I've recently been caught in an extended email argument about Global Warming which really got me thinking about the issue, as the person I was debating was sharp. The process of arguing with him led me to formalize my owns thoughts, and base them more in research and facts I understood. Since I believe this issue is very important, I want to discuss it here with you. It's an issue which, unfortunately, is divisive when it shouldn't be.
Don't believe me? Great - I love people that are skeptical.
I'm going to present a series of arguments supporting man caused climate change, and going on to show why this matters.
Below is a graph of CO2 and temperature over the last 400k years presented such that they are overlaid...
It's pretty easy to see that they are correlated... but sometimes it appears that CO2 rises slightly before temperature and other times temperature rises slightly first... but in either case they are obviously correlated. Which causes which?
Well, let me provide some answers.
1) http://climate.nasa.gov/causes/ (discusses what Greenhouse gases are, how they work, how solar irradiance matters but doesn't explain current global warming)
Did you read them? I know it's a lot to ask, but those websites have a lot of good information that explains how Global Warming is occurring, through CO2, and how increased CO2 in the atmosphere warms the planet. It's a widely accepted scientific fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that has this effect. And it's very obvious that humans are causing increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
But so what? If we look at the graphs above it looks like everything is fine...
Well here's why so what:
Wait, what!?!??!?!?!?? The first overlay graph didn't have this craziness... Well that's because the first graph cuts off at 1950, which is 66 years ago. For over 400k years CO2 had oscillated from 180-300PPM in the atmosphere, and now in the last 60 years we've increased CO2 in the atmosphere, and a lot.
These feedback loops and cause-and-effect aren't instantaneous. These previous graphs are on a very large time scale here. But this below, is the temperature over the months of the year for the last 136 years:
Yeah, this is the warmest year with the warmest month on record.
Statistically, it's alarming that this is the warmest month in the warmest year, considering that CO2 causes warming through the greenhouse effect and CO2 levels are historically above anything in the last 400k+ years (and rising). This doesn't prove the point, but it definitely should set off alarm bells. Especially because the sun has cooled slightly over the last 35 or so years.
But no big deal, right? 400PPM of CO2 isn't THAT much more, and it's ONLY a little warmer, right?
Well the temperature appears to be starting the upwards trend, but it doesn't mean that even at 400PPM CO2 it's reached the equilibrium yet. It's still going to keep rising.
Additionally, the last time there was 400PPM CO2 in the atmosphere, humans didn't exist, and it was during the mid Pliocene around 3.6M years ago. The average temperatures in the summer in the artic during this time were about 60 degrees F (about 14 degrees warmer than today!)
OK, well that sucks, but it's manageable, right? Probably true, if we kept CO2 at 400PPM we could probably manage the temperature changes. Except CO2 levels are still rising at a rate of 2PPM+ per year (and that rate is increasing every year!). So at this rate by 2050 we're very likely to be at 500PPM or more in the atmosphere.
(here are some websites that deal with CO2 and temperature projections)
Yeah it looks like BEST case scenarios don't have us going below 400PPM, and it's pretty easy that by 2050 we're 500PPM, or worse. And by 2100, projections where we do nothing have us near 1000PPM in the atmosphere. That sounds crazy right? It is crazy, so crazy we are going to hold that thought and get in to what changes like this might mean later!
So this is why "Surveys of the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the opinions of experts consistently show a 97–98% consensus that humans are causing global warming."
Here you can read a thorough case supporting the fact that yes, in fact humans causing global warming is a very agreed upon scientific theory. 97-98% consensus in peer-reviewed scientific literature ... these are articles produced by scientists for scientists in journals that are reviewed by other scientists. This is happening.
Before moving on, there are a lot of questions that doubters of human caused climate change always have... let me list a few.
1) Climate's changed before. 2) It's the sun! 3) It's not that bad. 4) There is no scientific consensus. 5) It's actually cooling, not warming!
There are well formed answers for all of these arguments and many more. Someone else, again, can disprove them much better than me, so I will let them.
Another very common argument is that there have been many times in the far distant past (tens/hundreds of millions of years ago) that there was more CO2 like where we are going now, but the Earth wasn't an oven. That argument is rebutted here in a really nice 5 minute video:
So what does all this mean??? We're finally accepting that yes, humanity is pumping out CO2 at ridiculous levels, and we are changing the composition of the atmosphere. And yes, this causes global temperatures to rise........
But what exactly are some of the possible effects this might have?
Glad you asked, let me show you. I encourage you to read this article:
This article states that Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 "may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models." The worst case projections have CO2 levels rising to over 900PPM. The last time we think the atmosphere had CO2 at this high a concentration was 30 to 100 million years ago (yes back to the time of the dinosaurs!). The temperature data for this time period indicates that tropical to subtropical sea surface temperatures were in 35-40C range (vs 30C today), and that polar sea surface temperatures were 20-25C range (vs 5C today). The sun was also less luminous by .4%. Thus, an increase of CO2 seems to have warmed the tropics by 5-10C and the polar regions by 15-20C. That's downright insanity. And let me leave you with that before returning to this topic later...
