This is a multi-part series examining the current debate over "global warming", also known as "climate change".
Over the past few years, we've seen an increasingly shrill cacophony of voices screaming about the damage humans are doing to Planet Earth. For most of human history, increases in wealth and comfort brought by the application of technology and science have been greeted with open arms by all, with the partial exception of buggy-whip manufacturers and the like who are put out of work by the new technology.
The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring marks the beginning of a sea change: the mass attack on technology and progress as a whole, for environmental reasons.
Because most normal human beings like the comforts of technology, and would prefer not to live as their great-great-grandfathers did, appeals to the heart will only go so far. You can talk people into turning off lights when they leave the room; into turning down their thermostats a few notches; and maybe even into some limited recycling. But in the grand scheme of things, and considering the ever-growing population of this world and its ever-increasing wealth, conservation measures are strictly limited in their reach.
As with so many issues, extremists try to camouflage the real questions so as to be allowed to do what they want to do, for their own reasons. In this case it's a naked power grab, in the form of an attack against free enterprise and private property.
The overwhelming majority of so-called environmentalists are either too ill-informed or too unintelligent to really understand what they are talking about. The remainder are using the cloak of environmentalism to push their socialist agenda.
If you really are concerned about changing weather -- rather than a being captive to special interests -- there are several questions which are highly pertinent and must be explored and answered separately, before reaching any conclusions. These questions are as follows:
This series of articles will explore each of these questions in turn.
In the 1970s, as satellite technology and global communications began to be widely available, scientists noticed a disturbing trend: the Earth appeared to be getting cooler. Various conferences and symposia were convened to discuss the available evidence, which did indeed indicate cooling from about 1945 on.
Eventually, this concern made it into the popular press, culminating in an April 28, 1975 Newsweek article, "The Cooling World." Other popular books and even songs on the subject appeared, reflecting the widespread concern.
Needless to say, these worries were entirely misplaced. We have not entered a new ice age; far from it. Today's worry du jour is the exact opposite, one of global warming.
It's easy to imagine that figuring out whether the earth is warming or not, should be fairly straightforward. After all, we all know how to use a thermometer, and they have been around for several hundred years, how hard can it be? It's not nearly that simple though.
For one thing, the location you are taking the temperature matters. I could prove any trend I please, if I'm allowed to cart around the thermometer in between measurements. Heck, if I took the temperature of the North Pole, and compared it to a 1945 measurement in Tahiti, I could conclusively prove that the Ice Age was already here.
I could do the same thing even staying in one place - the top of Mt. Washington, NH - if I'm allowed to vary the time of year in between. Clearly, the only relevant measurements are ones where the reading has been taken in the same place for a long time, and on a regular basis over the course of the year.
But there aren't very many of these places. Regular temperature readings have been taken in American cities for around a hundred years; in London for several centuries; and varying other major cities across the world for times in between.
The problem with this is that cities do not reflect the base temperature of the surrounding area, and particularly not over long period of time. There are many reasons for this, from the fact that operating air conditioners raise the local temperature of a city, to the phenomenal city growth we have seen over the last hundred years.
You can try this effect for yourself. Take a light green piece of construction paper, representing grass, and put it on a picnic table outside on a sunny day. Next to it, place a black piece of construction paper, representing the pavement that constitutes most of the surface area of a city. Put a thermometer on each one, and you'll find that the black paper is warmer. So is a little of the air above it, because the heat is radiating off it.
Does that mean that the air temperature of your whole backyard has gone up? Of course not! But the measurement looks like it has - because the immediate surroundings of the thermometer have changed.
Consider how the environment of, say, Harvard has changed over the 400 years since it was founded. The problem is made worse because many weather stations have been moved in recent decades away from the city center, out to the local airport - and an airport is almost entirely nice black pavement.
So it's quite difficult to accurately measure long-term temperature changes from the ground. It's much easier to do with a satellite, but we've only had those for 40 years or so, which on the scale of climatic and geologic time is nothing.
There are number of other means used to try to measure historic temperatures indirectly, such as by taking ice cores. But again, such methodologies are rather fraught - for instance, it's well known that continents and ice-caps move around fairly extensively over geologic time, so although the core is taken from the same spot, it doesn't mean that particular spot was in the same place on Earth over all that time.
This being the case, it's not possible to demonstrate that the Earth as a whole is actually warming up, other than over the last few of years, which is basically meaningless. Now, this doesn't mean that macro-level global warming and climate change is not happening, nor that it is - the point here is simply that there is no way to tell.
This fundamental weakness in the science makes the entire global warming argumentation deeply shaky. At bottom, it's impossible to prove! So to say that "the debate is over" is flatly disingenuous. It's like saying that the debate over flying saucers is over - some people believe in them, lots don't, but by the nature of the question, it cannot be conclusively proven either way.
We will assume, for the sake of argument, that global warming is in fact taking place. That brings us to the next question:
To be continued...