Global Norming–A Planet In Constant Flux

This began as a response to a post over at The Malcontent, but it got so long and convoluted I thought I’d post it here for some responses.  If I get any.  lol

First, let’s give Al Gore credit where it was due.  While he may not have “invented” the internet, the idea for electronic information sharing initially came to fruition largely due to Gore’s influence and contributions.  The man’s not all bad, and harping on him tends to grate on my nerves a bit. 

However, the controversy over “Global Warming” has been, to my estimation, far too narrowly defined by both sides, with folks resorting to buzzwords and bullet points in order to avoid critical examination of the facts.  And I mean everyone, from the Al Gore, to various Scientists, to Sean Hannity. 

They all have it wrong.  The climate is changing, but no one can say for sure if we are responsible for it.

Yes, we have just had one of the warmest years on record.  Yes, polar caps are shrinking, and that means more water in the oceans and higher ocean levels. 

On the other hand, yes, the measurable difference in temperature change has only been in 10ths of a degree, not as drastic as one might surmise from watching An Inconvenient Truth. 

What all of these folks need to do, however, is actually take a look at the hard data.  That, and a little common sense, tells you all you need to know.  Stop talking about “save the planet” and start talking about “save the humans.”  More or less. 

Take a look at this article from Discover Magazine, November 11, 2006:

The Earth we know generally moves in nonmysterious ways, but the latest evidence from an international team of geoscientists shows that about 800 million years ago, our planet executed a tricky balancing act that changed the course of the continents. Princeton geologist Adam Maloof says that over the course of 2 million to 10 million years, the North Pole appeared to shift a staggering 55 degrees—roughly the distance from the current north pole to San Francisco. This phenomenon, confusingly called true polar wander, is known to happen on Mars, where huge volcanic eruptions change the planet’s weight distribution, but it is controversial whether that could happen on Earth.

In reality, it is not the poles that wander on Mars or on Earth; rather, all the continents shift their positions relative to the poles. “Any spinning object wants to adjust itself until it’s rotating around its shortest axis, and all the extra weight is around the equator,” Maloof says. “The Earth is no different—it is constantly adjusting itself to be in equilibrium.” For example, if a large mass suddenly appeared near the pole, the continents would shift to move the extra weight toward the equator.  (Perhaps like a meteor impact?–Jamie)

Maloof’s team isn’t sure why Earth’s surface shifted so significantly, but they conclude that it did from an abrupt change in the orientation of the magnetic field preserved in sedimentary rocks in Svalbard, Norway. Now they are analyzing similar data from Australia. “Of all the possible hypotheses, the seemingly simplest is true polar wander,” Maloof says. “Plus, it’s imminently testable. All we have to do is go to another continent that has sediments of the same age.”

Gee, a testable theory that shows that Earth is a self-correcting mechanism.  Interesting. 

Now let’s look at this article, shall we (which should be mandatory reading for anyone who ever opens their mouth about global warming):

In the 1970s concerned environmentalists like Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado feared a return to another ice age due to manmade atmospheric pollution blocking out the sun.

Since about 1940 the global climate did in fact appear to be cooling. Then a funny thing happened– sometime in the late 1970s temperature declines slowed to a halt and ground-based recording stations during the 1980s and 1990s began reading small but steady increases in near-surface temperatures. Fears of “global cooling” then changed suddenly to “global warming,”– the cited cause:

manmade atmospheric pollution causing a runaway greenhouse effect.

Periods of Earth warming and cooling occur in cycles. This is well understood, as is the fact that small-scale cycles of about 40 years exist within larger-scale cycles of 400 years, which in turn exist inside still larger scale cycles of 20,000 years, and so on. . .

“Greenhouse gases” in Earth’s atmosphere also influence Earth’s temperature, but in a much smaller way. Human additions to total greenhouse gases play a still smaller role, contributing about 0.2% – 0.3% to Earth’s greenhouse effect.

Hmmm.  Still more evidence that global warming is a FACT, but attribution to human factors is negligible.  But note that sentence, “Periods of Earth warming and cooling occur in cycles.”  The article goes on to postulate that we are in fact in a warming period between cooling cycles.  Which not only makes sense; it explains quite a lot.  Sediment and fossil records–hell, Darwin’s theory of evolution itself–portray and assume an ever-changing environment.  That life responds to in kind. 