So now for a minute, let's talk about prevention. In many things in life, I've found that prevention is a lot easier and less costly than dealing with a problem after it's come to fruition. A simple example would be dental care. It's very cheap to buy floss, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. It's very expensive to pay for fillings, root canals, pain medicine, dentures, and all the other dental procedures that accompany not taking care of your teeth. (not to mention the pain, agony, and discomfort involved with those procedures!)
So let's look at global warming. Sure, it will cost us to switch to clean energy, and to convince other nations to do so (using carrot/stick methods)... to limit carbon production as much as possible. This will have an economic cost.
But then think of the cost of the Earth's temperature rising by 8 degrees F or more (what it's projected to if we do nothing). That would easily melt all ice, and raise the sea levels significantly, flooding many coastal cities causing their destruction. Any cities that could be saved through a system of dikes and pumps and levees... well just imagine how much it would cost to build and maintain engineering structures like this! And the relocation of billions of people as most people live in coastal areas... Holy shit those costs seem just absurd. And don't forget about other negative aspects of climate change like increased storm (think typhoons and hurricanes) severity... These costs will be astronomically high.
Since it will clearly be not only more expensive to fix climate change after it's a problem than preventing it (approaching the issue solely as an economic cost-benefit analysis when it's more than this!), than we should be incentivized to resolve this even if we want to discount the likelihood of global warming from 100% certainty to X% where as long as: A * X% > B
Where A is the cost of solving the problems of global warming After they happen
And B is the cost of preventing global warming
Yes, in fact if you treat global warming PURELY as an economic problem (when clearly there is a lot more at stake here), you should want to fix it. You don't even have to believe 100% that global warming will happen if we do nothing... I estimate that you could think the chance is as low as 10-20% in everything I've just showed you, and you should still be economically motivated to prevent it as a form of climate insurance. And what is the cost of drastically changing the global environment to the point where whole biomes are shifted and the world looks completely different than it does today? The cost of causing the mass extinction of species who will not be able to adapt quickly enough to survive?
In fact, here is a neat website where you can actually see what the projected temperature changes might be over the various land masses on Earth.
There's a lot here that's not very pretty. How sure do you have to be that climate change is totally fake to want to risk that by doing nothing? I think you'd have to be pretty close to 100% sure that climate change is wrong. With 97% of scientists saying otherwise, with all the logic and force behind what I've shown you here saying otherwise, I think it's impossible to be anywhere near that certain. So with this being a potential looming disaster, why are we doing so very very little???
Here's a super interesting article discussing this from a risk management perspective:
Here's some food for thought: sooner or later we will run out of fossil fuels even if we NEVER change because they will run out (or at some point before running out, they will become more expensive than clean solutions). Given that this is true, and we will be moving eventually to clean energy like Solar, Wind, Water... or cleaner forms of energy like Nuclear. Why not move now, even if it costs a little extra, to avoid this potential climate disaster?
Why play Russian roulette when the cost of prevention isn't that drastic?
Here's a budget for the USA in 2013. Compared to how much money we throw around at everything else - this problem is eminently solvable in terms of money. In fact, solving these problems en route to a more sustainable society seems like a desirable outcome. Here are some economists' statement on climate change:
"As early as 1997, over 2,500 economists including eight Nobel laureates had signed the following public statement calling for serious steps to deal with the risks of global climate change:
I. The review conducted by a distinguished international panel of scientists under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." As economists, we believe that global climate change carries with it significant environmental, economic, social, and geopolitical risks, and that preventive steps are justified.
II. Economic studies have found that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. For the United States in particular, sound economic analysis shows that there are policy options that would slow climate change without harming American living standards, and these measures may in fact improve U.S. productivity in the longer run. III. The most efficient approach to slowing climate change is through market-based policies. In order for the world to achieve its climatic objectives at minimum cost, a cooperative approach among nations is required -- such as an international emissions trading agreement. The United States and other nations can most efficiently implement their climate policies through market mechanisms, such as carbon taxes or the auction of emissions permits. The revenues generated from such policies can effectively be used to reduce the deficit or to lower existing taxes." http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/education_materials/modules/The_Economics_of_Global_Climate_Change.pdf
(two great sites that discuss the economic costs of climate change in depth)
The cost of switching to clean energy and more environmentally sustainable forms of living are only so costly when you aren't counting the negative externalities involved with current "dirtier" solutions! Yeah, coal might be cheaper than solar/wind energy on a per watt basis in only the dollar cost of production NOW, but when you include the present and future negative externalities (pollution, increased CO2, etc...), as well as the likely lowering costs of these clean technologies as we continue to invest and develop in them... I believe it costs more to continue to use coal and other "dirty" technologies.
So here is my case.
Global warming caused by humans is very likely happening.
One candidate (Trump) and party (Republicans) call it a hoax and deny it.
The first part of solving a problem is admitting you have a problem and identifying it. So we can't solve this problem as long as we keep denying it.
A very interesting documentary "Merchants of Doubt" explores this phenomenon. I recommend you watch it.
