Friday, May 23, 2008

Global Warming Hoax

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 (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2008).

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 (Guggenheim, 2006).

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 (United Nations, 2007). However, these features of the climate also vary naturally as has been seen throughout the Earth's existence, so determining what fraction of climate changes are due to natural variability versus human activities is challenging (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2008).

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 (Guggenheim, 2006).

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” (Guggenheim, 2006).

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” (Glenn Beck, 2007).

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” (Glenn Beck, 2007). Although a somewhat radical statement, Dr. Carter has a point. Beck explains that when you look at the graph of CO2 levels and global temperatures more closely than is seen in An Inconvenient Truth, in many cases temperatures rise before CO2 levels; sometimes between 800 -1,000 years earlier (Glenn Beck, 2007).

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.” (Glenn Beck, 2007).

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” (Glenn Beck, 2007). With one study saying that human kind is 100% responsible for the warming and the very next study saying that a further study is needed to confirm the validity of the previous study, we need to be careful before society and government jumps to conclusions about what may or may not be happening to our climate as a result of human activities and implement supposed solutions to try to curb these changes. I could not have said it any better myself as Glenn Beck did, “I believe we don’t fully understand the climate yet, and we must be careful until we do” (Glenn Beck, 2007).

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.

Bibliography

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/

1 comment:

mark said...

I agree with your conclusion that each of us should do our part to be good stewards of the Earth. Hey, I rode the bus today.
But I also think that humankind is making global climate change and the environment worse, even if it is not the main cause. Government trying to curb emissions is a worthwhile effort, because individual acts of environmental awareness won't do it.
The tragedy to me is that there are exaggerations on both sides, the politicization is ridiculously extrme, and as a result the issue has been paralyzed.
If you trust the government to fight wars and infringfe on your personal freedoms, you also should be willing to allow it to tackle global warming. In the 1970s the air was yellow, and it took the government to start cleaning it up.