Global warming

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global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 for the past 2000 years
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About

Also known as: climate change

Global warming (GW) refers to the idea that the Earth's average temperature could significantly increase to the point where it will have noticeable (and probably detrimental) effects on how people live ("concept GW").

It also can refer to the following claims, which reflect the various aspects of GW as an issue:

  • imminent GW: there is currently a huge increase in GW underway which threatens to cause serious problems within the foreseeable future (20-100 years)
  • anthro GW (AGW): Human activity (especially industrial) is largely or solely responsible for the current ongoing "spike" (although "cliff face" might be a more accurate term, if higher temperatures are expected to be sustained).
  • fixable GW: There are actions we can take which would reduce the seriousness of the eventual problem.
  • active GW: We should work towards taking those actions.
  • urgent GW: We need to act quickly towards taking those actions in order to prevent irreversible harm.

Within the United States (excluding the scientific establishment) and slowly spreading to Europe, the debate about the existence and nature of this phenomenon has grown increasingly impassioned in recent years, apparently fueled by fossil-fuel industry propaganda. Despite having been refuted, many of the same anti-GW arguments surface repeatedly, and thus are more an attempt to stifle discussion of GW (or muddy the waters) than they are honest skepticism.

Subpages

These pages need to be merged into the above subpages:

GW activism

GW activists apparently argue the following:

  • The effects of a severe global temperature rise (anthropogenic or otherwise) are likely to have a much greater impact on our high-density, coast-hugging non-foraging society than on previous societies. We've been living in a temperate bubble, and we're not prepared to deal with major climate change. Therefore, we need to do something to prevent such change.
  • To whatever extent GW is anthropogenic, a (relatively) simple solution is to stop doing whatever it is we've been doing to cause it. (Personally, I think this one is a little short-sighted; there may be better ways to counteract the trend which don't depend on knowing how much of it we're responsible for.)
  • Assuming AGW, there is an outside chance, however unlikely, that what we are doing to the climate is severe enough to be beyond the Earth's normal self-regulatory mechanism and send the planet either into a "runaway greenhouse effect", resulting in something like Venus (far hotter than it should be at its distance from the sun), or else start some kind of catastrophic oscillating which ends up in a "Snowball Earth" scenario, with ice down to the equator. There's no geological evidence of past runaway greenhouse effects, but there is evidence for past Snowball Earth events lasting longer than our species has been around. Whether or not the entire earth is covered, even a minor ice age would be pretty disastrous.

Related Articles

  • Reduction of activities believed to lead to global warming is a sustainability issue.
  • /debate/position quiz: a quiz to establish an individual's position on the various sub-issues -- a tool for use in debate

Debate

Resolved Points

The following points of debate have pretty much been resolved (see #News for details regarding the answers):

  • whether or not the Earth is currently on a general warming trend – yes
  • whether or not this will have significant effects on anyone – yes
  • whether or not those effects will be bad – in the short term, yes; beyond that depends on a lot of unknown factors

There continues to be debate on the following points:

This page is in need of updating. There seems to have been some progress in the general consensus since this list was last updated.
  • whether or not this trend, if it is real, will continue
  • whether or not the warming is being caused by humanity (strong circumstantial evidence that it is)
    • Could be caused by random climatic drift
    • Could be caused by changes in any of countless variables, e.g. the sun's energy output
  • whether it is in humanity's best interest to attempt countermeasures (as opposed to "letting nature take its course")
  • what sorts of countermeasures should be taken (e.g. should we try to counteract the warming trend itself, or just be prepared to deal with the changing climate and rising sea levels as they happen?)

There appears to be some considerable political pressure within the United States to deny that there is a dangerous warming trend, that we are causing it if it exists, and that we should do anything about it if we are causing it.

Difficulty of Resolution

Obstacles to resolving the debate include:

  • The issue has become heavily politicized, largely because direct countermeasures (attempts to counteract the warming trend) tend to be unpopular amongst those who would need to implement them, and those who would need to implement them are generally large businesses with significant amounts of political clout and ability to drive the discussion in directions favorable to them.
  • Determination of whether or not the phenomenon is of genuine concern requires the integration of large amounts of data – over long timespans and a large number of different geographical locations – in order to notice subtle real effects without raising false alarms due to temporary or local effects.
  • Attempted solutions have global effects, which are the sum total of all countermeasures plus any net increase in GW (or in whatever factors we believe may be contributing to GW, e.g. atmospheric CO2); there is no way to determine the effect of a single, isolated experiment. In other words, there is no direct way to be sure "what works"; we have to rely on atmospheric models and simulations of proposed changes.

