Them or Us? A Comment on Climate Change

I have been unconsciously absorbing a lot of the hysteria that falls under the label of impending doom in the form of “climate change” erstwhile known as “global warming”. Is this slight warming caused by Them or Us? “Them” are the allegedly rapacious oil, gas and coal extractors, the heavy transport trucks, the fuel guzzling oil tankers (and cruise ships), the farmers who keep livestock. “Us” are simply those innocent folks who simply can’t get along without all the amenities that “them” bring to “us”.

So rather than taking the ominous omens at face value I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own. I planned this as my Canada Day project but it was, ahem, unseasonable wet and cool so I waited for a better opportunity. It came on July 4th and I launched my “research”.

We live in a house on a street in Ancaster, Ontario. It’s a cul de sac with houses on both sides of the street and demarked by a row of tall pine trees along the back of the houses on both sides of the street. The street and houses are about 25 years old. Long- time residents of Ancaster tell us that the pine trees marked the sides of a farmer’s field that variously produced potatoes or served as a pasture for cattle. This is the site of the following “research project”.

Area of Property (including city property easement) 180 x 84 = 15,120 sq. ft.

To that total area I must add half the width of the paved street that passes by my property. The street is 24 feet wide and is paved with asphalt. So, my share is 12 feet of width by the 84-ft. frontage of my lot. Area 12 x 84= 1.008 sq. ft.

Total area 16,128 sq. ft.

Components. (rounded to the closest percentage point)

Street 1008 sq. ft. = 6%

Driveway 1080 sq. ft. = 7%

Roof of House 3,175 sq. ft. = 20%

Lawn and Gardens = 100% - 33% = 67% (half in shade and half in direct sunlight so the weighting factor is 33.5% for each)

We might call the street, the driveway and the house roof the “improvements" to the potato field or pasture and these took up 33% of the total area of the property owned respectively by my family and the city. On streets nearby, monster homes are being built where the rooftops and other improvements can easily cover 60% of the property.

On July 4th I conducted my experiment. As close to high noon as possible I took a thermometer and recorded the following Fahrenheit temperatures.

Paved street - 100 degrees

Driveway - 101 degrees

Roof - 130 degrees

Sunlit lawn - 100 degrees

Shaded lawn and gardens - 75 degrees.

The temperature on the asphalt shingled roof is cited as 130 degrees because my thermometer is the type based on expanding mercury in a closed column and can’t record temperatures above 130.

Using these temperature measurements and the various areas of the property I worked out that:

  • The weighted average temperature of the property was 98 degrees.

  • The weighted average temperatures of the “improved areas”, meaning the roof, driveways and road was 119 degrees, and,

  • The weighted average temperature of the lawns and gardens was 86 degrees.

The improvements, a house, a driveway, and a street, were much hotter than the areas that were given over to lawns and a garden. The temperature differential between the “improved” and the lawns and gardens areas was an astonishing 33 degrees. Obviously, this differential would be much smaller in early morning and late afternoon. I also failed to mention the air conditioner that expels heat from the house back into nature, especially on the hottest days. As well I ignored the solar heat absorbed and released by the brick walls.

These results of my somewhat imprecise research caused me to think again about “Them” and “Us”. “Them” are the afore mentioned extractors of oil, coal and gas. But “US” are the consumers who demand that “them” do so. Certainly, I am not too keen about having an unpaved street and driveway and I don’t exactly fancy a thatched roof.

This led me to wonder how the blame should be divided between those who supply the various carbon-based products and those who demand that they do so.

My little experiment led me to think about the Ontario of today and the Ontario of a century and a half ago. Ancaster is a suburb of Hamilton and has a population of about 40,000. That’s just 0.3% of Ontario’s present population. The urban population today makes up 86% of Ontario’s total population so the heat generating capacity of this vast urban area is, as my experiment attests, undeniably huge. A century and a half ago the Ontario population was one tenth of present population and 80% of those lived in rural areas.

Add to that the fact that we have built thousands of miles of paved roads to connect those cities and towns. The minimum width of a two-lane highway including the shoulders is 44 feet, meaning that one mile of such a two-lane highway displaces 5.3 acres of vegetation. So, highway 401 from Windsor to Montreal is a four lane highway all the way, overlooking the many extra lanes through Toronto, and these four lanes have displaced 5,900 acres of vegetation. The significance of this is that 150 years ago these areas, now barren, supported vegetation of either uncleared forests or emerging farms and had the same cooling effect as does my lawn and gardens. These areas also absorbed CO2 and released oxygen using solar energy to produce biomass instead of heat.

So, I think the fact that CO2 has heat absorbing properties is dwarfed by the equally important fact that CO2 stimulates photosynthesis and, in the production of biomass has a cooling effect that more than offsets its heat absorbing properties. If this is so, efforts to reduce the increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere may be exactly the wrong strategy.

In any case, on the question of “them or us” there is no basis for excusing “us” and blaming “them”. We lose the luxury of blaming someone else for providing something that each of us uses every day.