My wife likes to report what her tennis buddies consider the hot issues of the day. Scott Peotter will probably find it gratifying that they included his column linking global warming to privatizing trash collection (NB Indy of 8/30/13).
Of course she thinks it’s my job to set the record straight. I’ll try, but Scott touched on so many issues, I can’t cover them all in one writing. Scott was echoing Cong. Rohrabacher’s recent re-denial of global warming, so let’s begin with that and come back to trash another day.
For starters, it’s worth recalling the tobacco/cancer debate. Scientists could not put tobacco into a test tube and produce cancer cells, so the “scientific evidence” was argued for decades. Anecdotal evidence was part of it. We all knew at least one smoker who came down with lung cancer. My Dad was a lung surgeon, so I heard it all the time. To confuse things, lots of misleading data was served up by tobacco companies who had a lot to lose.
We all have anecdotal evidence on global warming. Since retiring, my wife and I have driven cross country half a dozen times through 44 states and five Canadian provinces. We’ve seen shrinking glaciers, falling lake levels, bone dry rivers, and lots of tinder dry forests devastated by bark beetles. We’ve run into numerous tornado warnings.
We also have a second home on an island in the Gulf of Mexico and can give you an earful on hurricanes. The trouble with anecdotal info is you also see record rainfalls, flash floods, and unseasonal cold spells along the way. That’s why some refer to it as climate change rather than global warming.
To muddy the water, fossil fuel companies have sponsored a raft of confusing studies.
So we have to look beyond anecdotal stuff and pseudo science to find credible scientific sources. If you’ve tried your own internet search, you know there’s a maze out there. I can’t sort it all out here, so you’re going to have to do your own homework (or assign it to the kids who have more to lose).
Three places to start:
These folks have other sites, so try to zero in. Not all the answers are on page one, so be prepared to click on key words and explore the sites. The NASA site has quite a few graphs and charts which can save reading time. For example, one chart has climate data going back 650,000 years from sources like ice borings at the south pole. It shows a dramatic jump in carbon dioxide starting in the 1950s. Natural causes were around before 1950, so we can’t blame this jump on volcanoes or leaf decay. The EPA site has a good discussion on an interior page titled “causes of climate change.”
There’s another NASA chart showing average temperature trends since 1880. Don’t know where Scott got his temperature decline since 1990 statistic, but the long-term trend is undeniably higher.
Here’s what NASA has to say: “All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.”
I am a social scientist and defer to the natural science experts on stuff like this. Here, NASA reports, “97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” They list many of these organizations on the site.
If you’re still in denial, I urge you to read more, because the cost of getting this one wrong will alter your grandchildren’s lives.
Heaven knows where Scott came up with the notion that global warming may be helpful, but if you own a house on Balboa, you might want to ask the City Council how they’re doing on that plan to raise the seawalls.