Links

Reference

Blogs

some of these links are more expository than reference, and should probably be given a separate section

Filed Links

version 3

version 2

  • 2010-07-05 [Talk|Index] There Are Skeptics and Then There Are Skeptics § “As I've said many times, the more doubtful a person is of the science, the more vigorously they ought to support vigorous greenhouse policy. Uncertainty weights the high risk side of the risk analysis far more than it ameliorates the low-risk side. ... People who do not support vigorous policy can only be skeptics if they offer very high certainty that the science is biased to overstate the risks. Nobody does this very successfully.”
  • 2010-07-02 [Talk|Index] Ten camps § The author suggests that participants in the dialogue about global warming can be divided into three major camps I(activists, inactivists, and neutrals), with a total of ten subdivisions.
  • 2009-09-24 [Talk|Index] NASA Ice Satellite Maps Profound Polar Thinning § “The new elevation maps show that all latitudes of the Greenland ice sheet are affected by dynamic thinning -- the loss of ice due to accelerated ice flow to the ocean. The maps also show surprising, extensive thinning in Antarctica, affecting the ice sheet far inland.”
  • 2009-02-01 [Talk|Index] Ocean Acidification: The ''Other'' CO2 Problem § “In brief: The oceans absorb a portion of CO2 emissions; this ... forms carbonic acid, [causing] acidification of the oceans [, which] impedes the formation of coral and shells, and within decades, if trends continue, the calcium carbonate that forms the skeletons of many ocean organisms will become unstable and simply dissolve.”
  • 2009-01-27 [Talk|Index] What's the take-home message of irreversible climate change? § “Is there a danger in pointing that we've already done "irreversible" damage to the ecological support system of the planet? Will that meme carry so much weight that people will just give up? Not that we shouldn't be exploring such avenues of research, but it's an important question to ask.”
  • 2008-11-12 [Talk|Index] I Got Up In Al Gore's Face § “Would a cabinet-level position let Gore sell his vision of a self-regulating, wind and solar-powered Smart Grid to power America?” Gore is quoted expressing regret over his apparent failure to educate and motivate America regarding the ongoing global warming crisis.
  • 2008-06-20 [Talk|Index] North Pole May Be Ice-Free for First Time This Summer § [2]2=“"We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker. ... "I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility," Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, said by email.” Commentary: Slashdot
  • 2008-05-29 [Talk|Index] White House issues climate report 4 years late § [2]“Under a court order and four years late, the White House Thursday produced what it called a science-based "one-stop shop" of specific threats to the United States from man-made global warming. .. While the report has no new science in it, it pulls together different U.S. studies and localizes international reports into one comprehensive document required by law. The 271-page report is notable because it is something the Bush administration has fought in the past.”
  • 2008-05-14 [Talk|Index] NASA study links Earth impacts to human-caused climate change § [2]“A new NASA-led study shows human-caused climate change has made an impact on a wide range of Earth's natural systems, including permafrost thawing, plants blooming earlier across Europe, and lakes declining in productivity in Africa.”
  • 2008-05-14 [Talk|Index] McCain on climate change: Bush league § [2]2=“71% of the electorate thinks the globe is warming and of these, human activity is blamed over natural environmental cycles by more than two to one (Pew study). The difference is even greater among young people. So as campaign pandering this scores high. Why pandering? Because it's all campaign talk, not reality. McCain is George Bush redux. In the 2000 campaign George Bush also said climate change was an issue and redcing CO2 emissions the remedy. Then he blithely reversed his campaign pledge after he was "elected." Given the number of McCain's other flip flops, we can plausibly expect the same from John McSame.”
  • 2008-02-22 [Talk|Index] Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us § “A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020.”
  • 2008-02-21 [Talk|Index] Solar Variability Most Likely Not the Cause of Global Warming § “The link between solar variability and global warming has taken another blow from analysis of historical samples of sediment containing radioactive carbon-14 and a beryllium isotope.”
  • Date|2008-02-19 [Talk|Index] Scientists Would Turn Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline § “[Two] scientists [at Los Alamos National Laboratory], F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.” The catch is that it involves additional energy consumption, but that doesn't negate the usefulness of the technique.
  • 2007-09-03 [Talk|Index] Blown Away § “[On {{date|2007-08-03|August 3
  • 2006-07-06 [Talk|Index] Global Warming Fuels U.S. Forest Fires § “A recent increase in wildfire activity has been correlated with rising seasonal temperatures and the earlier arrival of spring, a new study concludes.”
  • 2001-03-14 [Talk|Index] Bush, in Reversal, Won't Seek Cut In Emissions of Carbon Dioxide § “Under strong pressure from conservative Republicans and industry groups, President Bush reversed a campaign pledge today and said his administration would not seek to regulate power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that many scientists say is a key contributor to global warming.”

[refresh]

Articles & Blog Entries

Editorials

Discussion

Possible Solutions

  • "stabilization wedges": No single solution will be efficient enough fast enough, but in combination they may be enough
  • 2006-09-01 A Road Map to U.S. Decarbonization by Reuel Shinnar and Francesco Citro, Science magazine: "Alternative energy sources could replace 70% of fossil fuels in America within 30 years at a cost of $200 billion per year."

Humor

  • 2007-04-17 cold outside: cartoon by D.C. Simpson, I Drew This
  • 2006-08-24 grant money: cartoon by D.C. Simpson, I Drew This

to file

Video

Bad Reporting

  • The 2006-10-27 report that the Atlantic current came to a halt for 10 days in 2004 was a severe misrepresentation of what actually happened, as explained here: a new monitoring array is recording more precise data on the current than has previously available, and one of the things it noted was a "very weak" flow during those 10 days in 2004. However, due to the newness of the data set, scientists don't yet know if this is unusual, part of an accelerating trend, or perfectly normal. As yet, it has no known implications for the climate of Britain or Europe.