Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Warmer or Colder who should we believe

Last summer I wrote about an old Time magazine article from 1974 that used recent climatic events and the arguments of several prominent scientists or scientific organizations to support the idea that we were facing a global cooling period and perhaps even a mini-Ice age. Although the scientists weren’t 100% sure of the cause many suggested in this article and others of the day that man was the man cause of this cooling as our pollution was blocking the sun’s ability to heat the earth.

More recently we’ve all heard about Global Warming and many of us have watched as Al Gore’s documentary about the issue won awards from both Hollywood and the International community. Together with the UN panel for climate change they shared a Nobel Peace Prize (although I’m still baffled by this one since there’s an award for science and this is surely science) which jointly honored their work.

Over the past two years it has become increasing difficult for those that disagree with the reasons for Global Warming to speak out without being labeled as heretics or nuts but even more difficult to hear are the voices that suggest Global Warming is a myth altogether. These poor souls are kindly referred to as ignorant or more often as fools who should be jailed as the leading Canadian environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki has recently proposed.

The hate and scorn heaped on those who continue to question the science, the models used, how the results are interpreted and whether or not man is the main influence or a bit player is something a kin to the hunt for Hollywood Communists carried out by Sen McCarthy and every much as foolish.

You see the trouble I have with those who believe that the debate has been settled is that rarely has the scientific community been right in the present. In fact history tells us that the agreed upon science of the day is rarely correct and must be updated as new facts are discovered, new ideas explored and new technology comes online.

Today Galileo is called the father of astronomy, the father of physics, and the father of modern science but in 1633 he was ordered to stand trial for heresy and was convicted. His crime was to proclaim and argue in books that the Sun was the center of the universe and that the Earth moved around the sun. His sentence was that he must recant his views and never speak of them again, he was ordered imprisoned but this was commuted to house arrest and he would never again be authorized to publish books. Pope Urban VIII heard the case and listened to both sides, Galileo used his research and telescope to prove his point, the Church pointed to several Psalm’s that spoke of the Earth being created and unmoving and brought forward many scientists that supported the church’s opinion suggesting that the overwhelming majority of science believes Galileo is wrong. Galileo recanted.

Even the great Galileo whom I’ve just written about was wrong, siding with the majority of scientists who rallied about the idea that the moon was the greatest influence on the tides. In fact Johannes Kepler whose theory got it right was dismissed by Galileo as “useless fiction”.

Whether it’s the modern debates over whether or not eggs are good or bad, wine is good or bad, chocolate is good or bad, meat is good or bad for us to eat and drink or some original fears about Microwave ovens and Cell phones and the damage they may do to humans it’s pretty obvious that while we continue to evolve so does our thinking and understanding of the things around us.

In the past two weeks I’ve started to see more articles about Global Cooling again and the idea that in fact the planet has just completed a normal cycle of Global warming and increased activity by the Sun and is now entering a period of Global cooling, once again the report cited recent weather patterns, heavier than normal ice densities in certain parts of the world and the scientists quoted had numerous initials after their names and came from prestigious schools where they were conducting their research and once again they had challenged those who supported the global warming theory by asserting that research must continue before we reach any conclusions.

According to Robert Toggweiler of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University and Joellen Russell, assistant professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona, two prominent climate modelers, who say that the computer models that show polar ice-melt cooling the oceans, stopping the circulation of warm equatorial water to northern latitudes and triggering another Ice Age (a la the movie The Day After Tomorrow) are all wrong. "We missed what was right in front of our eyes," says Prof. Russell. It's not ice melt but rather wind circulation that drives ocean currents northward from the tropics. Climate models until now have not properly accounted for the wind's effects on ocean circulation, so researchers have compensated by over-emphasizing the role of manmade warming on polar ice melt.

When these researchers inserted the known wind patterns from the last 40 years into the same climate models they confirmed that is was wind that had shifted the warmer water into the Arctic and the result was normal and had nothing to do with man.

Recently Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences said that the Sun has entered into a period of inactivity and that we should stock up on “fur coats” and that manmade climate change was a “drop in the bucket”, this was echoed by Kenneth Tapping of the Canadian National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, who is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon.

We should remember that the last time the Sun entered into a prolonged period of inactivity it became known as the Dark Ages. With the cold came crop failures, famine, plague and war. We are certainly better prepared and more globally integrated to survive another 5 centuries of cold and I’m certainly not predicting another period like the Dark Ages but some seem to be and that is the point.

Science like man evolves and doesn’t stand still, we cannot simple say the science is settled and react to it. If we assume Mr. Gore and his ilk are correct and we move heaven and earth to reduce green house gasses and it turns out that the opposite is occurring then we have expended useless amounts of time and capitol on something we can’t control.

While I’m all for becoming more energy efficient, cleaning up our lakes and water, cutting back on the use of fossil fuels or creating ways to use them without the same amounts of pollutants going into the air we breathe and having as many trees as we can afford to have to continue to act as natures great filters, I’m firmly against radical efforts to reduce green house gasses by neutering industry or with schemes to buy carbon credits or false treaties that reduce nothing but make us feel good by signing them like Kyoto. Destroying the economy of the West while the Far East continues to pollute and gain strength is not a plan for success but a recipe for desasture.

We must continue to invest in all types of research, we must keep politicians away from science as they will corrupt and pervert it for political gain and we must move slowly towards any solution as science moves even slower from theory towards fact and of that I am certain.


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