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Climate Change

The other day, I was perusing the status updates of my fellow FaceBookers, when I came across a brief and inelegant status that scoffed at the idea of global warming. This misguided and inarticulate acquaintance (who shall remain nameless) might be excused for her ignorance (or perhaps it really is inexcusable), but she reminds me of a surprisingly large number of other people we know (I can name half a dozen off the top of my head) as well as voices in the national media and the internet who similarly scoff at the idea that the planet is warming.

When I first began to hear about global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer (two completely separate and unrelated issues, by the way), it sounded too much like alarmist worst-case-scenario thinking. It did not seem likely or possible that the entire planet could be warming. This was in the early nineties, and the idea was still too strange, and the issue was not yet ripe enough for our culture as a whole to acknowledge it.

I’ve always had this pet theory that very little of what I supposedly know can be really known for certain. Was there a George Washington? I know because I’ve been told about him by others and by what I’ve read. How can I really know? Now, that doesn’t mean I think there’s some kind of global conspiracy trying to make us all believe in George Washington. But really, how could I know? But I digress.

My point is, how can I really know that global warming is or is not happening? At this point, I think I can rely on reporting from a large diversity of expert sources, and I can rely on my personal observations, and the observations of those I know and trust.

This phenomenon is being studied by many, many agencies and individuals around the world. Some are government sponsored, but others are private, independent agencies such as US Fish and Wildlife, US Geological Survey, NOAA, our good friends here at UAF, other universities around the work, the IPCC, etc. The diversity of sources and the consensus of opinion is pretty convincing.

The old timers here in Alaska tell us that it doesn’t get as cold in the winters as it did fifty years ago. Records reflect fewer days each year of temps of 60 below. There are still spikes, warm and cold, but the general trend is less cold. The trees are growing larger, farther north. I can see this in pictures of Fort Yukon. Sixty and seventy years ago, the spruce tees were short, spindly things there in FYU. Now, they grow much taller and they continue further north. The sea ice is retreating, and the people who live on the northern coast report more difficulty each year hunting, launching boats, etc. Animals drown while swimming the longer distances from the retreating sea ice to land. Most of the glaciers in Alaska are retreating dramatically as documented by photos over the last fifty years. Permafrost is melting on the tundra, causing the many small tundra ponds that rest on top of the permafrost to drain and disappear. Rising sea levels are leading to advanced coastal erosion, displacing whole communities. The list goes on.

I take all of this as evidence, measurable and observable evidence, and conclude that the global climate is indeed changing for the warmer. It makes me crazy that there are those out there that can still think global warming is some kind of lefty myth. A government conspiracy. A person shouldn’t hang on to ideology so tightly that it blinds him to the obvious.

Now then, though climate change is happening, I don’t know that I could state with the same certainty why climate change is happening, or what will happen next. Is it caused by human activity? That is the leading theory, and it makes sense to me. The burning of fossil fuels emits carbon and other “greenhouse” gases that trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. Could be. I suppose it is also possible that the earth is following a larger cycle of warming and cooling, and we are experiencing a thousand year warming trend from the last ice age. No one knows.

Whatever the cause, or whatever the final outcome, I just wish everyone would be open minded enough to accept what an overabundance of evidence tells us is actually happening. On what evidence do you base your skepticism? Don’t be a knucklehead. 

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 07:59PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

You only refer to the past 50-100 years history as evidence. How about researching that back to 2000-5000 years and show stats from that time too. I do believe that modern inventions do change our environments, but other natural events over a longer span of time may show otherwise.
November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad
Brian,

The thing that makes me crazy is not the debate but those who declare the debate over when it's decidedly not over. I think if there's anything that raises the suspicion that this is a lefty conspiracy is the near religious fervor with which many on the left declare that there is no debate about the following four things, ALL of which need to be true in order for it to make sense for us to restructure the world's economy around this:

1) The earth is getting warmer
2) This warming is man made
3) This warming will be catastrophic
4) Efforts to reverse this will work.

