If you have any doubts that global warming is real, read the April 3 TIME magazine cover story and “Be Worried, Be Very Worried.” The evidence is in. The debate is over. Global warming is happening. Humans are the major cause of it. And we’re heading for disaster.
Yes, there are still global warming deniers like Oregon climatologist George Taylor. But he’s been outed by Willamette Week and I haven’t heard any “global warming is a myth” craziness from George lately. Maybe he’s turned to arguing that creationism and intelligent design are fact, while evolution is fiction. Or that the Earth is flat.
It’s a free country. People can believe weird things. But they don’t have the right to destroy our planet. This is why there’s a big difference between evolution-denying crazies and global warming-denying crazies: the latter are a lot more dangerous.
TIME speaks the truth: “Polar ice caps are melting faster than ever…More and more land is being devastated by drought…Rising waters are drowning low-lying communities…By any measure, Earth is at the tipping point…The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame.”
It may be too late to do anything about it. Once past a tipping point, it’s devilishly difficult to turn things around. But the cover story ends with:
Curbing global warming my be an order of magnitude harder than, say, eradicating smallpox or putting a man on the moon. But is it moral not to try? We did not so much march toward the environmental precipice as drunkenly reel there, snapping at the scientific scolds who told us we had a problem.
The scolds, however, knew what they were talking about. In a solar system crowded with sister worlds that either emerged stillborn like Mercury and Venus or died in infancy like Mars, we’re finally coming to appreciate the knife-blade margins within which life can thrive. For more than a century we’ve been monkeying with those margins. It’s long past time we set them right.
James Hansen, a NASA scientist the Bush administration has been trying to shut up, is one of the scolds who's been warning about the dangers of global warming. His Scientific American article, “Defusing the Global Warming Time Bomb” is both solid and scary. “Small forces,” he says, “maintained long enough, can cause large climate change.”
Humans are pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Nonetheless, compared to Nature as a whole humanity’s impact on the climate is puny. The problem is, as Hansen pointed out, that relatively small anthropogenic (human-caused) forces can have big effects.
Arctic ice is melting. That’s a fact. As it melts dark water increases and light ice decreases. Dark water absorbs heat while light ice reflects it. So that causes more melting, which makes more dark water, and so it goes. The system feeds back upon itself.
TIME says that the effects of global warming are upon us much more quickly than was anticipated.
What few people reckoned on was that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives rise to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. Pump enough carbon dioxide in the sky, and that last part per million of greenhouse gas behaves like the 212th degree Fahrenheit that turns a pot of hot water into a plume of billowing steam.
Amazingly, conservative apologists like George Will are still saying that global warming is up for debate. It’s strange. In the old days, conservatives believed in conserving. I know this because I was raised by a woman who was both deeply Republican and deeply conservative in the best sense of the word: frugal, non-wasteful, protective of limited resources both monetary and natural.
George Will writes:
Are we sure there will be proportionate benefits from whatever climate change can be purchased at the cost of slowing economic growth and spending trillions? Are we sure the consequences of climate change -- remember, a thick sheet of ice once covered the Middle West -- must be bad?
Gee, George, what a great question. Let’s ask the people of Nebraska if they’d rather run the risk of having the United States’ economic growth slowed slightly or be buried under a sheet of ice.
Alternatively, if the answer to that question seems obvious we can instead apply ourselves to combating global warming. Hansen says, “The emphasis should be on mitigating the [climate] changes rather than just adapting to them.”
My wife and I own two cars, a Toyota Prius and a Toyota Highlander. Both are hybrids. Automotively, we’re doing our part.
Our hot water heater needs replacing. Today we ordered a new one. The energy efficient model is going to cost us an extra hundred dollars (though we’ll get some of that money back via a tax credit). Water heaterly, we’re doing our part.
Unfortunately, neither of us is the President of the United States, who isn’t doing his part. Recently I heard George Bush say that he is opposed to the Kyoto Treaty because it would harm the American economy.
As if having the mid-West covered by a sheet of ice wouldn’t. What an idiot.
Next day P.S.: it might seem paradoxical that global warming could lead to either a mini or maxi ice age, but the Scientific American article about "Abrupt Climate Change" explains how this might happen:
As global warming continues to heat up the planet, many scientists fear that large pulses of freshwater melting off the Greenland ice sheet and other frozen northern landscapes could obstruct the so-called North American conveyor, the system of ocean currents that brings warmth to Europe and strongly influences climate elsewhere in the world.
A conveyor shutdown--or even a significant slowdown--could cool the North Atlantic region even as global temperatures continue to rise. Other challenging and abrupt climate changes would almost certainly result...As the conveyor grows quiet winters become harsher in much of Europe and North America, and agriculture suffers.
...Uncertainties abound, and although a new ice age is not thought credible, the resulting changes could be notably larger than they were during the Little Ice Age, when the Thames in London froze and glaciers rumbled down the Alps.