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Author Topic: But is Global Warming Bad?
Aros
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I was listening to a piece on NPR the other day. It talked about "science deniers", a growing trend (for some time now) of people refuting scientific data based on religious belief or media propaganda. In this particular piece, they had a scientist talking to a disbelieving high school student about global warming.

The primary argument was about ice cores taken at the pole. An accurate record of CO2 and temperature was discovered in the cores, and the levels of C02 to temperature showed a strong positive correlation. Furthermore, there is also a strong correlation between the earth's "wobble" on its axis and the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Based upon the data, the earth's axis has been an accurate predictor of temperature for thousands of years . . . until now. Apparently, CO2 levels are about 35% higher than they should be, and temperature is rising to correspond.

The mainstream scientific view is that mankind is causing global warming. I find myself inferring that maybe this is from carbon emissions. Or maybe it's from other factors. Maybe it's because there are way more animals and way less trees? I don't know that we (as a species) can know.

I'm a rational human (faith aside), so I'll concede to the mainstream scientific theory. But I find myself thinking . . . so what? The Earth has been hotter than this, so I'll assume that we're still within the "safety limit" of our biosphere. Mankind is already changing the ecology of our world however, through deforestation, elimination of natural species, and agriculture. We've claimed the planet as our own.

Ultimately, I don't think that we're asking the right questions. We have a responsibility to understand the impact of our changes to the world (from global warming, biological changes to food source, ecology, etc). Scientists need to project the actual impact of climate change. We need to weigh the implications and do a cost / benefit analysis. Maybe conservation is the answer, but maybe not. Maybe it isn't worth the costs to society. But without knowing the actual impact, we could be throwing out a lot of economic efficiency for very little appreciable gain (cap 'n trade, etc). Maybe global warming is okay.

It's kind of sad that in our anti-intellectual society, it is very difficult for intelligent people (scientists, economists, engineers) to succeed in government. It's sad that the media outlets deny science (global warming, evolution, etc). I can't help but wonder how different our nation could be. I guess it WAS ran by intellectuals once. But 1776 was a long time ago. . . .

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Blayne Bradley
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If the temperatures of the oceans raise even a few degrees there could very well be a mass die off of various kinda of microscopic life, like certain kinds of plankton and algae that is responsible for a critical and non trivial majority of our planets oxygen production.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
But I find myself thinking . . . so what? The Earth has been hotter than this, so I'll assume that we're still within the "safety limit" of our biosphere.

Lots of assumptions there, with no basis in fact. The current problem has been pretty consistently in one direction for several decades.

As for "so what?", I have one word: Venus.


quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
Scientists need to project the actual impact of climate change. We need to weigh the implications and do a cost / benefit analysis.

This has been done. More than once. You do realize that there are many scientists who work in this field, right? (One of whom posts here on occasion.)
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Rakeesh
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Here's a straightforward, short response to your question 'so what?': if we are impacting our planet's climate, or even if it's just changing on its own without much if any help from us (not that I believe this myself, I include it more for the sake of argument) it's going to be something that impacts every single aspect of our entire lives, in huge ways and small ways, in ways we can think of and ways we can't imagine.

Thus it's kind of important to get started on thinking about what that means, rather than assuming that we'll make it...because, well, we're just human I guess, that means it's gonna be cool-no pun intended.

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
As for "so what?", I have one word: Venus.

Hyperbole much?

So, some newer studies from the National Science Foundation say that the climate isn't as sensitive to CO2 as we originally thought. Apocalyptic scenarios are hardly logical at this point. We're likely looking at a change of less than 3 degrees C (unlike some predictions of 10+).

http://www.gizmag.com/climate-change-predictions/20769/

Yes, ecology is changing either way. But climate change benefits life in some areas. And a lot of the effects aren't exactly doomsday scenarios.

http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

I played a little fast and loose in my first post. Personally, I don't think that there's any way to know the costs. But it would be a whole lot cooler if we did!

