Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Global Warming

I just read a very interesting article by Orson Scott Card (Obama's Real Religion) which includes a series of quotes from an article by Freeman Dyson, a man I much admire and respect. That article, a book review on the The Question of Global Warming included warnings about the Religion of Environmentalism.

Read the first article, unless you are an impassioned Obama supporter, in which case read the second which is not so concise but doesn't mention Obama. You'll be more likely to believe it.

Let me assume for the moment that Global Warming is real, and that humanity is the immediate cause. What should we do, if anything, and why?

Some people fear that the ice caps will melt, raising sea level some 200 feet. That would be disastrous for those living in low areas, including the State of Florida where I reside. However, the warming would also allow farming of areas currently under glaciers such as Antarctica and Greenland, plus the vast (currently frozen) tundra of Canada and Siberia. You lose one, and gain the other. In the big picture, it's not much different.

Some people fear that the warming will reduce rainfall, causing the loss of productive farmland in America's heartland. Possibly true, but warming will (on average) increase rainfall by raising vaporization rates. I am confident that weather patterns will change, and that some areas will gain while others lose. Note that the great deserts of northern Africa were once thriving forests. Humanity probably had nothing to do with that, it's merely a symptom of ongoing climate variability.

Some people fear that global warming will cause the inevitable loss of existing ecosystems and biological diversity. Also true, but change is not only inevitable, it is often necessary. Note that a beach is a symptom of ongoing change, the constant shifting of sand. If you eliminate beach erosion world-wide, you eliminate beaches. The whole concept of evolution is based upon the fact of change, since without change ecosystems rapidly become static and no improvements occur. We owe our very existence to change. Sorry, dinosaurs, but I'm glad you went extinct and made room for me.

Some people thing the world will get too hot and people and ecosystems will suffer and die out. Huh? Read the scientific literature, people! Start with Ice Ages. The world is in the midst of a major ice age that has lasted 30 million years. We happen to be in an interglacial period, one of those relatively brief interludes between frozen eras. Our current climate is not nearly as warm as during most interglacials, and we weren't around for any of the other ones. Look at the big picture: over the past two hundred million years, the world has averaged much warmer than at present. There were no ice caps during the reign of the dinosaurs. They thrived, at least until that asteroid strike. I do agree that change will be expensive and inconvenient. But the world won't be unfit for humanity if it warms up by 5 or 10 degrees.

Speaking of ice caps: I will argue that Global Warming is very much preferable to the opposite, the return of the Ice Age. It is very difficult to do farming under a mile or two of glacial ice. Yes, the sea level will drop, exposing millions of square miles of potential farmland (with a serious salt problem, but that is solvable). But if the world cools off too much, a "Snowball Earth" might result, and that, my friend, would be truly disastrous.

Don't get me wrong: I am not a proponent of rampant coal and oil consumption. I firmly believe in low-impact energy sources, and while nuclear power is high on my list of good things, I'm also in favor of solar, wind, and geothermal energy. I don't think we should squander the world's petroleum resources by burning it. Oil is a valuable commodity for plastics, fertilizers, and chemicals in general.

I believe in electric cars. Not just hybrids, but all-electric. If I win the lottery, first thing I'll do is buy a Tesla Roadster. A great, green, vehicle. I believe in recycling; we should not simply consume and discard, it's fundamentally wasteful. And while I don't believe that people should lower their impact on the world (and I firmly place the needs of humanity well above the needs of the spotted salamander, or polar bears, or tsetse fly -> let DDT spray), I do believe that we should all strive to make the world a better place for our descendants. Don't take from the future.

But that gets me back to my primary Global Warming Point: the greatest danger to the future of humanity on Earth is not a 5 or 10 degree rise in temperature, rather it is a 5 or 10 degree drop in temperature. I fear the return of the ice age, which is likely inevitable unless humanity takes steps to keep our planet warm.



E. Medina said...

I could not agree with you more. Consider Homo, perhaps not quite sapiens, struggling throug successive ice ages, all advances made during the brief 20,0000 year warm periods, being wiped out by the 100,000 years long ice ages. Our Holicenre Holiday may well be coming to an end.

That may be a very very very inconvenient truth

Mark said...

And I couldn't disagree more. It's denalist-leaning tomes like this one that help convince the fence-sitters AGW is no big deal or in fact even real, not human-caused and so on. Ice ages are caused by Milkanovitch cycles. We're 100,000 years away from the next one and with the warming at current levels it may not even happen on that schedule.

Until you can address all the concerns here: http://www.realclimate.org

you just don't know much about the subject and your fiction will also reflect that.