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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Getting Serious

When I was a kid there was far more pollution. You couldn't swim in the local river, and it stank in the summer. The fish were not doing well. When I was in high school, I think, DDT was banned. It was blamed for the decline of the larger birds. Recently I visited the area where I grew up. Bigger birds of all sorts are back in the area. Buzzards, eagles and crows are swarming. There are more fish in the river and the water smells better. I consider myself an environmentalist.

Everything has its limitations, though.

As far as I've been able to figure out, the Kyoto Treaty is a crock of shit. We don't understand the global climate yet, although we are beginning to make a lot of progress. One fact most scientists do agree on is that the Kyoto Protocol would cost a great deal to implement and do almost nothing to prevent global warming. The estimates of its effect are a fraction of a degree in a century. In other words, it's the appearance of progress instead of progress.

Some argue that it's a good step, because it puts a global framework in place to deal with climate change, but I can't see what the progress is in instituting a framework to not deal with a problem. Nor is this just the opinion of a wacky woman from Georgia, who happens to be one of those jingoistic American seal-asaulting lunatics. See the Copenhagen Consensus website for their explanation as to why they rate it a bad project.

The truth is preserving the environment costs money. To figure out how to requires a lot of scientific research, and that costs money. Wasting money on things that don't work isn't going to get the job done. Over the last two years, I took a look around to figure out what I thought about the matter.

One thing is certain. The global climate has changed dramatically in the past and it will do so in the future, and that's without any human intervention at all. Understanding the forces at work in global climate change is a major priority for the human race, and it should be taken seriously. A lot of people, perhaps most, believe that the climate has been relatively stable in between ice ages, but we now know that this isn't true. There is good historical evidence to prove that the global temperature has changed significantly in the last 1000 years, and it wasn't because of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As a geophysicist writes:
"There is general agreement that the global climate warmed between about 1880 and 1940, following several centuries of the "Little Ice Age," which in turn was preceded by the "Medieval Climate Optimum" around 1100 AD. There is less agreement about the causes of this recent warming, but the human component is thought to be quite small. [See BOX] This conclusion seems to be borne out also by the fact that the climate cooled between 1940 and 1975, just as industrial activity grew rapidly after WWII."

Currently it seems as if changes in the energy output of the sun are looking like one of the best bets. Scientists also speculate on the effect of small orbital changes, which also alter the amount of the sun's energy striking the surface of our beautiful but temperamental little planet.

It's absolutely clear that temperature changes within the Holocene (current interglacial period) have occurred, and have been significant. The climate has varied by at least 5 degrees Celsius, and there have been lots of small droughts that may have impacted past civilizations. Once you look at what has happened during human history, global warming doesn't look that bad.

Good sites I have found on climate change are:

Tree Ring Data
Paleoclimatology (NOAA)
AIP on Rapid Climate Change
CO2 Science Magazine (This online magazine takes a contrarian view on CO2. I've linked to the subject index which allows you quickly to survey a massive amount of research for free. It's updated frequently and it's the best place for a layman to get a quick understanding of what is being studied. Be aware that the summaries of the articles are written from the editor's viewpoint, which at least offsets a lot of blatantly false propaganda from the Greenpeace crowd.)
A sample article from the above publication.
Good Resource Page which contains links to a number of different groups and online databases.
A Geophysicist Speaks "To gain perspective on the subject of climate change, one needs to look at the past. While the data are not exactly global and not always of the best quality, certain conclusions can be reached. The Earth's climate has never been steady; it has either warmed or cooled - without any human intervention. The measured variations have often been large and rapid - larger and more rapid than those predicted by climate models for the year 2100. In the last 3000 years, i.e., during recorded human history, temperatures in the North Atlantic have changed by as much as 3°C within a few decades [Keigwin, 1996]."
The Conservation Foundation has lots of international links. Interestingly, I believe David Bellamy has dissented somewhat from some of the current environmental "received truths".
Vegetation Maps which show you visually what the world climate has been like over the last 20,000 years or so. Don't miss this one. These pictures bring the point home. If you don't think climate change is a threat, you need to look at what our world has been like over the recent past. This explains much about prehistory. We've been running from massive habitat destruction since we were ourselves.

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