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Global Warming (Monday, November 8, 2004)

Global warming is one of my biggest pet peeves. While there is no doubt that the Earth is currently experiencing a warming trend, it is very arrogant and short-sighted to assume that the effect is entirely caused by humans, and that the effect is permanent and worsening (in a dangerous or abnormal way).

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average surface temperature of the Earth has varied widely, from ice ages to inter-glacial periods. In fact, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's section on Earth research, the average temperature has been, at times as much as 10 degrees cooler, and at times up to 20 degrees warmer than it is today.

NOAA has a straight-forward discussion of the actual facts related to the current global warming trend. One thing that it states over and over again, is that between thirty and one hundred years of data if completely insufficient to draw long term conclusions about climatic trends.

The NOAA data shows that there has been a decrease in Arctic sea-ice since 1973, but it also shows a slight increase in Antarctic sea-ice. While the study commissioned by ACIA might be an accurate short term predictor of local Arctic trends, they simply do not have enough data to make longer term global predictions.

It is very reactionary and irresponsible to completely ignore the paleoclimatic history of significant variations in average temperature, along with other factors that can account for variations in average temperature, such as solar activity, the El Nino phenomenon, and localized hydrological changes.

All that aside, it is true that the current trend is toward warming. The ACIA study makes a prediction that if current trends continue, that the global sea level could rise by 23 feet over the next one thousand years. But the data for climate trends that they use to make this prediction spans a scant 30 year period. There is evidence that solar output varies on a short 22 year cycle, localized within even longer cycles. Thirty years simply is not enough data to predict the trends for the next 1,000 years.

The more localized, short term predictions, which may be more accurate, indicate an average rise in sea level of between nine and eighty-eight centimeters over the next one hundred years. This is not insignificant, but it will not wash away New York City, even in the worst case. The average temperature of the Earth has increased by about 0.6 degrees Celsius in the past 100 years, though most of that has been over the past 25 years. But the warming has not been uniform — and some regions, such as the South Eastern United States, have cooled over the same time period.

So, yeah, we're releasing lots of greenhouse gases, and yes it is contributing to global warming, but it is not catastrophic. It would be highly beneficial to substantially cut back on the emission of greenhouse gasses, and replace our inefficient reliance on non-renewable resources with better alternative energy sources. However, the Earth will probably not be permanently affected (on a geological scale) by the release of greenhouse gases over a period of less than three hundred years, and even if one day, conditions on the planet no longer support human life, that would be bad for humanity, but inconsequential to the Earth — eventually, the planet would stabilize, and new life would evolve. But certainly, fossil fuels will be replaced by alternative sources of energy, long before any cumulative effects are so sweeping that the Earth could no longer sustain human life.

This will require objective scientific reporting, not short-term localized studies designed to generate an emotional response. Time and money must be invested in paleoclimatic studies and long term models. Time and money must be invested on alternative fuels. While our goals are the same, I simply can't approve of reactionary, sensationalist press.

—Brian (11/8/2004 10:46 PM)
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