by Luna Flesher
I am a global warming agnostic. I stick my toe in the water every year or so check the temperature on both sides of the debate. I tend to waffle around somewhere just barely on either side of the fence. There's a lot of convincing data on both sides, and I really think science hasn't come far enough to know either way. It's as if two astrologers have gazed into the same crystal ball and come up with completely different futures.
First you have a majority of scientists who firmly believe global anthropogenic (man-made) climate change (warming) is occurring due to carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, some now say it is inevitable, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. I can't believe this is due to a sinister, anti-capitalist conspiracy here because far too many smart scientists have made this conclusion. They might be mistaken, but they are not all "in on it".
There is an overwhelming amount of data to indicate global temperatures are on the rise. You have atmospheric and oceanic measurements of temperatures. You have massive local weather fluctuations. You have the melting ice caps. You have plants that bloom at all the wrong times.
To confuse matters, scientists are actually noting a more recent cooling trend in very recent years. Scientists retain existing warming theories, blaming various conditions such as regular oceanic current cycles.
Some fringe scientists claim warming now will actually trigger an ice age.
Whether it's cooling or warming, something certainly seems to be going on with the climate, even if it seems no one can be entirely sure what.
Then you have the debate on what is causing climate change. Obviously the prevailing theory it that it's caused by increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, due of course to fossil fuel consumption.
There is certainly a historical correlation between CO2 conditions and average global temperatures. However, I have one small doubt: the classical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "After this, therefore because of this". Just because Event B happens after Event A, does not mean Event A was the cause. This is also known in statistics as correlation does not imply causation. It's an easy one to fall for, even for scientists.
Here is an example of why we might have a CO2 to temperature correlation where Co2 is not the cause.
We all know that decaying vegetable matter releases CO2. The more plants, the more CO2 can decay once that plant dies. Increased global temperature increases the percentage of landmass viable for plant growth, and increases vegetation densities all over. The Keeling Curve shows how plant decay produces sharp ups and downs of CO2 each year as things die off the fall and grow in the spring. We have no way of knowing how increased vegetation over entire landmasses would increase CO2 levels for us to find in the ice eons later.
To further my point on cause vs. effect, we have been recently told the current trend of warming will thaw now-frozen plant matter, which will increase CO2 even further. How do we know the spikes in CO2 in our distant past weren't caused by some arbitrary warming factor thawing once-frozen tundra, suddenly releasing ages-old carbon as is now happening?
Global warming could just as possibly cause CO2.
CO2 greenhouse theory itself becomes shaky in light of saturation theory. Greenhouse theory states gases absorb sunlight as energy as it bounces off the earth's surface and back into space. However, CO2 can only absorb certain bandwidths of light. Other greenhouses gases also absorb light, each with its own bands. Water vapor absorbs the most energy from the highest number of frequencies, and is responsible for 90% of atmospheric heat absorption. There is some crossover, for example water absorbs some of the same frequencies of light as carbon, methane, and so on. Once a gas has absorbed 100% of the bandwidths of light that it can, it can no longer retain any further energy. All the other frequencies of light pass through.
Saturation theory concludes that carbon will increase temperatures only so much, until its entire range of light has been absorbed, and then it will stop.
To add one more little push as I lean over the fence, there is a new study showing how global warming models are not following their predicted paths. The paper is out of MIT, and is written by a highly respected atmospheric scientist.
The Little Ice Age showed us the earth can suddenly change climates for geologically short periods of time. History records, and geological records corroborate, that the earth plunged into a period of cold starting as early as 1350 and ending possibly in the 1850's, with many decades-long ups and downs interspersed. 1816 was known as the Year Without Summer. Europe and the Americas suffered off-and-on periods of mass starvation.
This was not caused by man. It was caused by the whims of nature, and proves to me just how much at the mercy of the environment we are.
My conclusion, for now, is that the climate is probably changing, and this could very likely have a devastating effect on sea levels, food supply, weather, and ecological habitats.
I doubt it is caused by man, but I remain agnostic on this point as well.
Either way, I absolutely think we should place less effort into building computer models of CO2 effects, which is like counting angels on the head of a pin, and more towards preparing ourselves for the coming disasters.
Maybe there is some crazy idea that could cool the earth no matter what its cause, like David Keith's proposal to use sulfate particulates in the stratosphere.
The Little Ice Age caused starvation because it took so many years to discover which crops grew well in colder conditions. We need to get scientists like Normal Borlaug to recommend plants and agricultural methods for various scenarios, and then we need to stock up on the right seeds.
How can we apply ingenuity to save our coastal cities should sea levels rise? How can we protect our water supply if all the glaciers melt? Where will be buy swimsuits in January if stores won't stock them until May?
In seriousness, perhaps we're spending a lot of time and money on trying to answer the wrong question -- not "Is climate change happening", nor even, "How can we prevent it?", but "Now that it's happening, how can we keep humanity safe and living with a high quality of life?"