Global Warming

January 29, 2006

Today both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried front page stories about some troubling developments on global warming. Troubling, because firstly, there is increasing scientific evidence on the human element in the phenomenon of global warming, and secondly, we have yet another instance of callous US (by far, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases) behavior on this issue.

While the Washington Post reported prominently on the current thinking among scientists on global warming, the New York Times had a detailed story on how political appointees at NASA tried to restrict a respected expert on global warming James E. Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, from expressing his findings in public.

The essence of the Post story is:

There are three things that scientists describe as worrisome and potentially imminent, although there is some disagreement on the timing. They are:

1. Widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; and,

2. Dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and,

3. Within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

They go on to cite detailed sources for these conclusions.

The Times story is a chilling reminder of the lengths to which the current US administration will go to subdue public consciousness on global warming. James Hansen is a top NASA climate scientist who has been speaking about the perils of global warming for a long time now. But he says that in the last couple of years there has been increasing pressure on him to tone down his language. This pressure reached unsavory proportions last December.

The fresh efforts to quiet him, Dr. Hansen said, began in a series of calls after a lecture he gave on Dec. 6 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. In the talk, he said that significant emission cuts could be achieved with existing technologies, particularly in the case of motor vehicles, and that without leadership by the United States, climate change would eventually leave the earth "a different planet."

In December, he also released data showing that 2005 was probably the warmest year in at least a century.

After these actions, political appointees at NASA decided to do something. He was warned of "dire consequences" if such statements continued. In the typical methodology of such political machinations, all the directives had come through telephone conversations and not through formal channels, leaving no significant trails of documents.

There is near unanimity in the scientific community about the dangers of global warming and the desperate need for us to at least cut down on global CO2 emissions. It is common sense that the country which is most responsible for that emission take the lead in this effort. It is not merely a question of decency. Americans have lived a particular life style for more than hundred years and experienced all the benefits associated with it. Now when the time has come to start taking responsibility for that, they have started demanding that developing nations should assume equal responsibility. At the end of the day, the Chinese or the Indians have just started enjoying the benefits of this (irresponsible) life style, after many decades of nature-friendly life style, while Americans have been doing it for at least a hundred years. It is a pity that, instead of responsible leadership from the biggest culprit, we get only increasingly loud assertions that the American way of life is not negotiable.

First appeared in my weblog.

Krishna is doing Ph.D in mathematics. He writes at Quasi-Coherent Ruminations.
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Global Warming


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January 29, 2006
11:15 PM

James Lovelock, who conceived the Gaia Hypothesis, which sees the Earth as a single organism, has a new book out called 'Gaia's Revenge'. While I have not read the book, I understand it's theme is of a planet striking back against a long time of neglect and violence against it.

Perhaps Gaia will shrug off this evolutionary experiment we call humanity.

Back to the oceans!

Rohan Venkat
January 30, 2006
02:09 PM

There is near unanimity in the scientific community about the dangers of global warming and the desperate need for us to at least cut down on global CO2 emissions.

I'm not sure how true this is, although i'm not exactly an authority, but i have read a number of articles that do not agree.

In Michael Crichton's (Jurassic Park, Congo, Andromeda Strain) most recent book "State of Fear", he details the way biased observation, and exaggerated media reporting have made us all assume that global warming is fact. True he's included specific facts in the book that fit with his own theory, but it does present a clear and convincing counterpoint to global warming.

I beleive we flatter ourselves by saying what we do is affecting the planet so much. It's been around for much longer than we have. Very reliable records only go back 50 years, and even they are biased expecting global warming effects. There are known cycles that go for over 120 years (for example), who knows whether the warming of the earth is a part of this cycle?)

There's plenty of other major points that oppose global warming. I'm not saying we're not affecting the environment at all, but just saying we must'nt beleive everything at face value.

January 31, 2006
06:55 PM

Venkat: Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the delay in responding.

You are right that there are many people, like Crichton, who question this issue. But there are also many who support it.

According to BBC:

Scientists predict the Earth will warm by 1.4 - 5.8C by 2100.

Most scientists blame - at least in part - increasing amounts of certain gases emitted by fossil fuel burning and other human activities.
See the link.

Also, according to BBC:

The greenhouse effect is the natural process by which the atmosphere traps some of the Sun's energy, warming the Earth enough to support life.

Most mainstream scientists believe a human-driven increase in "greenhouse gases" is increasing the effect artificially.

These gases include carbon dioxide, emitted by fossil fuel burning and deforestation, and methane, released from rice paddies and landfill sites.

See the link.

I personally believe that it is possible that humans can mess with the natural running of the earth and as a result things can go wrong, not in a matter of decades, but in a few centuries. So I believe that global warming is possible. I am not an expert to swear by it.

On the other hand, I respect somebody scientifically refuting global warming. I think there needs to be a healthy debate.

Having said that, there is enough evidence to suppose that global warming is at least a possibility. I mean there is no conclusive evidence that it is not happening. As long as that is the case, we should try to do something. It will be foolish to say that global warming is probably not happening and hence let us not worry about it. The stakes are too high for that sort of attitude.

I do not know if you read PG Wodehouse, but if you do, you will appreciate this. PSmith (a character in Wodehouse's novels) says something which always strikes me as relevant: Never confuse the unlikely with the impossible.

January 31, 2006
07:01 PM

Venkat: Correction from the last comment: the actual statement of PSmith is: Never confuse the unusual with the impossible.

Rohan Venkat
February 1, 2006
11:32 AM

Agreed, and i'm not in a position to actually quote a scientist's opinion on it (too lazy to google it), but i guess we'll have to just wait and see.

"Course, the other debated thing is the result of Global Warming. One of these theories is that, if the earth gets warmer, more water melts, and more water evaporates, meaning more clouds, meaning more reflection of light, therefore less the earth rights itself? Just some thoughts....

It's certainly more complicated than that....

And I agree, we should do something about what we're doing to the earth even if global warming isn't the's going to kill our species for sure, whether it destroys the earth or not.

Ever read any Daniel Quinn?

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