Here’s how I see it:  humans have a definite, if finite, effect on the environment.  Global warming is a natural part of a natural cycle, which we probably contribute to, but less than the catostrophic levels often attributed to us.  Pollution definitely has an effect that is hard to measure but can reasonably be extrapolated using events such as the explosion of Krakatoa in the 1800’s.  That eruption caused “the year with no summer,” as most of the planet was blanketed by a cloud of ash.  Wiki:

The 1883 eruption ejected more than 25 cubic kilometres of rock, ash, and pumice, and generated the loudest sound historically reported — the cataclysmic explosion was distinctly heard as far away as Perth in Australia (approx. 1930 miles or 3100 km), and the island of Rodrigues near Mauritius (approx. 3000 miles or 4800 km). Atmospheric shock waves reverberated around the world seven times and were detectable for five days. Near Krakatoa, according to official records, 165 villages and towns were destroyed and 132 seriously damaged, at least 36,417 (official toll) people died, and many thousands were injured by the eruption, mostly from the tsunamis which followed the explosion.

In the year following the eruption, average global temperatures fell by as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius. Weather patterns continued to be chaotic for years, and temperatures did not return to normal until 1888. The eruption injected an unusually large amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas high into the stratosphere that was subsequently transported by high-level winds all over the planet. This led to a global increase in sulfuric acid (H2SO4) concentration in high-level cirrus cloud. The resulting increase in cloud reflectivity (or albedo) would reflect more incoming light from the sun than usual, and cool the entire planet until the suspended sulfur fell to the ground as acid precipitation.

We know the approximate levels of, and effects of, the atmospheric pollution caused by Krakatoa’s eruption, and surely while the chemical composition is different, we can make an estimation of the effects of today’s pollution levels.  There is a lot we can calculate.

Think about this, too: after a catastrophic worldwide event, the Earth recovered without our help.  Such is the ego of mankind to think we are more powerful than Mother Nature.  Mother Nature, all the while is laughing at us, saying, “bring it on, big boy, bring it on.”

This is not to say that we should continue to blithely spend our resources as if they are inexhaustible.  They are not, and we have future generations to think about.  It just makes plain good sense to try and be good caretakers of our planet: preserve and extend our resources, switch to renewable sources of energy such as wind power, lower our air pollution, recycle (even if it is a pain in the ass), everyone plants a tree once in a while . . .to me, that’s just good management.  To use an old cliché, “let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.”  Simply because global warming isn’t necessarily attributable to human beings is no reason to disengage from ecological conservation.  Left-wing alarmists would have us retreat to pre-industrial revolution technology, while right-wing naysayers would have us continue forward blindly ignoring nature’s warning signs. 

Increases in Tsunamis.  Stronger earthquakes.  A general warming trend.  These are nature’s purge valves.  Mother nature isn’t trying to tell us something, she’s doing something all on her own.  And we should learn from itHow is the Earth really changing, and what is the right thing to do to accommodate ourselves to the ongoing and upcoming changes?  How do we adapt?  That’s the underlying lesson that I think the catastrophists are really trying to point out, even if they don’t yet realize it. 

We may well indeed make the planet extremely uncomfortable for humans to live on, either through direct action simply through our own inaction.  Humans are capable of marvelously stupid things.  If we manage through some catastrophic disaster to raise the temp of the planet by however many degrees, the Earth will shrug us off, we’ll be gone, and then, as George Carlin said, it will be the cockroaches’ turn. 

Maybe they can be better caretakers. 

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15 thoughts on “Global Norming–A Planet In Constant Flux

  1. I think you’ve really hit on something here. In a way, laying blame doesn’t matter as much as acknowledging that something is going on and we should probably develop plans to address the changes that are factually happening. While I have infinite faith in humanity’s adaptability and survivability, it’s important to note we’re not talking about just survival of species here. We’re concerned with preserving our current civilization, culture and way of life as much as possible.

    I’ve never really embraced the “then it’ll be the cockroaches turn” for humanity eventually dying out. Admittedly, we may suicide with nukes or disease or somewhat, but we are still one of the best evolutionary products out there with the best adaptability advantage running: we can predict the future and modify our environment and surroundings to change it.

    But we need to start taking that pragmatic step now and figuring out response plans up and above cutting back on emissions or reducing dependence on polluting fuels. Our world is changing and unless we anticipate those changes honestly, then we may survive, but it won’t be in any sort of way the majority of us would recognize.

    The trouble is both sides have politicized this issue and the second an issue gets politicized, then nothing gets done on it. We’ll still be arguing about who’s fault it is as we run out of clean drinking water and the magnetic poles shift, causing massive continental realignment. Finally assigning blame will be cold comfort when all we’ve built lies in ruins around us.

