Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Global Warming, Let Cooler Heads Prevail

NASA Chief Michael Griffin apologized today for his controversial remarks last week when he said in a radio interview: "I have no doubt that ... a trend of global warming exists. [But] I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”

Though he realized belatedly the minefield he was walking into, I have news for Griffin: I agree with you. I like to think I'm not an anti-science Luddite, so I hope you believe me when I say my beef with the global warming alarmists is about how climate science has been interpreted in the public dialogue.

Griffin was spot on when he said today about the global warming debate "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical." Given the poor level of insight that most politicians (and indeed, the public as well) have about climate science, I am extremely wary about the productivity of a political situation.

After all, it seems like "global warming" to most people means something bad that happens from buying Hummers and voting Republican--and if neither bad habit is curtailed within the next few years, we're all going to die. News flash, people: a warm weekend in January 2007 isn't a doomsday symbol, it's an "anomaly", i.e. a good day to have a picnic outdoors.

While we're in a period of warming right now (which, for the past 40 years or so has been fueled by greenhouse gas emissions), I don't want to hear anyone breathlessly exclaim how this year is hotter than last year or five years ago--that is statistically irrelevant.

Some obvious facts are too often overlooked. How many people know that global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer are two entirely separate issues? Or that the Earth has experienced warming and cooling in the past, cyclically and over long periods of time (hundreds of thousands of years)?

So yes, global warming exists. We should be working to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, for both environmental and geopolitical reasons. But that doesn't mean succumbing to the hysteria that has enveloped the global warming debate. Our planet is a strong and fascinatingly complex system, and it is not one so unstable that anything we do in the near-future is going to have a permanent, "tipping point" effect.

Whatever needs to be done to adequately address global warming (and I don't think that entails anything drastic), I don't want to see economically unfeasible pipe dreams pursued, or worse yet, see Sheryl Crow's "one square of toilet paper" rule enacted.

My sentiments may come as an inconvenient truth to some political agendas, but I think the use of scare tactics with regards to global warming is disingenuous and ultimately unhelpful.



Andrew said...

I assume you've seen An Inconvenient Truth, then. I only ask because I could swear both the hot-cold cycle argument and ozone hole confusion are addressed in the movie. At any rate, I've definitely seen evidence on some article or another addressing the cyclical bit, and I've definitely heard evidence for global warming that specifically differentiated between it and the ozone hole (in fact, as I recall the hole was an example of a success story; an environmental issue caused by us but now on its way to repair due to appropriate action). Now I'm not an expert on the subject (all the actual details tend to slip in one ear and out the other), and maybe it is all blown out of proportion. But it seems like the scientific as well as political opinion has turned pretty solidly towards an environmental threat of some magnitude. So I just wonder where your opposition is coming from exactly.

phil said...

global warming = shrug. i like doing reasonable "green" things either way, but i wonder what % of people actually care about global warming these days

Jay said...

Andrew, my opposition isn't to the veracity of global warming, it's to the practicality of the solutions that some activists are pushing.

My take is that whlle global warming is a scientific problem of some importance (I say "some" because of the long, long-term nature of the issue), the politicization of global warming is misleading the public and could drive us to react counterproductively.

Regarding my mention of the ozone layer, it's been my personal experience that some people have conflated the two issues. I also mentioned the Earth's cyclical cooling and warming because many people believe that the Earth's recent (very slight) warming is unprecedented. It is not. What is unprecedented is that the current warming is thought to be attributable to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Lastly, I would describe myself as an "environmentalist" in the sense that I love the outdoors and the beauty of nature and detest pollution and lament the loss of the rainforest and all that stuff. But I think all of that is perfectly compatible with a view that questions the alarmism and hype surrounding a supposedly major and imminent threat to our planet.

* * *

Phil, I'm with you on the "reasonable" green things haha. I also think that a lot of people, maybe a majority of people, don't spend any time thinkig about global warming. However, the ones that are sounding the alarm bells are doing so VERY LOUDLY and getting lots of press attention and commanding respect from legislators. My hope is that those people do what's responsible after considering the science rationally and the potential ramifications of their proposals.

Steve said...

"Our planet is a strong and fascinatingly complex system, and it is not one so unstable that anything we do in the near-future is going to have a permanent, "tipping point" effect."

That there could very well be a tipping point is EXACTLY what scientists are heavily investigating at this point. The reason global warming is such an important issue to take action on is that it is appearing to be non-linear and accelerating. If you want to claim that talk of a "tipping point" is nonsense, back it up with science.

Dan said...

I like how most of the people who yell and scream about global warming probably couldn't even find oxygen on a periodic table...