You’ve seen the headlines, heard and seen the sound bites and learned what global warming and carbon credits are. You may have given Al Gore a pass on his pronouncements and movie since, after all, he is a politician and not a scientist. Besides he did invent the World Wide Web didn’t he? As an enlightened student of the world you have taken note of what the media and pundits have said.
At the same time you feel that formulating hundred year plus projections on the basis of a few years of data gives you the same level of confidence that the campaign polls making prognostications about the 2008 election provides. For that matter you, and the rest of the world, have noticed the weather forecasters can’t even forecast the weather more then a few days in advance. What’s the story anyway?
So you have a healthy skepticism about global warming. But wait. You just read that on-the-air weather forecasters are on the global warming bandwagon. That must mean it’s the real thing. I mean those folks put their reputation on the line during the nightly news and don’t even flinch when they announce a massive 4″ snow storm is going to hit New York City and the world as we know it will be coming to an end. Their message about global warming causes you to pause however. I mean after all Al Gore is one thing, but a real weather forecaster. Maybe there is something to this.
So now you’re wavering. Should you pull the plug on your TiVo, grab your recyclable grocery sack and head to World Foods, on foot of course. Quick grab those incandescent bulbs before the global warming police raid your house and replace them with high efficiency fluorescent bulbs. So what if they have a bunch of mercury in them. I mean, after all, they last longer so the intervals between your polluting contribution to the landfills will be less often.
OK, where were you? You’ve downloaded the freeware program to conduct your own carbon audit and will start filling that out as soon as you get this year’s tax extension cleared up. I mean we must have our priorities. Then on the news, or the American equivalent of news, you hear that several scientists are starting to talk about global warming and the need to study it. Now you’re really sold especially if those guys are jumping on the global warming bandwagon. With that you put down your taxes and boot up the carbon budget inventory and prepare for the end of the world, as we know it.
Sound familiar? An increasing number of people are being swayed by what others, without necessarily having data or proof, are saying. At this stage most of what they’re saying has no particular validity in terms of holding up under scientific scrutiny. You may wonder then why some scientists are talking like global warming is real and must be studied. As a scientist who has published numerous articles in refereed journals, I feel you should keep in mind that in the majority of cases these same scientists who make their livelihood doing global warming research, do it with the help of funding from a variety of sources. So, bottom line, it is in their interest to talk up global warming and the need to study it since that leads to government, corporate and organizational funding.
Sound self-serving? Well it is but this priming of the pump has gone on for decades. If one looks back during the space race there was much of this that went on. Since the Soviets had launched the Sputnik ahead of us, we were playing catch up. Once we could hold our own on putting satellites into orbit the scientists found they had these great tools to use in their research and all they needed to do was grab some of that government money to build experiments to ride in the payload and send publishable data back to earth. One of the early organized efforts at doing this was called the International Geophysical Year which took place in 1957-1958 with the stated goal ‘…to observe geophysical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world; to conduct this effort on a coordinated basis by fields, and in space and time, so that results could be collated in a meaningful manner.’ So be cautious when some scientists state conclusions such as global warming is man-made before the research has been done. They may be most interested in stimulating debate in hopes that lucrative study contracts and grants will follow. Ask the researchers whether the global warming is definitely man-made or naturally occurring. Are they willing to stake their reputation on it?
In regards to global warming the message is, let’s not put the conclusions before the hypothesis and research. As quoted in the National Academies Press ‘Climate Change: An Analysis of Some Key Questions’ “Because of the large and still uncertain level of natural variability inherent in the climate record and the uncertainties in the time histories of the various forcing agents (and particularly aerosols), a causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.
Clearly more study is needed and will be forthcoming, however before making dramatic statements and gestures such as buying carbon offset credits from Al Gores carbon offset company, life style changes, and polluting the earth with mercury from fluorescent bulbs we should wait for some real science to be done. Also be careful where you plant those carbon offset credit trees since at certain latitudes the leaf canopy will actually absorb heat and exacerbate the very thing you are trying to offset.