Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

I’m Wilting, But Will the Planet?

Posted by hyperpat on July 22, 2006

Ok, it hit 111 today. And over a hundred yesterday, and will be over a hundred tomorrow. Not very comfortable. But many people look at such temperatures and say “Oh, global warming is the cause”. They’re wrong. Days like this are nothing more than a few more data points added to the total body of evidence that indicates that yes, our planet is warming up a little bit at the moment. Does it mean that New York City will be under twenty feet of water a century from now? Maybe. And it might be buried under twenty feet of snow.

Predicting the climate is not something that we can do with great confidence yet, and given the weather’s chaotic nature and the huge number of variables that contribute to the climate, we may never be able to do so. Much of current theory is based on data collected in the last century, augmented by things like deep ice core analysis and some historical records of things like the “Little Ice Age” that happened between about 1400 and 1850. The trouble is, much of this input data is suspect, or has known biases, such as temperature recorders located near large urban areas, which are known to produce local area temperature increases. Such biases, if well understood, can be corrected for, but it still makes the data input somewhat suspect. And science, if nothing else, is all about data: you need to able to measure it, quantify it, force a repeat of the conditions that produces the measurable effect. From this data a hypothesis can be formed, and if confirmed by later experiments and measurements, graduate the hypothesis to a theory.

But the big problem with all the models that are based on the current theory is that there is no way to do repeatable experiments to confirm the accuracy of the model or even the basic validity of the theory. All scientists can do is continue to collect data and see how well it matches up with earlier predictions. Even that doesn’t provide great confidence. Things like just how the great North Atlantic ocean current, that has kept England and much of Western Europe quite a bit warmer than would otherwise be expected given their latitude, operates or what would cause it to change direction or even disappear is not known with any degree of certainty. The movie The Day After Tomorrow played upon this great unkown to present a scenario of not Global Warming, but a very sudden change to a new Ice Age.

However, what we do know is that our climate is changing, and that CO2 levels, that can be proven in the laboratory to have significant effects on the total heat equation for this planet, have reached the highest level ever in at least the last 600,000 years. And most scenarios indicate that the types of changes foreseeable, hot or cold, are not good for our civilization. So it would seem to make sense to look for ways to at least curtail the amount of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere, even without reliable predictions about what might happen. And perhaps a lot more money should be allocated to research not just current effects, but to look for ways to actively manage the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.

But putting an automatic label of ‘Global Warming’ on every twitch of daily weather is an incorrect use of the results of scientific investigation, and does not lead to proper introspective thought about appropriate actions.

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