Global Warming and Climate Change: Be informed
One of the great issues of our day is global warming. In January I watched Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and subsequently researched both sides of the global warming debate. It did not take long before I was convinced that global warming and climate change is a reality and that it caused by human activity. I realize that many who might read this are still skeptical of the all the hype. The following is the evidence that convinced me.
There is no debate that the earth is heating up. On record the average temperature across the world has risen about .6 degrees celcius. At one point people claimed these records were flawed because we recorded temperatures in cities which tend to be warmer because of all the concrete and asphalt. Cites are urban heat islands. However the increase in temperature is observed in non-urban locations and scientists have factored out the influence of cities.
Most glaciers are melting. The arctic ice cap is melting. The ice in the Antarctic is also melting. I did my own research on climate in Saskatoon. Saskatoon was half a degree warmer from 1996-2005 than it was from 1930-1939. This issue is settled.
The warming of the earth is a problem. If it continues unchecked it will cause some major shifts in our climate, increase the intensity of storms, and the sea levels will rise. One of the major concerns is that as ice melts at the poles more heat is absorbed by open oceans and land. The melting ice causes what is called a positive feedback causing things to warm up even more. The increased melting will melt the artic permafrost releasing more CO2 and methane in to the air causing another positive feedback. Too much of this and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica melt and we see a catastrophic increase in sea levels.
Here are a bunch of recent articles about the impact of climate change in the world today.
Arctic Ice melting faster than expected
Acidic Oceans affecting Food Fish
South Africa: Climate Change hits west coast fishers
Amphibians losing race with climate
Caribbean: Famous Caymans coral reefs dying, scientists say
Vietnam: Floods and Droughts
Italy: Rivers to run dry
Bangladesh: The first refugees of global warming
Australia: Severe Drought
UK: Hotest April since records began [in 1659]
Canada: Forests threatened by plagues of insects
The million dollar question is are we doing something to cause the rise in temperature or are we in the midst of a natural cycle. The most common theory is that certain green house gasses like CO2, methane, ozone and water vapour trap heat in the atmosphere. Water vapour is the most dominate of these gasses with CO2 coming in second. The vast majority of scientists believe that CO2 is the main culprit. We know that since 1960 the amount of the CO2 in the atmosphere has increased considerably. We release CO2 in to the air primarily by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Scientists are concerned that if we don’t stop releasing CO2 in to the air the earth will warm up considerably causing some major problems.
There are a number of vocal critics who disagree with the prevailing thought on the issue. They believe that the warming we are encounting is a normal part of the earth’s climate cycle. Eventually the temperature is going to go back down. The question for them becomes what cyclical natural variation is causing the warming. Some global warming skeptics point to the sun and sunspot activity. However when one examines the data there is no correlation between sunspot activity and temperature. The most plausible alternative theory is that cosmic rays from the sun cause changes in cloud cover thus change our climate. This theory is unlikely to be true because there is no long term trend correlating cosmic rays and temperature. Nor has there been a change in cloud cover. If we were to consider only the influence of the sun on our climate things should be getting cooler, not warmer.
The global warming skeptics keep rehashing old arguments that have already been worked through at the peer review process. Despite the fact that what they say has been proven wrong they keep saying the same things over and over again. Unfortunately they get traction in the media and they give the impression that there is a consequential scientific debate about this issue.
What cyclical phenomenon is causing the warming if it isn’t the sun or a change in cloud cover? The earth has warmed and cooled in the past but that doesn’t prove the warming we have now is part of a natural cycle. What we know about these cycles indicates they are not the cause of this warming.
We all know science isn’t perfect. New discoveries often contradict old assumptions. The climate of the entire planet is a very complex thing. 100% certainity would be unatainable In the latest IPCC summary for policy makers they state that global warming is very likely caused by human activity.
Is there a real debate on this issue in the realm of science? Not really. This is like asking whether there is a theological debate on the validity of the prosperity gospel among evangelical scholars. Among active credible scientists the vast majority believe global warming is caused by human activity. The vast majority of the actual debate isn’t among the experts but in the media and among politicians.
What about these climate change experts that claim this whole global warming thing is a hoax? Take a hard look at their credentials and their funding and that might shed some light on the situation. Tim Ball, for example, is a retired Geography professor who wrote a Ph.D. Thesis on climate records in the Hudson’s Bay Company. He used to be part of the Friends Of Science, an organization well funded by the oil industry. Tim Ball continually reiterates points that have been proven wrong. Like many others he continues to use misleading information, irrelevant points and half-truths to muddy the waters on climate change. He is one of many that you can research here. This CBC documentary makes some very interesting discoveries about climate change skeptics, who funds them, and how some are linked to the same folks who worked for the tobacco industry trying to convince the public there was no danger to smoking. You can research links at exxonsecrets.org, and desmogblog.
The main tactic of the global warming skeptics is to sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds. They don’t have a compelling alternate theory, so they try to poke holes in the scientific consensus. Because this issue has become politicized there are some crazy theories floating around.
One of the most influence vehicles for climate change skepticism is found in the documentary Global Warming Swindle. Video. Compare the assertions made in the video to the responses here, here, here and here.
In a debate as complex as this be sure to read both sides on each point. Here is a great site operated by a “layman” that does a good job answering the skeptics in plain language. RealClimate.org is an excellent resource written by scientists so it can get a bit technical sometimes.
In the realm of politics opinions often come down to a personal choice. The debate between the levels of taxation, the best programs to run, the best way to elect people are largely subjective. There are no serious moral consequences if I remain ignorantly skeptical about the integrity of the Liberals or the Conservatives commitment to fiscal restraint. Global warming is a different kind of debate because we are all partly responsible for what is going on and the consequences are real.
The global warming debate is complex but at its heart it is a scientific issue and a moral issue. Either human activity is causing global warming or it is not. If it is and we choose to do nothing there are dire consequences for hundreds of millions of people. The rise in sea level alone will affect millions of people in developing countries like India, China and Bangledesh. Given the potential consequences of climate change remaining ignorant is not an option. Doing nothing and remaining vaguely skeptical is not an option either. Unless we are informed and are absolutely sure that the vast majority of experts on climate are wrong we must act now.
If someone told me there was a 90% chance I was going to be in a car accident tomorrow I better be very sure they are wrong before I decide to not wear my seatbelt.
Coming up next – what you do can about climate change.