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Your mission, if you choose to accept it...The “Search for Truth”

There is a heated debate on the significance and impacts of global warming among both scientists and politicians. Despite an abundance of research and public stances (e.g., signing the Kyoto Agreement), no nation is yet seriously cutting back on its production of greenhouse gases to meet its “agreed levels” to even slow the rise of CO2. Indeed, many scientists dispute the reality of global warming or whether it is a harmful problem that warrants extensive curtailment of “business as usual”. A PBS-NOVA special in 2000 examined some of the controversial issues (www.pbs.org/wgbh/warming/debate/).

The public disagreement among scientists is used by politicians to avoid taking any drastic steps, especially those that would impact our comfortable life style. And, for developing nations like China and India, the suggestion that their billions will soon become the major global greenhouse source is met with cries of “unfair”.
Below are listed only a few topics of disputed reality and impacts of global warming. The goal in the next two weeks is for pairs of small task forces to research and present both the “GREEN” and the “SKEPTICAL” position. We have given a few aspects of the debate under each topic, but your group will certainly find much, much more.

1. Cause and Reality of Global Warming (and Scientific Agreement)

A. GREEN: Society’s excessive production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are causing an unprecedented rise in global warming. A massive international effort involving hundreds of climate scientists on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reached unprecedented agreement on expected major global warming and its impacts on Earth, and on scenarios to control it.

B. SKEPTICAL: The current global warming is mainly a product of solar activity and other natural cycles, and is less than the “Climatic Optimum” of about 6000 BC. Past increases of carbon dioxide, such as the surge after the end-glaciation, have followed, not preceded global warming (e.g., articles by J. Veizer). Mankind is responsible for only 3.5% of annual carbon emissions (96.5% are natural), so we can’t be the major “cause” of global warming. Climate models are tweaked, and can’t even simulate past climates. The IPCC group didn’t consider opposing views, and some are suspicious that the “global warming” is partly a way for atmospheric scientists to get more funding.

2. Net Impact on Agriculture, Water and Populations

A. GREEN: Global warming will create new patterns of drought and rainfall that will not be in balance with the present agricultural belts. The grain belt of North America will suffer. Soil erosion will increase, and warmer climates will result in poorer soils. People cannot move among nations to escape regional adverse impacts.

B. SKEPTICAL: CO2 is a fertilizer for most types of plants. A warmer world is a wetter world with fewer deserts, and a longer growing season. NASA satellites have documented that the world is becoming “greener”. The fact that higher CO2 levels and global warmth will lead to more food and more water for our needy society is being overlooked. Indiana’s agriculture will thrive under global warming.

3. Net Impact on Economics and World Politics

A. GREEN: As shown by “eco-aware” countries like Denmark, a major reduction in fossil fuel usage and deforestation will actually have negligible effect on our civilization. Exchange of “carbon credits” will help developing countries. Reduction of dependence on oil and gas will definitely help defuse some MidEast military crises. The U.S. should pursue the European model of high taxes on “carbon” usage.

B. SKEPTICAL: There is a direct relationship between (cheap) energy usage and standard of living. The Bush administration concluded that attempting a 20% reduction in U.S. greenhouse emissions (mainly fossil fuels) would be a major blow to our economy and national security. Carbon taxes in Europe are being used for bloated bureaucracy, and not to subsidize non-carbon transportation or other environmental purposes.

4. Net Impact on Health and Living

A. GREEN: A warmer world will see the spread of deadly tropical diseases (e.g., West Nile virus, malaria, yellow fever) to temperate regions. High summer temperatures, such as extended 100°F July in Chicago, will cause thousands of annual deaths from heat-stroke and enhanced ozone levels.

B. SKEPTICAL: In just Britain alone, every mild winter saves an estimated 20,000 cold-related deaths and a major saving on heating costs. Malaria and some other diseases will probably be largely cured in the next decades, just like former temperate diseases of smallpox and pneumonia.

5. Net Impact on Weather, Sea-Level and Ecosystems

A. GREEN: The recent wet weather and flooding is a side-effect of global warming, as is the increase in El Niño frequency. Warmer tropics will produce more hurricanes. Melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will flood many densely populated low-lying countries, and eliminate wetlands. Warming of the North Atlantic will slow global deep-sea circulation. Land and sea ecosystems will suffer, and extinctions will accelerate.

B. SKEPTICAL: Satellite-altimetry has shown that the Greenland icecap is thickening, not thinning, and some scientists (e.g., S. Fred Singer) predict that global warming will result in a net drop in sea-level, not a flooding. Extreme weather is unrelated to average global temperature. The frequency of hurricanes was actually higher in the mid-1900’s than the “warm” late 1900’s. Warm periods, such as the Eocene or Cretaceous, were free from deserts and had a much greater biomass than the present “cool” Earth. Indeed, according to Milankovitch climate cycles, if we had no “global warming” trend, then Earth would be presently heading into another disastrous ice age. Extinctions through geological time were mainly associated with cold intervals, not warm ones.

6. Ability and Desire to Control Greenhouse Gases

A. GREEN: The Kyoto Agreement was signed by the majority of nations on this planet, and is the first step in initially slowing, then stopping the increase of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Only relatively minor changes in society is necessary to equalize carbon emissions. More efficient energy and transportation usage will result, and we will finally be acting as a unified global society to solve problems.

B. SKEPTIC: Only by “economic accident” will a couple of major nations meet their pie-in-the-sky Kyoto agreements (Russia due to collapse of its economy; Germany due to inheriting a decrepit former East Germany; Japan due to a 20-year deepening depression; etc). China and India are exempt from the Kyoto agreements and are rapidly becoming dominant sources of global greenhouse gases. There are no “alternate energy sources” in sufficient global abundance to be economic. Be real – one can’t cut carbon emissions to such small levels until we graduate to a more advanced civilization that can harness fusion power.

Ok, now that you have your mission, what are you going to do next?


Last update: March 10, 2008

Prepared by: Michael Fosmire