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fugu13
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You should reread that last link. A lot of it is dry scientist speak for things like mass starvation in Africa. And the monetary costs have been estimated repeatedly. You could start by googling costs of global warming.
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Aros
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I'm an American. What do I care about Africa? I just wish we had a little more ice to melt. I'd be buying beachfront property in Vegas.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
I'm an American. What do I care about Africa? I just wish we had a little more ice to melt. I'd be buying beachfront property in Vegas.
If you're serious, this is an evil thought, and you're an ass.

If you're joking, you're an ass because it wasn't funny and because you completely avoided the point in the first place.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
... The Earth has been hotter than this, so I'll assume that we're still within the "safety limit" of our biosphere.

I would quickly note that mass extinctions aren't exactly uncommon in the past. The past often isn't very "safe."

Edit to add: Saw that last comment, WTF?

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
quote:
I'm an American. What do I care about Africa? I just wish we had a little more ice to melt. I'd be buying beachfront property in Vegas.
If you're serious, this is an evil thought, and you're an ass.

If you're joking, you're an ass because it wasn't funny and because you completely avoided the point in the first place.

Agreed.
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Rakeesh
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It's funny, giving it some thought if Africa were plunged into mass starvation on account of global warming, and 'if' global warming did have a human factor to its causes, and if the American attitude were 'who cares about Africa'...I've only thought about this for a couple of minutes, but that would actually be one of the best cases for terrorism I've ever heard.

We would be helping cause the death of a whole lot of people we'd never met, who hadn't done anything to us, because man it's just important to have 24/7 air-conditioning and goodness knows we all need at least two 'light trucks', to say nothing of televisions in every room of the house. I mean...geeze. Monstrous.

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Hobbes
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quote:
I would quickly note that mass extinctions aren't exactly uncommon in the past. The past often isn't very "safe."
I think this is the critical link a lot of people miss. When defining "safety limits" for our planet we ahve to ask: whose safety? The Earth has warmed and cooled before and it's still here of course. But the life that existed at the time of those climate shifts is not. If we're interested in keeping our species around then we can take no comfort in the fact that the Earth has done this before but must look directly at what levels of climate change we can sustain and what we can do to keep it within those levels.

Hobbes [Smile]

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Rakeesh
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The thing to remember is that us humans won't join the >98% of life that has gone extinct on our planet in its history. Couldn't possibly happen! Because...because we're so smart and stuff, right? It's just a given that we'll always be here, that maybe we'll get more asthma because of bad air, or more birth defects because of polloted soil, or less of us people in general because of less agriculture, but nothing is going to happen to the species.

Apparently.

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
quote:
I'm an American. What do I care about Africa? I just wish we had a little more ice to melt. I'd be buying beachfront property in Vegas.
If you're serious, this is an evil thought, and you're an ass.

If you're joking, you're an ass because it wasn't funny and because you completely avoided the point in the first place.

Certainly. And a dry joke in a stylized "common" American viewpoint IS funny to me (if to no one else). Maybe I've been watching too much Ricky Gervais. It's the Golden Globes, I tell you!

My main point, obfuscated by my roundabout manner, is that the argument in Washington is ridiculous. We shouldn't be arguing whether global warming exists or not, whether it is caused by man or not. The argument should be about exactly HOW much regulation is necessary.

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Rakeesh
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Then the second part applies, if not the first.

How on Earth do you arrive at deciding how much regulation is necessary without first determining if the thing you're trying to mitigate by regulation is happening, and why it's happening?

How do you decide how much regulation is needed without making some sort of decision on whether or not global warming is happening, and what is causing it?

On an unrelated note, it's amusing to hear you credit that mainstream science on this is probably right, and we should adjust to that. But then when mainstream science goes on to say, "This could be a very serious problem," your response is 'so what?'

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:

On an unrelated note, it's amusing to hear you credit that mainstream science on this is probably right, and we should adjust to that. But then when mainstream science goes on to say, "This could be a very serious problem," your response is 'so what?'

