Sunday, March 29, 2009

Not Convinced...Yet

I do not understand the entire science behind global warming (as I have not spent my entire life studying the sources and nature of GHG), but the topic intrigues me. I am not alone--well, not AS alone--in my lack of understanding. Scientists do not not understand the full affects of GHG on Earth's systems either. For example, as we learned during our climate change lecture, is there a possibility that the "cooling" affects of GHG outweigh the "warming" affects? We don't know what we don't know.

Climate change is an interesting subject not only because of the debated impact of anthropogenic carbon, but also because it has created so much hysteria and political fervor. When lots of people--especially those who have no business speaking intelligently about climate change (i.e.: politicians, movie stars, college students who have read a chapter in a text about global warming, and other "activists")--jump on the wagon too fast, I become skeptical. I fear climate change has become a money-making machine. Too many marketing specialists, researchers, universities, renewable energy firms, advertisers, reporters, and politicians have too much invested for it to fail.

I ran across an article by Nicholas Dawidoff in the NY Times (link below) about the global warming opinions of the world renown scientist Freeman Dyson. Dyson is currently 85 years old and because he swims against the school regarding climate change, he has been ridiculed left and right. While I disagree with some of his claims, I think he provides a sobering perspective to the global climate change issue. He agrees that human activity has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but he says that most scientists who tout global warming do not know enough about the complex biological processes in our ecosystems. He also states that we, as co-inhabitants of this globe, should be more worried about true evils like "war, poverty, and unemployment." I agree with this statement. Instead of being driven by the hoopla of climate change, policy makers need to address true, deadly issues like education deficits, malnutrition, and poverty. Do we really want Aunt Susie to be driving that expensive HEV, or do we want that rebate money going to pay a teacher more? I think our government's priorities are skewed.

Carbon-producing businesses, vehicles, and people (guilty: I eat too much red meat) have been demonized unnecessarily. Yes, we need to be responsible citizens by being good stewards of the environment and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but calling for extreme behavioral changes based on a theory is excessive. Although we should not ignore harmful pollutants like particulates, ozone, sulphur-based molecules, and nitrogen oxides, I, like Dyson, believe that nature will take care of herself.

(Send your comments. I am ready for them. I know my thoughts are very unpopular.)



Ideamotor said...

For what it's worth, Dr. Dyson hasn't spent his entire life studying the sources and nature of GHG either. He's a physicist. A good dose of skepticism is great for the scientific process however.

Nate said...

"policy makers need to address true, deadly issues like education deficits, malnutrition, and poverty"
One of the reasons climate change receives so much attention is b/c it has the potential to greatly affect education, malnutrition, and poverty.
The choice b/t an HEV and money to pay a teacher is a false choice. What if the HEV is made in a state that relies on those revenues in part to fund education? You illustrate a great point though, that policy makers need to take a holistic approach to problem solving, as many issues are intimately intertwined.

Toby said...

Good to see you again. You are my most faithful commenter. Haha.

When a state offers tax rebates or tax credits to individuals purchasing advanced fueled vehicles, the state's government loses money (these type of environmental programs, along with excessive government intrusion in California businesses, in my opinion, plays a significant role in that state's huge $42 billion deficit. For example, a bill is pending in the Cali legislature now that includes outlawing black-painted cars to reduce heat absorption...or something. Loco.). Anyway, I would think that certain states could save substantial amounts of money by slimming R&D and procurement of environmentally safe buses, for example, in order to channel that into education. Also, making an elementary school "green" should not be the school district's or principal's priority. Yes, the school will get good press for a while because they "care," but is learning going on inside?

Also, the best way to attack malnutrition and poverty NOW is to pump money into economies (education, agricultural training, skills training, etc.), not by creating expensive policies that will hopefully alter the climate at some distant point in the future.
Just some thoughts. Good talk Nate. Always up for it.

Chris Smith said...

Here is a good debate on the merits of climate change science:.

Here is a video from Bjorn Lomborg (the controversial statistician who wrote the skeptical environmentalist) that talks about ranking global priorities (including climate change). I think this would be very interesting in relation to your discussion on where climate change falls in the mix of other major global issues/problems.

Jason C. said...

I saw an interesting piece on PBS the other day about how the land is disappearing one inch at a time as ocean waves slowly creep inland on Kiribati. Kiribati is near the equator in central Pacific Ocean and consists of 33 islands with more than 100,000 people. For the people that live there, global warming is not a distant, theoretical hazard but a present threat. Here's the link to a realated article I found on the web:

I definitely agree that issues such as war, poverty and unemployment must be the top priorities for our leaders. But for residents of Kiribati who believes their islands will be unlivable in 50 years, this undoubtly becomes their top priority to tackle if that is even possible. Fact of the matter is, many modern and industrialized nations that do the polluting does not see or feel the impact as much as the small and minimal polluting nation like Kiribati. So if the predictions are true, and that the residents of Kiribati must be displaced in next several decades, where can they go? Should the most polluting nations take one the responsibility to take them in their nations? Is Kiribati just the start of many more similar cases to come?

John D. said...

An example of "green" marketing gone wrong.

Marketing: Honda touting the their "green" hydrogen car and the Hollywood earth crowd putting their names on a year long waiting list to buy one.

Reality: Hydrogen comes from methane steam reforming and emits GHG in the process.

This reminds me of that south park episode where Stan's dad kills the town with his "smug" hybrid car.

Science, not marketing solves this problem.