Apr
12
2006

Global warming: the debate continues

Global warming has been in the news a lot lately. First, 60 scientists signed a petition asking the Canadian Prime Minister to open a scientific debate on the Kyoto Treaty. (The Kyoto Treaty is an international agreement to reduce global warming by reducing industrial emissions. Some people think the treaty has too many loopholes, and even if the loopholes were closed, it would still not be effective. The US has not signed the treaty. Science Buzz has had its own Kyoto debate.)

The scientists argue:

Much of the billions of dollars earmarked for implementation of the protocol in Canada will be squandered without a proper assessment of recent developments in climate science. …

It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. …

The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

Next, a climate researcher in Australia has looked at current climate data and found that global temperatures have been holding steady since 1998:

Two simple graphs provide needed context, and exemplify the dynamic, fluctuating nature of climate change. The first is a temperature curve for the last six million years, which shows a three-million year period when it was several degrees warmer than today, followed by a three-million year cooling trend which was accompanied by an increase in the magnitude of the pervasive, higher frequency, cold and warm climate cycles. During the last three such warm (interglacial) periods, temperatures at high latitudes were as much as 5 degrees warmer than today's. The second graph shows the average global temperature over the last eight years, which has proved to be a period of stasis.

Finally, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that there is a vicious circle between climate scientists who find evidence of global warming; environmental activists who use those findings to advance their cause; and policy makers who respond to the activists by giving more money to… the climate scientists.

(He also claims that scientists who raise doubts about global warming and human impact on climate are sometimes shut out of the debate. Science Buzz has had it’s own discussion on disagreements within the scientific community.)

So, what to make of all of this? I think the MIT professor said it well:

[L]et's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred.

This all illustrates the dynamic interaction between science and politics. Science is about facts. Politics is about opinion – what should we do in the fact of those facts? But the distinction is not always clear. Science influences political debate; and political decisions influence what science gets support. The best thing to do is to keep an open mind, remembering that most people have some sort of agenda, and that new information is coming out all the time.

(The Science Museum of Minnesota did an exhibit on global warming. You can find the website here.)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How about that global dimming? The NOVA program was interesting. Greenhouse gases are keeping the heat in, while particle pollution is keeping the sunlight/heat out by causing clouds to act like mirrors that reflect the sun away from the earth. Conclusion? Global warming would actually be worse if it weren't for particle pollution. At least that's what I got from the show.

posted on Wed, 04/19/2006 - 1:07pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:
The NOVA program was called "Dimming the Sun." Read the producer's opinion aobut why many people remain skeptical about how much global warming is due to human activities.
posted on Wed, 04/19/2006 - 1:15pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I found the comments interesting, but far from convincing. The entire global warming debate has conflated "fact" with "theory." The term "global warming" refers both to A) the undeniable fact that the Earth has gotten warmer since about 1980; and B) the controversial theory that this is caused by human activity. If someone says "I don't accept global warming," they may not necessarily be rejecting A; they may, like the 60 Canadian scientists at the beginning of this thread, simply be expressing doubts about B. The producer does not separate these two. Indeed, he too conflates them. When he says

In general, Americans seem rather more skeptical about the idea that human activity is changing the climate. ... [W]hy [do] so many people still reject an idea that must be one of the most intensively studied and widely accepted in modern science....

he starts with B -- skepticism about the theory -- and then equates that with rejection of A -- the fact of rising temperatures. This is a specious argument. It is entirely possible to acknowledge the rising temperatures while still being skeptical about humanity's role in causing them. This is precisely the position of the Canadian scientists.

The producer's claim that only three factors determine the Earth's energy balance is laughable. It may be true (though I'd like to hear it from a scientist rather than from a film producer), but each of those three is hideously complicated. A recent study has shown that adding carbon dioxide to the air will raise global temperatures a degree or two -- and then stop. After that, additional carbon dioxide will not create additional warming. The closer we look at climate, the more we find that cause and effect are far from clear-cut. Yes, you can reduce any complex problem to its essentials -- and in doing so, reduce its accuracy and validty to the point of meaninglessness.

