Food for Thought on The Issue of Global Warming

An interesting discussion popped up today on a private mailing list I’m a part of, and the topic was global warming. I don’t pretend to know much about this issue other than the commonly-used talking points the media feeds us, but I’m old enough to remember several of these “dire predictions” over the past couple of decades. Does anyone remember textbooks in school during the ’80s telling us we’d run out of oil by the year 2000? Or that the would couldn’t possibly support more than 5 billion people because we’d all starve to death? Or that we were going to run out of space for our garbage by the mid-90s? The past 30 years are chock-full of predictions by experts who were sure certain things were going to happen…and they didn’t. Ten years from now, are we going to look back at the hysteria over Global Warming and wonder what we were all thinking? I can’t say for sure, but it’s always important to remember history to keep things on context.

I don’t believe we’re treating the planet and the resources we have as well as we should – I believe that mankind is a rather short-sighted, selfish steward of the planet we rule…but I also know that just because 99% of people say something is true doesn’t necessarily make it so. Most people don’t want to admit that.

Matt Miller pointed out an interesting article written by John Coleman that raises some points worth pondering:

“You may want to give credit where credit is due to Al Gore and his global warming campaign the next time you fill your car with gasoline, because there is a direct connection between Global Warming and four dollar a gallon gas. It is shocking, but true, to learn that the entire Global Warming frenzy is based on the environmentalist’s attack on fossil fuels, particularly gasoline. All this big time science, international meetings, thick research papers, dire threats for the future; all of it, comes down to their claim that the carbon dioxide in the exhaust from your car and in the smoke stacks from our power plants is destroying the climate of planet Earth. What an amazing fraud; what a scam.”

It’s also worth noting the damage that thoughtless environmentalism can cause. The move toward ethanol-based fuels really gets me because it’s the worst kind of environmentalism: knee-jerk, “do it ’cause it sounds good” choices rather than looking at the big picture. It’s idiotic to take a limited resources (food) and use it to replace another limited resource (fuel). That’s like cutting off your legs to save money on buying pants. Converting everything to electrical power and going nuclear is the best option we have in North America (and most developed countries for that matter), but that’s going to take a supreme act of will on the part of the people and their government, and I can’t see it happening for another two decades – and things getting much worse.

  • Don’t forget back in the 70s when the next Ice Age was coming. Funny, how we went from an ice age to global warming in just 30 years. Man, the Earth must be fickle.

    I think it is very sad that Al Gore and others are capitalizing on the fears of others and it is very shameful.

    I agree that we need to take a serious look at nuclear power too. I know a few engineers in the field and it is the most regulated and closely watched field of engineering I know so I have complete trust in them keeping the systems safe. A couple of incidents in the past seem to have made everyone deathly afraid of nuclear power. Yet, look at the very liberal country of France and how much they depend on the clean nuclear power technology available today.

    I think the environmental extremist house of cards will fall soon as people finally start seeing the lies they are perpetuating.

  • palmsolo,
    Good point! You’re a bit older than me so I don’t remember the warnings about the next ice age. 😉

  • Janak Parekh

    Sorry — I can’t disagree more with Coleman. As a researcher, my warning signs go up when I read an article that attempts to debunk scientific theory, but has no citations and consists of lots of assertions and ignores the ton of evidence out there (new one today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7461707.stm). Look up the Greenland melting situation, or the Arctic ice, or the Arctic sea routes, etc.; in fact, it’s a huge discussion in Canada because of the huge commercial potential.

    In any case, here’s an example of a rebuttal against Coleman’s article: http://ideonexus.com/2008/06/16/john-coleman-global-warming-and-the-price-of-a-gallon-of-gas/ Be careful of trusting just one source on this issue; there are assertions made in there that have been debunked before. What particularly galls me is the argument for drilling in the US. The facts show that the reserves the US have are small and are unlikely to affect gas prices in the medium- or long-term.

    Also, blaming Al Gore for this is really kind of disturbing. Global warming has been discussed extensively before Al Gore appeared on the stage. I’m kind of mystified as to why he always gets blamed for it. Not only that, significant folks on both sides of the political spectrum believe in it, including both US presidential candidates and most Western politicians on both side of the spectrum.

    As for the textbook argument: actually, at least in the mid-80s, we (in the Northeast) didn’t have textbooks that stated those, although they certainly were in the news. There were theories put forth about oil availability, and in fact the peak oil argument suggests that, while we may not know the exact date, oil reserves on the planet are finite and will eventually diminish and become more expensive to extract. Technology has managed to find more oil (for now), but new oil discoveries have become increasingly rare as the years have gone on. In any case, of course scientists and/or environmentalists are going to be wrong at times. However, the global warming argument has not been broadly debunked, and I would strongly disagree with Coleman’s argument being a debunking.

    As for nuclear power, that’s a different matter entirely, and there I agree with you. People are simply afraid of the notion, which is a huge shame; the technology has improved immensely. Situations like Chernobyl are virtually impossible today, because modern reactors don’t have a “positive void coefficient” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Possible_causes_of_the_disaster); instead of the reaction running away and causing an explosion, failures in modern reactors would cause the reaction to simply die. Folks with a proper scientific education know that nuclear power is safe and really ought to be deployed in greater numbers. Ironically, it is the gas-consuming public that fears nuclear power the most. The one significant challenge with it is nuclear waste disposal, but that’s a solvable engineering problem.

    (BTW, random tidbit you may find interesting: Canada and Alberta in particular stand to benefit more than any other place in the world from higher oil and gas prices; the Athabasca Oil Sands are one of the world’s proven largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and possibly larger than Venezuela’s, but are stored in a dense bitumen, and are expensive to extract. As oil prices go up, the potential of the Oil Sands increases immensely. If the current trends continue, Alberta will become an even bigger player in Canada’s economy.)

  • chrisgohlke

    The thing is, it shouldn’t matter if the predictions are right or not. Like you said, we don’t treat the planet or our resources the way we should. We as a species should not need the threat of Global Warming or anything else to make us do the right thing. We should do the right thing simply because it is the right thing. However, most people don’t think that way, so it could be an end justifies the means kind of thing.

    I agree the environmental extremist is a problem, but you have your extremists in every field and it is just a fact of life. What is encouraging is the growth in the number of people that I would call thoughtful environmentalists, they will be the ones that make the difference and get everyone else on board.

  • zimac

    As far as financial experts say, a good part of the oil price surge is the direct result of worldwide investors moving their money into gold and resources such as oil because of the weak dollar and poor US economy. The extreme oil price rise is apparently not explainable by actual supply or demand numbers.

    However, just blaming the environmentalists is a much easier solution than re-evaluating one’s lifestyle. Whenever I am visiting North Amercia, I am stunned to see AC machines running all-day-round while windows are made from poorly insulating single-pane designs which don’t really close properly (or aren’t even fully closed). This is a terrible waste of valuable energy.

  • buzzard

    All I know about global warming is that the history books show a 1/2 mile thick glacier where my house sits today so I have to assume there has been some warming going on for awhile.

    I read a letter to the editor in the latest Newsweek from someone claiming that some measurement of the atmosphere has been 200 something or other (I don’t remember the details) for the last few million years and it’s now over 300 in the last 50 years or so. I wonder what instruments were used a million years ago to collect these “guaranteed” measurements. These are the kind of idiots we don’t need.

  • Oh my – I seem to have pushed a few hot buttons here. Lots of comments. 🙂