Global Warming

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Politics, Science

by maria on 03.09.2008 - 20:38  

I was reading an article about Sarah Palin, and one of the topics brought up was that Sarah Palin doesn't believe global warming is man-made. I think that her opinion is actually irrelevant to the debate, (although a bit disturbing, but we'll save that for a different post). I think the global warming controversy generally presented in the media is a bit off. The two questions that I hear being disputed are 1) Is gobal warming real? and 2) are humans responsible for it? I think the first one has been shown to be quite believable, and we need to stop debating it already. But, I think the second question is just the wrong question, and should be instead, Can we, and should we, do anything about it, no matter why it is happening? To answer the should question, we need to ask, how much damage is global warming really doing to our planet and to our children's futures? But, let us set aside the question of damage for a minute, and assume we believe the effects of global warming will be catastrophic. Can we do anything about it?

To find out the answer to that we need to know what is causing global warming. From Wikipedia:

The Earth's climate changes in response to external forcing, including variations in its orbit around the Sun (orbital forcing),[15][16][17] changes in solar luminosity, volcanic eruptions,[18] and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

Ok, so of those, the one that we could possibly affect is atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Next question: do we want to change the volume of greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere? That is the million dollar question. Changing the amount of greenhouse gasses we are putting into the atmosphere is the most likely way that we could affect global warming. So, if global warming is a serious problem, regardless of whether we caused it, we probably should do something about it. Currently, what we are doing is something that could only make it worse or have no effect (best case scenario, however improbable...). Since none of the other plants or animals on the planet are likely to start trying to do anything about greenhouse gas levels, and waiting to see if they just goes down by themselves seems a little optimistic given the current trend, we should probably try to slow way down our outpouring of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, assuming it is doing serious damage.

Let us now go back to our big unknown. Is global warming a catastrophe? We don't know. So, what do we do? One problem is that changing climate is kind of like trying to turn a very large freighter. There is a lot of lag time between starting the turn and actually having any noticeable affect. So, if we wait until it becomse obvious that we are on a path to catastrophe, it may very well be too late to do much about it. If we then add in that a lot of the the human activities responsible for green house gases are also responsible for smog and pollution, which are well documented to be causing problems to our health, it suddenly becomes a no-brainer. Why should we continue to pour these gasses into our environment at such a phenomenal rate, when we know they are harming the air we breathe, and that if we cut back we could be (maybe, of course) helping to prevent a disaster of global proportions? I like this quote from Bruno Giussani, who is quoting Bjorn Lomborg's new book "Cool It", and then adding on his own two cents:

"It's time to put the debate over whether human-driven climate change is happening behind us and instead focus on technologies to decarbonize the economy," writes Anderson. But climate change is only one of three strong reasons to do this, he adds: the others are economics (rising direct and indirect costs of oil and carbon fuels) and geopolitics (oil revenues prop up bad governments around the world).

There is a fourth reason that Anderson forgets, and which has been convincingly put forth by Al Gore in his TED2006 speech: it's a moral imperative.

Amen.


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