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GLOBAL WARMING FOR BEGINNERS
By DEAN GOODWIN, JOE LEE
Steerforth PressCopyright © 2014 Dean Goodwin
All rights reserved.
Global Warming: An Introduction
It's Such a Hot Topic!
Global warming is a major environmental issue, one that has generated much interest, debate, argument, and conjecture in the media in recent times. Twenty years ago the general public had little idea of its existence; today the topic receives daily media attention. Some scientists have stood by the evidence that proves global warming while others have got very hot under the collar in their attempts to convince us otherwise. But the debate has not been just among scientists (where it is to be expected, because the scientific process should be open to healthy skepticism and data should be able to stand up to scrutiny by the whole global scientific community). Others who may not be as knowledgeable about the subject have gotten into the discussion, letting off enough steam that their voices are heard. This has led to the spread of misinformation and misconceptions in the eyes of the public as the global warming and climate change debate spirals out of control, leading to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
So Why All the Fuss?
Many scientists have suggested that the climate changes that are occurring as a result of global warming are being caused by us-the human race. Societies around the world are using more and more fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, to provide increasing amounts of energy in order to meet the demands of an increasing population while at the same time increasing economic growth. Whenever a fossil fuel is burned it produces, among other things, carbon dioxide, which gets released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and some other compounds have been shown to be capable of raising the temperature of the atmosphere and have been labeled greenhouse gases. Many scientists are calling for a reduction in the amounts of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases that we are producing in order to slow down the rate of global warming and the accompanying changes in the earth's climate. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would necessitate a reduction in the use of fossil fuels or a shift to using them more efficiently. That's why the debate really began.
Many untruths and junk science are dispersed to the public through the media by special interest groups that are directly involved in the production or use of fossil fuels, including energy utility companies. These groups rationalized that if carbon dioxide has to be reduced, then new regulations and mandates will adversely affect their operations. They disagree with the idea of global warming and the role that carbon dioxide plays in the process. The misinformation put forward by such groups not only receives widespread attention in the media, it also has the support of some politicians and other scientists, many of whom are not climatologists. They argue that climate change is part of the earth's natural cycles, and that the increase in amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere during the past 200 years or so are not to blame for the increased planetary temperatures.
"Global warming is the second-largest hoax played on the American people, after the separation of church and state." -US Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), 2005
Putting Things into Perspective
It is true that over many thousands of years the earth experiences dramatic climate changes, and there have been some hot and cold anomalies that do occur once in a while. For example, the folks in New England called 1816 "the year without a summer," because snow fell in every month of that year! In 17th-century Europe the temperatures were so low that England's River Thames froze, and the term "Little Ice Age" was used. Yes, these anomalies could have resulted from causes that are unrelated to the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, such as decreased sunspot activity, just as abnormally warm periods could occur due to increased sunspot activity. So today the skeptics use such arguments to discount the current climate changes as being just a part of the Earth's natural cycles and nothing for us to worry about. Not only that, they claim we are not responsible for these changes, and what's more, carbon dioxide is a gas that occurs naturally so how can our emissions of this natural substance affect anything? These arguments can sound very convincing, especially if one has little understanding of or basic common grounding in science.
However, people were worrying about humans' affects on nature long before the global warming debate began.
In an address delivered before the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont, on September 30,1847, George Perkins Marsh said, "But though man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow ...it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action." Marsh was a farmer, and probably the first person to refer to human-induced climate change. He wrote a physical geography book in IS64, " Man and Nature, in which he said the following:
The action of man, indeed, is frequently followed by unforeseen and undesired results, yet it is nevertheless guided by a self-conscious will.... The ravages committed by man ... destroys the balance which nature had established ... and she avenges herself ... by letting loose ... destructive energies hitherto kept in check ... but which he has unwisely dispersed. The earth is fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant, and another era of equal human crime... would reduce it to such a condition of impoverished productiveness, of shattered surface, of climate excess, as to threaten the depravation, barbarism, and perhaps even extinction of the species.
From these comments, it would appear that Marsh could be considered the Nostradamus of climate change and global warming, with his prophesies gaining support from the scientific community some 150 years later! Although he did not link the role of carbon dioxide to global warming, he did make a strong case for how changes in land use and human activity can adversely affect climate.
So How Did Carbon Dioxide Get the Blame?
Over the years many scientists have studied the properties of carbon dioxide. In 1860, John Tyndall, a British physicist born in Ireland, conducted experiments to measure the amount of infrared radiation (heat) that carbon dioxide could absorb.
Earlier, in 1827, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician who researched heat conduction, had suggested that heat gets trapped near the earth because the atmosphere behaves like "the glass of a hothouse." This paved the way for the now ubiquitous phrase "greenhouse effect."
In 1894, Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius hypothesized that the increased emission of carbon dioxide as a result of the industrial revolution would result in global warming. He published the first calculations of increased atmospheric temperatures resulting from human-induced, or anthropogenic, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, and made predictions as to the extent of future temperature changes.
The first person to confirm that carbon dioxide released through the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes increased atmospheric levels of the gas was Charles David Keeling, who began recording the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in the late 1950s. His landmark research laid the foundation for many studies of global carbon dioxide levels and the climate changes that occur as a result.
Upon Keeling's death, Charles F. Kennel, the director of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography said:
There are three occasions when dedication to scientific measurements has changed all of science.
Tycho Brahe's observations of planets laid the foundation for Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation. Albert Michelson's measurements of the speed of light laid the foundation for Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Charles David Keeling's measurements of the global accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere set the stage for today's profound concerns about climate change. They are the single most important environmental data set taken in the 20th century.
