Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The good, the bad, the ugly deniers

I'm reading about Fort Atkinson's very cool Heart of the City program, a voluntary "diet" that has citizens cutting their energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. It sounds like a great idea, and seems to have led to some serious savings, both in terms of energy and money, for the town.

But then, upon reaching the bottom of the article, I come across that chronic buzzkiller, the Global Warming Denier. It seems as though the WSJ Forums have picked up one of their own, as this forumite has been popping up in the comments section of many articles that, in one way or another, touch on the issue of global warming.

I understand that there is still debate in the scientific community over the severity and exact causation of the problem. The great thing about modern science, though, is that through use of the scientific method, we're able to sift and winnow our way closer to more and more truth every day. Still, there are those who would prefer to stick their heads in the sands (y'know, the sand that used to be fertile ground but that was ruined by human overuse and such?). They deny the very thought that humanity's actions may be interfering with the delicate balance of the Earth.

How they continue to live in such an anti-reality zone is beyond me, especially considering the wealth of research from all corners of the scientific spectrum to support the theory that yes, we are in fact changing our world, and not so much for the better.

Have some facts:

Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

• The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.

• The Arctic is feeling the effects the most. Average temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen at twice the global average, according to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report compiled between 2000 and 2004.

• Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss.

• Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin a week later.

• Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature, suffered the worst bleaching—or die-off in response to stress—ever recorded in 1998, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise.

• An upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, heat waves, and strong tropical storms, is also attributed in part to climate change by some experts.

• Industrialization, deforestation, and pollution have greatly increased atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, all greenhouse gases that help trap heat near Earth's surface. (See an interactive feature on how global warming works.)

• Humans are pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than plants and oceans can absorb it.

• These gases persist in the atmosphere for years, meaning that even if such emissions were eliminated today, it would not immediately stop global warming.

• Some experts point out that natural cycles in Earth's orbit can alter the planet's exposure to sunlight, which may explain the current trend. Earth has indeed experienced warming and cooling cycles roughly every hundred thousand years due to these orbital shifts, but such changes have occurred over the span of several centuries. Today's changes have taken place over the past hundred years or less.

Please refer to the IPCC's 2007 Report on climate change for more in-depth details and research.

You can deny until you're blue in the face, but it ain't gonna make the problem go away.

And hey, curious to calculate your household's emissions and waste? There's a very decent personal calculator available over at the Environmental Protection Agency. Looks like my house came in under the national average, which makes me feel good, but then I have to think about the bigger picture and the fact that, if everyone on Earth lived like I do, we'd run out of resources pretty much immediately. Yikes. Still, every little bit counts, especially if those little bits end up leading to bigger things.

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