My dad recently told me that at SMU there was an email discussion among professors about bringing in a speaker on global warming, and my dad suggested that they also bring in someone from the other perspective, for which he was berated by an ANTHROPOLOGY professor that there is no debate. An Anthropology professor declared the debate over to a statistician who actually has relevant, peer-reviewed, published research on the topic:

http://ams.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=res-loc&uri=urn%3Aap%3Apdf%3Adoi%3A10.1175%2F1520-0442%281993%29006%3C0953%3AGWATPO%3E2.0.CO%3B2

The debate is NOT over:

http://texasdualcitizen.blogspot.com/2009/01/is-debate-really-over.html


...and people are right to be skeptical when an ongoing debate is declared to be over. Especially when those declaring the debate over stand to gain from their claim. They gain financially, as in the case of Al Gore:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/global-warming/Al-Gore-to-become-worlds-first-carbon-billionaire/articleshow/5200091.cms

...and on a smaller scale, the researchers themselves whose livelihoods depend on getting grant money are much more likely to get grant money for producing research supporting rather than denying global warming (despite the ad nauseum claims that those who deny global warming are on the take of "big oil")

They also gain ideologically, as in the case with those in the left who by definition would like to grow the size of government, in that this provides the perfect opportunity, what William James called the "Moral Equivalent of War", to call for everybody to rally around the government's efforts to fend off catastrophe.

Scientists have a mixed record on grandiose predictions of catastrophe:

http://www.the-scientist.com/article/print/56082/

This is not a matter of "right wingers" vs. "science". This is a case of an intramural debate among scientists, one side of which gets way more air play than the other. For instance, I haven't heard President Obama mention this recently....

"Observations of the Sun show that as for the increase in temperature, carbon dioxide is not guilty and as for what lies ahead in the upcoming decades, it is not catastrophic warming, but a global, and very prolonged, temperature drop. Over the past decade, global temperature on the Earth has not increased; global warming has ceased, and already there are signs of the future deep temperature drop."
Habibullo Abdussamatov, Dr. Sc. Head of Space research laboratory of the Pulkovo Observatory, Head of the Russian/Ukrainian joint project Astrometria

Love ya though,

Barry "Knucklehead" Woodward

PS: I know this is a side issue, but why is the far left's answer to every catastrophe, real or imagined, for people to not have children?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/25/alex-renton-population-control-climate-change
Barry,

First, thanks for the time and thought you put in to this response.

Second, I really like the four point checklist that underpins the call to action on the part of those who want to address climate change:

1) The earth is getting warmer
2) This warming is man made
3) This warming will be catastrophic
4) Efforts to reverse this will work.

My original post was offered in support of the first point only. And I guess more than anything, I was dismayed by the thoughtless, intellectually incurious who use this denial to justify continuing their current behavior. You are not thoughtless or intellectually incurious. Your intelligence as revealed in your writing continually impresses me. You are no knucklehead.

Moving on to point two, I conceded in my post that I didn’t know if this was the case or not. But in my not knowing, it seems like the most logical explanation I have heard so far. If I had to choose correctly or face the firing squad, I’d have to choose yes, it is manmade, and hope the odds are in my favor.

Regarding point three, again, I don’t know. But we see bad things beginning, and it makes sense that if current trends continue, bad things could continue to a point that threatens our continued global well being.

Regarding point four. I edited this out of earlier drafts of this post, but one thing I wrote was something to the effect of “either it will get worse or it won’t. Either we still can fix it or we can’t.”

As we continue to get older, I could just as easily say, “I’m seeing some weight gain and high blood pressure now, and I might get heart disease later, or I might not. I might still be able to fix the high blood pressure, or I might not. I could exercise more and watch my diet and still die of cancer, or I might live healthier longer.” On the whole, it makes sense to take some proactively healthy steps.

Your right, the debate is not closed, but we can debate anything forever. The debate is not over, and debate is good and important, but as is the case with most things, we cannot wait until the debate is concluded before we attempt to address the problems at hand. We can make the perfect the enemy of the good, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.
November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian in AK
Fair enough - I did gloss over the paragraph where you said that you don't claim to know the cause.

Here's the thing that really disturbs me. Even though there's a debate among scientists, those want to make sweeping changes to the economy based on global warming are pretending as though there is no debate. President Obama said "The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season"

Al Gore calls those who disagree with his movie members of the flat Earth society. That's not the language of debate. That shuts down debate. And that is why people are skeptical.

Rahm Emanuel said himself in what I find to be a staggeringly cynical admission that the administration's philosophy is "never let a crisis go to waste". I think they are finding a perceived crisis equally useful.

Your taking healthy steps analogy would apply were it not for the fact that the changes that are being proposed (such as cap and trade) are HUGE and will have an absolutely crippling effect on innovation and the economy. And the government will grow. And grow. And grow.
November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKnucklehead
...and to put all my cards out on the table, I'm starting to have real doubts about this so called "George Washington" guy too!
November 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKnucklehead

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