“New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” —John Locke
I follow a number of blogs on global warming and the climate crisis. It’s interesting how there are so many skeptics out there who simply dismiss the science. This is usually out of a lack of understanding—something I try to help minimize in my book. But much of it falls into the category of conspiracy theory rather than ignorance of the facts. Examples cited include such concepts as scientists misleading the public because there’s money to be had by bamboozling everyone on the issue. (This argument implies that there’s nothing to be gained by the naysayers, particularly those who support the coal and oil industries, by trying to maintain business-as-usual—other than the billions of dollars generated by continuing to use fossil fuels.) When I read these comments, as a physician, I can’t help but look back to a similar group of naysayers—the tobacco industry and its lobbyists—arguing once upon a time that cigarette tobacco didn’t cause cancer, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Conspiracy theories are exciting and intriguing, which is why there are so many of them out there. JFK’s assassination is much harder to accept if it was simply a solitary crazed gunman who did it. The tragedy we now refer to as 9/11 is easier for some to understand if there were government officials who knew it was going to happen ahead of time because, again, crazed killers who can so easily get away with such a tragedy seems unfathomable. Even the OJ trial jurors acknowledged that the evidence was clearly indicative that he committed the murders. That’s why the only plausible explanation to them was that the evidence against him had to have been planted.
An overwhelming majority of scientists acknowledge that global warming is real. These individuals went into their chosen professions because they wanted to know the truth. They didn’t do it for the money because, truth be told, there isn’t a lot of money in publishing such research. (Certainly nowhere near the amount of money available to executives in the industries connected to fossil fuels!) Here’s what today’s scientists working at the National Climatic Data Center, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have discovered:
- Global surface temperatures over both land and sea have been steadily increasing. Precise measurements taken over the last century have proven an increase in global temperature by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (almost one degree Celsius). The twenty hottest years on record have all occurred since 1981. The ten hottest on record have all occurred in the last twelve years.
- Sea levels are rising. Over the last century, the rate of rise of the oceans has been about 1.7 mm per year, and the rate has been increasing. In the last twenty years, the rate has been 3.5 mm per year, more than double what the average has been for the last hundred years. This isn’t hard to understand when you think of all the melting ice from Greenland, Antarctica, and all of the world’s glaciers that are adding to the oceans’ water content. And it’s not just more water added: warmer oceans also expand.
- The snow cover in northern hemispheres is decreasing. The amount of snow cover has steadily diminished over the last forty years.
- Glaciers are retreating. You would be hard-pressed to find a glacier on the planet that hasn’t been losing its mass of ice, let alone maintaining a steady state. Increasing global temperatures are the only reasonable way to explain this consistent finding.
- Climate extremes are increasing. A great measure of climate change is the increase in extreme weather phenomena, such as we have been observing. More hurricanes, floods and droughts are all easily explained by the climate crisis. Because of the maldistribution of water from these extreme phenomena, we don’t only observe increases in flooding in certain territories, but increased drought in other regions as well. A very dangerous corollary to this will be increased famine.
The reality of our plight is that greenhouse gas emissions have correlated far too closely with the increase in global temperatures to be mere coincidence. And although there are other factors that have played a part in climate change throughout our planet’s history—changes in the sun’s energy output and orbital forcings which are subtle changes in our planet’s orbit around the sun—none of them can adequately explain what has already been observed over the last few decades.
The simple truth is as follows: global warming is real; climate change is already happening; and human activities explain the bulk of this change because of increased greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s time that we take responsibility for what we’ve been doing for the last couple of hundred years, ever since the Industrial Revolution began. If we want to continue to live the quality of life to which we’ve become accustomed, then we’d better find alternate sources of energy to provide those creature comforts. Otherwise our comforts are going to be short-lived, and future generations are going to be left wondering, “What the heck were we thinking?”