The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wasting Time

For your typical off the shelf political conservative, there are a number of issues that really get their heart rate up and make them red in the face. Some of them are obvious, abortion, the “vast left wing media conspiracy”, national defense; others are not as prominent but continue to have a vocal backing that will make your head spin if you even begin to argue to the contrary. We have such an issue in global warming.

Why are members of the conservative movement so adamant that global warming does not exist? When I have written about global warming in the past, amongst the negative replies there is a common theme, the costs we would incur pursuing an imaginary specter are wasteful. Such environmental causes are said to be political scare tactics to drum up support for the base during election years and the factual basis of events like global warming are proclaimed by these online experts as being non-existent. As there are a number of issues that we can safely say are conservatives’ bread and butter issues, similarly there are groups of people and their causes that result in a knee jerk reaction. Conservative claims that global warming warnings are counter-factual seems to me to be a result of not an analysis of fact, but a reaction to environmentalism. No doubt there are many conservatives that are interested in the preservation of the environment, but there is no doubt that the large part of American legislation that is decidedly not pro-environment has been a product of the Bush administration. Perhaps when I pigeon hole global warming as a conservative hot button topic, I should clarify it as a conservative, Bush administration supporter topic. It is telling that even magazines like Field and Stream, have published an increasing number of editorials critical of the Bush administration’s environmental policy. It is difficult to avoid cringing at the environmental record, especially when the President attempts to end the Clean Water Act and touts a net wetland loss of zero (a 523,000 acre loss of natural wetland is offset by golf course water hazards).

“Rod and gun in hand, and backing the Second Amendment right to own firearms, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have won the hearts of America’s sportsmen. Yet the two men have failed to protect outdoor sports on the nation’s public lands.”- October 2003

College Republican leaders such as Columbia University’s Chris Kulawik note that global warming is “a great debate for our generation”; a debate that once it finally begins may be too late. My sort of thinking is often dismissed as “alarmist”, but when one is confronted by fact it is hard to react like former Vice-President Gore and demand immediate change. Fact however is a funny thing; while fact exists, it can be interpreted to serve either side of the argument. Since the 19th century, the earth has experienced a 0.6º C increase (a little over 1º F). This amount may seem inconsequential, but as you can observe in the environment around you, there have been profound effects including an exponential decrease in glacial thickness, increased droughts in Africa, and increases in natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Critics are quick to point out that our current temperature increase is part of a natural cycle of heating and cooling. However the point that they fail to miss is that, although they are correct in saying that historically earth has experienced a cyclical hundred thousand year period of rising and falling temperature, that data was based on a static amount of CO2 that varied between 200 and 270 ppmv during the low and high temperature variation periods, respectively.

We are not living in a time when we can use prehistoric carbon dioxide levels to predict climate change for we are not living in the same conditions. Since the Industrial Revolution we have been steadily increasing our CO2 output to the point where we stand at ~ 370 ppmv which is a 137% increase. Do we have data that we can rely on that will predict climate change with such an increase in CO2? Unfortunately we do not.

Earth’s orbit is not circular but elliptical. The eccentricity of orbit causes a variation of the sunlight that reaches earth; this event known as Milankovitch Cycles has a period of about 100,000 years. This seems to match up very well with the earth’s heating and cooling cycles. As we will undoubtedly encounter another cold period, where presumably the glaciers will begin to reform, the burning questions exist in the immediacy of now. Glacial observations have shown us that every year our glaciers are melting and breaking off at a rate far greater than we had predicted; large chunks of Greenland have disappeared and Antarctica is showing similar behavior. It is indisputable that glacial melting will create an increase in the amount of water in our oceans as well as a change in the composition of it (fresh water vs. salt water). The effects of increased freshwater is hypothetical as of now, but the predicted effects are not for the best.

