Global Warming Doom and Gloom, Real or Propaganda?
Are you concerned about disease, threats to ecosystems, sweltering heat, or rising sea levels? Do you believe these perils will result from human fossil fuel burning causing "global warming?" If your answer to these two questions is "yes," then you've been had.
"Higher temperatures threaten dangerous consequences: drought, disease, floods, lost ecosystems. And from sweltering heat to rising seas, global warming's effects have already begun ..." so begins the propaganda campaign to mislead readers of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) web site.
Let's examine this fear-mongering a little more closely:
No doubt, many midwesterners who are experiencing an unusual mid-summer heat wave would be quick to jump to the mistaken conclusion that their sweltering heat is due to "global warming." In reality, the cause of the unusual heat wave is the coincidence of the time of summer's peak heat with an unusually strong and persistent high pressure weather feature that has been stationary over that area for weeks. Weather, not climate, is responsible for the unusual heat. A high pressure dome that extends well into all levels of the atmosphere can produce tremendous heating if it becomes stationary during peak summer months. This is because air at the center of a high pressure area sinks and sinking air is heated (due to the physical property that a given volume of any gas, air, will heat up as the pressure increases). Because high pressure areas are normally relatively cloud-free, the combined effects of a stationary weather pattern, solar radiation, sinking air, and maximum summer heat can produce unusually high temperatures for prolonged periods. But such warming is weather-related and not the result of climate change.
Someone needs to inform the folks at the NRDC that ecosystems are never permanent. The very narrow view of the NRDC that treats stability of ecosystems as something permanent betrays an abysmal understanding of normal climate change and tectonic plate movement. Both climate change and tectonic plate movements are natural forces that have been changing ecosystems since before Earth was capable of supporting life forms. The NRDC suggests that climate should not change. On what basis is this assumption made? Climate historically warms and cools. Earth has experienced far warmer and far cooler climate than our current climate. Climate is a dynamic process that is normally in a state of change for any variety of reasons. Because climate and climate change are long term processes, humans are easily fooled into believing climate is static and does not (or should not) change. Such a belief is far too common and a reason why so many people can be fooled by charlatans trying to sell their doom and gloom prophecies of human-caused global warming disasters.
Plate tectonics can cause land masses to increase, decrease, rise, fall, or simply move relative to the local micro-climate (see USGS Understanding plate motions). When an ecosystem changes due to any of the many natural forces that can affect it, any life forms that cannot adapt will perish. Change is the nature of evolution. To resist such change is to stand in the way of natural processes, including evolution.
Those concerned about damage to plant life should consider the words of Dr. Robert C. Balling, Jr. (professor in the climatology program at Arizona State University, specializing in climate change and the greenhouse effect) in Give a Hoot, Don't (Call it) "Pollute" where he writes:
CO2 comes from the Earth itself. The gas is produced naturally by hot spots in the crust that we see as volcanoes or fissures under the sea. The outgassing from the crust has occurred throughout the Earth's five billion year history and continues to this day. Had you visited the Earth 3.5 billion years ago, you would have found atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 70,000 parts per million (ppm) as opposed to the current value near 378 ppm. Over most of the history of the Earth, CO2 levels were very much higher than the level we see today. ... During glacial times, often forced by changes in the Earth's orbit, the oceans would hold more CO2, and the atmospheric levels of the gas would fall. During the most recent glaciation (the one that ended around 12,500 years ago), atmospheric CO2 levels dropped to under 200 ppm which is perilously close to the 100 ppm level below which plants would no longer be capable of photosynthesis and the global ecosystem would suffocate. If someone is concerned about dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2, going low is far more dangerous than going high! ... Plants all over the planet evolved when atmospheric CO2 levels were very much higher than what we have today. Literally thousands of biological experiments show that when atmospheric CO2 levels increase, plants grow faster, bigger, more resistant to any number of stresses, and far more water-use efficient. In many ways, plants must feel like they are going home to a world in which they evolved with CO2 levels up to ten times what we have today. In order to make CO2 more sinister, claims are made that ragweed and poison ivy will grow more vigorously in the future, and indeed they will. But so will every tree in the forest, grasses in our rangelands, and every agricultural crop.
