Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Let's chat about global warming

With most of the United States in a severe cold spell and TV watchers introduced to the term "Polar Vortex," this seems like a good time to talk about climate change and global warming.

Goodness, where to start? A young woman reporter stood somewhere in the blowing snow and announced that she was freezing in places she didn't know could be frozen. (Comic Jon Stewart had fun with that.) An expedition investigating the disappearance of Antarctic ice became stuck in Antarctic ice. I have seen two separate comments suggesting that  Al Gore's"fat ass" relates somehow to the global warming "hoax." A recent football game was played in the cold.

The climate issue isn't new. Long ago, back in the '70s or '80s, we had a bitterly cold January, and Time magazine ran a cover story asking if we were entering a new ice age. Since then, we have had some of the hottest summers on record. Anecdotes, anecdotes, anecdotes. You can find them to support whatever position you like. The trouble is, we can't base long-term conclusions on daily or even annual weather. That's like standing in the middle of the Sahara and concluding that the whole world must be a desert.

I'm not a climate scientist, but I respect what they have to say. They've been gathering data for many decades, and that data is incredibly complicated. Al Gore's presentations on global warming moved me not one iota, but I am even less interested in the mockery that comes out of Fox News. I would rather listen to scientists directly and tune out everyone else who looks only for data to support their conclusions.

So here's my understanding, after imperfectly filtering out a lot of noise. The climate is changing. It has always been changing. We did not get the Great Lakes, billions of smooth boulders and countless other geological features from a static climate. We got them from ice that covered the continents and then shrunk. So without human interference, we would likely be transitioning at Earth's own pace toward another ice age. But in the 1800s we humans launched the Industrial Revolution, changing the mix of chemicals in the atmosphere and affecting the climate. Are we getting warmer or colder? Warmer, apparently, if we credit scientific measurements of ocean temperatures over the years. Yet we keep getting spikes both hotter and colder. We have summers with dozens of hurricanes and summers with nearly none. Ocean levels appear to be rising, and polar bears appear to be losing their habitat. Indicators suggest to me a general warming trend, but that doesn't mean I "believe in" global warming. I believe in science and in data. Lots and lots of data.


Rick Bylina said...

You're right. Climate change is not a singular event or even a yearly adjustment. It's the trend. Climate has and will always change, the big difference this time seems to be the artificial effect humans are having on the rate of change. Can nature compensate for the rapidity of the change? Juries out, but the evidence is damning per most scientists and dead dinosaurs.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't believe in global warming, but I do believe the climate is changing, and it has always been changing one way or the other.

Cairn Rodrigues said...

Even if the industrial revolution hasn't contributed to climate change and it's just a natural thing done on the planet's schedule, I'm glad the worrying about it caused us to rethink how we treat our planet. Those of us who aren't fracking anyway.