As a result of industrial growth since the mid 18th Century, humans have added greatly to the amount of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels, loss of vegetation as well as the considerable increase in cattle populations have acted as the primary means of greenhouse gas production. The emission of aerosols, such as CFC’s, has also contributed to atmospheric changes
The basic science of global warming is quite simple. The suns radiation comes into the Earth’s atmosphere and some of that energy is reflected back into space while some of the same energy is trapped by the earth’s atmosphere, keeping the climate relatively constant and mild. The problem posed by greenhouse gases and aerosols is that they thicken the atmosphere and trap more of the out-going infrared radiation, thus the atmosphere heats up worldwide
According to the Environmental Protection Agency's website, the addition of greenhouse gases and aerosols has changed the architecture of the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. The most recent UN International Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) argues that these changes in the atmosphere have influenced temperature, precipitation, storms, and sea levels
As stated in the EPA estimate, "determining what fraction of climate changes are due to natural variability versus human activities is challenging". Because we live in a politically charged world, the media may provide multiple perspectives on the causes of global warming. From the Al Gore-Inconvenient Truth crowd, we receive dire projections of apocalyptic proportions if drastic actions are not taken to avert the man-made global climate crisis. One statistical argument that is raised by this documentary is centered on the melting of Greenland and West Antarctica. Al Gore states that “Greenland would raise sea levels 20 feet [worldwide] if it went”. According to this projection, Miami Beach, Fort Myers, Palm Beach, Tampa, and Lake Okeechobee, Florida would be completely under sea water along with much of the San Francisco Bay area, the Netherlands, Beijing, Shanghai, Calcutta, and Manhattan
In college, Al Gore took a class from Dr. Roger Revelle, who began measuring CO2 in the atmosphere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean since 1958. Since the initial readings, atmospheric CO2 levels have greatly risen. An Inconvenient Truth links these rising CO2 levels and global warming to decreasing snowpack on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Specifically, Gore states “within the decade, there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro”
Alternative media outlets present the issue a little differently. Recently, nationally syndicated radio host and TV personality Glenn Beck devoted the first chapter of his book, An Inconvenient Book, to the issue of global warming. Beck explains, "I am not a scientist...but I am a thinker. I have tried to boil down a ridiculous amount of information into some of the more interesting arguments from actual scientists known as 'skeptics'". In this chapter, Beck outlines the dangers and fallacies of making drastic environmental and economic changes in attempting to curb man-made global warming when we may not fully understand this phenomenon. In one of his more compelling arguments, Beck points to a central argument in Al Gore's documentary, the predicted ocean level rise as a result from man-made global warming and the melting of Greenland. Al Gore's predictions, as seen in An Inconvenient Truth are about 17 times higher than what the UN IPCC is expecting. Beck states that in Gore's predictions are "even five times higher than the high-end of the worst-case scenario painted by scientists who thought the UN report was too conservative”
The most central argument to Al Gore's documentary was the correlation of CO2 levels and global temperature increase. In Beck’s book, he quotes Dr. Bob Carter, a noted geologist and paleoclimate expert from the Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University as saying, “To say that CO2 is the primary cause of temperature change is like saying lung cancer causes smoking”
As an alternate theory to greenhouse gasses as the primary cause of global warming, an increasing number of scientists are pointing to the sun as a plausible culprit for climate change. Many of these scientists believe that sun activity has been at an 8,000 year high over the past 60 years and may be at least partly responsible for the warming trend. Beck quotes another paleoclimate expert, Paula Reimer from Queens University, as saying, ”A couple of years ago, I would not have said that there was any evidence for solar activity driving temperature on Earth….Now I think there is fairly convincing evidence.”
There are mountains of studies, facts, and opinions, with more being published daily on global warming. With all of these seemingly contradicting studies, one thing is constant. The planet has warmed “about 0.74 degrees Celsius (+/-0.18 degree) in the last 100 years”
Government has a history of making things worse well before they fix the actual problem. President Ronald Reagan once said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’”. Before we entrust governments with major problems, we as individuals need to take the lead. Each of us can do our part to take care of our surroundings and reduce our impact. Without sacrificing our way of life and going back to the dark-ages, we can do a lot. We as stewards of this planet need to take care of it and do all we can to keep it beautiful and able to sustain life.
Glenn Beck, K. B. (2007). An Inconvenient Book. New York: Threshold Editions.
Guggenheim, D. (Director). (2006). An Inconvenient Truth [Motion Picture].
United Nations. (2007). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Valencia, Spain.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2008, April 15). Climate change; EPA. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from United States Environmental Protection Agency web site: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/