Undoubtedly, we live in harrowing times and the media lets us know it nonstop. It’s difficult to decipher the real threats from scaremongering; unfortunately, the legitimate dangers seem to go under the radar of the public’s conscious. The news isn’t always what we should hear so much as it is what we’re allowed to hear and those making that decision don’t always have the public’s best interest.
One such matter is that of global warming. Many environmentalists are claiming that global warming is an imminent threat. Their opponents are very quick to pin a “Chicken Little” label on them. Upon inspection of the facts, global warming appears to be a threat but perhaps not one as severe as many environmentalists claim. Nonetheless, it is still just that–a threat.
Because of the manner in which our world operates, industry and modes of transportation emit large amounts of gases into the atmosphere, particularly the gas carbon dioxide (CO2), but also including water vapor, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and troposphere ozone (Abbasi, Krishnakumari, and Khan 4). This carbon dioxide produces a similar effect to that of a blanket; the Earth thus becomes warmer than it would be normally. This is known as the “greenhouse effect.”
The amount of water vapor then increases, causing even more warmth due to an increased blanketing effect. Because of the way the global industry is evolving, this presents a change in the average global temperature rising at what is estimated to be about three degrees Celsius in a century (Houghton 9-10). To further this problem, the ozone layer is depleting due to by-products and emissions from industries, the main culprits being chlorofluocarbons (Abbasi, Krishnakumari, and Khan 76), a greenhouse gas. In terms of global warming, the effect of ozone depletion is rather complex.
French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier is cited as the first to have recognized the effect of carbon dioxide and other gases in our atmosphere, pointing out the similarity to a greenhouse, and thus being responsible for the term “greenhouse effect.” In 1860, a British scientist named John Tyndall measured radiation as a result of carbon dioxide and water vapor (Houghton 17).
This set the stage for a later experiment in 1896 when the concept of carbon dioxide causing such an effect was truly calculated by a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius (Casten 15). Arrhenius’ estimates still generally hold up to what is known today (Houghton 17). Unfortunately, this seems to have been the last study of much significance on the subject in the 19th century.
Relatively little concern has been given to this concept until recent years, though the amount of study towards it has slowly increased. In 1940, G. S. Callendar calculated the warming caused by increasing carbon dioxide as a result of burning fossil fuels in England. In 1958, two members of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, scientists Charles Keeling and Roger Revalle, began a study of the amount of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.
This study found that there had been a steady increase in the CO2 levels because of human activities since the Industrial Revolution (Abbasi, Krishnakumari, and Khan 4-5). In the 1970’s until the 1990’s, the concern truly began to grow.
The first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in 1992 and yielded inconclusive results as far too many questions still loomed (Casten 15-16). Fortunately, this conference resulted in the Climate Convention, devised by scientists throughout the world, to slow and stabilize climate change. It lays out many short-term as well as a long-term objective for lowering the level of greenhouse gas emissions and sets a timeframe for these goals. On the unfortunate side, these goals were not met, as greenhouse gas emissions had rose by ten percent when compared in 2000 compared to 1990 (Houghton 243-244).
The United States’ role in causing global warming is quite large. The U.S. has only 4 percent of the world’s population but is responsible for about twenty-five percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions (Casten 136). The U.S. uses 50 million tons of paper per year, 200 million gallons of petrol a day, and releases at least 2.4 billion pounds of chemicals into the air annually (Houghton 250). We do very little to try to curb our ways, as only 1% of our transportation is public, thus causing far more pollution than necessary (Casten 136).
Some feel that this will be a beneficial change for the world. Thomas Gale Moore writes that the world will be more habitable; industries will notice hardly any difference and says that “only if warmer weather caused more droughts or lowered agricultural output would even Third World countries suffer.” Mr. Moore’s credentials, however, reveal that he has belonged to the Hoover Institution as well as Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors (Roleff 93-98).
This makes it quite apparent where Mr. Moore’s motives lie. In a typical conservative fashion, Mr. Moore shrugs off the dangers because of where his loyalty is rooted, as opposed to genuinely considering the potential dangers. Furthermore, he offers no plan of action, thus presenting the idea of waiting and seeing what comes of this global warming issue.
Others, of course, feel the polar opposite. George J. Mitchell, a former U.S. senator, compared the potential damage of unchecked global warming to that of nuclear war (Roleff 85). This seems a bit exaggerated, but not that far-fetched. As we have seen recently, there have been dramatic changes in the weather patterns, resulting in hurricanes and other natural disasters (Roleff 9). In many areas, there is already an increase in drought and in others an increase in floods. Vast changes in precipitation, floods, droughts, heat waves and rises in sea level are inevitable and are already beginning to take place. Arctic thaw is already killing many animals in the regions, quite frequently polar bears being the target (9-10). These horrible consequences certainly shoot down the idea of the world being better because of the warmer weather (97).
In regards to the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and its respective website, it certainly is doing good in that it’s raising interest about the issue of global warming, but I notice little in terms of the opposing argument. In order to really seem valid, a good knowledge of the opposition should be shown, as well as the new information given. This brings to mind the 2004 presidential election. The premise of John Kerry was usually “I’m not George W. Bush. He’s bad. I’m not.” While this is pretty much good enough for me, the general public needs more detail. Furthermore, it also brings to mind television news stations with the bombardment of terror and impending doom. I suppose that this is what it will take to get the public aware of what’s going on, I can’t imagine most people caring because there are probably no huge explosions or jiggling mammaries in the film.
One of the best plans of action I’ve seen for taking on the problem of global warming is outlined in the book Turning off the Heat by Thomas R. Casten, which I’ve cited several times so far in the paper. He lays it out very simply early on in the book: the “only” way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to burn less fossil fuel. Even more shockingly, he points out that an average of two-thirds of all fuel burned to produce electricity in the United States is wasted (4). He lays out many options for alternative fuel and explains the ridiculous reasons why people are stuck holding onto the past with fossil fuels.
The Kyoto Protocol outlines other sound methods of reducing emissions. Joint implementation allows industrialized countries to implement projects that reduce emissions or increase removals in the territories of other industrialized countries. It mainly utilizes emission reduction units. An example would be the replacement of a coal-fired plant with a heat and power plant. The Clean Development Mechanism described in the Kyoto Protocol allows industrialized countries to implement projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. An example would be a rural electrification project using solar panels or the reforestation of degraded land. Emissions trading, the third concept, allows industrialized countries to purchase “assigned amount units” of emissions from other industrialized countries that find it easier to limit their emission amounts. Unfortunately, the U.S. has yet to ratify the protocol. (Houghton 248).
As it stands, the results of global warming seem exaggerated on both sides of the argument. However, it clearly exists and the effects will clearly be negative. In the instance that the effects aren’t “too negative to worry about,” there is the further question of how it could possibly be our right to pollute the world in such a way. It’s our world but not only our world. Many conservatives that are opposed to stem-cell research cite “playing God” being wrong. They fail to mention their crooked executive pals spewing poison all over our Earth and into our air, leading us all down a path we were never meant to take. Instead of using our gift of reason to undo the damage done, we use it to think up excuses and plant lies. There is no excuse for this behavior and it seems that the lies are slowly coming unraveled. Hopefully it isn’t too late.