A. The term 'global warming' makes it sound like the world is just going to get a few degrees warmer and that's not what's happening. A more accurate term is 'global climate destabilization.' Parts of the world may get warmer, but parts may actually get colder. What has scientists concerned is that changes in our atmosphere have the potential to destabilize earth's current climate systems on a global scale. Destabilization is likely to cause more extreme weather of all sorts -- more floods, more droughts, more wildfires, more tornadoes . . . Have you been watching The Weather Channel lately?
As for the 'improve your life part', keep reading.
2. Q. Yeah, but scientists aren't really sure this global-whatever-you-call-it is even happening. No one has proven any of this. It's just a theory.
A. True. But science hasn't proven that smoking is bad for your health, either. That, too, is still 'just a theory.' Science does not offer proofs, it offers hypotheses and then looks for evidence to support or refute the hypothesis. Before a hypothesis can be elevated to the status of a theory, it must undergo rigorous testing and peer review. If there is a ton of evidence to support a hypothesis, not one shred of evidence that contradicts it, and no credible hypotheses that offer alternative possibilities, then, and only then, does a hypothesis become a theory. In the scientific world, a theory is as close to 'proven' as it gets. A theory can never be absolutely proven because you can have a million pieces of evidence supporting a theory and only one piece of evidence to show why it can't be true to invalidate the theory. If scientists can't disprove a theory, they work on the assumption, for now, that the theory is correct. They are still attempting to disprove gravity on the off chance that they have been wrong all along! In the meantime, I'm not planning to jump out of any airplanes without a parachute. Or even with a parachute, for that matter.
3. Q. Okay, but that's a pretty extreme example. I think all scientists would agree that gravity is real but there are a lot of scientists out there who think global climate change is bunk. What about them?
A. True again. Well, maybe not 'a lot,' but at least a few. You always have a few individuals who refuse to accept the evidence, and as we've already determined, global climate destabilization is 'just a theory' -- a theory with tons of evidence to support it and nothing that proves it wrong. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)1, The American Association for the Advancement of Science2, The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (along with the national science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia and Great Britain)3, and the Pentagon (yes, the Pentagon!)4 have all agreed that human activity is having an effect on the global climate and that the effects are going to be really bad if we don't do something about it now. The dissenters are such a small minority that they are no longer part of the debate.
4. Q. Debate -- you just said it yourself. So, it's not the consensus you would have us believe.
A. Oh yes, there is quite a lot of debate going on. But the debate is not: is it real or not, the debate is: how fast is it going to happen? how bad is it going to be? is it already too late to fix it? Funny thing, well not so funny, actually, is that the growing opinion is that scientists have been too conservative in their predictions so far -- that it's actually likely to happen faster and have more dire consequences than previously thought.
5. Q. Yeah, right. They can't even predict the weather accurately more than a couple of days out. How can they possibly predict the climate ten, twenty, or a hundred years from now?
A. If you're talking about local events, the answer is, they can't. But if you're talking about global effects, long range predictions become even more accurate than short term. Scientists cannot tell you if you're going to die of a heart attack, but they can tell you how many Americans are likely to die of heart attacks over the next ten years if nothing is done to change current trends. The numbers won't be exact, but the range will be pretty darn close. That's how it is with climatologists who have been studying all the causes and effects and historical data for decades now and have been observing the trends. I'm not a scientist. I don't understand all the computer models and charts and graphs involved. But I do understand the very clear, unequivocal warnings the vast majority of scientists have been sending us. If you haven't read the end notes yet, now would be a good time.
6. Q. But even if the world climate is changing, how can we be sure we're the ones doing it? Mars is getting warmer. Is that our fault, too?
A. Right again. Mars is getting warmer, or at least its atmosphere is. There are ongoing dust storms that are trapping solar rays in the Martian atmosphere causing it to warm while the surface of Mars is actually cooling. It is totally unrelated to our problem.
Look, I'm not the one saying human activity is at fault. The scientists who are running the models say they have looked at all the possibilities -- it's just cyclical; it's just solar activity; it's just hamsters running in those little wheels (well, maybe not the last one), and all the models show that yes, cycles are having an effect, yes, solar activity is having an effect, but all the natural explanations added up together don't account for the degree of change we are now seeing unless you add human activity into the equations. Don't believe me. Check it out for yourselves. This is the most important issue, apart from the threat of nuclear warfare, to ever face humankind. Oh, and if you read the Pentagon study quoted in the end notes, you will find that they are predicting that nuclear proliferation and possibly even warfare is very likely to be a consequence of climate destabilization.
7. Q. Okay, but we're talking about hundreds of years from now. I'm sure that scientists will come up with a solution sooner or later. Necessity is the mother of invention and when the problem gets bad enough, I'm sure they'll come up with something.
