Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Climate change: my view

A dear old friend of mine sent me a link to this article published in the UK paper The Daily Express, perhaps thinking he would be making a crucial point.


My emailed reply, below.

Media Matters discussion of that article

Wikipedia's well researched article on scientific opinion on climate change

I'm not a climate scientist, but when I see people kicking around this issue as a political football, I know it's being hijacked.

Have human beings significantly polluted fresh water supplies in many industrialized places, affecting aquifers, rivers, and lakes? I think we can find an unambiguous answer to that. Do all those toxic elements in our water supply pose a risk to the health of people? I think an answer could be found for that.

Have human beings overfished the oceans, so that certain fish stocks that once fed millions are now on the brink of extinction? I think we can find a scientific, unambiguous answer for that.

Have human beings through their burning of fossil fuels and other carbon-producing activities added tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, and is that increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reasonably explained by this activity? Most climate scientists who are collecting and analyzing historical climate data say "yes". Is this very large and measurable change in the atmosphere going to have consequences for the environment? Most scientists who collect and study data for agriculture, for forestry, for oceans, for glaciers, for climate, for health, and so on: these people say "holy smokes, all that carbon dioxide, it's going to have an effect. We can read the effects of high levels of carbon dioxide in the fossil record, and it's quite interesting and illustrative of what is likely to happen."

Do climate scientists understand well how climate works, in all its details? Most would reply with a resounding "no". That's why scientists come up with various models of what might happen in the future, given today's data and trends, including both heating up of the climate (this scenario is called "global warming") and an impending ice age, due to the collapse of the gulf stream conveyor, and its cousin in the Pacific. They're not exclusive scenarios; they may play out in succession. Some scenarios hypothesize there will be little effect; that the oceans will absorb the extra carbon dioxide, tending toward maintaining a stasis. They're not a majority, but as far as I know, their views are respected and reviewed by scientific bodies according to the quality of their data and analysis.

Does climate change on its own? Heck, yes. Has the earth seen much vaster alterations of climate, far beyond anything that human beings can wreak? Many times. Do we expect that the earth will undergo many future, enormous changes in climate, topography, and geology, not in any way brought on by the activity of human beings? But of course. We are speaking of geological time, which has very little meaning for human beings. We having been organizing ourselves culturally for about 10,000 years, around which time there was a marked stabilization in climate, when the last ice age came to an end, creating the conditions for agriculture.

On the other hand, as some of us know beyond a doubt, God gave the earth to the spawn of Adam and Eve, to bring forth its bounty as a reward for the sweat of their brow. Nothing in there about running out of fish.

My view:
Given all the above, I know that human beings never change what they're doing until they can't do it any more; until the negative consequences of their actions and philosophy have so over-encumbered them that they simply have to stop (and in many cases, die.) I do think human beings are tremendously resourceful and adaptive, and after they've destroyed their environment they'll probably think of something, and this will be a very different kind of earth at that point.

I know human beings will die out, and if they kill themselves off, well, we've been killing ourselves off for a good long time now, so that's nothing to get too excited about. No one cares about the Incas, because there are no Incans left to care. Are our modern lives so wonderful, so delightful, that we can't bear to see them end? Most people are simply interested in making more money, in surrounding themselves with greater security, and trying to ensure greater security and resources for their offspring. That being so, the political ideas of some people seem diametrically opposed to the future well being of the generations to come, but those conflicts of vision, about what secure life or quality of life for future generations requires, won't be resolved until there's blood in the streets, or until voices are quelled by large terrors, mostly manufactured and media-aped. Bogey men are politically instrumental for stable government.

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