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Do you think the abnormally warm weather and multiple natural disasters of 2004 are effects of global warming?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on December 16, 2004

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Photo of Ophra Leyser

“I think it’s a possibility, but I don’t have the meteorological expertise to know for sure. I sure don’t trust anyone Bush has appointed to tell us.”

Photo of David Peal

“No, I don’t. I believe that the earth moves in cycles, and that we are overanalyzing the very small amount of time we have been collecting data.”

Photo of Kimora Roehl

“Yes, I do, because Alaska isn’t getting enough snow. We want our snow. Give it back!”

Photo of Andrew Leek

“I would say no. The weather is so chaotic that there is no way to know for sure. It could just be chance, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Comments

badger 9 years, 8 months ago

Correction: their livelihoods depend on it not being affected by human actions, not on it not existing. That was ill-phrased and not what I meant.

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jonas 9 years, 8 months ago

The government is doing crossovers with planes to raise the temperature of the globe, and my support is the book of Revelations?

AAAAAHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Thanks liberty: that felt good

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

The difference is that the weather guy on the news is trying to pinpoint what will happen in a twelve-hour timespan, and climate works on a larger scale.

Weather guy says, "Front moving through Tuesday afternoon, temperatures in the 20s." Front stalls, doesn't come through until Wednesday morning, and everyone laughs at the Stupid Weather Guy. However, if he'd said, "Early to mid-week, we'll see low temperatures as a result of this front," people would have said his info was useful.

Science is making large-scale predictions, not trying to pinpoint a thunderstorm or how many inches of snow will fall during drivetime. If you're throwing darts in your living room, you'd have a better rate of accuracy trying to hit an elephant than a fly.

These are facts:

  1. Average temperatures are quantifiably warmer than they were 100 years ago.
  2. Greenhouse gases, though not the only cause, contribute to this.
  3. A 2 degree rise in annual average temperature causes significant melting in the polar ice caps (been watching the news? There are record floes blocking penguin nesting sites in Antarctica, and last year one of the largest sheets ever sheared off the Southern cap).
  4. Melting in the polar ice caps, especially the Southern ones where the 'bouyancy effect' doesn't negate the melting effect, raises sea level demonstrably and affects the salinity of our oceans.

I agree that weather and climate are cyclical. Yup, the temps will go back down again. The question is, what will be left of our way of life after they do? We have a lot of coastal populations. Are we prepared for millions of people in the US alone to lose their homes to floods over a five-year period? What will that do to the coastal economies? As species adjust to the precipitous drop in salinity, what will happen to the fishing industry?

This is not an all-or nothing thing. Global warming is a fact, and it is coming regardless of how we do or do not pollute. Nothing we do or could have done will stop it.

However, what we CAN do is decrease the rate at which we contribute to the problem, and buy ourselves time. Spreading change like that over fifteen years instead of five could mean the difference between our economy surviving or collapsing.

A lot of people are about five years behind on current scientific thought. Science stopped telling people that this could be stopped years ago, and now they're just trying to slow the pace. "This will happen unless we do something," now generally means the level of destruction and fallout, not the warming process itself.

Anyone can look at a massive cloud system and say, "Wow, that's a big ol' storm coming," even if he doesn't know how many inches of rain it'll be or if it'll get here at 5 or 8 o'clock. He does know to get the dog in the house, make sure the windows are closed, put up the lawn furniture, and make sure the car's in the garage.

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lunacydetector 9 years, 8 months ago

global warming is a scam used by scientists to get grant money. they've been recording weather history for ONLY 100 years.

the sky is NOT falling, literally or figuretively.

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Jayhawk226 9 years, 8 months ago

Just wait until CNN and Fox News cable networks finally decide to hype the global warming news story.

Non-stop, 24-7 live reports to the rings of overly-dramatic music and news bylines whizzing past the bottom of my television is just what we need more of.

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

Yes, I agree, there is an agenda on the "emissions aren't the culprit" side, too! They must be watched very closely!

Businesses who have emission problems are paying scientists to do studies. Other businesses, who are ahead of the game in emissions (like Dow Chemical, for example) don't argue against the human-induced global warming ideas which could shut down their competitors. Still others are trying to develop and sell emission reducing technology, and coincidentally, they come down on the side that humans cause global warming. Go figure!

