The issue of global warming seems to create so many arguments and the media particularly appears to be embarking upon a “fear-mongering” campaign. However, there are still some questions in my mind that need to be addressed, so I hope you don’t mind me posting a rather long item on the subject.
Is global warming as bad as it is made out to be?
In truth, no one has produced a definitive answer to this question. Scientific evidence is divided on the issue and the basis for much of the argument put forward in support of global warming can be questioned. Although I agree that we should take protective measures to care for the environment, in my view there are not enough facts to make a judgement as to how bad global warming really is. Similarly, the effectiveness and suitability of measures being taken to address the issue have not been adequately researched. To illustrate these points, it is worth looking at a sample of the specifics in more detail.
GLOBAL WARMING INDICATORS
Whilst there is evidence that carbon dioxide has an impact upon global warming, no one has yet been able to determine the exact level of impact that human activity has upon it. Are we responsible for 10% or 100%? Surely, it is important to know this because it is difficult to control something that we cannot quantify.
Even carbon dioxide is not totally to blame. If you look at the graph produced at http://www.giss.nasa.gov, entitled “Global Temperature v CO2 1940-1970, it will be noted that whilst CO2 rose consistently during that period, temperatures actually fell on a consistent basis.
2) The Melting of icecaps and glaciers.
Significant media attention is being given to stress the point that the icecaps and glaciers are melting, but is this a reality. Let us take Antarctica as an example, where it is stated that the melting is at an alarming rate. It is possible to produce scientific research results, all conducted in this century that find the opposite to be true. Below are quoted just three.
P. Doran et.al (2002). Nature 415: 517-20. “From 1986-2000 central Antarctic valleys cooled 7 degrees per decade.”
J.C. Comiso (2000). Journal of Climate 13: 1674-96. “Satellite data and ground stations show slight cooling over the last twenty years.”
D. Thompson and S. Solomon (2002). Science 296: 895-99 “Antarctic peninsular has warmed several degrees while interior has cooled somewhat. Ice shelves have retreated, but sea ice has increased.”
In terms of glaciers, it has been indicated that these are melting and withdrawing. Is this data correct? In reality, there are around 160,000 glaciers in the world, yet only seventy-nine have been studied in depth over a reasonable period. (H. Kieffer et.al. 2000. American Geophysical Union 81: 265, 270-71). Thus, the truth is that no one knows for sure. One of the prime examples used in support of the glacier melting theory is Kilimanjaro. However, this glacier has been melting since the 1800’s. It is believed by experts that deforestation is the cause of this and that, if they are replanted, the glacier will increase in size. (Betsy Mason (2003). Nature 24, November 2003).
3) Weather Worsening.
It is claimed that the weather is worsening and, in support of that claim, phenomena such as El Nino’s and Hurricanes are used as examples. El Nino’s occur about every four years and last for roughly eighteen months. However, they have been occurring for centuries and therefore precede the global warming threat. (Biorn Lomberg (2002). The Sceptical Environmentalist, Cambridge University Press.) With regard to hurricanes, a graph from http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/postdec.shtml, entitled “US Hurricane strikes by decade 1900-2004,” shows that, apart from the 1940’s, which were particularly active, strikes have not increased in number.
4) Is it global?
One also has to question where it is right to use the term global in regards to warming. Charts available from the United States Historical Climatology Network casts doubt on this. For example when comparing New York and Albany, both in New York state, it shows that for the period 1820 to 2000, New York temperatures rose 5 degrees (F) and Albany reduced by half a degree. Other data shows that there are sharp differences when comparing temperature data from the US with data from Europe and the same is the position around the world. If this proves that warming is not a global phenomena, then is it right to attack the issue with a global plan? Should it not be addressed on a localised basis?
There is two other interesting fact to come out of this chart data. One is how different reference points (span of years) can completely alter the picture. For example, if one looks at West Point for the years a) 1931-2000, b) 1900-2000 and c) 1826-2000, the temperature movement is a) a fall, b) a rise and c) no discernable difference.
The second point addresses the issue of carbon dioxide being responsible for global warming. Albany and New York are only 130 miles apart and they both have the same carbon dioxide levels. If carbon dioxide is the cause, why is it that the temperature movement in these two areas are so diverse?
There have been a number of predictions in regards to when Global warming will become a problem, how much temperatures will rise by, sea level rises etc. How accurate are these? Not very is the answer. For example, in 1988 James E. Hansen predicted that the earth would warm by .35 degrees Celsius in the following decade. The reality was that it increased by .11. That is a margin of error of over 300 percent. Similar errors have been made in other predictive research. How can we accurately predict the effect of counter measures if we cannot accurately predict the original data that these are based upon? You cannot say that a turn of 90 degrees left from due north will take you west if you do not know whether north is in the first place.
1) Alternative energy.
Internationally, there have been calls for changing the energy sources, claiming that alternatives, such as solar, wave etc. can meet our needs. This is not proven and, in addition, reports suggest that energy use will triple by 2050. Martin Hoffert et.al. (2002), in science 298 (1 November 2002) stated, “energy sources that can produce 100 to 300% of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist.”
2) Natural environment management
Whilst many attempts have been made at managing natural resources, it seems that man has not mastered this sufficiently to date. The Yellowstone Park in the US is a classic example. The intention was to create a natural environment that would last. However, what was not taken into account was the every-changing structure of nature and all that happened was that in this instance the natural environment was made worse. (See Playing God in Yellowstone Park: The destruction of America’s first National Park (1986), New York: Atlantic)
What does not seem to be allowed for in such instances is the natural balance that nature maintains. If you disturb plant and tree growth or animal population, the is a resultant cost. For example change tree species and it can have an adverse effect on wildlife and the land around it. Similarly, artificially reduce predators and the resultant increase in their prey numbers may damage the plant structure.
3) Kyoto Agreement
Many have hailed the Kyoto agreement as the most effective answer to global warming. However, even if the US were to sign up to this agreement, the reduction it would have is to reduce global warming by the year 2100 by between .04 and .28 of a degree Celsius. (See IPCC publications and Bjorn Lomberg). If the predictions of the problem are to be relied on these levels, will not sufficient to address the issue effectively.
The conclusion from this is that we simply do not know how bad global warming is. Neither can we be sure that the measures being taken to address it are effective. The problem is that if one says to a scientist “there is an issue here, can you look into it?” the natural human tendency is for research to concentrate on finding the issue, without addressing the possibility that it may not exist. Therefore, even if it is sub-conscious, the potential for data to be manipulated to prove the point exists. Similarly, if you do not accurately know the level of the problem, how can you be sure to take the correct measures to address it?
There is no doubt that more research is required, but it is also important in my view, that the conflicting data is analysed, compared and evaluated in an effort to achieve a more definitive and accurate interpretation of all the facts. Only then can we consider the best and most effective measures, if needed, to address the issues.
There is one final point I would like to make. If one accepts that there is global warming and the human race can do something about halting or reducing it, will we be able to stop the reversal at the right time? In other words, if we succeed in measures that achieve a year on year reduction of temperature, will we be in a position to stop the process at an optimum temperature level, or will the reducing measures continue, sending us into a period of global cooling that might have equally devastating effects on us and the planet?