Sunday, November 07, 2004

All over the map

A recent commenter trotted out several unattributed findings and statements relating to matters I've covered on this site. He (or she) seems to have swallowed whole the rantings of the anti-environmental lobby without checking anything. While the totality of the comments by their tone and structure will lead skeptical readers to discount them, the individual points might be persuasive to an uninformed reader or listener. I think it's worth responding so that readers of this blog will have some ammunition to work with when they come upon such statements. Here's the comment:

we have more trees now than in anytime in our nations history. why? improved firefighting techniques and more public lands ( thank you teddy roosevelt, a republican). source u.s. dept. of the interior. besides, they grow back!

number one contributor to global warming - the sun is getting hotter, and will until it eventually explodes. the primary proponent of the global warming THEORY recently changed his mind and said only the southern hemishpere is currently warming. the northern hemisphere is cooling, and therefore it is a push. if you bothered to check news stories from the 70's, the original scare was global cooling. they will probably try that one again soon! we have only been keeping weather data since the late 1800's, and those are surface temps at that. let's not jump to any conclusions based 150 years out of 15 billion.

environmentalists won't let new oil refineries get built here in the u.s. where they are highly regulated, they prefer that they are built in venezuela et. al. where there is no regulation. thank you for your help!
Let's take the points as they come.

It's doubtful that today there is more forest cover in the United States than there was in 1776 since most of the current United States had not even been seen by European settlers. But, it would be correct to say that forest cover in the United States has increased markedly since the beginning of the last century. While the commenter attributes this to better firefighting and Theodore Roosevelt's efforts to perserve public lands (for which we are all thankful), the main driver has been the reforestation of the eastern part of the country. This has occurred as our main fuel source has switched from wood to coal and finally to oil. In addition, the movement of agriculture to the Great Plains led to a decline in farming in the East. The result has been the regrowth of hitherto destroyed forests. What the commenter fails to mention is the massive deforestation that continues unabated outside the United States, most notably in the Amazon. Trees are a good place to store the carbon in the air and they're beautiful to boot. I wish we had more of them.

2. The sun is indeed getting slightly hotter though it cannot be attributed to a straightline process that will proceed for the next several billion years as the commenter claims. Richard Willson, the NASA-affiliated scientist who is studying the phenomenon, told that the finding does NOT mean industrial pollution is not an important factor in global warming. Willson is trying to determine what effect, if any, this increased activity of the sun is having. The rate of change Willson and his team have observed so far is "not enough to cause notable climate change," according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies website which details Willson's work.

3. There may indeed be a major proponent (perhaps a scientist, perhaps not) of global warming who has changed his or her mind. Since no name is cited, we cannot tell. But, those who argue against the reality of global warming are a small minority in the scientific community. The anti-environmental lobby pretends that any disagreement between scientists about global warming equates to a 50-50 split on the matter and so no one can say there is a consensus on the issue. To put it simply: This is hogwash. The evidence for human contributions to global warming is so overwhelming and the consensus so great among the scientific community that two weeks ago a NASA scientist was willing to risk his career by publicly criticizing President Bush for his inaction on the matter.

4. Climate change is not confined to the southern hemisphere as the commenter claims. Only last week a study conducted by eight countries with Arctic territory including the United States concluded that "climate change is happening in the Arctic and that it will get worse unless emissions of carbon dioxide are cut." The data indicate that at the current rate of warming the Arctic ice cap will disappear during summers altogether by the end of this century.

5. Sudden, rapid cooling in the northern hemisphere is not inconsistent with global warming as this article explains. Fresh water melting off the Greenland ice sheet (the result of global warming) could bring what we call the Gulf Stream to a halt. If it does, much of Europe would go into a deep freeze within a decade. (See my previous post which discusses this.)

6. It's true that modern weather data don't go back much further than 150 years. But, paleoclimatologists, that is, researchers who study the climate of the past, are busy examining ice cores, tree rings, and a variety of geological data and have been able to determine climates going back millions of years. True, the data are not as precise as modern weather measurements. But, what they're telling us is not encouraging. We are living on a planet that is warming much more rapidly than can be accounted for by natural phenomena. For an introduction to this field of study, see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) website.

The commenter is correct that oil companies do not want to build refineries in the United States because air pollution regulations make it expensive and because few places in the country would welcome a new refinery. What companies have done instead is to expand existing refineries in the U. S. and increase their efficiency to produce higher output. The commenter makes an excellent argument for uniform environmental regulations across the globe. Why should the people of Venezuela be made to breath toxic air just so we can have more gasoline?

(Comments are open to all. See my list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)

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