A. Bzzt. Got that one wrong. We're not talking about hundreds of years from now. When scientists first started studying the problem, they did think it would take hundreds of years. But that has changed. The more scientists study the problem, the more they improve and refine their computer models, the more data they collect, the more they have concluded that the change has already begun and is likely to get much worse within decades rather than centuries. And they have come up with solutions, but not enough people are listening.
8. Q. Okay, but scientists are only human. Isn't it possible that they're wrong?
A. Yes, it is possible, and it's good to be skeptical. There have been times in history when the tiny minority was right and the vast majority was wrong. This could be one of them. But being in the minority doesn't make you right, either. I'm asking that you be as skeptical of the skeptics as you are of the mainstream. I'm also asking that you understand that waiting to take action is choosing inaction. Continuing the debate ad infinitum is choosing a side by default. Is this a decision we can afford to make by default and not by deliberate choice? So, weigh the odds, consider the outcomes, and ask yourself, "How lucky do I feel?" Would you walk into a casino in Vegas and bet all your worldly goods on a single coin toss?
9. Q. Okay, let's assume you are right and global climate change is imminent, there's really nothing we can do about it. Let's say America gets its act together and we decrease our emissions. What about China? What about India? What about all those developing nations that want the standard of living we enjoy? The problem is too big and people are not going to want to make the changes you're talking about. We enjoy our standard of living too much and we're not going to give it up until its too late.
A. Ah, now we get to the good news at last. The part where your life improves! We can fix this problem without sacrificing our cushy lifestyles. We don't have to live in cold, dark houses or revert to horse-drawn carriages. We need to re-imagine, in exciting new ways, how to live in the world. We need to find lifestyles that are every bit as comfortable but are more compatible with nature and its cycles. To do this, we need governmental policies that encourage innovation and make it more affordable. We're not talking government mandates and regulations or increasing the tax burden. For example, the government could offer tax incentives to buy green. If you bought, for instance, a hybrid car, you would get a tax break. If you installed solar panels on your house, you would get a tax break. If you planted a roof top garden5, you would get a tax break. And with lower energy bills, you would be saving money as you saved the environment. The government could adopt special building codes that make permitting easier for earthships6 and other green buildings. It could offer tax incentives to companies that develop alternative energy sources -- solar, wind and water power, for instance. It could sponsor mass transit systems. It could sponsor contests for green inventions, and/or recognize and reward inventors who create new, greener ways of doing things -- people who invent electronic book readers7 or bicycles that filter water8, for example. America could lead the world in new technologies. It would mean new industries and economic growth, reduced dependence on foreign oil, a cleaner, greener world for us and our children, and we would have all these cool, new inventions that save us money while being kind to the environment. Then we could sell those technologies to China and India and all the developing countries who want our new and improved standard of living.
10. Q. Pshaw. If it were that easy, we'd have done it already.
A. Hey, its always easier to stay with the status quo. But the status quo is heating up folks and we're going to have to change one way or another. And there will be industries who will be hurt by the shift -- oil and gas, for example, which is why they've been working so hard to discredit the whole issue. Yes, there will be growing pains in some sectors of the economy, but the alternatives are much, much worse.
11. Q. Okay, okay, so what do you expect me to do about it? (And isn't this number 11? Your subtitle says "let me try to convince you in 10 easy steps")
A. Well, if you're asking what you can do about it, I must have convinced you already, so it only took 10 easy steps, as promised. More good news. I'm really not asking you to do much at all. I'm just asking you to recognize that global climate destabilization is the most important issue facing us today. It is more important than the economy, the health care system, the war in Iraq, or even terrorism. It is more important because, if we don't address the issue, it will create havoc with our economy and our health care system, and the likelihood is very strong that it will lead to more terrorism and more wars, some of them potentially nuclear. (Have you read the entire Pentagon report yet?) When enough people recognize the problem for what it is, change will be possible. Good change. As opposed to the kind we will get if we continue to hope it goes away.
Hey, Life is good. Let's keep it that way.
1 According to the IPCC: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting snow and ice, and rising global average sea level," (p. 5) I found the term 'unequivocal' to be most alarming. Rarely does the scientific community use such strong language! And further that, "The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past fifty years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone." (p.10)
To see the empirical data on which this report is based and to read the comments and conclusions in their entirety, you can go to:
2 The American Association for the Advancement of Science published the following statement on 9 December 2006:
The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a critical greenhouse gas, is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. The average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years. Scientific predictions of the impacts of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation match observed changes. As expected, intensification of droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies. These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible. Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be.
