There is a Newsweek article by Sharon Begley out this week that is causing yet another dust up over the global warming question. This is an issue that I've not written extensively about here, but which I've watched closely. I've read reports from both sides and viewed numerous science specials on the subject via TLC, Discovery, Science Channel, etc. and I've reached a few conclusions.
First, to the primarily conservative global warming "deniers" out there, I have a news flash. You do not "know" (with any absolute certainty) that human activity is not the primary driving force, or even a significant contributor to climate change. Second, to the supporters (or "pimps") of the human causation camp, while I applaud the efforts of anyone who chooses to save energy, pollute the planet less and generally tries to keep the place tidy, you also do not "know" that we are the primary cause. This is a hugely complicated subject involving scientific data on trends which change over geologic time frames.
Yes, there is a large majority of our scientific community which supports the human causation camp, but our scientific communities have been very certain of other things in the past and found to fall on their faces in light of later revelations. We're talking about changes which occur over periods of thousands and millions of years. We rely on more "recent" data taken when our ability to do such measurements was far more crude than it is today and on data gleaned from deep core samples demonstrating minuscule changes in gas content or rock samples from before the dinosaurs grew large. What I'm saying is, there is room for error on both sides.
One thing which is not in question, however, is that the climate of our planet most certainly does change, and it is changing today. The planet is getting warmer. We know with a high degree of certainty that, back in the Jurassic, the temperature was far higher than it is today, and atmospheric methane and CO2 content was significantly higher. When the earliest protohumans (such as Lucy) lived, it was also a hothouse. By the time the Neanderthals were roaming about, the planet was in the midst of one of many ice ages where the temperate band of the planet barely extended as far North as present day Virginia.
There is a growing body of scientists who are positive that, twice in our planet's history, the entire world froze over into a massive snowball and life only hung on by a thread.
The climate changes. It continues to change. We may or may not be the primary driving force behind this. But now we come to my main point...
No matter what the cause - be it cars and factories, flatulence from cows, or a normal cycle of our changing biosphere - if our planet is warming up and may continue to do so, wouldn't you want to know about it??? If the ice caps are melting (they are... the long fabled Northwest passage is now open) and the global sea levels are going to continue to rise... if temperature changes will affect the amount and distribution of arable land... wouldn't you want to know about it and do what you can to prepare for it???
This situation is yet another which appears to be vastly important but we are being paralyzed by politics to the point where we will choose to do nothing about it. It's a terrifying prospect. The Right is so busy denying it and the Left is so busy trying to blame the Republicans' policies for it, nobody is noticing that low lying islands are already disappearing under the water. Manhattan could become the new Venice and a lot of very pricey real estate in Florida may someday only be viewable with scuba gear.
Shouldn't the conversation turn to studying the actual data, figuring out what's going to happen next and what we should be doing to prepare for it rather than spending all of our time deciding who's fault it is? Is this not a potentially dangerous enough situation that it might be time to set aside the politics and start building some levees?