Social Question

mazingerz88's avatar

Which affects global climate more, human activity or solar radiation?

Asked by mazingerz88 (22682points) June 23rd, 2011

I have this question from a nice gentleman who is 91 years of age and would like to hear answers from Flutherites. Thanks!

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34 Answers

jaytkay's avatar

Solar radiation in that we would not have a climate without it. But solar radiation has been constant for billions of years.

Human activity is altering the climate from the baseline created by solar radiation.

krrazypassions's avatar

Human activity.. because solar radiation has been a factor since the beginning of evolution of the planet- thereby the planet naturally adapted to it…

But human activity like deforestation and pollution are toxic to the planet!

its the same way like we love oxygen but cant stand plutonium..

SpatzieLover's avatar

Humans, mostly via corporations.

King_Pariah's avatar

Solar Radiation by a long shot. We just screw around with it a bit

Rarebear's avatar

Yup, jay and king got it right. Without a sun there would be no climate.

krrazypassions's avatar

@Rarebear Sun has created the conditions suitable for ecosystem… or more appropriate to say that the climate and conditions of earth have been shaped by the solar radiation.. however, its all balanced and therefore does not affect on a short term basis like a hundred years or even thousand years..

Human activity affects the climate in a BIG way in very LESS time.. we are dangerous creatures.. we are toxic to the Gaia..

Rarebear's avatar

@krrazypassions “its all balanced and therefore does not affect on a short term basis like a hundred years or so..”

That may not be true. The sun has solar maximum and minimum which can affect the climate on a very short term basis. Here’s an article on the Little Ice Age

Qingu's avatar

@mazingerz88, it depends on what exactly you mean by your question.

Solar radiation is and has always been the main driver of the global climate. The sun is the source of almost all Earth’s energy. That energy is what makes the climate. The climate, basically, stems from the thermodynamics of the sun’s energy.

But then, the question also pops up a lot in debate about climate change, specifically in terms of “how much are humans responsible for climate change?” The answer is that we are much more responsible for climate change than any change in solar radiation. Our greenhouse gas emmissions have piled up so fast that it has caused a large shift in the global climate, far and above any shift caused by fluctuations in solar radiation.

This isn’t speculative. We can measure the sun’s output of energy. See here.

krrazypassions's avatar

@Rarebear the article states : “Several causes have been proposed: cyclical lows in solar radiation, heightened volcanic activity, changes in the ocean circulation, an inherent variability in global climate, or decreases in the human population..”
”...There is a still very poor understanding of the correlation between low sunspot activity and cooling temperatures”
...“When a volcano erupts, its ash reaches high into the atmosphere and can spread to cover the whole Earth. This ash cloud blocks out some of the incoming solar radiation, leading to worldwide cooling that can last up to two years after an eruption.”

Volcanic Winter as it is termed is more likely a cause for that Little Ice Age

obvek's avatar

Tell him I think climate change is the new Original Sin. I’m 38 if it matters.

flutherother's avatar

Someone 91 years of age will have seen a dramatic increase in the consumption of oil and the destruction of vast areas of rain forest within his own lifetime. He will also notice that the sun is continuing to shine much as it always has. It is all his fault.

Rarebear's avatar

@krrazypassions Of course. It is one of several possible mechanisms. I am just making the point that solar maximum and minimum cycles can possibly affect the short term climate.

JLeslie's avatar

I think what is important is they probably both have an effect, and very minor effects can have extreme climate changes, because of a domino effect lf sorts. A degree higher in the average temperates melts icebergs, changes weather patterns, changes migration of wild life, sea life, etc. We can’t change the sun, bit we can try to live greener lives that is more symbiotic with the earth, no matter what, even if humans have nothing to do with climate change, doesn’t it just make sense not to pollute the earth? Not to be dependent on other countries for energy? Not to be dependent on big business and government for energy? Imagine having a solar power for your house and not having to pay the local power company every month?

To answer the question, I say solar radiation has more affect, especially more dramatic effect than humans, but everything countsl

atlantis's avatar

For those who doubt man-made climate change please read

a) Merchants of Doubt – Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway
b) Mass Extinction
c) An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore

King_Pariah's avatar

If everyone is so worried about global warming, go spray aerosols, then you can go whine about global freezing.

Qingu's avatar

@King_Pariah, are you not worried about global warming? And do you honestly think spraying aerosols will help the problem?

King_Pariah's avatar

@Qingu Studies have already shown that aerosols in the atmosphere will help cool down the atmosphere by blocking out sunlight. however the big issue is that the quantity we’re talking about here would potentially be able to plunge us into a very very long Ice Age. And no, I don’t care for global warming all that much. We fry, we die, and the universe doesn’t give a shit.

cazzie's avatar

Perhaps the 91 year old is a sceptic of climate changed caused by man, much like the frog that cooks to death when the temperature is increased slowly. He just hasn´t noticed the man made changes.

Ozone holes are no joking matter. Go stand in the sun in New Zealand circa 1980 and let me know how it feels. Then tell your kids you´ve got skin cancer.

@King_Pariah please supply the names of said studies you are referring to.

The question isn´t clear. Does the 91 year old want to know which is currently showing signs of causing detriment to the planet? Or the one that can potentially cause the most damage? Or, simply what affects the planet more, neither good nor bad? The sun has the largest influence, of course. Man didn´t invent photosynthesis or the water cycle. They were well and truly here when we arrived and it will be here when we´re gone, long after we´ve made the place impossible for us to live on.

mazingerz88's avatar

@cazzie Yes you got it exactly right. The 91 year old gentleman, in the absence of a global consensus amongst scientist with regards to this issue is a bit skeptic of climate change caused by man. But her granddaughter does not share his doubts as she believes man has contributed a lot to global warming. They are both open-minded people and like each other anyway in spite of differences in opinion regarding global climate change.

