Saturday, December 22, 2007

Global Warming, Again

Local climate skeptic Lou Johnson has been spreading his ignorance again, most recently in a letter to the Times Herald on 17 December. He's taken to task in today's (22 December) Times Herald by SC4 biologist David Webb, who correctly points out that Johnson is getting much of his misinformation from the discredited and erratic William Gray. In his retirement, Gray is going around the country arguing that global warming is a myth. For a solid, devastating rebuttal of Gray's nonsense see this page on the excellent Real Climate web site.

Another of Johnson's errors demands correction. This is the claim, routinely repeated by climate skeptics, that "in the 1970s, scientists were instead predicting another ice age." To begin with, there was no consensus in the '70s about an impending ice age, nothing like the nearly unanimous understanding today that warming is real and that it's anthropogenic. Johnson and his ilk like to make this claim because it suggests that scientists were wrong then and we therefore have no reason to take them seriously today. What happened was this: some scientists did suggest that a cooling trend might be beginning. Their predictions were tentative, and they did not reflect anything like a consensus among climate scientists. It in no way constituted a situation analogous to what we have today. Like everything else that Johnson and other climate skeptics say, this claim is misleading and irrelevant. Grist provides a good response to it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Global Warming

The world is facing probably the greatest crisis in human history, and the Bush administration stubbornly refuses to admit it. The United Nations has convened a meeting of world leaders at Bali to try to work out a way to slow down the emissions of carbon dioxide that are warming the global climate, but the United States delegation is thwarting every attempt to reach an agreement. See this article in today's New York Times for the latest examples of American obstinacy. At this conference Vice President Al Gore told the delegates, “my own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.”

Two points need emphasis.

First, the data showing a warming climate are unequivocal. So far, 2007 is the second warmest year on record (only 2005 was warmer). The last ten years are the warmest decade on record. No responsible climate scientist now denies that warming is occurring.

Second, the overwhelming consensus among atmospheric chemists, climatologists, and geophysicists is that human activity is a major cause of this warming. This is where the argument gets sticky. While climate skeptics now generally acknowledge the fact of warming, they like to throw out all sorts of red herrings about the cause. They say that solar variation explains warming, that water vapor is a more significant greenhouse gas than carbon is, that carbon build up follows rather than causes warming, that there's apparent warming on Mars. These claims--each containing a germ of truth--are all irrelevant and misleading, raised to cloud the ineluctable facts that carbon dioxide has been shown repeatedly to have a greenhouse effect and that levels of carbon dioxide have risen dramatically since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Scientists alarmed at the prospect of global warming all understand that warming can result from multiple causes, and they further understand that there's one cause of the current warming trend that we must do something about: that is emissions of carbon dioxide.

Two excellent web sites provide the necessary background for an informed awareness of global warming. Real Climate is an ongoing discussion among scientists about all aspects of climate change. Grist is an on-line magazine covering a wide range of environmental issues, with a terrific set of essays on "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic".

It's often said that the Bush-Cheney administration is beholden to corporate interests and routinely does the bidding of big business. This is only partly true, especially when we consider the list of American corporations that are pleading for our government to take climate change seriously, including General Electric, Sunoco, DTE, and DuPont, to name a few. The truth is that on this issue, at least, the administration is controlled by fossil fuel interests, especially big coal. Coal-burning power plants are the largest single source of atmospheric carbon, and the coal producing companies of this country do not want anything interfering with their obscene profits.

Global warming threatens our children and grandchildren with agricultural collapse, starvation, pestilence, drought and flood, possibly the end of civilization as we now enjoy it. The Bush-Cheney mafia are determined to ignore it as long as they are in office. But their days, finally, are numbered. We should be asking every candidate for federal and state office where s/he stands on this, the fundamental issue of our time. Any candidate without a firm, scientifically defensible position on the need for substantial reductions of carbon emissions does not deserve our vote.

And please go to this site to let the world know that Bush does not speak for you.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Iraq: Getting it Right

In Friday's Times Herald, is a headline (no link available) about Iraq that suggests progress in that beleaguered country: "U.S. deaths in Iraq fall again: Refugees' return hailed as 'great victory.'" It would be wonderful if this were the whole story. All Americans would love to see that the sacrifices of American and Iraqi lives, the expenditure of hundreds of billions of American tax dollars, and the deterioration of America's reputation around the word had finally produced something positive. I say this here, up front, because it's become a routine talking point on the right to insist that those of us who opposed this war from the beginning wish for failure, that we are so relentless in our contempt for Bush-Cheney policies that we cannot accept, and even reject out of hand, evidence that those policies might be working. Nothing could be further from the case: we grieve for lives lost, and we hope for the establishment of a decent civil society in Iraq.

But we also are determined not to gloss over the truth and not to be fooled by superficial, incomplete stories such as the one in Friday's Times Herald. One place to start getting a more complete account of what's actually happening would be this article in Friday's New York Times: "Iraq unprepared as war refugees return." It turns out that the Times Herald, as usual, is reporting less than the whole tale. The putative lull in violence in Baghdad is largely explained by the fact that murderous militias have successfully eliminated their enemies from whole neighborhoods. Extensive parts of Baghdad that were mixed, with Shi'ites and Sunnis living side by side, have been ethnically cleansed, and U. S. field commanders are seriously worried that this moment of relative calm will quickly disappear when families driven from their homes try to return. The Iraqi government, such as it is, has no plan to deal with this potential catastrophe.

One reason the Iraqi authorities are so unprepared is the widespread corruption and criminal activity that permeate the Malaki government (click here). Remember that the Bush-Cheney "surge" was designed to give the Iraqi government breathing space to get its act together and actually govern? Rather than get the electricity grid functioning, the government has turned to extortion and theft.

While all Americans are grateful for any respite in the horrors brought to Iraq by the U.S. occupation, we should not be fooled into concluding that the Bush-Cheney gang finally has a plan. What's really happening is a constant lowering of expectations. Once upon a time in the Bush-Cheney fantasy world, the U. S. invasion was going to bring peace and democracy. Now, if they get the violence down for a month or two--though still to levels that should horrify us--they claim success, even though their own commanders in the field know that this illusion of stability is fragile and probably transient.