So here’s a thought: Those of us who wish we had better models so we can more accurately anticipate the problems of climate change have overlooked a major impact humans have on the environment. Consider just the population growth we expect between now and 2050. According to the U.N. estimates we should have nine billion people by then. That assumes we have reduced the rate of fertilization from 2.5 to 2.0 per woman, which, to me, seems optimistic.
Now this whole thing came to my mind when I was awakened last night by a nocturnal fart. Sorry, was that TMI? I often do that. There seems to be less delay between my voice and my mind than most people have. That said, people do manufacture methane. We also produce carbon dioxide through the steady process of breathing. Population today is about 7. 3 billion. That means about 1.7 billion more of us by 2050.
Now I am not a biologist, but by even my limited training I am sure there has to be 1.7 billon times as much more methane and carbon dioxide as is produced each year by one individual added to the atmosphere by humans in 2050 as today. More, actually, but let’s not go into that just now.
This is per year. Now how much methane and carbon dioxide do you think we each produce in a year? Well, I have no idea, either. Even searches on the web seem to fail me, although that is probably more my own fault than it is the web’s.
Just so I don’t have to stop, let’s put an arbitrary number to it–say 365.25 times 1/4 liter times 24 times 60 times 60 for carbon dioxide and 365.25 times 1/40 liter times 24 times two for methane. Those seem rather low, which is the direction I want to go in this discussion. That would be about 7.9 million liters of carbon dioxide and 438 liters of methane (the latter is probably very low, but when you think about its smell, you probably are glad for it).
So each year every additional human contributes about 7.9 million liters of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. That means our population increase by 2050 will increase the greenhouse gas component by some 13.43 million billion liters. That seems like a major contribution. Of course, there are a number of other things going on here simultaneously. Perhaps the most notable single fact is the habitat those additional people will seise for their own. It is not an accident that the sixth major extinction in the history of the Earth is underway. It is a natural consequence of how successful human beings have been since the invention of the steam engine. What is new here is the realization that it is tied directly to climate change.
Granted, the atmosphere is vast. There is an estimated mass of 5.14 gigatons of it, and a liter of carbon dioxide laden air isn’t very heavy. So, to say the least, 13.4 million billion liters ( 13.4 quadrillion liters) is more like a drop in the bucket than you might think. That said, the tie is real. Nor does it stand by itself. Each human contributes far more to climate change than just his/her breathing and farting. So, here comes Bambi.
If we want to minimize the effects of climate change, one of the things we would like to do is reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into the air. One might see this as a side benefit of our tendency to eliminate species from the equation through extinction. As soon as they are gone, or at least as soon as the last corpse has decayed, they are no longer producing greenhouse gases.
Bambi, and all the other cute little things, like polar bears and snail darters, will, eventually, die for our sins. I probably won’t live that long anyway, so why should I worry? But you might.