And in fact, here is a good article that summarizes the documentary even better:
"Who remembers that climate change was a top priority early in George W Bush’s first term as US president? Merchants of Doubt, a new documentary film released in US cinemas this week, reminds us that in June 2001 Bush and the Republican party were 100% committed to curbing carbon emissions causing global warming.Six months later everything changed. The film shows Republican party leader John Boehner calling the idea of global warming “laughable”, said Merchants of Doubt director Robert Kenner. With the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occupying attention, Americans For Prosperity, a powerful, fossil-fuel lobby group founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, launched a decade-long, multi-pronged campaign to sow doubt about the reality of climate change.By equating the findings of climate scientists as an attack on personal freedoms, they cleverly shifted the focus away from science to political opinion. “Creating a focus point away from what is actually going on is how magicians pull off their tricks,” said Kenner who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.The deception has worked well. Few Americans know 97% of scientists agree climate change is caused by human activity and is happening now. (you are one of the few now if you carefully read my article above!!) Inspired by the 2010 book of the same name, Kenner’s film is about deception and profiles many of the charming and always smiling professional deceivers who work for the tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical, and fossil fuel industries. The tobacco industry knowingly and successfully deceived the public for 50 years about the connection between smoking and cancer, the 1988 tobacco lawsuit settlement revealed. In a pattern of manipulation clearly evident today in the manufactured ‘debate’ over climate change, the tobacco industry used media-friendly pseudo-experts, doctored ‘science’ studies and attacked the credibility of scientists or experts who said otherwise, Kenner said. Peter Sparber, one the tobacco industry’s most successful deceivers, told Kenner that he could get the public to believe a garbage man knew more about science than prominent climate scientist James Hansen. “If you can sell tobacco you can sell anything,” Sparber tells Kenner. Selling confusion and doubt around a complex issue like climate change was far easier than selling tobacco. Nearly all of those well-paid climate mis-informers have no science background and often clear ties to industry lobby groups and yet are treated as expert commentators on climate science by media. It’s not just Fox News. Serious news outlets like CNN and the New York Times are complicit by featuring misinformers in news articles and on discussion panels, he said.The film also focuses on the many self-described “grassroots” organisations that are actually promoting specific corporate and political interests. These organisations are often aided by, and passionately supported by, ordinary citizens who believe they are fighting for personal freedoms and libertarian or conservative values. Kenner is hoping audiences “will realise they’ve been lied to” and develop better “bullshit detectors”."
There you are. Just like Cigarette companies spread doubt about smoking and it's deleterious effects - and spread it for as long as they could to prolong their time in the sun gaining profits .... so are gas/coal companies (or any CO2 polluter) now doing the same for their industries. And on a complex issue like this one, it's proving to be quite easy. Loads of people are buying the bullshit.
Trump, one of our two choices for president, has tweeted that global warming is a hoax.
There are many people that agree with this stance and believe that it isn't real. Most of the Republican Party and their backers are spreading this false position around the country like a virus. That makes it seem like there is a lot of validity in their position, because they are one of two major parties in the USA, so it's 50/50 right? Wrong. They are the Merchants of Doubt, and what they are selling is bad for us all.
One might like Trump or Republicans for other reasons - but they are flat out on the wrong side of Climate Change & Global Warming both scientifically and historically. And by being on the wrong side of the issue, they are playing Russian Roulette with you, me, and the world, so that some businesses can continue earning profits. It's sad that it seems there is no limit to greed and it's ability to corrupt.
It is the logical and rational move to curb CO2 emissions and to do what it takes to ameliorate the situation as much as possible. And not in 50 years, but today. As the most powerful nation in the world, if we made this a priority we could do a lot to get not only other rich nations like Europe, China, & Japan to curb emissions, we could influence developing nations as well. And the first step is to stop denying. This is a problem. We need to do something. Stop electing officials that deny that this is the problem. It's the easiest way to start doing something about it.
Luckily Obama just signed the Paris Agreement at the Paris Climate Conference which has the long term goal of keeping temperature rises below 2 degrees C (4 degrees F) along with China and many other industrialized nations. This is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era, hopefully. Beware! Do not get complacent! This will be a long path, with many obstacles. And many merchants along the way trying to sell you dirty goods. We need to give this issue the importance it deserves, and above all: electing a president who denies climate change, breaks the Paris Deal, and refuses to continue on this path - would likely cause other countries to do the same.
Haven't you heard of the Prisoner's Dilemma? It's a type of game in Game Theory, where an individual actor's rational decision (while pursuing what's best for themselves out of self interest!) produces an equilibrium that is an inferior outcome to one where they cooperate. This has a clear application to this situation of clean energy and Global Warming. It's in any one country's best ecomonic interest to produce energy and do whatever is cheapest - even if it pollutes heavily. The problem is that when countries are left to their own devices, they all act this way and it produces an inferior outcome for the world (everyone pollutes and causes global warming among other problems). That's why this is known as a DILEMMA. An inferior equilibrium is reached despite everyone acting in their own rational self-interest. Sometimes cooperating produces better outcomes than competing. This is one of those times. It just requires us to look around and not view everyone else as competitors - but rather as fellow humans all sharing the same spaceship on a voyage through the heavens... Spaceship Earth.
I urge you to watch this beautiful video of a Carl Sagan quote as a conclusion to this discussion: