Global Warming: Real and Happening ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Global Warming: Real and Happening

(The below guest editorial was submitted by Steve Johnson of Annapolis. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the publisher of Annapolis Capital Punishment and are solely those of the author. Commentary is welcome as always, but no anonymous replies will be published)

The argument over global warming is at core an argument over whether the fossil fuel industry – Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Natural Gas – should be allowed to pursue quite a radical course of action in which atmospheric carbon dioxide would be doubled, and more, during this century.  Fossil fuels currently provide more than 90% of America’s end use energy.  What’s at stake is annual revenue that already comes close to a trillion dollars, and which is sure to become far more expensive as oil prices rise sharply in future years and decades.

The industry is not happy with scientists who say that fossil fuels are a threat to the global climate.  Exxon in particular has funded more than a hundred different “institutes” - public relations firms disguised as economic and scientific research institutes – so that propaganda casting doubt on the science of global warming can come from sources not obviously identified with Exxon directly.  These investments have not been large – a few million dollars a year – but the return on investment has been enormous.  Millions of Americans have been sucked in by the twisted arguments Exxon’s proxies regularly produce.
All the arguments generated from these disguised PR firms have the same structure and promulgate the same set of four central myths.

Myth One.  Carbon dioxide is not an independent variable in the Earth’s climate system, and it has no independent effects on the temperature of the planet or the behavior of the climate.  Therefore...

Myth Two.  Any warming that we do see, currently, is simply part of the normal behavior of the overall climate system and has nothing to do with the burning of fossil fuels and the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.  Therefore...

Myth Three.  All the scientists who work on this issue are inherently corrupt.  They are doing it only for pay.  They make up evidence.  Nothing they say is credible.  Therefore...

Myth Four.  If the fossil fuel industry is allowed to stay in business, and if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is allowed to double, nothing bad will happen.  Everything is perfectly safe, everything is perfectly safe, everything is perfectly safe.....

Page two.  None of these myths have any truth to them.

Scientific Fact One.  The Earth is heated by the sun and cools itself by radiating infrared energy into space.  The temperature of the Earth remains stable if the infrared energy sent into space exactly equals the amount of visible light energy received by the Earth.  A greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide, blocks some of the Earth’s infrared energy and keeps it from escaping into space.  That’s just simple physics.  How do we know that greenhouse gases behave this way?  Because satellite measurements confirm this process.  Satellite measurements of the Earth’s infrared radiation show lower amounts escaping into space in the wavelengths that are blocked by greenhouse gases, higher amounts of infrared in the unblocked frequencies.

At exactly the same time, Earth-based measurements show more infrared being reflected back to Earth in the wavelengths blocked by greenhouse gases, less in the frequencies that escape into space without being blocked.  There is no dispute on this issue.  It has already been proven by hard science that carbon dioxide has its own independent effect on the Earth’s natural cooling system.  Result?  The more of it we put in the atmosphere, the harder it is for the Earth to cool itself by radiating infrared out into space.  Only by heating up can the Earth produce enough infrared in all wavelengths to restore heat balance, to send just as much infrared energy into space as the energy it receives from the sun.

Scientific Fact Two.  The warming of the Earth has been documented.  The 2000-2009 decade was 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1990-1999 decade, which in turn was warmer than the previous decade.  If this warming had been caused by higher amounts of solar radiation, the heating effects would be more visible at the equator than at the poles, in the daytime rather than at night, in summer rather than winter.  If this warming were being caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases, it would be more evident at the poles than at the equator, in the winter rather than in the summer, at night rather than in the day.  And, in fact, that’s exactly what the evidence shows.  Warmer nights, warmer winters, warmer arctic regions.  Greenhouse gases are therefore the cause.   Scientific work from many other disciplines confirms the same findings.  Glaciers are shrinking, all over the world.  Annual snowpack in the Pacific Northwest is down by 30%.  Climate zones are changing; in the northern hemisphere, plants and animals consistent with tropical climates are migrating steadily northward.  Animal species that depend on extreme cold are dying out.  The jet stream collapse of December 2009 that allowed arctic cold to spill into Europe and North America also saw warm mid-latitude air pulled into the polar region to replace the arctic air that flowed south.  As the lower 48 cooled, Alaska warmed.  A cold winter here does not equal the end to global warming; it signifies only a shift in which areas are colder and which areas are warmer within the context of a slowly warming planet.

Cultural Fact Three.  The vast majority of scientists working on different facets of the glboal warming issue are honest, high integrity individuals who themselves had doubts about global warming until accumulating evidence in recent years convinced them to change their minds.  It is a central principle of American culture that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.  The blanket charge that all global warming scientists are corrupt is – at a minimum – unprovable, and, at a maximum, it is detestable slander.  No one who makes this claim has any proof to back it up.  A scientist here, a scientist there, perhaps.  But all scientists?  Let’s be grownups about this.  The vast majority are honest and decent.

Risk Issue Four.  Fossil fuel propagandists can affirm the safety of their product, but no one can prove its safety beyond any reasonable doubt.  No one can know, for sure, what will happen to the climate as the stock of carbon dioxide doubles.  Maybe the consequences will be mild, but maybe they will be disastrous.  Bet on fossil fuels and bet wrong, what happens?  Catastrophe.  Bet on renewable energy and bet wrong, what happens?  We shift to renewable energy a few decades earlier than we absolutely needed to.  Which bet is the more dangerous, the one that ends in catastrophe if we’re wrong, or the one that ends in inconvenience if we’re wrong?  Clearly – this is the point Exxon is desperate to have us overlook – it is far more dangerous to bet on fossil fuels than it is to bet on renewable energy.

Exxon doesn’t want us to understand the risks.  Exxon doesn’t want us, the American public, to realize that carbon dioxide is an independent climate variable.  The more there is, the more severe its effects.  Exxon doesn’t want the public to understand that the fingerprints of rising greenhouse gases are all over the rising temperatures of the past four decades.  Exxon doesn’t want the public to appreciate the honesty and professionalism and integrity of the vast majority of scientists working on this issue.  And Exxon especially doesn’t want the American public to understand that betting on fossil fuels and being wrong will be far more catastrophic and irreversible than betting against fossil fuels and betting in favor of renewable energy.

And, on top of that, Exxon doesn’t want us to understand that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide will raise the level of carbonic acid in the ocean, deplete the concentrations of calcium carbonate, and lead in time to a massive die-off of marine creatures that depend on calcium carbonate to form their shells.

An informed public might insist on switching to a set of non-fossil fuel energy technologies that don’t endanger the climate or the oceans.  That’s the last thing Exxon wants.  No wonder its propaganda campaign harps so incessantly on the four myths described above.

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