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Climate Change: Let's Get Real
Scam? No, it isn't.
The Climate is Changing
The climate is changing: this is a fact. The point is not debatable. Anyone claiming that climate change is not real, is a hoax, is a scam, or is witchcraft is detached from reality. They are insane. This is not a rhetorical attack. I am not calling these people insane in the same sense that I might call someone a jerk. I am stating that anyone who denies that the climate is changing is suffering from a serious psychological break with reality.
This represents one extreme. The other extreme that believes the whole of global climate change (or perhaps the vast majority) is human driven. Such people point to the pollutants that man expels into his environment and attempt to establish causation while illustrating (at most) correlation.
Even a superficial perusal of history demonstrates that the climate of the world has shifted — becoming warmer or cooler over time — completely independent of human activity (or even human existence).
The idea that humans are the primary cause of climate change is (in my opinion) not true.
Despite the fact that climate change is obvious and observable there remain those that claim otherwise. How can someone deny the undeniable? The answer, it turns out, is simple. There are two groups of people who deny climate change:
- The Powerful: these people read the reactions of the extremists and see the carbon taxes and other power-grabbing schemes proposed to combat man-made climate change. The impacts of these proposals inspire fear. They fear the loss of money and power if the so-called solutions are implimented. As a result, they put forth the idea that the whole thing is a hoax (this is a dangerous point of view to take). The even provide evidence for their untenable position. This is much akin to tobacco companies putting forth evidence that cigarettes are not addictive.
- The Conservative base. So much of this group is more than willing to believe liberals are stupid, that all it takes is the powerful suggesting it to make it so in their minds. Powerful people put forth their trumped up evidence (including the occasional piece showing how a group of overzealous scientists were willing to falsify temperature data) and the meme is solidified. Liberals, they will tell you, are elitists attempting to use climate change as a vehicle for wealth redistribution.
With that, let me set to rest the idea that the climate of this planet is not changing. To the right is a look at the average (mean) amount of sea-ice coverage the arctic region has had during the month of February in the years 1979 to 2014. The blue 'trend line' is rather remarkable. In the last 35 years, the amount of ice coverage has been reduced by over one million square kilometers. An approximately 6% reduction. In 35 years.
This is not data that has been faked or shifted by some scientist attempting to maintain his research grant. This is the observed data collected via satellite over the last 35 years as the National Snow and Ice Data Center tracks conditions in the arctic. The data collected by NASA is similar. Perhaps even more disturbing (see below).
Arctic sea-ice coverage has dropped ~10% in the winter months; ~5% in the spring months, ~15% in the summer months; and ~20% in the autumn months. This is real. This is not deniable.
"This is the arctic!" you say. "Why do I care about the ice coverage in the arctic?" you ask. Here are a few reasons it matters.
Albedo is a measure of how reflective something is. Lightly colored objects reflect more heat and light than darker colored objects. Overall, the earth has an albedo of 0.39 — the earth reflects 39% of the light and heat that strikes it; it absorbs 61% of the heat and light. While the arctic ice is prevalent, the poles are white. When the coverage shrinks, the coloration of the poles darkens.
Now, imagine you are in a barren desert. The sun is beating down on you and the heat outside is oppressive. You have a choice of two cars you can use to drive across this wasteland. Do you want the light colored car (e.g., white, silver), or the dark colored car (e.g., black, dark-gray)?
Like your circulatory system moved blood around your body, the oceans act as a heat transference system using a system called Thermohaline Circulation. In other words, the current climate conditions of the arctic impact the current climate conditions world-wide. Heat absorbed (or the lack there-of) in the arctic has a drastic impact on the heat transferred (or dissipated) by this system.
When you combine the two things above — less ice means more heat absorbed; more heat means a shift in the way the ocean currents move heat around — what you get is more severe weather.
Weather is, at its most basic, an attempt by the earth to re-balance some system that has gotten out of balance. Cold and hot air mix in specific ways, and what you get is a typhoon or hurricane. Mix in another way, along with variations in pressure, and you get a tornado.
When scientists first started talking about climate change, they called it global warming. This is an accurate term. However, when laymen would see temperatures unusually cold in a particular place, they would ask how global warming could make something colder. They would laugh, even, at the elitist scientists for their odd theory. This is ignorance (an ignorance I was guilty of for many years).
When the temperature at the poles warms up, it means that the engine that moves heat around the world (ocean currents, above) speeds up. As water currents and air flows speed up, the extremes of our weather will be pushed. It also means that the pathways they once took get moved — just like a river with too much water, it will over-flow its banks, or change course all together. Places that might have gotten warmer may become hotter instead; places that might have gotten cooler may become colder instead.