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mrcairo 9 years, 8 months ago

No. This old world has been spinning around for about 4 billion years (scientific estimate) and 10 thousand years if you are a hard-line right-wing christian. Either way it is scientifically proven that an ice age occured naturally a long time ago and I suspect another may emerge naturally or by the hand of God in years to come.

I would like to see all right-wing hard-core republicans hold their breath while waiting for it, and I wouldn't be too distraught if all the hard-core left-wing-nuts would follow suit. This would leave us with a nice mellow middle of the road crowd.

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Punkin 9 years, 8 months ago

Scientists across the globe are pretty clear on this point: the climate is changing.

"An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system."

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2001

Our collective contribution of hydrocarbon-borne air pollutants is the likely cause.

As long as the politics of greed trump evidence-based science, the US will remain an international scoflaw in regard to curbing global warming.

The American educational system has created a stunning number of scientifically illiterate graduates.

That we are still arguing about the existance of global warming, instead of acting to stop it, speaks volumes about our Country's slide into fundamentalism, ignorance, and disaster.

The latest push toward "intelligent design" in science education may be the final straw. This ridiculous step is perhaps the greatest irony of the new millenium; it will surely be the capstone course to our demise.

Welcome to the dark ages!

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

CO2 levels have risen and fallen with global warming and cooling over thousands of years, long before industrialization. Studies show that when temperatures are warmer, the ocean/air exchange yields higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This indicates to me that global warming causes higher concentrations of CO2, but not necessarily that higher CO2 levels (at least not in the ppm range we experience) affect global temperature. Data shows how sun cycles are warming the earth now. But there's no statistically valid data that says emissions have affected the global temperature at all. The scatter in the data is far greater than the proposed trend. It's also interesting, by the way, to look back over a million years for which data shows CO2 levels were once orders of magnitude higher than now.

This doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't work to reduce pollution and emissions. There are plenty of other reasons to continue doing so! But we shouldn't use human-induced global warming lies and exaggerations as scare tactics to accomplish this change. Using lies as scare tactics adds cynicism to an already cynical global climate, which can spiral out of control!

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Hong_Kong_Phooey 9 years, 8 months ago

Liberty - Are you insane?! You honestly think that the US government and the UN are "behind" the white jet planes flying overhead?!

Okay, here's a small dose of reality. You really should try it sometime. Those evil, criss-crossing, white jet planes are passenger liners flying to their destinations. Here's an even bigger shock - there's more than one of them (gasp)! The reason they don't fly in the exact same pattern is because we have these things here called "cities". They're located all over the country and some are bigger than others. Anyway, these little harbingers of global warming fly people to these "cities". Since they are not all located in the same spot, sometimes the planes have to take different paths to get there. It's really quite fascinating...

Oh, and I have never seen the trails from these planes block out the sun and turn an otherwise beautiful day into a cloudy one. Perhaps, if you set down your bong, you would realize that it was just a cloud around you...

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

I think you're creating a strawman to defeat here, Badger. I never implied that, universally, life thrives at higher temperatures. Look at the context of my statement. Understand the difference between "universally" and "in general." Within the range of the earth's temperatures, more life thrives on the warmer end of the scale. That's not to suggest that life that thrives better in colder climes is less valuable or important. That's not to suggest that IF we humans were doing something to cause harm to the life of cold climes and IF we could fix it, we shouldn't.

Isn't it, on the other hand, a naive claim to say the world will be worse off if the globe warms (by whatever predicted number of degrees is popular at any given time)? Look at the tremendous bias in that direction in IPCC reporting.

There are many, many things humans do to harm the environment, and these things should be curbed or stopped. But I see no evidence suggesting we're warming the climate.

Radiosonde balloon and satellite data, in fact, suggest the climate isn't changing in the upper atmospheres (whereas global climate models that tout "the greenhouse effect" DEPEND on the assumption that it is warming). Or if you want to over-interpret the data beyond statistically valid ranges (which I don't), it suggests the upper atmosphere climate is cooling. Many global warming advocates simply ignore this data, even though it's verified by two independent types of measurement, unlike the surface temperature data which has been shown to be tainted by innumerable factors (see the Urban Heat Island Effect, changes in methods of measuring ocean temperatures) which are "corrected" by correction factors defined by people whose salaries depend on global warming being caused by humans.