  2. A voice of reason. Thank you.

    And QJ, only one side has politicized the issue. It wasn’t an issue before that (unless you count Maggie Thatcher).

  3. I respect your opinion, John, but I’m not exactly sure how you can say that only one side has politicized this issue. Both the right and left are willing to kick it around to score political goals. The right has worked diligently to suppress or deny information about global warming while doing nothing to prepare for the inevitable changes as the left appears more interested in pointing fingers and saying, “Ha, we told you so!” to the right, even as Manhattan sinks below the waves, rather than using their evidently superior intellect to come up with solutions. Neither side side is really looking to solve anything, but just to discredit and shame the other side.

    Frankly, your charge that only one side has politicized this issue is, in a way, the problem in a nutshell. “They started it,” is pointless. They’ve both done it. Let’s figure out a way to either undo it or respond pro-actively to it.

  4. You don’t respect my opinion if it is “the problem in a nutshell”.

    Let’s figure out a way to either undo it or respond pro-actively to it.

    Why is global warming something that needs to be undone? Why will it necessarily be bad?

  5. On a planetary scale, you’re right. It’s not necessarily “bad” or “good”. On specific effects, however, particularly in relation to what it could mean to our species, let alone our culture, it’s “bad” in the implications it has for our future, our comfort and our survival. We have to honestly understand what’s going on, what’s going to happen and what we can do to minimize its impact on us, either by changing our environment or ourselves. It’s ultimately a very “Ayn Rand Goes Environmental” stance, but I feel we may be at that point.

    And of course I can respect your opinion while disagreeing with it. I may not be right. I feel powerfully that I am, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. Because of that healthy doubt, to not respect the opinions of others, even as I work to flesh out my own, would be a mistake.

  6. Again you assume that the implications of any global warming are necessarily bad. The optimal mean global temperature for human beings occurred in 2000? 1950? 1850? 1450? 50? It just seems so presumptuous.

    And when you say “we”, do you mean you, me and the guy next door deciding what to do or do you mean the government prescribing a top down solution ?

    This guy says it better than I can.

  7. That’s fine, John. If indeed there is nothing to it then that needs to be established scientifically. At the moment, however, the science as well as the observational data all indicate that something is happening. The extent and the effect are certainly under debate, but starting to hedge one’s bets isn’t unreasonable here and at least consider contingency planning for possible scenarios.

    The issue I have with the linked article is that it assumes that because things are good now, or at least better than they’ve been, they’ll always be this way and even possibly improve further. I’m certainly not saying this isn’t possible, just that at present it’s not supported by the research evidence or data. Certainly as more data comes in and more models are made, that can change, but the issue is that those models aren’t being addressed. It also seems again to be more of the “environmentalists just hate capitalists” political meme.

    I’d compare it to a near-earth object survey. Every so often we hear about some piece of space real estate that might hit earth and kill everyone. However, as more data comes in, we are better able to plot its movement and interpolate its course and the threat level drops. Not because the real estate has suddenly ceased to exist or never was a threat, but because we understand it better. Someday, though, it’s likely that one of those pieces of real estate’s projected pathway will indeed send it through the heart of our planet. If we wait until that day to start thinking about how to avoid that catastrophe, then we will have less chance to respond to it correctly if at all just because of time.

    Or another comparison might be AIDS. People can go for years with HIV and never know they have it as it slowly wrecks their immune system. If they wait until they’re actually symptomatic to find out if they’re positive, then many of their best treatment options are gone. Now, it’s certainly not a given that exposure to HIV means infection. The chances are about 1 in 100, but if you don’t get tested and know your status, then you’re reducing your long-term prognosis

    Of course it may never happen and global warming may be a red herring, even at this point, but we can’t know this for any certainty unless the scientists are allowed to do their jobs and their evidence interpreted impartially. Right now, both sides of the aisle aren’t willing to allow this to happen and that is the problem.

  8. If indeed there is nothing to it then that needs to be established scientifically.

    I never said that global warming isn’t happening. My concern is the solution will be worse than the problem. The money quote from my link:

    “I am not so much a skeptic of global warming. But I am indeed a skeptic of combating global warming.”

    The issue I have with the linked article is that it assumes that because things are good now, or at least better than they’ve been, they’ll always be this way and even possibly improve further. I’m certainly not saying this isn’t possible, just that at present it’s not supported by the research evidence or data.