Maybe I wasn't clear. I was being facetious when I said "so what".

I understand and concede your point. What I was getting at is that I'm aghast that conservatives are denying science. It makes all Republicans look like idiots.

I think it's rather similar to the fight over "the word" marriage. People are being restricted from having basic civil liberties, but the fight isn't over the legality of marriage . . . it's over the definition of the word.

Washington is filled with rubes.

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King of Men
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To be fair, I think there is very often a tendency - certainly in media, but also in the underlying science - to report worsenings but not improvements. Has anyone done a study like, say, "Impact of global warming on Canadian corn yields"? I would expect such a study to find that yields would improve, thus (partly? wholly? More than wholly? Who knows? This is why we need the dang study!) offsetting lower yields in Texas or Africa or wherever.

That said, just shifting farming yields around is gong to be painful even if you assume an overall increase, much less if the total yield remains constant or declines. The reason being, we have three hundred years' worth of infrastructure investment in high yields from particular locations, and if you move the best farmland elsewhere, then the highways, processing plants, tractor factories, and what-have-you will have to move likewise. (Or else we can pay way more for transporting machinery to farms and food to people.) Every man-hour spent building new highways is one that can't be used to make iPads.

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Aros
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It is pretty scary. I've read a few articles about colder places where warmer climate microorganisms are flourishing already. With the startling rate of bacterial evolution, that could be fairly bad.

Coming soon, malaria in Utah.

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kmbboots
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I am confused, Aros. Was your original post a sort of tongue-in-cheek kind of thing?
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Dan_Frank
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Hey Aros, this is a really interesting TED talk given by physicist/philosopher David Deutsch that I think you should see, if you haven't already.

He's not exactly saying "So what?" to global warming, but he does say (paraphrasing) "We are approaching this from the wrong angle."

He has some very intriguing ideas that dovetail well with some of what you've said here. [Smile]

Edit: I can't really figure out where you're being facetious and where you aren't. But it's still an interesting talk about global warming that everyone should see, so I'll leave the link up.

Further Edit: I don't want to misrepresent it, so... it's not really a talk about Global Warming. It's just a topic he touches on near the end, and says some really interesting things about.

[ January 19, 2012, 03:30 PM: Message edited by: Dan_Frank ]

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Aros
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It was moderately facetious. I'm not certain why I expected more people to jump on the "climate change isn't real" bandwagon.

I think that the government is the only real source of meaningful climate control, that the free market approach isn't conducive at all. But I also think that over-regulation may 1) not be necessary and 2) may be detrimental to market efficiency, basically hurting our economy.

Ultimately, my point is that politicians are scared and they're arguing the wrong issues. The troubling thing is, I'm not sure that the scientific community has enough data to predict what is happening. We actually could be headed for a doomsday scenario (though I maintain that Venus as an example is hyperbole). And though my background is in engineering and predictive analytics, I certainly won't purport to being a climate change expert.

I would say, as a fellow scientist, that I personally feel that most of the current research is probably in its infancy (maybe it's a teenager?) and still highly speculative.

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ZachC
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How could you believe that government regulation would not be necessary? Or, that over-regulation would be detrimental to business? For one, I would hardly expect lets say, Halliburton, to say "Lets cut our profits by 50%" and then proceed to to start ripping gas wells out of the ground.

Second, as much of a cliche I am aware this is, the will be no business WITHOUT a planet to live on!

And how could the scientific community not have concrete evidence? News flash! More people did not jump on your 'bandwagon' because of all of the concrete evidence the scientists have thrown at us!
For 100,000 YEARS! the CO2 levels have fluctuated within a normal range. But in the past 50 years, the CO2 as well as temperature levels have skyrocketed in a parabolic fashion. If that is not clear, the amount of CO2 levels have elevated in AN EXPONENTIAL CURVE!

If that is not clear, concise, and concrete, evidence, I do not know how the environmentalists will ever ever convince the laymen. because that is exactly what they have to do. Because we all know that Congress will do NOTHING until they fell their constituents growing restless and that their precious little jobs are on the line.