History provides many examples of society confronting grave threats by mobilizing knowledge and promoting innovation. We need an aggressive research, development and deployment effort to transform the existing and future energy systems of the world away from technologies that emit greenhouse gases. Developing clean energy technologies will provide economic opportunities and ensure future energy supplies. In addition to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential that we develop strategies to adapt to ongoing changes and make communities more resilient to future changes.
The growing torrent of information presents a clear message: we are already experiencing global climate change. It is time to muster the political will for concerted action. Stronger leadership at all levels is needed. The time is now. We must rise to the challenge. We owe this to future generations.
The conclusions in this statement reflect the scientific consensus represented by, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch/), and the Joint National Academies’ statement (http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf).
For more information: www.aaas.org/climate
3 from the statement of the joint science academies published on 7 June 2005 (http://www.nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf), which reads in part:
There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring1. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities (IPCC 2001)2. This warming has already led to changes in the Earth's climate. . . Action taken now to reduce significantly the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lessen the magnitude and rate of climate change. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognises, a lack of full scientific certainty about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for delaying an immediate response that will, at a reasonable cost, prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. . .
We call on world leaders . . . to:
- Acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing. . .
- Identify cost-effective steps that can be taken now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Recognise that delayed action will increase the risk of adverse environmental
effects and will likely incur a greater cost. . .
Notes and references
1 This statement concentrates on climate change associated with global warming. We use the UNFCCC definition of climate change, which is ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’.
2 IPCC (2001). Third Assessment Report. We recognise the international scientific consensus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
4 The Pentagon took a look at the worst case scenario, an abrupt climate change, and how that might affect national security: We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately. The following is an excerpt from this study, "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security" October 2003 By Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall:
There is substantial evidence to indicate that significant global warming will occur during the 21st century. Because changes have been gradual so far, and are projected to be similarly gradual in the future, the effects of global warming have the potential to be manageable for most nations. Recent research, however, suggests that there is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.
The research suggests that once temperature rises above some threshold, adverse weather conditions could develop relatively abruptly, with persistent changes in the atmospheric circulation causing drops in some regions of 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit in a single decade. Paleoclimatic evidence suggests that altered climatic patterns could last for as much as a century, as they did when the ocean conveyor collapsed 8,200 years ago, or, at the extreme, could last as long as 1,000 years as they did during the Younger Dryas, which began about 12,700 years ago. . .
It is quite plausible that within a decade the evidence of an imminent abrupt climate shift may become clear and reliable. It is also possible that our models will better enable us to predict the consequences. In that event the United States will need to take urgent action to prevent and mitigate some of the most significant impacts. Diplomatic action will be needed to minimize the likelihood of conflict in the most impacted areas, especially in the Caribbean and Asia. However, large population movements in this scenario are inevitable. Learning how to manage those populations, border tensions that arise and the resulting refugees will be critical. New forms of security agreements dealing specifically with energy, food and water will also be needed. In short, while the US itself will be relatively better off and with more adaptive capacity, it will find itself in a world where Europe will be struggling internally, large number so refugees washing up on its shores and Asia in serious crisis over food and water. Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.
for the report in its entirety, go to: http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/3566_AbruptClimateChange.pdf
More recently, a blue ribbon panel of retired generals and admirals from Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines did a study on the probable effects climate change will have on national security issues. The title of the report is National Security and the Threat of Climate Change." Read it for yourself!
5 to read about the rooftop gardens of Chicago and how they are lowering energy consumption, providing habitat for wildlife, and creating oases of beauty in a concrete jungle, go to: http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0710/p02s02-ussc.html
6 I love earthships! The beautiful, sculptural quality of these homes belies the old tires, cans and bottles that are used in their construction. And they are completely off-grid. They provide their own electricity, water, and water treatment system, plus a greenhouse environment for growing food and flowers year-round. They can be adapted to any climate and are being built around the world. Not for your average suburban sub-division, but definitely a good choice in rural areas. For more, go to: http://www.earthship.net/
7 have you checked out Amazon.com's Kindle? It's a bit expensive still, but the price is likely to come way down in a few years. According to Gary Bradshaw, a psychology professor at Mississippi State, "Paper production is amazingly harmful, from chopping down trees for pulp to the use of toxic chemicals and considerable natural resources. Just printing introductory psychology textbooks requires 20,000 trees, 1,000 tons of coal, and 66 million gallons of water each and every year. It produces 4,750 tons of CO2. Shifting to an electronic textbook (which can be a superior text if done properly) would save all those resources for every book that is produced." To see the type of interactive text he's talking about, visit ePsych at http://epsych.msstate.edu/
8 to see some really cool inventions that make life not only greener but better as well, go to: http://www.ecospace.cc/
9 if you're not yet convinced, then you really are a hard sell! For more information on the topic, go to Climate Change Controversies; a simple guide, or to The Manpollo Project