Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Global Alarming

The theory of evolution has an interesting relationship to the concept of “global warming.” There is very little public policy debate about evolution these days that has the potential to affect all of us the way the debate about global warming does. In fact, regardless of whether the theory of evolution is true or not (I tend to believe it's mostly true, but that's another discussion for another time), we mitigate against the mechanism. The most strident form of public policy debate regarding evolution is whether it ought to be taught in public schools. I’m sure it does creep into other discussions. But the point is, no one is running around saying that if we don’t do something about evolution soon, we as a species are going to be wiped out. If evolution is true, we ARE going to be wiped out. Our species will evolve into something different over time. We don’t know whether it will be something better or worse. Interestingly enough, attempts to control disease and predation may slow the rate at which our evolution occurs. But the reason that occurs is secondary to the belief in the reality of evolution itself. We just simply don’t like to be eaten and we like to live with as few privations as possible. We attempt to control those things to our immediate preferences.

The theory of global warming is different. The people who are pushing for its acceptance are also saying without much equivocation that it is all bad, that we are doomed because of it. Global warming is not just viewed as a part of the phenomenon of nature, like evolution. It’s all man-made, and worse, it’s all made by evil, greedy capitalist European-descendent men of the West. This is not something that nurturing women like Oprah Winfrey contribute to. The driving political agenda behind this almost deters us from actual serious inquiry because it focuses more on the assignment of blame as opposed to the assignment of cause. We might be able to learn something of importance and respond responsibly if it weren’t for the Chicken Little and Boy Who Cried Wolf nature of the rhetoric employed by the current driving forces of the political agenda.

Personally, I’ve never had to deal with the emotionally traumatic idea that global warming might be true like some people who come to the conclusion that evolution might be true in contrast to specific Biblical interpretations or in contrast to right-leaning platforms. It just seems evident to me that the earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling. It happened before. It will reverse itself again. It will happen yet again. I believe that global warming is occurring. The questions that remain to be answered are:
  • What (or in the current up-cycle, who) is causing global warming? 
  • Is global warming bad for everyone? 
  • Do we understand why it is occurring?
  • Is CO2 the actual physical substance that drives the mechanism?
  • If CO2 does, does that make CO2 a pollutant, even though a significant portion of life breathes it and relies on it for life?
  • If CO2 is not the culprit at the chemical layer, and water vapor is, will we declare water vapor to be a pollutant? Should we outlaw clouds?
  • How long will global warming last (...again. This isn’t the first time it’s happened.)? 
  • If we observe the phenomena but can’t accurately explain the mechanism, will attempts to control it produce even worse unforeseen effects? 
  • How long will it take us to observe the effects of our efforts? 
  • Who specifically should pay for the mitigation? 
  • How much should they pay?

Here’s an interesting op-ed written by a guy who claims he was an atmospheric scientist. I think he might have been. So he might be qualified to make some publicly distributed informed opinion about the issue. In other words, he’s not a second rate politician using this as a platform to advance a comeback in his career. He has some actual training in interpreting the data. Admittedly, I don’t think he is currently conducting primary research.

It’s long, so if you don’t want to read the whole thing, just scroll down to the bottom third entitled “Summary - ...” and read from there. Down near the bottom is another addendum entitled “You’re going to love this.” It’s a picture of skin-layer (top 1 mm) thermal activity surrounding the Antarctic ice shelf. In today’s news at National Geographic there is an ominous story about the ice shelf breaking off with this opening statement: “New satellite images reveal what scientists call the ‘runaway’ collapse of an enormous ice shelf in Antarctica as the result of global warming.” I guess National Geographic forgot to compare their hypotheses against this data set from NASA. If you look at the NASA photographs, you can see that the warming occurs most intensely around the peninsula only and that the interior cooling occurs all the way out to the edges of the continent. There may also be some contributing effects caused by increased local geothermal activity. National Geographic didn’t inform you of that information, though. It’s “...the result of global warming.”

Of course we can all go to our cherished links of editorials and data that prove our position without regard to the disconfirming rationale and data of other sites, much like second rate Bible students do to support some special theological position supported by isolated verses. Of course I want to avoid that. But National Geographic's conclusions compared against the NASA data seems specious. Consider this:
  • The most intense warming trend is around the peninsula, where the ice shelf broke off this morning.
  • The right side of the continent experiences gentle warming.
  • The majority of the continent is cooling or unchanged.
  • The middle is cooling as rapidly as the left peninsula is warming.
  • The left side of the peninsula doesn’t even warm up gradually to the intense area. It’s unchanged! The heat is not accumulating from remote locations.
  • In other words, the intense warming is almost entirely due to something local, not global.

So I’m all for serious debate and inquiry about the cause of global warming as a climatic phenomenon. I think it’s a good thing to know how and why our earth behaves the way it does. But I am totally put out with hysterical rants and false assignment of every significant phenomenon to global warming, especially when those who make the loudest rants and obvious non-sequiturs are the people who have been revealed over and over to have a political/economic agenda that potentially will hurt you and me much sooner than we know with any certainty that the effects of global warming ever will.

That’s the deal, man.

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