“For the world's economy, of course, trillions of dollars are now at stake in pursuit of emissions reductions based on the flawed science that these leaked emails have helped lay bare. For the rest of the world too, the stakes are too high to treat this as just another academic spat.” –From the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, concerning leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia as evidence that scientists have been altering that data to fit in with global warming beliefs
It’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction in the increasingly bizarre battle over strategies to address global climate change. In many ways, the issue of climate change is becoming something of a holy war – and I do not use that term lightly here.
The problem is that climate change is a very complex issue – one that is almost certainly affected by the affectations of modern human life (cars, trucks, factories, power plants, etc.) but also one, I am finding, that is full of contradictory evidence; and at times, it appears scientists are massaging data to fit their theories on the subject, instead of the other way around.
The recent hacking and release of 1,037 emails and some 2,000 documents spanning 13 years at Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at Britain’s University of East Anglia is only the latest evidence that things may not be what they seem.
Then there’s Al Gore's award-winning global warming film "An Inconvenient Truth," directed by Davis Guggenheim and released in 2006, wherein the former U.S. Vice President argues that humans are causing climate change – a problem he says is “the biggest moral challenge facing the globe.” Yet it was a lawsuit by (of all things!!!) a British truck driver named Stewart Dimmock that brought a lot of the film’s scientific evidence into question.
Dimmock – who, by the way, agrees with the vice president that global warming is occurring – grew upset that the 93-minute film would be shown in his daughter’s classroom as part of her schooling. He sued over it and (wonder of wonders) the British version of our supreme court found a lot of problems with the science underpinning the movie – so much so that it cannot be shown in an academic setting without an alteration of the “Guidance Notes to Teachers” about it.
Those notes state that:
1.) The Film is a political work and promotes only one side of the argument.
2.) If teachers present the film without making this plain they may be in breach of section 406 of the Education Act 1996 and guilty of political indoctrination.
3.) Eleven inaccuracies have to be specifically drawn to the attention of school children.
And what are those inaccuracies? Noel Sheppard laid them out on his Newsbusters blog:
The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The British Government's expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.
The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising carbon dioxide (CO2) causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800 to 2,000 years.
The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The British Government's expert had to accept that it was "not possible" to attribute one-off events to global warming.
The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The British Government's expert had to accept that this was not the case.
The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Al Gore had misread the study: in fact, only four polar bears drowned due entirely to one particularly violent storm.
The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age. The Claimant's evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.
The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The British Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.
The film suggests that the Greenland ice covering could melt causing sea levels to rise dangerously. The evidence is that Greenland will not melt for millennia.
The film suggests that the Antarctic ice covering is melting. The evidence was that it is in fact increasing.
The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7 meters causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40 centimeters over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.
The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The British Government is unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim.
[The irony to the British high court’s decision is that the building housing the jurists is located not all that far from the CRU lab at the University of East Anglia, which is decidedly in the pro-warming camp.]
This is NOT to say, however, that global warming is a complete falsehood -- far from it. There's data for and against global warming and both sides of the story need to be heard. The problem lately, though, is that the scientific data itself is getting increasinly interpreted to fit one set of theories or another -- making the facts fit the story, rather than the story fitting the facts.
[Here's a good video -- one of series -- by a British journalist explaining the basis for global warming as well as anti-warming theories. Warning: The narrator uses a single explective near the start of this video and I apologize in advance for that, but this is about as concise a descriptive of climate change theories as you will find.]
[Here is a view of the anti-warming theories as well.]
Here’s another twist to the climate change debate: if we step back in time 30 years ago, to the 1970s, climatologists weren’t worried about global warming – they feared global COOLING, as average ground temperatures fell by 0.5 Fahrenheit between 1945 and 1968, with a 1.3% DECREASE in the amount of sunshine hitting the U.S. between 1964 and 1972. Scientists were so concerned about this fall in temperature that solutions such as partial MELTING THE POLAR ICE CAPS by covering it with black soot got bandied about.
[This whole issue of global warming makes up a chapter in the must-read book “Super Freakonomics” by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner.]
Read a little and further and you find out one of the big reasons why the problem reversed itself – WE CLEANED UP THE AIR. Yup, you got it – all those pollution and smog reduction strategies the world embarked on in the 1970s … resulted in the global warming catastrophe we’re facing now. Talk about a case of ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’!
[You can watch Steven Leaviit address the climate change issue below.]
Then there’s the question of global warming emission SOURCES. Right now, many of the world’s governments are sending representatives to Copenhagen, Denmark, to address how to “cap” global warming emissions from vehicles, factories, power plants, and the like. Here’s what they won’t address: eliminating cows, sheep, and other cud-chewing animals that are lumped together into a category dubbed “ruminant mammals.”
These creatures, as we all know, survive by eat tons of grass and other plants, chewing them over and over to soften them up for digestion. The byproduct of such digestion, though, is methane – emitted (if I may say so) in the forms of burps, farts, defecation, etc. Why bring this up? Because methane from THESE sources is 25 times more potent that the CO2 emissions from cars and trucks in terms of their impact on global warming. In fact, the world’s ruminant animals are responsible for 50% MORE greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector, according to scientific data.
[And in the interest of telling all sides of this story, there's more than a little controversy over Leavitt and Dubner's research into global climate change in Freaknomics, and you can read about that here.]
But put that aside for the moment. Let’s say that everyone agrees in Copenhagen to stop producing excess CO2 – and let’s say we do it tomorrow. Everything comes to a halt – cars, trucks, factories – so we’re no longer pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (well, not EVERYTHING – all mammals, humans included, exhale CO2 – but we don’t want to stop breathing, do we?) How long would it take for the CO2 in the atmosphere to dissipate enough to stop the global warming trend? A decade?
Try at minimum 100 years – that’s the half life of carbon. At higher altitudes, though, carbon degrades much, much slower – we could be looking at 1,000 years. So potentially we could create a massive cap-and-trade emission control system that does … well, nothing, at least for anyone alive right now. And probably wouldn’t reverse any of the global warming catastrophes predicted with breathless abandon unless we actually COUNTERACT the carbon in the atmosphere. That means pumping something up there to negate the carbon – and I’m not sure the environmental community is ready to go the “fight fire with fire” route just yet.
That’s what’s so frustrating about the ecological fervor over climate change these days – none of it may amount to a hill of beans. Meanwhile, stuff we could do NOW to boost environmental stewardship gets ignored, such as …
PICKING UP ALL THE $% TRASH EVERYWHERE!
I mean, there’s a huge “dead zone” of floating garbage out in the Pacific Ocean that scientists are going out to study. Um … anybody thinking about cleaning it up? That would probably do more to improve the environment than a cap-and-trade system would.
But then again, there’s not a lot of publicity – or money, for that matter – to be had in picking up the trash. That’s one of the more nefarious opinions of the climate change debate; that scientists are massaging their data to keep grants and research funding coming in the door; whether that is true or not I’m not sure. Like the entire issue of climate change, there’s a lot more doubt to be had than initially meets the eye.