Rarebear's avatar

Just to be technical and precise, the ozone hole was caused by a different mechanism than global warming.

JLeslie's avatar

I thought the chloroflourocarbins (sp?) in aerosols were tearing a hole in the ozone layer? Letting more radiation in? And, that the newer chemical, which I do not remember the name, is thought to affect global warming because it increases carbons still?

Rarebear's avatar

@JLeslie Yes. That is correct. The CFC caused the ozone hole. Sulfuric acid causes acid rain. CO2, methane, and water vapor cause global warming. Different mechanisms all.

JLeslie's avatar

@Rarebear Doesn’t that all lead to warming? Although, I know there is theory of it eventually leading to a massive ice age again if I have my science right? I just ask because @King_Pariah talked about a cool down regarding the aerosols.

Rarebear's avatar

Sorta kinda, but not really. I have to work on a lecture for tomorrow and then I have a meeting tomorrow night, but if you want a longer, precise answer, I’ll get to it this weekend.

King_Pariah's avatar

@all who question the power of aerosol.

Volcanoes are lovely and so is sulfur.

ETpro's avatar

Quite obviously solar radiation affects the overall climate of Earth far more than human activity does. If the sun suddenly went dead, the temperature on Earth would plummet to near absolute zero ( -459º FF or -273º C). All water vapor in the atmosphere would condense as ice and snow, and we would be a giant, dead ice ball.

That said, this question is dangerously deceptive, because while solar radiation has far more influence, that is not to say we should ignore human influence. Human activity only has to add 2 or 3º C to the global temperature to do great harm. If we keep pouring carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere and warm the global average temperature by as little as 3º Centigrade, we may set off a cascade of methane releases from previously frozen tundra and from methane clathrates in the ocean depths. Methane is more than 20 times as effective as Carbon Dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and there are as many as 2500 gigatonnes of methane clathrates in the Earth’s oceans and another 400 gigatonnes in arctic permafrost. If global warming starts the mass release of that, we would be looking at a runaway climate change we would be powerless to halt, and that could warm the average temperature of earth by 12 to 15 ºC (53.6 ºF to 59 ºF ) as it has done in the Earth’s past and could also create massive dead zones in the oceans. Think 110 ºF is too damn hot? How would you like a day that hit 170 ºF?

Ambient temperature has more influence on the temperature inside your home than your home heating system does. Even in the coldest winter day, the ambient temperature outside is FAR warmer than absolute zero. But would that mean that you should run your heater full tilt whether it is 30 below zero outside or 110 ºF in the shade? Such a suggestion would be absurd. And so would ignoring man-made climate change because it is less of a factor in Earth’s temperature than the sun’s radiation is.

mazingerz88's avatar

@ETpro Thanks. This might just convince Bill, the 91 year old to be more wary of man’s participation towards climate change.

ETpro's avatar

@mazingerz88 My pleasure. We’re not talking about just a teensy warming. We are talking about events that could drastically alter the ecology and cause mass extinctions of many species, possibly including mankind. It’s serious stuff.

mazingerz88's avatar

@ETpro The question actually sprung from news that many people are unhappy, to say the least, that Obama is not pushing hard enough, reform to address climate change. Bill, who is a Democrat takes the position that Obama does not have the luxury nor the momentum to do so in light of the urgency to address pressing economic woes.

ETpro's avatar

@mazingerz88 I understand the politics of the debate all too well. I understand that presidents are not dictators. But they do have the bully pulpit, and as gifted an orator as Obama is, I am deeply disappointed in him for not using that to greater advantage. Why not the weekly Fireside Chat FDR used to rally the nation through the bitter years of the Great Depression and the horrors of WWII? Aren’t our looming problems yet great enough to at least try to rally public support for solving them?

mazingerz88's avatar

@ETpro I haven’t been following but I’m sure you do so I would agree about the use of the bully pulpit. For what little I have read and could broadly recall about this issue, pushing for Cap and Trade is almost next to impossible at this point since it would, in the short term, cause businesses to hire less thus creating a negative effect on the job creation efforts?

ETpro's avatar

@mazingerz88 That’s correct. I just hope we realize the urgency before the runaway condition kicks in, because then it will be out of human reach to stop it. And believe me, that will not be good for job creation either. We’re talking about mass starvation, flooding of all coastal zones, mass animal and plant extinctions.

mattbrowne's avatar

When you’re talking about changes in solar activity and human activity in terms of greenhouse gas emission the answer is: we don’t know for sure. It could be 60% solar activity changes and 40% human activity changes. Or the other way round. What we know almost for certain is that human activity does have some significant effect. Otherwise it’s very hard to explain this

The curve is too steep and when looking at ice cores something like this can’t be found in recent history.

The most recent period when CO2 levels were as high as today (around 400 ppm) was around 15 million years ago, during the Middle Miocene. There were no humans. The ecosystems were different and they had thousands of years of time to adapt. Now everything is happening within decades.

Even if humans only contribute 30% it might be enough to reach a tipping point.

So let’s apply the precautionary principle.

Better be safe than sorry.

Kat555's avatar

Solar radiation without doubt. But that does not mean we are not destroying the planet!

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