The three reasons he gives for people's rejection of human action as the major cause of global warming are all the speculation of an armchair psychologist. It's all I think, I feel, I believe. Not one bit of evidence to objectively describe how people really do think and act in situations such as these. (Conspicuously absent is reason #4 -- many people are skeptical about human impact on global climate because so much evidence does not fit that pattern. These are the conservatives, determined to see the world as it really is.)

Finally, the article contains at least one error. Contrary to his last paragraph, the pace of global warming is not "quickening." Studies done in England show that global temperatures have levelled off and not risen since 1998.

posted on Mon, 04/24/2006 - 10:25am
Boz's picture
Boz says:

Billions are being made by "green" and Global warming interest. There is information out there both ways. Educate your self. How much do these producers make when they do there documentories? What's the next flavor an un-educated person will taste?

posted on Thu, 04/24/2008 - 8:37pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

National Public Radio's All Things Considered did a story about how two museums in Washington D.C. -- the Smithsonian and the National Academy of Sciences -- are tackling the issue of global warming. One links the phenomenon to natural warming cycles in the Arctic, while the other points to human activities.

posted on Sat, 04/22/2006 - 9:17pm
dr. warren's picture
dr. warren says:

i think that global warming is happening much faster than we think so we have to start taking action befor people become endangered.

posted on Thu, 05/11/2006 - 2:04am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think that it is going faster , because we are living in big cities and that would slow globle warming if we woould live in small towns!

posted on Thu, 05/11/2006 - 9:35am
nick's picture
nick says:

i think global warming is the worst thing thats happened to the world, i would love to stop it i think its great you guys are doing it

posted on Tue, 10/03/2006 - 2:40am
koda's picture
koda says:

i really appreciate you guys actions. in my country this problem is also very serious . i hope one day i can use what i have learn to try to prevent the globle warming, for i have witnessed too much bad effcet cuased by it. i can't bear just be a onlooker.

posted on Thu, 04/26/2007 - 5:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Global warming is natural like the seasons, the earth heats up and cools down acting like the seasons but on a larger scale.

posted on Thu, 04/26/2007 - 5:59pm
Tristan Dunn's picture
Tristan Dunn says:

I was thinking what would be the best way to help stop or even slow globle warming ? At ten years old I know that it is very serious and i know that it is already efecting the earth.I was really hopping that you would have an anser and if you do that would be graet. So I really want know . thank you very much. Tuseday May 15. 2007.

posted on Tue, 05/15/2007 - 1:54pm
peter's picture
peter says:

There is more science out hteir that shows the changes in the sun are the primary cause of climate change. WE humans are only a minute fraction of the cause, if at all.

In the 70's they were screaming that an iceage was coming.

There are very old maps of greenland that shows 2 inland. It wasnt untill the last 30 years that we found out the maps were right.

Pengins colony remains have been found that date back about 2000 years along the coast line where there is only ice now. The only way this could be is if the earth was a lot warmer then than it is now.

The list goes on and on of evidance that the earth goes through cycles of warning and cooling and the main (99%) cause is the sun.

On a final note if man is causing the climate change then why is mars also warming.

posted on Thu, 08/16/2007 - 5:33pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What do you think, folks? Is this last commenter a TROLL? Trying to incite "debate" where there is none?
-Science teacher

posted on Thu, 08/16/2007 - 7:34pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I am not familiar with the Greenland or penguin stories, but the rest of what was said is true enough.

