July 25, 2006

Global warming

It is undoubtedly true that, while the increasing level of warfare in the Middle East in the immediate issue of concern, the question of global warning is the preeminent long term issue facing the planet today. It represents one of the rare situations when the health of the entire planet is at stake. The only other thing that has similar global consequences is an all-out nuclear war between major nuclear powers since that could also unleash an atmospheric catastrophe that could destroy the planet.

But while we can avoid a nuclear winter by simply doing nothing, i.e. not using the weapons, global warming is an issue where doing nothing is the problem. A strong case has been made that if we continue on the present course, the planet is going to suffer irrevocable harm, changing its climate and weather patterns in ways that will dramatically affect our lives, if not actually destroy them.

One would think that global warming is one scientific question where politics would play a minor role, and where the debate would be based on purely scientific evidence and judgments. Unlike issues like stem cell research and cloning where the scientific questions have to contend with religion-based arguments, as near as I can tell the Bible, Koran, and other religious texts are pretty much agnostic (so to speak) on the issue of whether global warming is something that god has strong views on. While god has a lot to say about things like the proper ways to sacrifice animals or how sinners should be put to death, he seems to not be concerned about the weather, expect for using it as a tactical weapon, like unleashing the occasional deluge to drown everyone but Noah and his family or creating a storm to chastise his prophet Jonah.

Hence it is surprising that some people (including the Bush administration) perceive the case being made that global warming is a serious problem as some kind of 'liberal' plot, tarring the proponents of the idea that global warming is real and serious as political enemies, seeking to somehow destroy truth, justice, and the American way. Glenn Greenwald argues that this is the standard mode of operation of the Bush administration, saying "What excites, enlivens, and drives Bush followers is the identification of the Enemy followed by swarming, rabid attacks on it."

Once that bugle call of politics sounded, Bush devotees dutifully fell into line. They know the script and exactly what they must do and have rallied to the cause, trying to discredit the scientific case and the scientists behind it, arguing that the whole global warming thing is a fabricated crisis, with nothing more to be worried about than if we were encountering just a warm summer's day. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) says "With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it." And this man is the Chair of the Senate's Committee on 
Environment and Public Works.

The administration and its supporters have gone to surprisingly extreme methods to suppress alarms about climate change, such as changing the wording of reports by government scientists in order to play down the threat of global warming and muzzling government climate experts, in order to prevent information from getting to the public.

Take another example in which the administration has sought to divert government's scientist's focus from global warming:

From 2002 until this year, NASA's mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers. . .as only NASA can."

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet" deleted. In this year's budget and planning documents, the agency's mission is "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush's goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the "understand and protect" phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

"We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings," said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "As civil servants, we're paid to carry out NASA's mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work."

Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency's 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.
. . .
The "understand and protect" phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.

The attempts to downplay the extent of the problem, divert attention away from actions to study and remedy it, and distort the science behind the global warming issue has been helped by the fact that although the consensus conclusions of the scientific community are pretty straightforward (that global warming is occurring, it is largely caused by human activity, and that we need to take steps to reverse it or face disastrous consequences), the actual science behind it is complicated. This enables those who wish to blur the issue to find ways to cast doubt on that scientific consensus.

Next: Understanding the problem


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I have been hoping for some time that you would tackle this issue and am looking forward to your thoughts on this issue and the ensuing discussion.
To start the ball rolling, I am somewhat surprised that you think politics play a little role in the global warming debate. From my understanding, the main reason Global Warming has garnished such political attention does not have to do with religion, but rather economics. If conservative politicians acknowledge the threat of global warming, they would have to tackle the issue in some way, likely through increased regulation.
Of course, increased regulation is viewed to stifle economic growth among conservatives. By arguing global warming is a farce, politicians can continue to ignore the problem while at the same time increasing the wallet sizes of what I believe to be their main constituents, the wealthy.

Posted by Joshua Terchek on July 25, 2006 09:30 AM

Mano, I too am happy to see to you tackle this issue. The discussions seem so polarized that I never knew who to believe.

I have heard that cows, for example, contribute as much to global warming as do cars, and that even if we were all living like native americans the earth has been warming for thousands of years and will continue to do so. Isn't that why we no longer live in the ice age?

Posted by Aaron on July 25, 2006 01:55 PM

(Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, nor do I plan to become one)
I think that, at this point, politics plays the only relevant role in this debate. Scientific research, of course, has been done and continues to be done, but the view of the vast majority of the scientific community has been set.