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Bad_Brad 9 years, 8 months ago

What amazes me about the whole Global Warming debate is that the same people who are quick to point out financial and commercial interests of the oil industry (for example) will completely ignore financial and career interests of the scientists who trumpet Global Warming. Let me put it this way - every scientist out there has a vested interest in making sure that his/her field is seen as critical by politicians and the public at large. It makes it a lot easier to get grant money and advance careerwise in an academic or other research environment.

As for Global Warming, don't believe the hype. There was a global warming trend back in the 14th and 15th centuries too. Weather is erratic. Our best meteorologists in the world can't accurately predict the weather for a specific place more than two or three days out, yet here we trust scientists to tell us what the weather for the entire world will be like in the next 20, 50, 100 years.

Next issue please...

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

There's no reason to believe, though--no evidence whatsoever--that if we cut out all industrial activity and reduce emissions to zero, that it would affect the current global warming trend one bit. It "could" minutely affect it either way, accelerating the warming or slowing it, but we don't know in what direction or how much. There are many reasonable hypotheses, but no statistically valid supporting data. Notice the abundant rhetoric, the clever implication through words like "could," "possibly," and "probably" in the IPCC reports. I could say that the flaps of bird wings "probably" affects climate, and that would be true. It probably does. Should we kill all the birds? Notice also how the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers reads more assertively in claiming human-induced effects than the main report. Notice how, over the years of climate change modeling, the temperature change "possibly" due to emissions decreases over time.

There are studies on putting biological material on the ocean surface that shows we can reduce CO2 levels significantly, but no data saying whether or not this will affect global temperature.

As for larger and smaller scale outlooks, try applying that to the look at ecosystems. Large scale analysis shows that, in general, life thrives in warmer climates. Of course, any transition causes problems for the species that thrive in the earlier epoch (which includes humans in our case). Can we do anything about it? "Possibly" But, with all the millions of factors involved, the chances of our intervention swinging things in the way we intend it are pretty slim.

Again, I'm FOR continued reduction of pollution and emissions, but not to affect climate, since I have no way of knowing which way it might affect it.

Signing the Kyoto treaty means nothing. Treaty signatures are cheap. The U.S. will likely lead the way on reducing emissions, since so many U.S. industries are now taking advantage of this hype to develop and sell emission-reducing technology.

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

I do in fact apply that outlook to ecosystems. It's one of those things I do every day.

It's a gross oversimplification to say that "Life thrives at higher temperatures." It's also not precisely true. Go buy two fishtanks and some fish that won't eat each other. Let them get accustomed to a moderate water temperature. Then kick the thermostat in one up five degrees. The fish in the moderate tank will live longer and produce more healthy offspring. Over time, the fish in the 'hot' tank will die out because they just don't have the generational time to adapt. If your assertion that 'life thrives at higher temperatures' were universally true, then the 'hot' fish would live longer and have more offspring than their counterparts. Additionally, how come, if that's true, some plants only grow in the tundra? Shouldn't they be able to be transplanted to the tropics and grow even better?

It's not a question of 'life in general' but a question of 'life as we know it.' Look at a map of the elevations of Southeast Asia. Most of those countries have a substantial population living at or barely above sea level. Add even a two-inch rise in sea level, and millions of acres become functionally uninhabitable, because the tides now reach them and they're under water a third or half the time. Those people are already dirt poor. Where will they go, and how will their homelessness affect an already unstable region?

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

I think we may have to agree to disagree on this. We're looking at similar data from similar sources, and seeing different results. You're looking for reasons to disbelieve just as strongly as I'm looking for reasons to believe, and we're both being colored by our own assumptions.

I just can't believe the assertion that it's all a big coincidence that the pace of global warming isn't matching the glacier records at the same time we're experiencing huge increases in atmospheric turbidity over 150 years. I never said, never will say, we're causing it, but I think there's enough evidence to look at it and say, "Wow, as we don't see any positive effects, and we have a lot of correlations here that say it could be accelerating some things that will make things unpleasant for us, what say we cut back on it?"

