Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Inconvenient "?"


 "Geologists Think The World May Be Frozen Up Again" 
                                              - New York Times, 1895

""Climate - The Heat May Be Off"
                                              -Fortune Magazine, 1954

"A Major Cooling Widely Considered To Be Inevitable"
                                               -New York Times, 1975

"Colder Winters Held Dawn Of New Ice Age"
                                              - Washington Post, 1970

"As for the present cooling trend, a number of leading climatologists have 
concluded that it is very bad news indeed."                                  
                                              - Fortune Magazine, 1974

"The discoveries of changes in the sun's heat and the southward advance of glaciers in recent years have given rise to conjectures of the possible advent of a new ice age."
                                              -Time Magazine, 1923

"Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age."
                                              -Time Magazine, 1974

"How long the current cooling trend continues is one of the most important problems of our civilization...the Earth could be plunged into a new ice age."
                                               - Science Magazine, 1969

"The cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not be soon reversed."
                                                -Science Magazine, 1975

"Scientists Says Arctic Ice Could Wipe Out Canada"
                                                -Chicago Tribune, 1923


 "Past Hot Times Hold Few Reasons to Relax About New Warming"
                                                 -New York Times, 2005

"[S]cientists no longer doubt that global warming is happening, and almost nobody questions the fact that humans are at least partly responsible."
                                                 -Time Magazine, 2001

"Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever...by any measure, Earth is at the tipping point...the climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame..."
                                                 -Time Magazine, 2006

'Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier snowmelt are extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity of wildfires in the western United States."
                                                  -Science Magazine, 2006

"The polar ice caps are shrinking, as are glaciers and mountain snow pack around the world."
                                                 -Chicago Tribune, 2009

About a year ago my sister and I were having a glass of wine, and the topic of climate change was brought up. I mentioned how annoyed I was that any time a cold snap occurred, I inevitably heard people say "so much for global warming." I thought this was idiocy in the extreme. After all, climate and weather are two completely different things.
Well, Mandy made a comment about the fact that is wasn't proven. At this point I was pretty convinced that it all but had, and a few days later set out to find some articles to send her on the subject. I was astounded at what I found. 
Well, I dropped it and never sent her the articles, as I got distracted (as I do) and forgot about it. However, I did find some compelling research supporting my argument - and some equally compelling evidence to the contrary.

What was fascinating to me was how convincing the argument was on both sides, and for the first time actually caused me to think about climate change as a question rather than a fact of life.

I am a liberal, on many issues. While reading up on this, especially over the past couple of days as I prepared to write this entry, it occurred to me that if “Dubya” had espoused the threat of global warming, I may have called some of the current conventional wisdom (no, that is not a redundancy) into question.
The fact is, conservatives read and follow conservative pundits. Liberals do the same on their end. So what we’re exposed to largely depends on, and is perpetuated by, our existing beliefs.
The more I dug, the bigger the question mark seemed to become. So many articles (if not most) that I found did in fact contain or reference raw data. But the facts that were backed up were intricately woven into the fabric of the article along with facts that were not.
Moreover, in multiple instances articles on both sides of the argument utilized the same raw data to support their respective arguments. In each case this happened, it practically nullified my confidence in the source study as a means to promote either stance.
What was really shown here, is that enough data can be effectively manipulated to accentuate whatever point it is you’re trying to make. In these cases, your perspective influences the outcome. This is much in the same way the perspective of a climate change denier (I use this term referencing CBS reporter Scott Pelley’s comparison of climate change skeptics to Holocaust deniers) reading more on the subject and picking out the articles that support their case.
Let’s say – for the sake of argument – (because I’m not taking a side here) that climate change is a very real, very imminent threat. What can we do about it? Many point to our failure to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol. Dr. James Hansen of NASA has estimated that the Kyoto Protocol would only affect temperatures by .13C by 2100, and that it would take 30 Kyotos to have an acceptable inpact on climate change.
Why so little impact? Well, one fun fact I turned up repeatedly is that 96.5% of all Carbon Dioxide emissions are from natural sources – water vapor, methane, (all mammals fart), volcanoes, even rotting vegetation, to name a very few sources. Mankind is directly responsible for about 3.5%. Only 0.6% of this comes from internal-combustion engines, meaning that if every car were to be plucked from the roads right now, it would have very little, if any substantive impact.
So why the impact in the other direction? Why have we seemingly caused so much of it? Well, here’s the question. If Carbon Dioxide levels cause global warming, then why did the Journal Science report recently that arctic ice cores record a shift in Carbon Dioxide after temperature fluxuations dating back thousands of years? Which is cause and which is effect?
By now you’re thinking that I could be attempting to make a case against climate change, and the human factor. That’s not the case.
I could reference the Oregon Petition, which boasts some 18,000 signatures from scientists around the world stating that there is no evidence to support man-made global warming theory. But then, I could also nitpick who those scientists are, and seek out motivation for signing such a petition.
All research is funded. Who pays the check can have a serious impact on the findings, or the interpretation of data. This is true on both sides of the argument. One has to think only a moment of the money that can be shifted one way or another to begin to doubt some findings.
One could say that the famous “hockey stick” graph, which “proved” carbon dioxide emissions were causing global warming, was erroneous  – the use of proxies prior to 1850, the use of thermometers in city-centers that recorded urban heat island effects… Or, one could point out that the data has been scrutinized on both sides of the debate and both sides come up with their own predictable results.
It is practically indisputable that something is occurring. What that something is, and what is causing it, are still in question. Scientists who publicly protest the current climate change theory and its causes are systematically vilified.
So what is my conclusion? Well, I’m not going to conclude with my opinion. It wouldn’t change anything – most people who will read this have already formed their own opinion, which is not likely to change.
I challenge you though – if you believe climate change to be a real threat, research the arguments. Conversely, if you believe climate change to be a fear-mongering fad, research the case for it. The more you dig, the more interesting the debate becomes – in fact, the clearer it becomes that it is still a debate, it’s just more fashionable to accept the crisis.
Just please keep this in mind: nothing affects the emotional state of a populace or an individual (and therefore their actions) more potently and effectively than fear. I am not trying to persuade anyone in one direction or another, simply to point out the big neon question mark hanging over the issue. Try as we may to ignore it (on both sides of the argument), and as inconvenient as it may be to some – it’s still there. Let’s talk about it.


wah said...

While scientists overwhelmingly say climate change is a threat, Americans aren't convinced. In a recent poll, more than 1 in 3 respondents said global warming wasn't a serious problem'
Time Magazine, December 21,2009

Will Shealy said...

It could be they're still getting over the fact that we're not going into an Ice Age, as was told to them for about eighty years. Or, they could just be jaded. It's too easy to either be cynical based on the sheer number of Chicken Little scares over the past century, or to be the extreme opposite and swallow everything fed to you. Let's find a middle ground.

Evil Twin's Wife said...

I think (just my observation) that it's not really "changing" as much as it's "shifted". It seems like winter starts later and it's still chilly in May, then the warm Summer like weather will linger into October. So, I really don't know...

Will Shealy said...

Yeah, I agree ETW, none of us actually do.