That the global temperature is rising there is essentially no doubt about. Whether it is a natural climactic backswing from a mini ice age, a random fluctuation, or something man-made has not, to my knowledge, been "proven," although increased CO2 emissions seem a logical place to look. I couldn't help but notice today as I was walking to the library in my town, how much exhaust the semi trucks going by me put out, even when they're just idling. To imagine that on a global scale is very frightening to me, and that level of atmospheric CO2 is just not something that existed when the earth was cooler. I think most climatologists would (more eloquently) agree.

So I think the problem, the cause of all this, is CO2 emissions from engines burning oil products. I agree with Joshua that increased regulation of emissions is probably the best way to fix this, at least for the time being, but I think that the reason Washington is taking no significant action is not a fear of regulation, but the Big Oil lobby. Oil corporations probably have at least 90% of ALL congressmen (GOP and Democrat) in their pockets for voting purposes, and the current president and VP are old oil men who retain their personal ties to their energy-industry pasts. My cynicism about this runs deep: I think that the only reason the GOP is the party up in arms about this is because they're the ones who have the power. And Democrats are objecting out of political necessity. If the Democrats had power, the roles would be reversed. This isn't a question of religion, or of political values (the GOP-led Congress never seems to have a problem attempting to regulate morality among the unwashed masses). It's simply about political expedience and the broken system we have in Washington.

Posted by Greg L. on July 25, 2006 02:26 PM

I also have a hard time following this issue due to it being clouded by political agendas. But the misinformation doesn't seem to just be coming from the conservative side, if certain sources are to be believed. This article, for example, (which unfortunately is printed in a conservative publication) seems to find fault with Al Gore's studies and proposals, citing conflicting research. Who has the time to check all these sources to see if they're legit? Perhaps the Wikipedia army...

Posted by Brian on July 25, 2006 04:51 PM

There is no question that global warming is real, but after you cut through all of the politics you'll find that human beings' contribution to global warming is irrelevant.

According to the information contained at the above link, we still have a little way to go to exceed the historic high temperature mark.

Let me ask a question...If the average temperature of the earth has had many and significant fluctuations throughout history, why do you believe that the mere existance of civilized human society should cause the fluctutions to stop? There can only be one answer...EGO.

It is only an extremely egotistical mind that thinks it is the cause of something that has been happening for 1 million years or more.

The real issue that is prompting humans to think this way is fear. In an almost self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way, you think that changing your lifestyle will change a totally unrelated phenomena. Instead of wasting out time, energy and money on trying to figure out how to stop global warming, we, as human beings, should be trying to fingure out how to adapt to it so that life can continue.

WE WILL NOT STOP GLOBAL WARMING, we can only hope to be able to survive it, and the succeeding ice age.

Posted by Doug on July 25, 2006 05:39 PM

Posted by Chuck on August 18, 2006 08:40 PM

I am not certain who is right and who is wrong, But I know for certain I want to ensure MY survival.

No matter who we vote for or what we do, plan on the worst possible scenario happening. If it doesn't - make certain you have made choices you can live with.

It's true - WE WILL NOT STOP GLOBAL WARMING, but in my hope to survive it - I am making changes in my life to plan for it.

Is there anyone else out there who is of similiar mind? Or are we all just
'espousing our theories" and "shooting the breeze?"

Posted by Mel on November 29, 2006 11:37 PM


Please be advised that there is an important new book available on subject.

The book is: "HOW TO LIVE WELL WITHOUT OWNING A CAR" by Chris Balish.

This book provides a voluntary, step-by-step, plan to empower all people in the fight to reduce the number of cars on the road, to break the world's addiction to oil, and to stop global warming. Car sharing is an important part of this plan.

This is a good plan that could be a great plan if governments would offer a few incentives to further encourage its adoption.


Tom Balish
Ledyard, CT

Posted by TOM BALISH on December 4, 2006 12:27 PM

Before everyone runs off to sign up for something...ask yourself a couple of common sense questions.

First...what climate period over the past 100,000 years did you pick for the "perfect climate"? Think about this carefully...because you are attempting to select a weather pattern to suit your local area...and pretending that any other climate changes that occurred are just going to be tossed out. there a back-up plan ready to go...if we pursue this global warming agenda and we are successful in 30 years of reversing it...then discover that we overbalanced the system and now face global cooling unless we halt the "fix".

Finally...if the earth decides on its own...without human go to either global warming or global we intend to stop a natural cause of this planet? Are we going borderline to playing God?

Posted by Roy on January 30, 2007 03:50 PM