Check out some other threads on this site and you'll find that there is in fact quite a bit of debate going on -- despite some advocates wanting to pretend there isn't.

posted on Fri, 08/17/2007 - 7:50am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

well it sure seems like there are a lot of you stuck on the whole its just a myth thing well its no myth its getting hotter the ice caps are melting big cop. like exon spend millions of dollars to argue the fact that this is going on they cloud peoples ideas trying to dis prove telling you its not as bad as it seems wen in FACT it is worse.they use people in power like bush to keep anyone from doing any thing but thats just oil cutting down rain forest and clearing land isnt helping ether.there are better ways of doing things i mean the sun is our largest renewable source of energy but it also is the least used we have become fare to dependent on oil and people are scared of change they dont wont to change there way of life so they ignore the singes in there face and the facts are just passed of as some myth or theory.well it might not affect you to day but what about you kids tomorrow. the sad truth is most people just honestly dont care and bye the time they wake up it will be too late the only thing we can do is speak out as one and each of us do a small part to try and stop or even slow down our plaints destruction unless you know some other plaint we can go live on

posted on Tue, 08/21/2007 - 4:24am
venesha's picture
venesha says:

u need to stop global warming or the whole world will be distroyed by u are a granparent it will get worse i am venesha morris

posted on Fri, 10/12/2007 - 3:19pm
Thailand's picture
Thailand says:

i think it is bad thing we are save our earth before it is not mine

posted on Thu, 01/17/2008 - 4:08am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

While "Freezing My Butt Off", I think these people that are shoving "Global Warming" down our need to take a good look at the the past events on this Earth. Our climate has changed dramaticaly due to changes in the position of our planet in the Solar System and internal conditions of our planet(Vocanic and Oceanic). Also, they are all griping about our use of fossil fuels and creating all of this "Green House Gas" when nothing is said about the deforestation taking place thoughout the world (CO2 is the gas of choice of all forests). Case in point. The Rain Forests in South America have be virtualy decimated to provide new farm land that becomes infertal within a few years(Thus, baren ground). So they go on and decimate more and no one says a word. If "Green House Gasses" are on the rise, this is part of the problem. So where is the outrage about this. When are these "Idiots" going gain some intelligents? I remember when they didn't want Nuclear Power, "We want fossil fuel power plants" . We build all of these fossil fuel power plants that spew out tons of "Green House Gasses" per hour. Just because you can't see it coming out of the stacks dosn't mean it's not there. Scrubbers only remove particulates, not gasses. Where is the "Outrage"? These same people said lets build these Windmill Farms and now they want them removed because they are killing the birds. Make up your minds, if you have minds! Look, I don't like this air polution any more than anyone else, but I really get aggrevated when these same people that are making such a big deal out of this are driving around in a vehicle (Hummer, SUV, or Oversized Pickup) that only gets 10 to 12 miles to a gallon of gas on the highway (they're all alone to boot) when I'm putting down road in a vehicle that gets almost 40 miles to the gallon. So these slugs don't need to lecture me about "Global Warming" (Mr. Gore).

posted on Tue, 01/22/2008 - 8:53pm
diamond2008's picture
diamond2008 says:

Something really need to be done about global warming because it's getting too serious

posted on Thu, 03/13/2008 - 10:09am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Actually, global temperatures have leveled off the last several years.

posted on Fri, 03/14/2008 - 10:24am
Anonymous.'s picture
Anonymous. says:

global warming? who cares

posted on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 9:50am
joe 55's picture
joe 55 says:

What the crap! Why do people think that coal is on this earth. That is a good question to answer it is not good for anything else but fuel. We should try to manage this resource but not abandon it for something that is more dangerous like nuclear. And yes you are very welcome!

posted on Wed, 04/02/2008 - 2:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i htink we should try harder to help our planet and to stop globle warming!!

posted on Sun, 09/28/2008 - 6:36pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

ok globle warming is not a Myth ok we need to stop it or were going to lose animals people sivilizations i mean who ever thinks its a myth then your so screwed up

posted on Thu, 10/29/2009 - 8:04am
abel's picture
abel says:

Save energy. Stop global warming. Greenhouse gases are made up of carbon dioxide, ozone, water vapor. Extra green house gases are made by humans. Burning coal will release more carbon dioxide. So reduce pollution. Plant more trees. Save Earth.

posted on Thu, 08/26/2010 - 3:37am

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