But this is not all! Places that might have gotten warmer may dip into cooler or colder; places that might have gotten cooler rise into warmer or hotter. As these things shift, weather patterns change. Storms brew up as hot and cold air mix in ways and in places they had not mixed before. And so on.
Quaternary glaciation also known as the Pleistocene glaciation or the current ice age, refers to a series of glacial events separated by interglacial events during the Quaternary period from 2.58 million years ago to present. During this period, permanent ice sheets were established in Antarctica and perhaps Greenland, and fluctuating ice sheets occurred elsewhere (for example, the Laurentide ice sheet). The major effects of the ice age are erosion and deposition of material over large parts of the continents, modification of river systems, creation of millions of lakes, changes in sea level, development of pluvial lakes far from the ice margins, isostatic adjustment of the crust, and abnormal winds. It affects oceans, flooding, and biological communities. The ice sheets themselves, by raising the albedo, effect a major feedback on climate cooling. — Wikipedia
So if it is a forgone conclusion that the climate of the earth is changing, how can someone state (definitively) that man is — or is not — the root cause? He cannot. What he can say is that the odds of man having a significant impact is very, very low. Consider:
The earth has undergone at least four major ice ages:
- The Huronian Ice Age started ~2.4 billion years ago, and lasted ~300 million years.
- The Cyogenian Ice Age started ~850 million years ago, and lasted ~200 million years.
- The Andean-Saharan Ice Age started ~460 million years ago, and lasted ~30 million years.
- The Karoo Ice Age started ~360 million years ago, and lasted ~100 million years.
In each of these events, the earth's climate severely shifted to become vastly colder than it had been. And over time, it shifted again to be much warmer. And man did not even exist.
Homo-sapiens arrived on the earth ~200 thousand years ago. The Karoo Ice Age ended ~260 million years ago. Man had nothing to do with climate change then. Nothing at all.
We are in an ice age now, known as the Quaternary Glaciation. It is not clear if this is a major ice age (since it has many glacial events separated by inter-glacial events; see right). But the fact remains: the climate cooled without man; the climate has shown time and again man is not necessary for it to warm up again.
You might be thinking: "Just because man is not needed for the climate to change does not mean he is not involved. Certainly man can be contributing to the current climate shift." You are quite right. Proving man is not a required component does not prove man is not a component. But if you are going to claim that man is a primary component of global climate change, you are going to need to explain to me how he is having an impact on he climate of Venus. And Mars.
Venus and Mars are both undergoing climate change; both are warming up. Could this be man-made? Is the fact that the ratios of temperature shift are in keeping with current model predictions based on distance from the sun and density of the atmosphere (as compared to earth) mean that (perhaps) the primary cause of climate change is solar-based, not man-based? I think this is a safe bet.
If, for example, Earth climate changes were drastically faster than those of Venus and Mars (adjusted for distance and atmospheric density), I could see an argument for man being (if not the primary) a significant contributor. But the evidence is simply not there to support such a claim.
The Rational Response
I believe the climate is changing. I believe this is obvious and observable. You have to be willfully ignorant to deny it. I believe man is not the primary (or even a significant) contributor of this effect. Does this mean I believe man should continue on his merry way? Does this mean I think we should ignore global climate change? That we should not change his behavior?
Absolutely not. The acts of man in the modern era are abhorrent.
The point is this:
- I know global climate change is real.
- I believe man is not the cause.
As long as there remains even the smallest possibility that man is involved, we owe it to ourselves and our children to do as much as we can to curb it. But (and this is the most important point here), even if we are not involved, we owe it to ourselves and our children to have the smallest ecological footprint possible.
It is in our best interest to limit pollution. Assume that I am right — nothing we do will speed up or slow down global climate change. This does not render us immune to its effects! This does not render us immune to the other effects of pollution.
No den animal would pollute his living and eating space; yet we have the Scherer Power Plant in Georgia which throws out as much pollution as the entire state of Maine. This plant is the probable cause of elevated radon and uranium levels in the area; could this be why the rates of cancer in the area surrounding the plant are so much higher than the national average?
We need to prepare! Why, after Hurricane Katrina, did we rebuild New Orleans? This is insane! New Orleans is a coastal city with a mean elevation below sea level! We know the sea levels will rise! We know the Gulf Coast will produce hurricanes! Why would you not prepare for this? As temperatures rise, so will the sea. But we have time. It is a finite time, to be sure; but we have time to act. We are wating that time.
Why are we not moving people inland?
Why are we not taking places like coastal Florida and moving all permanent structures inland to higher ground while re-imagining the coastal regions to make them more tolerant of extreme weather events and adaptable to a changing ocean level?
We are the most technologically advanced species on the planet. Common sense suggests: with that title comes the responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.