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Lyrhawn
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Zach thus introduces himself to Hatrack as a pragmatic cynic.

You'll fit in well here.

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Samprimary
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I'm an even more insufferable cynic. All my theories on global warming response involve taken as a given that we're incapable of responding to it effectively until its already pretty viscerally and evidently bad. till then, we 'won't want to hurt business' and/or just still have a useless congress.
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Aros
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ZachC,

Please read my post. I said that government regulations are the only possible thing that CAN contain global warming. Assuming that cow farts aren't the primary cause.

And yes, over-regulation is possible. How's this for tone -- Let's stop all forms of pollution right now, dismantle our cars, shut down all forms of power generation that contribute to CO2. I'm not sure that the Kyoto protocol is enough. Are you?

Ultimately, we need to act as soon as possible. But we need to balance our response. Answer this question . . . how much, exactly, do we need to shut down before we're reasonably safe? What will be the impact on our economy? Are we too late already? I don't think anyone knows the answers to these questions.

My point (from the start) is that nobody with any power is even asking these questions. They're still debating whether global warming is real.

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ZachC
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Of course, I do not disagree with that. I am equally frustrated with the state of the lawmaking body in this country. Obviously, whether it was apparent or not (fault on my part) I was exaggerating. Even though we as a country are a major contributor to global warming, newly industrialized Asia is now pumping out CO2 than even US!

At this point, I believe that drastic measures need not be taken, as long as the countries of the developed world wake up and address this problem.

But if they do not, which is extremely likely, and if no major reform legislation is passed in the next decade or two, also likely, then we WILL have to resort to dismantling cars, etc. Far from disagreeing with you, I am simply taking your conclusions a step further.

ZachC

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Samprimary
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Plenty of people in power are asking these questions. There's just too many mechanisms in place to keep them from being able to enact real change based on scientific consensus. As I noted, our congress is a perfect example. As long as one very monied interest is acting against real change, they can stymie it forever. And plenty of very large business organizations have spent plenty of money ensuring that nothing happens, regulations-wise, to impact bottom lines over short or medium terms. We will continue, as will they, to respond to these incentives.

Hot planet ahoy mates, we can't help ourselves, let's just hope it's not too bad cause that's all we can do! Whee!

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ZachC
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I agree. There are countless powerful corporations, lobbies, PACs, etc. that block the flow of free information and prohibit potentially beneficial bills to even come before Congress in the first place.

For example, have you ever heard of 'fracking'? It is short for Hydraulic Fracturing and it is extremely dangerous to the environment.
Fracking is a method of capturing the vast reserves of natural gas trapped deep within the earth in America's heartland.
First, millions of gallons of FRESH WATER are trucked to the well sites. Then, they infuse this water with over 500 extremely toxic chemicals. Next, they blast this solution deep into a drilled hole. The pressure of the water and corrosivity of the chemicals literally rip the bedrock apart. More than 2/3 of these chemicals are then absorbed back into the earth and pollute rivers and watersheds. When the remaining 'produced water' is recovered, many corrupt drillers, illegally dump it directly onto low lying marshlands.

What is the point of all of this?

People living near these mines report fizzy, snapping, and sometimes sludgy water. They can literally LIGHT THEIR TAP WATER ON FIRE! from all of the chemicals polluting their water sources.

And what happens when they call a Congressmen to solve their problem? He brushes it under the rug, saying its the states problem to deal with. News Flash! The states do not have the resources to go up against these gas giants!

There are countless stories like this happening all over the country and people take it for granted that this is how a free market economy and democratic government works. Well it doesn't!