I don't believe that very much can be scientifically proven beyond question. Not gravity, not the water cycle, not even the earth continuing to spin around the sun for the next 365 days. I do believe in strong evidence, and I see that strong evidence when I look at the trends of what we've done to our planet since the middle of the 19th century, and the changes we've seen in it. At some point, you have to decide what information is useful and what isn't, and you have to stop with single-butterfly theorizing, and you have to seriously ask yourself if you're doing everything you can to keep from screwing things up, and how much time you have to make changes before no amount of change will change anything.

It's not a matter of straw men; why bring 'life thrives in warmer climates' into the argument if not to somehow imply that life, in fact, generally or universally benefits from warmer climes? All I did was address that assertion, which is a straw man in itself, truth be told.

Finally, published data that undergo peer review are subject to standards regarding the correction of data believed to be erroneous. With your final sentence, are you implying a vast conspiracy among the scientific community to accept fraudulent or inaccurate data to justify global warming? That seems very far-fetched to me. A lot of the data come from NOAA and USGS. Are they part of the conspiracy too? As the data are often submitted as part of projects that get funding from state universities and federal agencies, are they in on it too? Not trying to be snarky, but I really object to the implication that global warming is a 'myth' perpetuated by people whose jobs depend on its existence. It doesn't make sense.

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Liberty 9 years, 8 months ago

Why not notice the obvious: Anyone noticed the white jet planes that leave white trails that last long beyond an exhaust trail in the skies? These trails form a grid and look like an X in the sky sometimes. The white trails turn into a thin layer of cloud cover and thus lock in the heat from the sun so it can not escape naturally, causing an otherwise clear day to be cloud covered with a red sunset. It appears that the United Nations/U.S. government may be behind these plane flights (over the past several years) and is creating a senario that would support global warming science to get us to enact the Kyoto treaty which will help destroy our country very quickly. To see these pictures (from New Mexico) in case you have not looked at the sky lately around here: http://www.carnicom.com/contrails.htm

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

As to the 'there's no proof' assertion, take a look at the modeling studies based on total atmospheric load. You're right that there's no direct correlation to CO2, and those data are in fact 'all over the place.' However, the true problem isn't just CO2, it's an atmospheric soup composed of (among certain trace compounds) CO2, methane, water vapor, sulfur and nitrogen compounds, and particulate matter. When you look at individual compounds, you don't see the connection, but when three factors are compared, you see an amazing correlation:

  1. Atmospheric turbidity and total 'greenhouse gas' load
  2. Total plant biomass
  3. Average regional annual temperatures

It's the combination of the first two that we need to change our course on. If we had more plants, they'd process the compounds out of the atmosphere. If we had fewer compounds in the atmosphere, the current plant biomass could handle it. But we're chopping away at this bridge from both ends.

I don't think the Kyoto treaty was the answer, but neither is pretending that this isn't a problem and we aren't affecting our world, just because we can't get absolute and incontrovertible proof of it. We also don't have absolute and incontrovertible proof that a fatty diet and sedentary lifestyle cause heart disease, but millions of people have made huge changes in their lives because of the correlative evidence we do have.

Many years ago, industry and a number of government scientists pooh-poohed the cessation of CFC production in the US, stating that it wouldn't even have 'observable effect', much less slow the thinning of the ozone layer, within 'four decades at the very least'. Studies in 2002 and 2003 showed that not only is the chlorinated compound concentration in the upper atmosphere diminished by orders of magnitude, but the thinning has slowed, and it appears that the 'hole' in the ozone layer over Southern Australia has split into two smaller holes, with a decrease in total area, and that the layer itself appears to be returning. In other words, some of that 'hippie hype' saying that we needed to reduce our global CFC production to prevent further depletion of our ozone layer turned out to be scientifically demonstrable fact.

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

I'm not looking for "absolute and incontrovertible proof" just some supporting evidence.

CFCs were a real problem, and whoever said they weren't were wrong. The problem was analyzed, hypotheses developed, supported, and the problem was corrected. It's a perfect example of how science works, how statistics work.

