Sunday, December 17, 2006

Global Warming: Is it too Late?

Is it time for the silent majority to take a stand on global warming?

Few would argue that the science of climate change is complex, but despite potential flaws in scientific methodology the evidence seems convincing that we are in a period of dangerous global warming - possibly exacerbated or even caused by human activity. We have receding glaciers, rapid melting of Greenland's ice sheets, new vast expanses of the Arctic ocean without ice, disappearing permafrost, ocean acidification, dying coral reefs, more extreme weather, and documented rises in global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide etc. This doomsday scenario could result in loss of water supplies from glacial melt, species extinction, and unprecedented coastal flooding with submerged cities from rising sea levels, etc.

Al Gore presents a compelling case for the facts and consequences of global warming in the movie An Inconvenient Truth even though some of the scientific evidence he describes may be taken out of context (e.g. despite his case for new, documented, profound glacial melt on the Antarctic Peninsula, the British Antarctic Survey has determined from climate modeling that for at least the next 50 years; snowfall on the continent of Antarctica should continue to exceed glacial losses from global warming).

As in many issues there are also compelling arguments against the hypothesis of global warming. An article entitled Myths of Global Warming authored by the NCPA in 1997 attempts to debunk various global warming scenarios. Of course scientific evidenced gathered since that time could also debunk claims made by the NCPA. It is up to each one of us to educate ourselves on the issue, and decide our course of action.

We can effect change, but is it too late?

The movie doesn't delve into that issue. There are some potentially devastating positive feedback loops that come into play with global warming that might thwart our best efforts to reduce the trend. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Huge tracts of newly melting permafrost in Western Siberia and other regions will release many tonnes of methane, more forest fires will release more stored carbon, and the water that replaces melted sea ice will absorb more sunlight. All of these effects and others will likely increase the rapidity of global warming possibly beyond our ability to contain it. On the other hand, there may be other science yet to be discovered that debunks the worst case global warming scenarios.

Mr. Gore I am nearly convinced (despite all of the controversy). I will attempt to reduce carbon emissions. I will exert political influence where possible. The stakes are extremely high and we have to try regardless of the final outcome. Better late than never as they say. We can only hope that human efforts and political will can change the tide - Mars won't likely be fit for human habitation until the next century.

David Friedman of San Jose, California presents an interesting discussion on the various, confusing practical and philosophical arguments relating to the debate on global warming entitled "Global Warming: Confusing Moral and Practical Arguments".

For the naysayers who say that global warming is a myth, and that proposals to limit greenhouse gases might actually harm the environment or the welfare of mankind please see the Petition Project signed by more than 17,100 applied scientists who agree with that sentiment.


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