What needs to happen is more regulation of political lobbies and large corporations that are 'too big to fail'. Then we can see about fixing the worlds problems

ZachC

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Samprimary
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quote:
The states do not have the resources to go up against these gas giants!
'minnesota valiantly fought back against jupiter, but it was too much'
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ZachC
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Very funny, I was hoping my double entendre would go unnoticed, but......
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Aros
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There are some fracking groups that use non-toxic substances, including pumping natural gas itself. But it costs more and is slightly less efficient. The problem is that the technology is so new, it is completely unregulated in most place. Texas has passed a ban on fracking with toxic chemicals, but I think it's the only one so far.

Fracking is a good thing, done right. We have enough natural gas supplies with modern fracking technology to completely stop using oil for the next hundred years.

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T:man
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
quote:
The states do not have the resources to go up against these gas giants!
'minnesota valiantly fought back against jupiter, but it was too much'
[ROFL]
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
There are some fracking groups that use non-toxic substances, including pumping natural gas itself. But it costs more and is slightly less efficient. The problem is that the technology is so new, it is completely unregulated in most place. Texas has passed a ban on fracking with toxic chemicals, but I think it's the only one so far.

Fracking is a good thing, done right. We have enough natural gas supplies with modern fracking technology to completely stop using oil for the next hundred years.

Several states have issues moratoriums on new fracking sites until the earthquake effects can be studied more. Geologists seem to be split on what effect it has, since there are millions of microquakes a day that aren't reported, but now the media is tying every hiccup to fracking, so it's hard to say, but it's not out of the question.

The GOP is ardently opposed to ANY regulations on fracking, at least, and EPA centered regulations. So states are now creating a patchwork of laws, but there's almost no funding for enforcement mechanisms, so even where there are laws, there's no one around to actually check up on the polluters to see if they're following them or not.

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BlueWizard
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quote:
Originally posted by Aros:
I'm an American. What do I care about Africa? I just wish we had a little more ice to melt. I'd be buying beachfront property in Vegas.

Running from the edges of Montana down through the Dakotas, down through Nebraska, and on into Oklahoma and Texas is a span of the United State that we now call the Great Plains. But, this was once called the Great American Desert.

Gobal warming does not simply mean cheap heating bills. I means massive cooling bills. I mean fertile land drying up and turning to desert. It mean mass starvation around the world. It means rising sea levels and the loss of pretty much the entire state of Florida, and the loss of most coastal cities. What do you think will happen when New York City is underwater? What do you think will happen when whole states vanish?

What land that doesn't turn to desert will be under water. This is a BIG PROBLEM, and if we go past the tipping point, we are doomed.

Further, just before each Ice Age, there has been a peak in climate temperature. Sure, we'll get a few hundred to perhaps a few thousand years of heat, but that will usher in 100,000 year of Ice Age.

If we continue to be climate deniers, then we will not be ready to deal with either of these circumstances.

In my opinion, everything Gobal Warming demands that we do, we absolutely need to do independent of Gobal Warming.

We can not continue to consume the earth as if it were an infinite resource. We need to understand that we live on a tiny fragile world, and if we don't continually act to preserve it, then they human species will disappear.

The earth has a near infinite capacity to restore itself, but it does so at the cost of the destruction species. At one point, planet earth did a RESET and the dinosaurs disappeared. When the RESETS next time, it will be humans who disappear. And good riddance to the greedy money grubbing selfish bastards.

We either change our ways, or mother nature will change them for us, in the most pointed and painful way.

Bluewizard

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Aros
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Gobal warming? Are you talking specifically about the city in India?
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The Rabbit
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Aros, The media is a highly unreliable source for information on climate change. This problem is exacerbated because Climate science is very often contrary to our instinctive views of the way things work. It's hard to believe that simple things we do like driving a car or turning on an air conditioner could cause a global catastrophe. Even when we understand that rain and snow are necessary, its hard not to prefer that every day be warm and sunny.

So its not surprising that global warming often sounds like a good idea to most people. But just like too many sunny days is a bad thing when you look at the big picture, global warming is likely to turn out really bad when you look at the big picture.