This is perhaps the most common of the grossly exaggerated claims. Sea levels are not going to rise to the point where they'll drown coastal cities because of the carbon dioxide produced by human enterprise. First, the connection between the extent of any climate change (warming) and increased CO2 from human activity has never been established. It is simply assumed that observed increased CO2 is entirely the result of human activity. While it is certain that some of the increased CO2is the result of human enterprise, it is a stretch to assume it is entirely due to human activity (see above). Further, the assumption that temperatures will warm directly in proportion to the amount of additional atmospheric CO2 is a gross oversimplification of the greenhouse effect and reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the complex greenhouse warming process.
Claims of rising seas inundating coastal regions are often accompanied by pictures of icebergs calving from the face of Greenland or Antarctic glaciers. The suggestion is that icebergs are the result of melting glaciers, due, of course, to global warming from human activity. While icebergs can form as a retreating glacier melts, once the glacier retreats to the edge of land, icebergs will no longer be formed. A far more common cause of icebergs is the result of thickening snow depths that produce an advancing glacier that pushes out over the open sea. At some point, this river of ice will begin to break up and the result is the calving of icebergs.
Is Antarctica's ice cap melting due to global warming? Is Greenland's glacial cap melting due to global warming? The data suggest just the opposite! Both the Antarctic ice cap and Greenland's glacial cap are actually thickening.
Those arguing that global warming is an overblown issue have been claiming for years that "consensus" forecasts of sea-level are equally overwrought. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a global average rise of from 3.5 to 34 inches by 2100, with a central estimate of 19 inches. Depending upon how you slice or dice the data, the last century saw maybe six inches.
Critics have long argued that these changes require a substantial net melting of some combination of the world's two largest masses of land-based ice, Antarctica and Greenland. In addition, they note that observed global warming is right near the low end of the U.N.'s projections, which means that realized sea level rise should be similarly modest.
Warmer water evaporates more moisture. The colder the land surface over which that moisture passes, the more it snows. So, Antarctica as a whole should gain snow and ice. Last year, C.H. Davis published a paper in Science about how this accumulating snowfall over East Antarctica was reducing sea level rise. This year, Duncan Wingham, at the 2005 Earth Observations summit in Brussels, demonstrated the phenomenon is observed all over Antarctica.
Greenland is more complex. In 2000, William Krabill estimated the contribution of Greenland to sea level rise of 0.13 mm per year, or a half an inch per century. That's not very much different than zero. Just last month [October 2005], using satellite altimetry, O.M. Johannessen published a remarkable finding in Science that the trend in Greenland ice is a gain [emphasis added] of 5.4 cm (two inches) per year.
Almost all of the gain in Greenland is for areas greater than 5000 feet in elevation (which is most of the place). Below that, there is glacial recession. It shouldn't be lost on anyone that because no one ventures into the hostile interior of Greenland, all we see are pictures of the receding glaciers near the coast!
Nevertheless, the folks at the NRDC wring their hands and worry about oceans inundating coastal cities. Nonsense!
Drought, disease, floods:
These claims could be made even more strongly about the effects of global cooling. Cooling locks moisture in ice and snow, thus creating drought conditions as there is less moisture held in the atmosphere. Disease is far more likely in times of stress due to severe and prolonged winter cold. While floods may not be as likely, heavy and persistent snows would be. Snowfall amounts would trigger advancing glaciers (frozen floods, if you prefer) that would theaten mountainous villages with avalanches and the prospect of being crushed under a river of ice.
There is no doubt that climate shifts will always have some effects on living organisms ... just as they have for several billion years. It is a huge leap to suggest that an historically modest increase in atmospheric CO2 will somehow be devastating to life on Earth when such shifts have not had a similar effect in the past.
Consider the relativel populations of Greenland and Antarctica as contrasted with heavily populated tropical regions. Contrast the number of people who flock to tropical areas during temperate winters with the number of people who vacation in Greenland and Antarctica during summer! Which would you find more hospitable?
Whether on the web page of the NRDC or in propaganda films by Al Gore or Tom Brokaw, you'll see the same crowd trying desperately to frighten people with such gloom and doom prophecies. Those who believe such nonsense do so at their own peril.
Bob Webster, a 12th-generation descendent of both the Darte family (Connecticut, 1630s) and the Webster family (Massachusetts, 1630s) is a descendant of Daniel Webster's father, Revolutionary War patriot Ebenezer Webster, who served with General Washington. Bob has always had a strong interest in early American history, our Constitution, U.S. politics, and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican with objectivist and libertarian roots. He has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for all high school students so they can appreciate the cost of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.
A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.