Sunday, July 02, 2006

Why We Will Face Severe Global Warming

OK, this post is going to be about global warming. I have my flak jacket on and I can take it. Bring it on. Unlike just about everyone I know who talks about this issue, I HAVE DONE THE MATH. So there.

As a student at the Naval Postgraduate School from 1989-1992, I took a mandatory class for my major on remote sensing of the Earth's environment. We spent some weeks of that course (OC3520 - which now seems to be called OC3522) going over the detailed evidence for and against global warming. The result at the time (1990) was that the statistics were inconclusive - global warming was then a theory and more data needed to be collected to find the truth. The lack of data gave rise to NASA's Mission to Planet Earth, a series of five satellites which collected the necessary data in the mid and late 1990s. Substantial new core samples were taken in both polar regions. The supercomputer centers at the national laboratories (including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where I worked before moving to Australia) were turned from a primary mission of nuclear blast modeling (since the Cold War had ended) and put onto the modeling of the Earth's climate. I used to van pool to Livermore with the scientists doing that work. Their results, and confirmations from Russia and Europe, have shown conclusively both that global warming is occurring and that greenhouse gas emissions created by humans are the primary culprit.

The science on global warming has coalesced only in the last five years. Anyone who says that there is still substantial debate on the existence of a trend of global warming and that human pollution is largely responsible is no longer up to date. Debate remains on many smaller details, most of them related to the rate of temperature increase and what to do about it.

The scientific community is as united today on global warming and the need to urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they are on, say, evolution. That is, many scientists still debate the details and a few even object entirely, but the base concepts are quite mainstream.

Today I saw a recorded interview with Sen. James M. Inhofe (Republican from Oklahoma and chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works) who stated that the entire global warming "scare" was simply a "hoax". Later I found a floor speech by Inhofe on a Climate Change Update, in which he lays out those views in detail. Now, this guy HAS NOT done the math and possibly doesn't know anybody who has, and yet he chairs the U.S. Senate's environmental committee? Inhofe and powerful people like him simply will not listen. That is why the United States, as the world's largest contributor to global warming, will not sign the Kyoto Protocols. That is why Gore's movie is falling on deaf ears. President George Bush has even stated that he won't see The Inconvenient Truth. In short, that is why global warming will devastate a substantial percentage of the world's biodiversity in our lifetimes and we will sit back and watch it happen. No amount of talking can cure an ignoramus.

Part of the problem is that climate change is treated as a split issue in the popular press, but not in scientific journals. This article in Science, for example, describes a study of 928 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts which agreed that global warming was occuring and that humans were responsible. Contrast that with Google Trends, which shows no increase in Internet searches for the topic for the last couple of years. People, it would seem, are happily following the tragedy of the commons right into the future. It is not that humans aren't predictable, they are all too predictable. They (we!) simply don't seem to want to face the consequences of our actions. But we will, like it or not.

Even if the popular press pulled their head out and the US Government decided to support Kyoto, we still live in a country too spoiled to change rapidly.

I am not just talking about doing something. My family has planted trees and bushes in the last four houses we have owned. We installed solar hot water heating in one house and are investigating options for doing it in our new house. Neither I nor my wife drive much - we work from home. We grow some of our own herbs and have started planting vegetables. We recycle as much as we are allowed to. We use air conditioning as little as one or two days per month in summer. What are you doing?

Alas, my neighbor just cut down 69 trees. I can't undo the damage and can't even get him to discuss why that might not be a great idea. Nor can I compete.


  1. Interesting article. On a related issue -- communicating climate change issues to the public -- last night I looked up "global warming" v "climate change" in Google Trends. Here's what I found out:

  2. Why do you guys keep insisting that the debate is over, when in all reality, it isn't?

    The science is just not conclusive in regards to anything other than the fact that the earth is slowly getting warmer, and that there's more CO2. Nothing to prove that the temperature is due to things manmade.

  3. Eoin: Thanks for the link. That was a good idea.

    K: Every scientific (not media) paper that I have seen regarding the contribution to CO2 levels in the atmosphere point to humans as the major contributor. Regardless of the temperature, CO2 levels are the issue under discussion. The theory may be wrong, but the current theory suggests that increased CO2 will lead to higher average temperatures. As for Prof. Lindzen's article that you linked to, please see my response here.