Climate Change: Time to act

Global warming naysayers seemingly grasp onto any factoid or out of context information bit however slim, ephemeral, or dubious, to try to convince others that there is nothing that can or should be done.

Meanwhile, time slips away for concerted international effort to slow the Earth's warming and to ameliorate likely eventual widespread harm. A negative do-nothing approach is not a responsible path. "Climates change" (Journal, June 14, 2013) Opinion piece's spurious claims misdirect a reader. Its opening premise is inaccurate. Its key "new" evidence, citing an experiment conducted at the European Nuclear Research Center (CERN), that "solar charged particle emissions" are the primary cause of historically recent global warming is readily shown to be false. Its statements that the projections by the "Global Warming crowd" are worthless and major reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have little effect on global warming are pejorative, unfounded, and misleading.

It also claims that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (due in the fall) is "likely to concede that much of the unexplained warming" is from "solar activity" and is not manmade. The IPCC Report, early copies of which are available, "says nothing of the kind" - quite the opposite in fact - according to New Scientist and multiple other reporting sources which quickly set the record straight. Does this reveal how deeply in denial are the "climate change deniers" in their efforts to misrepresent scientific findings?

The CERN experiment tested only one-third of just one out of four key requirements, all of which need to be validated to blame global warming on cosmic rays. The scientist who conducted the research at CERN reportedly stated that "At the moment, (my research) actually says nothing about a possible cosmic-ray effect on clouds and climate ." Measurements made on two other requirements: solar activity and the number of cosmic rays reaching Earth show that neither meets the requirements that the solar magnetic field must be getting stronger, and the number of cosmic rays reaching Earth must be dropping. Other studies found that cosmic rays have minimal influence on global warming. In short, there is little to support the notion that solar (or galactic) activity is the main cause of global warming.

I addressed mainstream scientifically-based climate change conclusions as well as needed international cooperation - see Journal: "Climate Change Clarity," December 14, 2012 and "Climate Change - A Complex Global Issue," January 25, 2013. The next few paragraphs summarize key points.

Current global warming, also known as climate change, is real and measurable. Global average surface temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit - mostly in the last 30 years. That rise may seem small, but as a global average it is significant. If unchecked, it is projected to rise at least another 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit by about the end of this century depending on emissions.

Scientists pieced together a picture of Earth's climate dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Factors that influenced Earth's thermal energy balance over those millennia include: (1) changes in the "greenhouse effect" (from greenhouse gases, primarily CO2 and methane) which affect the amount of heat retained by Earth's atmosphere; (2) variations in the amount of the Sun's energy reaching Earth; and (3) changes in the reflectivity of Earth's atmosphere and surface.

Recent global warming, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. As hard as it seems for some to accept, a large body of peer-reviewed scientific studies very strongly supports that human greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of continued global warming - not solar activity or galactic cosmic rays.

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans are rising; in fact, levels are higher than they have been in over 800,000 years. Human activities send 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually - 135 times as much as volcanoes spew out each year. The oceans are acidifying adversely affecting coral reefs and shell fish. Confirmed Global Mean Sea Level measurements indicate it has risen several inches over the past century. It's projected to rise at least 2 feet by 2100; in some coastal areas the relative sea level rise will be much higher.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue, warming also continues. If unmitigated, there may be, among other impacts, sea level rise with flooding of coastal cities and millions of people displaced, changed continental agricultural and rainfall patterns with reduced crop yields, reduced availability of fresh water in some areas, increased deaths from disease, floods, and drought, and severely stressed world financial and governmental institutions. The impacts may fall heavily on developing coastal nations. North America might be the least affected. There would, however, be economic, political, agricultural, and environmental impacts on all peoples of the Earth.

The vast majority of knowledgeable, engaged climate scientists agree with the findings in the previous paragraphs. These findings are also recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations. A relatively few scientists don't agree: some think global climate projections need further improvement (agreed!); some suspect the projections underestimate the impacts; and others publish more radical thoughts in non-peer reviewed articles, speeches, and blogs.

Try as some do to dismiss these likely impacts as merely a "heavy diet of terrors," they are, so far as a large number of scientists can responsibly see, the likely best-case long-term consequences of a "do nothing" approach to global warming. Amelioration of climate change impacts requires prompt coordinated global action which, to date, has been difficult to initiate. However, to delay another 20 or 30 years to act may be too late to stabilize let alone turn around the warming trend in this century.

Thousands of scientists and an international array of non-governmental and governmental institutions have strived for decades to (1) understand why our planet is getting warmer, (2) determine probable impacts, and (3) suggest what might be done. Such efforts should not be dismissed with a rhetorical wave of the hand.

Scientific investigation is a lengthy process of discovery, validation, consolidation, and testing. One person's opinion or chart or measurement is insufficient, without due diligence attention to its merits, to challenge decades of peer reviewed work by thousands of scientists.

Efforts by the United States alone are unlikely to make much of a dent in the CO2 atmospheric burden. Global cooperation could. The steps proposed by our federal government (and states like Vermont) put the U.S. in a stronger leadership position. International negotiation will not be easy as discussed in my January 25, 2013 Op-Ed. The juggernaut of global warming cannot be slowed much less stopped in a few decades. However, neither the solution's difficulty nor global warming inertia is reason to do nothing.

You may accept global warming as likely or you may be skeptical, but a prudent person might make a kind of pragmatic "Pascal's Wager." If the impacts scenario outlined above, which is the best projection we have, is anything close to right, then a relatively little "medicine" taken now and more that would be measured and spaced over, say, the next three decades to ultimately reduce in a major way global CO2 output by all nations might be a responsible and internationally acceptable path.

Such a course of action could be a relatively small price to pay to mitigate what might otherwise likely be a worse and enduring worldwide catastrophe. Richard Scribner resides in Manchester.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions