Last week, Typhoon Hato wreaked havoc in Hong Kong, Macau and parts of southern Chinawhereby most of the damage are done by sea water flooding in to residential areas close to the shoreline. The fact that a high tide coincided with the typhoon heightened that damage. Those in Macauwere less fortunate than Hong Kongers, as the sea water swept rubbish throughout the peninsula. To add salt to the wound, there was an electric blackout since Macau relied on electricity generated in Zhuhai, China, as well as relying on Zhuhai to stop the water supply, since the system requires electricity to operate.
Hong Kong, having inherited the British system of operation which is still holding out, escaped the typhoon with only minor damage. Macau on the other hand took a heavy toll, as its totally pro-China government was incapable to dealing with the disaster, ending up requesting assistance from the People’s Liberation Army garrisoned in Macau. It was futile as these Chinese soldiers fainted from the heat and the smell of the rubbish. Macau residents now face a situation with limited electricity and water supply, and streets full of trash brought in by the flooding seawater which is causing health hazards with its decay and smell.
One lesson that can be learnt is not to rely on Chinese electricity or water supply. which pro-China politicians often praised and tried to push in Hong Kong, as it places Hong Kongers in danger the same way it does to the people of Macau due to its unreliability, particularly at times of need or disasters. Another is that Macau, being totally obedient to China and having implemented its own Article 23, ended up having communication troubles as residents could not get ready access to information that could have saved properties and lives. On the other hand, Hong Kong, while having escaped the disaster, is heading in Macau’s direction with the pro-China establishment calling for legislating Article 23. It is likely that Hong Kong will see the same blackout in information flow and public communication for fear of prosecution.
However, the really important lesson that we need to learn isn’t the ones mentioned above, but the dangers of what global warming can do to places close to the sea or low-lying areas, as Hong Kong and Macau are.
The Physics of Global Warming
When we emit industrial gases into the atmosphere in our daily living, these gases trap heat that would have otherwise escaped to outer space, and the trapped heat adds energy to the weather system. The extra heat affects the weather in two ways: one is that the energy would aggravate wind strength and flow; second is that the heat melts glacial and polar ice, thus speeding up the normal water cycle which operates via the evaporation and condensation of water.
With higher energy in the atmosphere, the air flow – or wind – would become faster. Atmospheric phenomena such as typhoon, cyclones, tornadoes and large storms would occur much more often, sometimes appearing in regions that do not traditionally have them, such as tornadoes occurring in Britain.
The water cycle is a more-or-less closed system, which means that the water from melting ice must go somewhere. This usually means a rise in sea level, but while its rise isn’t too noticeable normally, it would be detrimental during weather disasters as it did in Hong Kong, where the high tide coincided with a typhoon. Heavy rainfall also becomes more likely, causing heavy flooding as it did in Hong Kong in the last two to three years. An increase in the frequency of rainfall and the amount fallen would also attribute to the rise in sea level.
ResponseS to THE DENIERS OF global warming
There is a growing number of people throughout the world that are denying the global warming phenomenon. They claimed that the disastrous weather happening around the world is merely a normal phase the Earth is going through, and that global warming is just a doomsday fear that will pass, just like all the other doomsday predictions preceding it. They often raised the question of why there are places that are getting much colder than normal rather than hotter, if the Earth is indeed warming up.
It must be understood that Earth’s weather system is also a more-or-less closed system. This means that if one place gets hotter, another place becomes colder, as the Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that in a closed or relatively closed energy system, the total amount of energy in the system remains the same throughout. It works somewhat like the so-called “Butterfly Effect”, which postulates that the beating of butterfly wings on one side of the Earth may cause air disturbance that would lead to a tornado on the other side of the Earth. In this case, the increase in heat in one area would draw heat away from another part of the Earth, leading to cooler temperature than normal at that part of the world
The system also works like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Let’s say the weather system prior to advanced human activity was like a stationary pendulum. With increased activity, the pendulum swing becomes larger and faster. In atmospheric terms, this means more erratic and more aggressive weather patterns. We see this when a region may experience severely cold temperatures during winter for one year, then suddenly a much warmer temperature for the next winter or vice versa, similar to what Hong Kong had experienced in the last few years.
Another argument from global warming deniers is that the general temperature around the world has been cooler rather than warmer than before, defying the expectation if the Earth is indeed warming up beyond normal. This is where the physics comes in. If we remember back to high school physics, we would have learnt that melting and evaporation are “cooling” processes while condensation is a “warming” process. It seems highly contradictory at first, until you understand the physics of how melting, evaporation and condensation operate. With increased heat to the system, the nature of energy flow is from an area of high energy to a low one, thus the heat would be flowing towards the Earth’s polar and glacial ice. For ice to melt, energy is absorbed to break the molecular bond between water molecules. Heat would therefore be drained from the air towards the low energy water ice, causing it to melt and the surrounding air to cool. We can see this during summer when we place a bucket of ice or cold water in front of a fan. The wind coming from the fan would be cooler than what it would have been without the ice or cold water. It is Nature’s way of re-establishing equilibrium in an otherwise aggravated system, where the cooling effect from the melting of the ice would bring down local atmospheric temperature, which would then cause the air around the Earth to cool down via wind flow. However, if there is much too much heat in the system, the water from melting ice would simply evaporate into aerial water molecules. These water molecules would eventually condense to form clouds. According to the Law of Conservation of Energy, the energy taken to break the water molecules in ice would be released as condensation occurs. This energy would be translated into heat, thus the formation of clouds and rainfall would warm the local atmospheric temperature and global temperature later. The crucial point then is for the rate of melting of ice to be no lower than the rate of rainfall in order for the Earth’s atmospheric temperature to drop back to cooler temperature. For now, the rate of rainfall has not exceeded the rate of melting ice, and so global temperature generally seems to be cooler rather than warmer. However, if we do not arrest the extra energy generated in Earth’s atmospheric system, or stop ourselves from generating that extra energy, the rate of rainfall would increase as would the ferocity of air flow and sea level around the world.
ErrING on the side of caution
I’m sure that global warming deniers would find ways
to refute my argument here, but my response is, to err is to be human. If
global warming alarmists are wrong, all that we would lose is money and
opportunity for advances, but if global warming deniers are wrong, then we ALL
– as in every single human on Earth – would bear the cost of that error. We
might think the effects would not be felt during our lifetime. Yet the typhoon
disaster in Macau demonstrates that our
assumption may not hold true. Isn’t it better then that we all err on the side
of caution instead, for our sakes and the generations to come?