Using the best available science, climate change is extremely likely to have devastating effects both on natural ecosystems and on agriculture, which are going to effect everyone who eats food and drinks water. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of severe weather events including droughts, floods, and severe storms. Ocean level rise will damage coastal communities. Warming will bring new threats to human health. Diseases now common only in tropical regions (like Malaria and Dengue fever) are all ready moving north into the US and Europe and warming is likely promote development and spread of completely new diseases. The resulting food shortages, natural disasters, and epidemics are likely to lead to political and economic upheaval (in fact food shortages played a significant role in the Arab Spring this year). So we can expect a lot big wars and major economic collapses.

The bottom line is that both human society and natural ecosystems are best suited to the current climate because this is the environment in which we evolved. Changing the climate is going to force a major adaptation on everything that lives on the planet, including people. People are good at adapting, so humans aren't among the species most likely to become extinct because of climate change. Millions of individual humans, however, won't survive and billions of individual humans are going to suffer intensely before we succeed in adapting to that new world.


Given the critical importance of the issue, I highly recommend the following two sources for solid objective information on the subject.

The first source I recommend for non-experts is Spencer Weart's "The Discovery of Global Warming". It is an excellent summary of the current state of science on the issue. A hypertext version of the book is available on Weart's website. It is regularly updated and includes a section on impacts that explains clearly why and how experts are predicting that warming will be bad.

The second is the 4th report of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change. The report contains three sections, one on the physical science basis, one on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability and one on mitigation strategies. Each section has a summary for policy makers that is likely sufficient for non-technical persons. You can read the summary on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability here. The full report is available on the website. Unfortunately, this report is now 5 years out of date. The IPCC is working on an update which is to be complete 2013/2014. If the next report is consistent with the trends in scientific literature, the prediction are worse not better.

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The Rabbit
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The follow is a exert from the conclusions of Spencer Weart book "The Discovery of Global Warming". It can be found on his website which I linked above. Weart titles it a "personal note". It is his opinion formed after extensive study of the full body of underlying science. I post because I share it. It is a position I have formed by carefully following the development of the science for nearly three decades. It is the position shared by everyone who has made an honest and concerted effort to understand relevant body of science.

quote:
Faced with scientists who publish warnings, the public's natural response is to ask them for definitive guidance. When the scientists fail to say for certain what will happen, politicians habitually tell them to go back and do more research. In the case of climate, waiting for absolute certainty would mean waiting forever. When we are faced with a new disease or an armed invasion, we do not put off decisions until more research is done. We act using the best guidelines available.

My training as a physicist and historian of science has given me some feeling for where scientific claims are reliable and where they are shaky. Of course climate science is full of uncertainties, and nobody claims to know exactly what the climate will do. That very uncertainty is part of what, I am confident, is known beyond doubt — our planet's climate can change, tremendously and unpredictably. Beyond that we can conclude (with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report) that it is very likely that significant global warming is coming in our lifetimes. This surely brings a likelihood of harm, widespread and grave (see this summary of expected impacts). The few who contest these facts are either ignorant, or so committed to their viewpoint that they will seize on any excuse to deny the danger.

Thanks to the strenuous labors by thousands of people described in these essays, we have had a warning in time — although just barely in time. If there is even a small risk that your house will burn down, you will take care to install smoke alarms and buy insurance. We can scarcely do less for the well-being of our society and the planet's ecosystems. Thus the only useful discussion is over what measures are worth their cost.

The one thing I would add to this is that we have already waited too long to start responding but it will never be too late. The science was sound enough 20 years ago to justify concerted efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. If we had started then, the changes in our economies and personal behavior could have been much more gradual and less painful. Because we did not start then, a greater change in the climate is now unavoidable. Waiting longer is a kind of a double whammy because it will both make the necessary reductions in green house gases more painful and less effective.


But climate change is not a binary function, the more greenhouse gases we emit, the bigger the problem becomes. Because we have delayed so long, we can no longer totally avert significant changes in the climate, but we can still influence how big and how catastrophic those changes will be.

[ January 20, 2012, 03:03 PM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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