Human beings are quite obviously the cause of carbon dioxide increases and we are quite obviously experiencing increases in temperature. It is irrelevant that temperature change and climate are affected by Milankovitch Cycles, as the earth will operate on its own scale of time. Earth will eventually cool itself as its orbit pushes it farther from the sun, but that cooling period is hundreds if not thousands of years in the distance. However earth is currently heating up and our topography is being radically altered. If Hurricane Katrina showed us anything, it was that we need to be prepared for the worst. Without a global effort, one that includes the United States, advancements in technology and society will continue to drive the demand for fossil fuels; CO2 output will continue to increase, temperatures will continue to increase. While one degree Fahrenheit seems insignificant, one degree could dictate whether a glacier stays frozen or melts into the ocean.

Refusal to take action now jeopardizes the human race. There is no reason why we should not take preventative measures to ensure that global warming does not become the reality that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth foresees. In another ten thousand years the earth will return to normalcy, who will be the one accountable for allowing the human population to be engulfed by a statistical deviation in temperature?


  • At 3:33 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    Global Warming Exists. End Of Story. And I'm not even a tree-hugging tofu-eating pinko commie vegetarian hippy eco-friendly liberal.

  • At 7:26 AM, Blogger RonL said…

    Global Warming is a fact. What is debatable is the causes, the results, the extent of human involvement, and what, if anything we can do about it.

    Most pop studies are horribly flawed on two counts
    1) They treat the begining of the 19th century, ie the end of the "Little Ice Age" as the norm. They do so either because they are either too lazy to do actual research or refuse to look beyond anecdotal evidence.
    2) Most studies rely on flawed models. Virtually every model for global weather can neither predict the future nor predict the current decade based on previous data.
    Perhaps this is because we still understand far less than the media representatives claim or because of the "Garbage in Garbage Out" effect. Incomple data is mixed with flawed assumptions about growth in various gas levels to produce scientifically dubious results.
    However, the results are politically beneficial. I don't mean this in the sense of getting the horrendously-flawed Kyoto Protocal passed. Rather these results make for great Media packets and political sound-bites. The result is future funding.

    PErsonally, I am not sure when conservatism became conflated with allowing polution. While I have a great distrust of regulation, prudence dictates that we not continue to use fossil fuels. While the US actually has high reserves in the form of coal, frozen hydrates, and even shale oil, the economic and political costs of an oil-based economy are high. Currently, the US is quite dependant on unreliable Islamic nations and a hostile Venezuala for our oil. In the future as China and India grow, preassure on inexpensive oil will both increse price of oil and profits, which have all too quickly found their way into the hands of Islamist terrorists and Third World anti-American demagogues.

    Of course the solutions would please few.
    Increasing domestic drilling as stopgap is an anathema to liberals. the mere mention of nuclear energy, which could replace fossil fuels as a source of electricity, drives some to hysteria.
    Our "renewable energy" programs are hobbled by the corn lobby, who fear switch-grass and by environmentalists scared of the actual impact of increasing agricultural production. Hopefully current research on production of artificial enzymes to break dow cellulose and make fermentation more efficient will be fruitful. However, this will take time.


    PS. Dopn't even get me started on environmental regulations which have the net effect on polluting the air.

  • At 12:28 PM, Blogger Wang said…

    I'm in agreement Ron, there are a lot of flaws with studies, popular thinking, etc. In my best informed opinion, none of that really matters. While we continue to debate the nuts and bolts of global warming, we may be taking too many steps in the wrong direction and will not be able to take enough steps back after a while.

    Global warming is occurring. We are on the path to steady increase in global temperatures, glaciers are melting, Al Gore tells us that polar bears are swimming around aimlessly, lakes are drying up, etc. While we debate with no action, temperatures will increase. Regardless if temperatures have been historically cyclical, those cycles are hundred thousand year cycles.

    We could melt the glaciers and cause climatological disaster before the cycle starts a downwards trend. Who is going to be debating how much humans were involved then? What is the problem with acting now? Fix the Kyoto protocol so it is no so unfair to industrialized powerhouses and advantageous to places like China. Fix it and let's get some action.

  • At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The oft over looked question is - The earth is warming, but from what? Ronl point it out. If you start you measurements in a cold era the only way temperatures can go is up,


Post a Comment

<< Home