Global Warming is a different story. Science and statistics are being abused severly.

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

Ginabecker, there are just as many people now saying that global warming is a myth as there were then saying that CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer were a myth.

I had the same arguments, with the same logic, then. The same people were called doomslingers and naysayers, and it's really easy in retrospect to say, "But science was right then, and it's not now," but many of the same people were lined up on the same sides.

I might just as easily say, by the way, that most of the data against global warming are interpreted as being such by people whose jobs and livelihoods depend on it not existing.

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Redneckgal 9 years, 8 months ago

I don't think there is much to it. Think about it. Yes the weather was odd. But think about this. Its been a lot hotter and a lot odder. Think about the depression and dust bowl years. Most of the record highs set back in the 30s still stand today. That was some weird weather phenomenon back then and the world didn't end.

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Bad_Brad 9 years, 8 months ago

I agree with gina that the Kyoto Treaty is basically a document that politicians can sign that would make them feel all giddy inside, but it would have little real impact on anything.

The bottom line - there are forces at work in this world that we can never hope to comprehend, let alone do anything about. At some point, the sun is going to go supernova and engulf the earth. In the years, decades, even centuries leading up to that event, I suspect that the global climate of our earth will become warmer. And you know what? There won't be anything that any politican from any political party can do about it. Life is too short to worry about it.

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badger 9 years, 8 months ago

Just a point to clarify, as I realize I wasn't clear:

When I talk about five years vs. fifteen years, I'm not saying that this will be a problem five years from now. I'm saying that if we slow the process, we'll have more time between when the coastal populations begin to see effects and when they're uninhabitable due to flooding and salination of the soil. Because I believe that people will continue to buy coastal properties and try to live in low-lying flood-prone areas until the day that people's houses start falling into the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. At that point, I'd rather have as much time as possible to deal with it, and I'd like the encroachment of the waters to be slow enough that we're not suddenly dealing with, say, all of New Orleans needing to relocate in the span of six months because their houses are under water.

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Liberty 9 years, 8 months ago

God is planning on things getting hot. This is from the book of Revelation, Chapter 16 starting at verse 7:

7 And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

8 And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.

9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.

10 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain,

11 And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.

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ginabecker 9 years, 8 months ago

Badger, I do see evidence of global surface warming (at least localized warming), and corresponding ecological problems, as you see them.

As far as conspiracy theory goes, no, I don't think there's a vast conspiracy among scientists. Many reports about surface warming trends are valid, and the ones on the possible effects of localized warming on ecosystems are good (if self-admittedly speculative) studies. But scientists know the grant money and international recognition lies in showing potential distasters of global warming (vs. potential benefits) and evidence of surface warming (vs. upper atmospheric data that shows no change or cooling), and the "possibility" that the industry emissions "might" be accelerating this warming trend (vs. a possibility that it causes cooling through secondary effects, or a boring statement about the there not being enough data to say). These fine reports can stand up to peer review very well, as long as they qualify speculation and don't lie.

It's important to clarify, though, when you're seeing evidence of warming, when you're seeing evidence on the effects localized warming has had on ecosystems, when you're reading speculation on the possible effects on ecosystems, and when you're seeing evidence (or not) that emissions have accelerated warming. Media and politicians conflate these all the time; it's hard to say how inadvertently.

Media and politicians and advocacy groups also blatently misuse these reports, since human induced global warming makes great news and can be used for political advantage. They turn speculation into fact and conflate ideas into a good story. They'll extract a quote, or cajole a quote from a scientist, getting her to admit that, yes, it's theoretically possible that emissions are attributing to global warming, then turn around and say something like "Top Scientists say that emissions are a likely culprit in the current warming trends." Then the next columnist cites this, leaving out the "likely", and then links emissions to dying whales and melting ice, etc.

I've read reports that correlate global temperatures with various sun cyles, which seem statistically valid, yet they're discussed little. Why not? Do we really want the full picture?

There are plenty of good reasons to reduce emissions without abusing science and statistics.

I'll let you have the last word if you want it, Badger. I'm going to have to give this up, or I won't get any work done today! Thanks for the good discussion.

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