This data set is widely known today as the "Keeling Curve" and is referenced in many articles, textbooks, and other media presentations on global warming.
Comparing the Keeling Curve to other graphs showing the increase in atmospheric temperatures has enabled climatologists to clearly establish the link between greenhouse gas pollution and global warming.
In the 1950s, climatologists began to use computer models to predict changes in the earth's climate as a result of global warming. In the 1980s it was clear that an actual warming trend was emerging. In 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to investigate and report back their findings on increasing global temperatures due to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
What Is the IPCC and What Has It Reported?
The IPCC is, basically, a group of scientists. Governments of different countries submit the names of their own climatologists, and then several hundred are chosen by a leadership panel from the IPCC. Selection is based on a person's research area, as well as publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Each scientist selected is assigned to a specific working group whose responsibility is to assess the entire scientific literature on a particular aspect of global warming. Suffice to say, it is a great honor to serve on one of the IPCC working groups, which are composed of the worlds leading climate scientists.
To date the IPCC has produced and published four Assessment Reports (ARs) on the findings of their intensive review and scrutiny of the literature surrounding global warming.
In 1990 concluded that the earth had been warming and that a lot of the warming may be due to natural processes. In 1990 suggested that there may be a discernable human influence on the global climate.
In 2001, AR 3 reported that the vast majority of the worlds climatologists agreed that global temperatures were rising at a rapid rate and that the warming trend over the past half century was probably due to the observed increase in the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The IPCC concluded:
Since the late 1950s, the overall global temperatures in the lowest part of the atmosphere and on the earth's surface have been rising at a rate of 0.1 degree centigrade per decade.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased 31% since 1750. The present carbon dioxide concentration has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years and likely not during the past 20 million years. The current rate of increase is unprecedented during at least the past 20,000 years.
About three-quarters of the anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere during the past 20 years is due to fossil-fuel burning. The rest is predominantly due to land use change, especially deforestation.
These findings caused alarm and concern in many quarters. Environmental organizations became increasingly at odds with the fossil fuel industry and energy producing companies, who firmly denied their role in climate change. Scientific organizations in the United States, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, began to adopt the view put forward by the IPCC. After reviewing all of the data, eminent scientist Dan Agin, a longtime promoter of scientific literacy, concluded that unless a group of mysterious aliens continually visiting us during the past 250 years spritzed carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, the only sensible conclusion from the above data is that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has been due to anthropogenic emissions, particularly those associated with the Industrial Revolution.
The evidence became even stronger with publication of the IPCCs AR 4 in November 2007. This report reflected the work of more than 2,500 expert reviewers, 800 contributing authors, and 450 lead authors from 130 countries. The report states: Prior to the announcement of the AR 4 findings by Chairman Rajendra Pachauri at the 27th session of the IPCC in Valencia, Spain, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced the report by saying:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.
Global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.
Most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.
Anthropogenic warming over the past three decades has likely had a discernable influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems.
Prior to the announcement of the AR 4 findings by Chairman Rajendra Pachauri at the 27th session of the IPCC in Valencia, Spain, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced the report by saying:
Climate change is a serious threat to development everywhere. Today, the time for doubt has passed. The IPCC has unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity. Slowing or even reversing the existing trends of global warming is the defining challenge of our ages.
On December 10, 2007, in Oslo, Norway, the IPCC and Albert Gore, Jr., were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
So Where Do We Go from Here?
The time for debate about the role of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in climate change and global warming is over. The scientific consensus has firmly established that global warming is occurring and that human activities l play a major role in causing it. We know that the evidence is real, and we need to accept and believe the majority of the worlds scientists. The public should no longer accept messages about global warming that are flawed by untruths and misconceptions, promulgated by people or special interest groups who do not fully understand or want to accept the scientific explanation of this observed fact: Global carbon dioxide levels are increasing due to human activities, and are causing the earth's temperature to rise. Just as scientists have shown that the earth is not flat, that the sun does not revolve around the earth, and that humans were not around when the dinosaurs roamed some 65 million years ago (despite what you see in the movies), we must also accept the reality of global warming.
"The skeptics have had their heyday. This is abundantly clear. Nobody's questioning the science anymore."
-Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bali, Indonesia, December 2007
Since the question of global warming and its causes are no longer a subject for debate, the issue now is what to do to address the problem. The question is no longer "Is this happening?" The question now is "What can we do about it?" When Rajendra Pachauri presented the conclusions from AR 4 he posed some more specific questions:
How do we prepare the human race to face sea level rise and a world with new geographical features? Is the current pace and pattern of development sustainable? What changes in lifestyles, behavior patterns, and management practices are needed, and by when?
The answers will ultimately depend upon the policies developed by the governments around the globe. How well these governments represent their citizens in addressing global warming remains to be seen. It is incumbent upon every citizen in each country to fully understand the science behind global warming, its causes and consequences, and the role we all play in working toward a solution. This is where the road ahead will be hard traveling, and there will be much debate, discussion, and argument.
The first step down that road is to educate yourself and learn as much as possible about global warming. The chapters that follow will help you begin a journey toward scientific literacy on the subject, engender understanding, and provide the tools you'll need to take action as a public citizen. Remember: The solution to global warming depends ultimately on concerned, well-informed citizens. As knowledgeable citizens we have the power to elect officials who will best represent our views, who in turn determine the government policies that will affect everyone on the planet now and in the future.
Excerpted from GLOBAL WARMING FOR BEGINNERS by DEAN GOODWIN, JOE LEE. Copyright © 2014 Dean Goodwin. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
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