    Things are not just better, they are exponentially better. That hockey stick that Gore talks about could easily be applied to GDP and living standards. By today’s standards, the richest of the rich 200 years ago would be considered poor now.

    The climate models can’t even replicate the climate of the past. Why do you have so much faith in their future predictions?

    I do agree that global warming has been politicized. Al Gore, the champion of global warming on the left, says that sea levels will rise 20 feet due to global warming in his movie. What scientist is saying that?

    Fromthis NPR interview:

    [Gore] talks about what the world will look like – Florida and New York – when the sea level rises by 20 feet. But he deftly avoids mentioning the time frame for which that might happen. When you look at the forecast of sea-level rise, no one’s expecting 20 feet of sea-level rise in the next couple of centuries, at least.

    Al Gore is very well attuned to the culture of Washington, D.C. The culture of Washington, D.C. is: “Don’t do anything unless there is a crisis.” And that’s been the problem with global warming for all these years: It’s something serious to be worried about – the worst case scenarios are pretty scary – but Al Gore has realized that if you want to get attention, you really have to focus on the crisis. You have to make people worry about things maybe a little bit more than scientists would say.

  9. You have to make people worry about things maybe a little bit more than scientists would say.

    Which would speak to Gore’s credit, wouldn’t you say?

    Think about it. Here’s a man who won the popular election for the presidency yet never achieved the office. So after sulking for a little while he decides to use his influence for something useful. Which is more than one can say for many politicians.

    The whole point I was really trying to get to in the post is that even if we take all skepticism at face value, we still need to develop strategies for living on a changing planet. Darwinism at its purest.

    Personally, I have been known to speculate that my green mountains here in Vermont may one day be waterfront property. No one can tell for sure. But many indicators point to the climate warming, and if it is due to mankind then we’d do better to prepare now instead of waiting for proof. When no cataclysm happens then we’ll still be better off for having changed our stagnant approaches to caretaking the environment.

    In Vermont there are companies trying to establish Wind Power Turbines, and some towns don’t want them because of their “asthetic scarring” of the landscape. Well, that’s all well and good, but what about when we can no longer even see the mountains because of the pollution? Is that a legacy we want to leave for future generations? I think not.

  10. Well said Jamie.

    My contention has always been that the earth changes; species come and species go – including humans. If polar bears and pandas can’t keep up, then so be it (but don’t tell Knut I said that). Let’s make some really nice natural history exhibits of them so our descendants can ooooo and aaahh. It’s the circle of life, and we could end up in some future exhibit just as easily.

    My disbelief in the Algore’s brand of environmentalism, doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in caring for our environment. Alternative energy, recycling, planting trees, keeping our air and water clean – these are all beneficial things in and of themselves. There’s no need to tie them to silly rhetoric and politics. (I must say that I agree with John in IL that the Democrats are the guiltiest party in that regard.)

    Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish environmentalist, former Greenpeace activist and avowed “left-winger”, says that rather than fixating on trying to prevent exaggerated worst case scenarios (ala Algore), humans would do better to think of ways they can adapt to their changing environment. Adaptation is the name of the game after all.

  11. Jamie,
    Just to be clear, the last paragraph of my last post was part of the quote, not me(my bad formatting). Either way, I don’t know why you want to give anyone credit for fearmongering.

    As for developing strategies, here is one that I think is quite sensible.

  12. Either way, I don’t know why you want to give anyone credit for fearmongering.

    I’ll tell you why, John: people are complacent by nature. And sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to get people to see what’s right in front of them. I don’t necessarily agree with Gore’s methods, but I also don’t think his intentions are as malicious as some would say.

    Then again, I tend to think the best of people. And it bites me in the ass more than I can tell you.

  13. people are complacent by nature. And sometimes it takes a kick in the pants to get people to see what’s right in front of them.

    Thought experiment: change the subject in your comment from “global warming” to the “global war on terror”. Does fearmongering matter now?

  14. That’s not really a valid comparison. Our kick in the pants for terrorism was 9/11. No fearmongering required.

    But there is a similarity between the situations. In both the war on terror and learning to live in a changing climate, intelligent vigilance is what’s now required. Such as focusing more on Afghanistan and the reestablishment of that country as a power base for the Taliban–the ones who actually attacked us in the first place.

    (I also tend to think that word “fearmongering” is overused.)

  15. Er, that looks like I worded it poorly. The Taliban has already reestablished themselves in Afghanistan and we need to focus on that fact. Hope that’s clearer.

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