ETHICAL ISSUES: CLIMATE CHANGE
Yes, the earth’s climate is changing, and no, there’s no need for immediate panic. That about sums up the current state of affairs re: global warming.
In the first place, personal experience suggests that the climate IS getting warmer, at least in the US. I support that view because I’ve witnessed winters becoming somewhat milder over my 75 years of life on this planet. But is there any reason to panic? No. The earth is in an interglacial stage, a perfectly natural phenomenon supported by the geological record. That said:
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) completed a controversial study a few years ago supporting the political drive to control carbon emissions, concluding that man is primarily responsible for the ‘global warming’ reportedly underway. Soon afterward, it was found that the study was biased–far from objective, resulting in further polarization of arguments for and against.
More recent studies found the current apparent warming trend to be not at all unusual. Apparent? Yes, according to some studies at least. This from the UK’s Meteorological Office: “global warming has been virtually nonexistent for the last 16-years,” citing that prior to that time was a 16-year period when temperatures rose. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for 40-years. (This finding is in keeping with my personal experience cited above.)
Record highs (still standing) were set in the 1930s. The IPCC itself recently reported that drought in the Central Plains has decreased in recent decades (ostensibly meaning subsequent to the ‘dust bowl years’ of the ‘30s). It’s been confirmed as well that there was a period of higher temperatures in Medieval times (some 1000-1400 years ago), warmer and longer than today—1150-1200 AD seem to have been the warmest years. Apparently this is true not only of the Northern hemisphere, but the Southern as well. Man certainly was not the cause of rising temperatures during these periods.
Currently, the stress is being placed on the amount of carbon dioxide (a minor gas when compared with water vapor which makes up about 75% of the greenhouse) in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is necessary for plant life; plants absorb carbon dioxide and expel the oxygen necessary for animal life; there is mutual support without which life as we know it could not exist. Somehow nature has provided a balance in the past. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The very existence of greenhouse gases (a necessary part of the atmosphere) speaks volumes for the ability of earth processes to have created the system necessary for life as we know it and to make the ‘automatic’ corrections necessary to maintain that life system—the biosphere. How does this balance come to be? This is a natural system we’re dealing with, not just a collection of neatly-categorized variables, and to think that we can model or control something so massive and complex without having a clue as to how it operates (let alone what it consists of) has got to be an exercise in futility.
Global warming (and global cooling) is a function of natural processes properly dealt with by the natural sciences, primarily geology, the science(s) of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, which provide the foundation for the biosphere. All of the earth sciences (including particularly meteorology and climatology) are involved. That the subject has been co-opted by politicians and scientists looking for government funding is not only unfortunate, it is unethical. Politics and law should not drive science nor should they direct funding to those who may be sympathetic to their cause.
Climate change normally takes place relatively slowly (a notable exception being vulcanism). The earth is in constant flux, and so necessarily is its climate. Data-gathering methods (and precision of measurement) have literally exploded over the past few decades, providing reams of detailed information about recent conditions. This introduces the problem of an abundance of recent directly-recorded detailed data to be integrated with sparse historic data necessarily deduced from such evidence as can be gleaned from the geologic/biologic record.
Much has been made of the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap, but little is heard about the growth of Antarctic ice (at a rate estimated to be more than 6000 square miles per year). But note the significant differences in conditions at the poles: The arctic cap is surrounded by landmass (the presence of which limits how much ice is possible—it acts as a heat sink as well as a physical barrier), while the Antarctic is surrounded by water (which does not have those same limitations). Additionally, the Antarctic is affected more by winds than is the Arctic—another major climatological difference. The simple fact is that the polar ice conditions are polar opposites, to savage a phrase…
The amount of earth’s water—the hydrosphere—(which includes solid and vapor phases as well as the ubiquitous liquid) remains essentially constant. (Could the hydrosphere be a major part of the earth’s stability mechanism by virtue of its ability to move readily between its three phases?). The amounts in each phase are in constant flux but the aggregate remains the same. Much water vapor is a result of evaporation over the oceans (not incidentally a source of carbon dioxide as well), which make up more than 70-percent of earth’s surface area. When we can assume control over oceanic evaporation, we can think about making changes. Until that time, we ought to confine our efforts to monitoring and exercising care to minimize such emissions as exist. Spending large amounts of money to try to control the uncontrollable unknown is folly.
The Environmental Protection Agency is an administrative function not subject to control of Congress. As such it is free to operate solely at the pleasure of the current administration, subject to influence by any organization claiming to defend the plants and animals making up our environment, often to the detriment of us humans ourselves. The EPA has maintained unbridled control of our environment for more than 60-years, during which time it forced a virtual moratorium on construction of industrial facilities and hobbled development of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas—the source of our power), at the same time curtailing nuclear power development on the strength of its alleged harmful effects on the environment. It champions solar and wind power (darlings of small but powerful ‘environmentalist’ groups), both of which are inefficient and expensive and, with their necessary infrastructures pose major deleterious effects (overlooked by the Agency) to the environment. EPA has mandated biofuels, thereby controlling farming while encouraging rainforest destruction. It has even classified carbon dioxide (a life-sustaining gas) as a pollutant. While demanding time-consuming and expensive ‘impact statements’ of applicants, EPA excuses itself from statements of impact resulting from its own actions.
The EPA is protected politically and does not have to be objective or inclusive. It is neither of these—it is political—in virtual control of our economy, and responsible for the ‘global warming’ issues we have today. It should be the function of EPA to encourage (and fund) meaningful and objective scientific research of climate change so that the problem, if there indeed is one, can be approached rationally.
There is no need to panic. A plethora of newly-acquired data resulting from new technology does not trump the facts of past millenia. There is time to approach the situation rationally. The issue is a scientific, not political one, and it is up to scientists, not politicians to provide the answers.