If global warming is not a crisis, is that a crisis?

By Thomas Fuller, SF Environmental Policy Examiner

Monday, September 07 2009 15:33


Joe Romm Committee Hearing

A lot of time and attention is spent on global warming. Barack Obama’s second major package of legislation (after the financial rescue but before the healthcare revamp) was cap and trade legislation, currently being considered by the Senate. It has occupied thousands of researchers (and an equal number of critics, it seems) and the attention of bloggers everywhere. But as originally put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of political analysts and policy makers commissioned by the U.N. 21 years ago, climate change was a technocratic issue designed to help politicians incorporate information about a slow but steady rise in temperatures into long term planning. It didn’t become headline material until U.S. Congressional hearings in 1988 and the pronouncements of a certain Al Gore, who I voted for three times and who I really wish would shut up. A new article in New Scientist tells us that a scientist working with the IPCC now says that global warming will disappear for one or two decades, swamped by the counter-effects of other natural cycles. “People will say this is global warming disappearing,” he told more than 1500 of the world’s top climate scientists gathering in Geneva at the UN’s World Climate Conference.” The funny thing is that if it weren’t for the hysteria surrounding the subject, this pronouncement would be natural, logical and quickly accepted. We know, after all, that many forces affect our climate–the tilt of the planet, cyclical changes in our orbit and changes in the orbit of the sun, cycles with various initials such as PDO, ENSO, etc., and other things that humans do, such as converting large swathes of the landscape to agriculture or cityscape, or diverting rivers and depleting aquifers. It’s only because the most hysterical of climate change activists have harped incessantly on the inexorable rise and cataclysmic effects of CO2 concentrations that any diversion from their projected path for temperatures seems to throw the whole issue into doubt. Had this remained a civil and scientific discussion within realms of possibility, the wider response to this would be ‘who cares?’ But when idiots like Glenn Beck and Joe Romm are foaming at the mouth on either side of the issue, there is no room for reasoned discussion. You know what? Global warming may well disappear for two decades and then reappear. That’s because it is one of, and not the strongest, forces that affect our climate. It will tend to push long term temperature averages up by 2 degrees Celsius if concentrations of CO2 double. Sea levels may rise 18 inches this century instead of a foot. We may have to reinforce some sea walls and change some zoning regulations as a result. The story from New Scientist is only relevant insofar as it shuts up some hysterics. If it does so and the conversation continues in more reasoned terms, it is to be welcomed. Otherwise, like the rest of the discussion on climate change, it should be in the background, analysed by technocrats and other scientists, with the occasional updates for those of us with an interest in the subject matter.
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