Thursday, October 01, 2009

Global Warming: A Look at the Cause and the Future

By David Eric Poarch

Earth is changing; there is no doubt about it. Indeed, everything is prone to change, but when an accelerated and unnatural transformation occurs, then there becomes reason for concern. This is exactly what is happening today, as the global warming issue has been regarded as an impending planetary emergency by many in the scientific community and has spurred hearings and debates at the government level as well as a strong environmental advocacy among the public. Although there is a general consensus among the majority of intellectuals that global warming is certain and occurring, the scientific community remains in disagreement as to the reason(s) for the past century’s rapid climate change and its implications. However, considerable and convincing empirical evidence exists suggesting a human-caused warming of the planet due to continual and increasing use of fossil fuels worldwide, which emit carbon dioxide and other gases that intensify the greenhouse effect. And without taking necessary preemptive actions, this in turn is theoretically predicted to produce adverse and possibly catastrophic consequences.

Skepticism has risen over the years and a growing number of scientists now argue that there is “no substantive basis for predictions of sizeable global warming due to…increases in minor greenhouse gases…” (Lindzen 705). This could not be farther from the fact, however, as the majority of recorded observations and experimental data indicate a definitive heating of the planet within the past century due to the by-products of a rapidly industrializing human civilization—primarily, the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. It is true that the warming trend does not necessarily mean that greenhouse gas emissions are the culprit, but recordings from observing stations reveal a strong positive correlation between sharp temperature rises and urban locations (Kellogg 736). This association infers that human-induced pollution and greenhouse gases, which are produced in greater quantities in cities, have caused the increase in global temperatures. Having lived in the third-world country of the Philippines for several years, I can attest to these urban canopies of suffocating smog and heat-trapping gases that are intensifying the greenhouse effect, which is being brought about by the upsurge in industrialization and extensive burning of fossil fuels. Despite such convincing evidence, some have downplayed the rise in temperature over the past century, but its significance cannot be discounted. There has been a recorded increase of 0.4 K to 0.6 K in surface temperature for the last 90 years when random fluctuations are normally only about 0.2 K, meaning that the “probability of the signal being real is greater than 98 %” (Kellogg 742). Still, such concrete data is not enough to convince staunch skeptics, some of whom contend that “even if all other greenhouse gases…were to disappear, we would still be left with over 98 percent of the current greenhouse effect” (Lindzen 707). Indeed, the 2 percent contribution greenhouse gases have towards global temperature may seem negligible at first inspection, but that 2 percent is rising and could very well make a substantial difference should no preemptive action be taken. If a slight 0.9 percent elevation in body temperature defines a human as having a fever, then what greater thermal range must we seek as a signal that the Earth is abnormally and detrimentally heating up?

We may not know yet, but what is even more worrisome is not just the positive temperature trend, but also the unpredictability of this inclination. Currently, it is expected that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels will produce a 0.5 to 1.2 degrees centigrade rise in global temperature; however, because of the complexity of the greenhouse effect, it is possible that “other factors amplify the effects of increasing carbon dioxide and lead to predictions of warming in the neighborhood of four to five degrees centigrade” (Lindzen 709). In fact, scientific evidence shows that alternative theories such as solar activity and cloudiness are not only unlikely to be global warming instigators, but they are much more likely to be “positive feedback[s] when there is a greenhouse warming,” and thus potentially setting off a several-fold acceleration in heating (Kellogg 751). Moreover, recorded observations exhibit that “the oceans have introduced a lag in the temperature response due to their large heat capacity” (Kellogg 743), which means that the temperature rises that we are seeing now will be incomparable to the spikes we may experience in the future. And the breach of such an incredibly forgiving yet breakable system could very well translate to the dawn of another Ice Age. With so many complex climatic and geological interactions in play, it cannot be fully determined what reactions we may be eliciting from the Earth or of what magnitude, but it remains doubtful that our current acts can ever replace or even complement the intricate balance of nature.

With the current single digit temperature increments, some skeptics assure that we do not need to take action, for they cannot yet definitively sense the abnormality and/or they believe that we can adjust to a morphing planet Earth. However, the available empirical evidence already presents foretelling signs of ominous conditions to come—warming that will prove to be more than just “a little difficult” to adapt to as some overconfident “economists, agronomists, and hydrologists” might suggest (Lindzen 705). They note that “for much of the Earth’s history, the atmosphere had much more carbon dioxide than is currently anticipated for centuries to come” (Lindzen 711), which is a valid assertion. But they fail to point out that humans did not and could not exist for much of Earth’s history. In fact, the Earth was an uninhabitable planet for billions of years before the ideal conditions for human existence, or any kind of organism for that matter, developed. The perfect ratio of gases that currently make up the Earth’s atmosphere is what ensures our survival. However, continuing with a no-action, “business-as-usual” scenario, statistical trends predict that a doubling of the carbon dioxide concentration “will be reached around the middle of the 21st century” (Kellogg 739) and will likely bring a number of ill effects with it. A dynamic experiment involving a 3-dimensional world ocean model that increases carbon dioxide concentration produced “the phenomenon of quasi-periodic El NiƱo changes in tropical ocean circulation” (Kellogg 744) and pronounced the association between global warming and abnormal weather events. Furthermore, some climatologists attribute damaging hurricanes like Katrina and, most recently, Ike to global warming, while others warn of more extreme phenomena to come, including other undesirables such as “changes of rainfall, snowfall, and soil moisture” (Kellogg 754) and “sea level rise [and] extinction of species” (Kellogg 753).

Since we are the only dominantly thriving and influential beings capable of shaping the planet today, there should be no reason to believe otherwise that our actions are the primary if not only factor in the intensification of the greenhouse effect and thus the occurrence of global warming. Logic and reasoning alone can back this assertion, but vast amounts of empirical evidence solidify it even further and should be sufficient in prompting government action and business initiative to significantly cut back on and ultimately eliminate carbon dioxide emission and fossil fuel dependency in order to prevent global warming-borne calamities from happening. Yet we are still at a point where political gridlock and corporate greed and lobbying prevent the necessary environment-saving policies from being passed. As a survivor of the catastrophic Mt. Pinatubo eruption, one applicable lesson I learned firsthand is that if a volcano is predicted to erupt, then one must act accordingly and with haste or suffer the consequences. Nonbelievers may wait until conditions are too critical for remedial action, but for the sake of mankind, I hope that they do not bring the rest of humanity down with them.

Works Cited

Kellogg, William W. “Response to Skeptics of Global Warming.” Conversations. 7th ed. Ed. Jack Selzer and Dominic Dolli Carpini. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 735-759.

Lindzen, Richard S. “Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus.” Conversations. 7th ed. Ed. Jack Selzer and Dominic Dolli Carpini. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 705-723.


what causes global warming said...

I am still totally shocked by the earthquake/ Tsunami in Japan. The most painful part is that this is our doing, we are responsible for those precious lives taken. Global warming is the punishment we are getting for abusing the earth, and some are paying more than others/

Coconuter said...

People need to open their eyes and make a change quickly, before it is too late:

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