Readers react to climate debate
Regarding the Monitor series, "Global-warming skeptics: a closer look": Having measured atmospheric transmission at various altitudes, I must raise some facts that conflict with the conclusion that global warming is human-generated.
I would like some answers to the following points: In the 1970s, there was concern about "global cooling." In 1991, a volcano in the Philippines erupted, spewing gases that covered the planet to the extent that the earth cooled by a couple of degrees. One would expect human-caused warming to have prevented this cooling. Some 10,000 years ago the glacial ice sheet that covered the US receded, but there were no automobiles or human activity significant enough to cause global warming. It was part of the natural cycle, which may be continuing today.
Some 30,000 years ago, the earth's temperature was higher than the current values reported. There were no human activities great enough to cause global warming. I do accept the probability that humanity may be a small part of the contribution, but elimination of any amount of human activity will not prevent "global warming" (though it may be a good approach to cleaner air). The climate has so many variables that by using computer programs to predict climate, one can obtain any result one wishes.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
The real possibility of global warming is too dangerous to ignore. I don't see how action taken to curtail greenhouse gases can be a bad thing. Even if global warming turns out to be a normal cycle, so what? Our air would be more breathable and our energy more sustainable as a result of actions taken to reduce global warming. The worst case would be that global warming is real, and we have to deal with the result. The best case would be that we have clean, renewable energy sources. I don't think an "oops, sorry," from [global-warming skeptics] George Taylor or Warren Meyer will really help when New York is underwater, when we can't grow food due to drought, or when violent storms kill thousands every year.
We need to have our focus away from cost. The world will run out of fossil fuels. That is an undeniable fact. It will not matter how much money you have in your pocket if there is no fuel to buy. It's past time to begin serious work on alternative, renewable energy. The longer we wait, the more expensive the solution becomes.
Mankind's history is such a small fraction of geological history that it is almost impossible to make grand conclusions about mankind's ability to irreversibly alter global weather. There are too many other factors – volcanoes, sunspots, and others – that could change things. If the fears of global warming help us alter individual and collective behavior to do a better job of limiting our resource use and damage to the planet, keep up the battle cry.
The bickering over whether scientists are certain about global warming, whether it is caused by human activity, and whether it can be modified by specific action is irrelevant. Public policy is always made with uncertainty. To do nothing is a policy. If we waited for certainty before acting, then all public policy would be to do nothing. We have to act on the probability that we can modify the possible adverse results of the increase in atmospheric carbon given the probable catastrophic results of doing nothing. Moreover, the philosophy of the physical sciences includes the precept that nothing is ever certain. Scientists remain skeptical of all theories and current findings. This does not indicate that the data is weak. It only shows that the scientists remain open-minded about new discoveries.
Theodore S. Arrington
It is, in fact, the perspectives of skeptics or deniers in the climate debate that are political. Rather than acknowledge the torrent of evidence establishing global warming and humanity's role in it, they have resorted to conspiracy theories, questionable science, and reliance on marginal uncertainties in climate science.
Their position is largely motivated by an ideological view that champions human domination of nature, unlimited material consumption, unregulated markets, and the belief that technology can shield us from any environmental problems that might arise along the way. The idea that humanity is now facing global ecological limits that require precautionary action and limits on our resource consumption and waste production is antithetical to this worldview.
Unfortunately, this ideologically motivated effort to deny anthropogenic global warming is not just the province of a skeptical fringe; it has been behind the refusal of the Bush administration and many other American politicians to take meaningful action on climate change. The real scientific debate is over; if skeptics still want to debate the issue, they can acknowledge the science and then engage in the more legitimate moral and political debate over the degree to which society ought to address this problem.
Peter F. Cannavo
Visiting assistant professor of government, Hamilton College
The well-thought-out steps we take to reduce greenhouse gases will improve our overall quality of life.
I am thankful that the Monitor presents both sides of the greenhouse-gas story. I remain skeptical of the current conclusions of global-warming research and adhere to the view that natural heating and cooling cycles overwhelm the current impact of humans.
Returning sequestered carbon to the atmosphere is actually beneficial to life on earth. Before the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide was reaching rarefied concentrations.
This view does not excuse anyone from living responsibly and working to minimize their environmental footprint. We all benefit from high-value environmental conservation steps that are applied universally, steps such as low birth rates, effective mass transit, rooftop solar arrays, organic farming, robotic waste recovery, and use of environmentally friendly materials.
The pathology of denial seems similar to that of Earth-centrists, Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, and other small groups who are convinced that belief alone is sufficient to reverse the trend of knowledge.
While criticism and the proposal of alternative working hypotheses are central to the progress of science, repeating the same hoary, tested-and-failed hypotheses simply fogs the issue without adding anything to the discussion. Anthropogenic climate change (in addition to real nonhuman change) is real, ongoing, and irreversible within societal time scales (years to decades).
At this point, the only viable remaining debate is in regard to appropriate action. If the last major warming event (out of the most recent glaciation) is any guide, humans as a species are likely to profit rather than lose from global warming. Other species and specific groups of humans are certain to be negatively impacted.
Reasonable individual steps to reduce our contribution will also save us money, conserve rapidly depleting energy resources, and reduce some sources of international conflict – a win-win-win situation! Reasonable societal steps will also be socially beneficial in the long run.
The sooner we learn how to live with a warmer global climate, the better off we will be.
Professor of earth sciences, Montana State University