can be created in the process. These improvements will be done by 2016/17 and will be a great addition to the research needed by the ITER before its completion. In addition to the MAST, scientists in Culham are in the process of creating a reactor that would test the parts for the eventual nuclear plant created called the DEMO. The scientists involved have gone through meticulous planning, and what seemed like a fairy tale might become reality in the future. Below is a diagram showing the research track for the future projects.

Fusion vs. Other Energies

If the goal of the ITER is to produce 500 MW from 50 MW of input, the Tokamak will have to produce more energy than is put into the system. Most of the energy going into the system will be used to heat the hydrogen into plasma. The efficiency of the heating system inside the ITER will be around 40%, which will bring the temperatures to a required level. The ITER itself will not produce electricity because it is only being used a model of research for the DEMO. Scientists want to see how they can attain and contain such high temperatures before putting it into use for electricity production. Most of the heat from the ITER will be transferred to coolant stations where the incredible amounts of heat will be dispersed. In comparison to a Coal power plant, where the efficiency is only 33%, ITER seeks to maximize efficiency by creating lots of heat with little energy. Also, ITER’s processes alone do not result in CO2 emissions or toxic wastes such as the processes that occur within a Coal plant. Coal makes up around 40% of the energy used in the United States, a fact that will soon change as companies and governments put limits to CO2 emissions.

DEMO and the Future

The ITER project is merely a way to investigate into the science behind nuclear reactions on Earth and is not the last step to a sustainable energy source. ITER started construction in 2015 and will likely start operations in 2027. Until then, scientists are are in a conceptual stage of creating a plant (DEMO) that will use nuclear fusion to produce energy sometime by 2050. The time scale by which these projects work on are large due to the amount of resources and knowledge required to set such an experiment in place. The ITER alone needed the help from more than 25 countries (EU, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, US) and numerous research centers to see construction even start. For DEMO to become reality, it will need the same amount of cooperation between countries for this result to be feasible. The importance of the ITER project is unparalleled here on Earth as our energy crisis becomes increasingly more apparent. The fact that these countries are able to work together for such a goal is admirable if not impressive, but the pressing need to solve this global problem is a daunting task. If successful, replicating the reactions of the Sun here on Earth will truly be a testament to our advanced understanding of the universe as human beings.

Works Cited

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