A great debate is storming through public forums over the theory of Anthropogenic (human caused) Global Warming Catastrophe (AGWC). Please note and remember all four words.
The polarization in this debate is not over whether there is global warming, but whether human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are having a significant impact on climate trends, or if human causes are not significant compared to natural causes. The only reason the earth is habitable is because over the eons, life has altered the composition of the atmosphere and the climate. It is probable that the evolutionary success of humans has had some impact on the climate for thousands of years. The real questions are: How much? Are we facing a crisis because of it?
The theory of the proponents of AGWC is based upon computer models with the assumption that the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere may be accelerating the warming trend, and further, that this trend will lead to a climate catastrophe.
Critics of the AGWC theory point out that all the factors required to model the global climate are simply not known to us yet and that acting in haste may do more harm than good, especially given the prescriptions proposed by AGWC proponents which entail massive political constraint of CO2 emissions. Additionally, the critics point out that the computer models have failed to account for the actual data (which reveal a linear rise in temperatures indicating a 1.2° F rise over a period of 50 years).
The proponents of the AGWC theory keep pointing to rising temperature records and to the increase of atmospheric CO2 as proof of their theory, which they believe confirm the computer models.
There are problems with this. I will attempt to elucidate.
1. We don't have a means to control for any of the variables. Ideally we should have a second identical planet where we could adjust any particular factor, such as CO2, and see what happens. This is the idea of computer modeling, to simulate the earth as best we can. However, there are so many factors that it is extremely unlikely that we can even know what they all are let alone establish the parameters for each. Some examples: variations in the earth's magnetic field, subterranean radioactivity, lunar cycles, solar wind, extra-solar radiation, cloud patterns, air traffic, oceanic factors (70% of the earth's surface), etc.
2. Collection of all the needed data is difficult. There are thousands of weather monitoring stations all around the world, but the surface of the earth measures over 200 million square miles. Are there even a million monitoring stations?
The only way to actually measure the temperature of the globe as a whole is from space. So far, the satellite data does not verify the computer models. The response of the AGWC proponents is to discount the satellite measurements, they don't matter.
3. The AGWC theory, relies upon a basic, seemingly reasonable assumption: that the observed rise in surface temperatures is caused by the increase of atmospheric CO2. This seems reasonable as it has been determined that CO2 is a "greenhouse gas". However, CO2 is not the most significant greenhouse gas; methane and water vapor are much more significant greenhouse factors than CO2, and, when water vapor, the #1 greenhouse gas, condenses into clouds, the clouds reflect UV (and most of the light spectrum) away from the earth. Further, temperature variations do not correspond to CO2 variations in the expected manner. There are indications that global warming produces CO2 increases rather than the other way around.
4. The role the ocean plays in climate change is not yet adequately comprehended. The ocean absorbs and emits CO2 and also absorbs much of the solar radiation falling upon the earth.
5. It is
all too easy to introduce factors into computer model that produce desired
results even if these factors are not "real".
Politics & Money
Why do so many experts promote the Anthropogenic Global Warming crisis? Many scientists, environmental groups, media outlets, and government bureaucrats speak confidently, indeed, absolutely, of the certain doom that will befall us if we don't sign up for the Kyoto treaty and start cracking down on our CO2 emissions.
This brings us to a problem with government involvement with science and research, indeed with most any human endeavor. I have had a friend, who once worked for the Department of Justice, tell me the horrifying story of a research report rewritten by bureaucrats to satisfy political needs, with the result of there being only a few lines retained from the original report.
There seems to be a prevailing presumption that government, being a non-profit agency, is immune to the influence of self interest and monetary concerns. But bureaucrats and government-paid scientists also have to worry about such mundane matters as mortgage payments, college tuition, credit debts, retirement concerns, advancement, ego, all the normal human concerns. Climate researchers stand to obtain huge government grants to study the problem of AGWC. The more critical the problem can be made to appear, the more likely public pressure will influence elected officials to allocate a few billion dollars here and there.
There is another interest group that has jumped onto the AGWC bandwagon. The leftist aspect of the environmental movement. While communism/socialism has failed as national experiments, it has not left the hearts of many who carry on the heritage of Marxist sensibility. The main interest of this group is not so much in the environment per se, but in utilizing environmental hysteria to attack and undermine western capitalism, no matter how many must die if they accomplish their ends.
There are also Luddites, people who believe that technology has only expanded man's ability to do evil and so, wish to stem technological development, no matter how many must die if they accomplish their ends.
This is not to say that there are not many sincerely concerned people in the scientific and environmental communities who want to do the right thing. These individuals may be especially prone to erring on the side of caution, but they may not adequately consider the costs if the right thing should turn out to be the wrong thing.
Last December the United States agreed at a United Nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan, to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 7 percent below 1990 levels. That reduction, to be achieved mainly by cutting the combustion of fossil fuels, will lower emission levels 41 percent below where they will likely be in the year 2010 if the trend observed since 1990 continues.
The Kyoto agreement--if fully complied with--would likely reduce the gross domestic product of the United States by 2.3 percent per year. However, according to a climate model of the National Center for Atmospheric Research recently featured in Science, the Kyoto emission-control commitments would reduce mean planetary warming by a mere 0.19 degree Celsius over the next 50 years. If the costs of preventing additional warming were to remain constant, the Kyoto Protocol would cost a remarkable 12 percent of GDP per degree of warming prevented annually over a 50-year period.
The Kyoto Protocol will have no discernible effect on global climate--in fact, it is doubtful that the current network of surface thermometers could distinguish a change on the order of .19 degree from normal year-to-year variations. The Kyoto Protocol will result in no demonstrable climate change but easily demonstrable economic damage.
From an article by Patrick J Michaels.
Change is Natural
I have noticed that assertions by AGWC proponents tend to the absolute: "global warming is real, man-made, and a problem". Assertions such as this seem to give no accounting of natural climate change. Once upon a time, Greenland was warm enough to allow a number of colonies to be established which were later abandoned as temperatures cooled down. It is thought that, long ago, settlers came to America via an ice bridge from Russia. There is evidence everywhere of massive glaciers having once scraped now habitable areas. Obviously there is naturally occurring climate change. Why do AGWC proponents talk as if there were none?
The image below shows the variations in average global temperature from Precambrian times to the present. Notice that since the
end of the Precambrian eon, the average temperature has been higher than the mean. In other words, most of that time, the world has been much warmer than what we are currently experiencing. Note: Map is adapted, see source
Through the millennia, as has been determined from studies of fossil and ice core records, there have been a series of significant swings in long term temperature averages. The earth's climate is currently in the process of a warming trend from the last mini ice age. This means that, until we have the capability and means to manage the earth's climate, we can expect a gradual warming for several hundred years at least. This does not mean that there will be no intermediate cooling trends from time to time, but rather, over the very long term (with respect to human lifetimes) we can expect, from interpolation of the historical and pre-historical record, a general warming.
In the meantime, the Chicken Little syndrome is in full swing. Throughout human history, there have been those who seek to promote and exploit social hysteria to gain some advantage over others. The global warming "crisis" is just another opportunity for fear mongers to have their sway.
It is the responsibility of responsible citizens to retain possession of their rational faculties so that we may calmly and accurately assess the challenges that always come our way and deal with them appropriately. It should be our policy to exercise extreme caution about implementing drastic policies through the political process.
We have, by our choices, become dependent on technology. Unless we want to see billions die, we must maintain our technical evolution to obtain the means to assure our continued survival while minimizing negative effects upon our home. If we allow the doom sayers to panic us into ending this progress, we shall most deeply regret it.