Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Is all the talk about climate change just a lot of hot air?
Some will say that Hurricane Sandy turning Manhattan into a swimming pool is further proof of global warming and climate change. Others are doubtful. Mainstream thinking is that climate varies from decade to decade and true change occurs over centuries. Critics are correct to assume that no single storm—not even a superstorm—proves climate change. However, a cluster of extreme weather events occurring in a short period time, does suggest a pattern.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), climate change accelerated during the last ten years, and extreme weather events, including drought, floods, heat waves and dangerous storms, greatly increased during the decade spanning 2001 to 2010—a decade that was the warmest since measurement began in 1850 (See article).
Is it merely a coincidence that this century’s first decade is the warmest on record? There’s good reason to think so, and many do. After all, we’ve only been keeping records since 1850. Yet, the WMO, an agency of the United Nations, which represents 183 countries, believes otherwise. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud claims, “… climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat.” A more conventional view is that climate change occurs over centuries and our recent warmer weather is merely coincidental. Rather than get excited about a warm decade that could be a statistical fluke, why not wait another 50 or 100 years until there’s more proof?
Why not? Because if we wait it may be too late. But, if we act now, we have nothing to lose. Am I saying we should invest millions of dollars in technology that may be unnecessary? That’s exactly what I’m saying. Eventually oil based energy will either run out or become so expensive that few can afford it. So, why not invest in renewable energy and cleaner burning fuels? Even if you think vehicle exhaust fumes aren’t a health hazard, you still don’t stand around traffic islands during rush hour if you can help it. So, why not promote technologies that will create cleaner air?
Some resist making expensive investments in unproven technologies without the certainty that we’re addressing a real problem. But, the investment is worthwhile even if the problem is imaginary. We no longer have a significant presence in space, yet the space program gave rise to important technologies that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Similarly, any investment aimed at developing clean burning, renewable energy is money well spent. Having air and water that are cleaner is worthwhile if only for the sake of our comfort, if not for the sake of our health.
Investments in new technology will pay dividends even if their aim is to solve imaginary problems. If we do not build those technologies, someone else will. Critics argue the administration wasted stimulus money on green energy companies like Solyndra, that failed to become commercially viable. They fail to acknowledge that Solyndra wasn’t competitive because the Chinese government subsidized its manufacturers. The facts don’t prove that green energy isn’t useful. They only prove that the Chinese are more interested in green energy than we are. If we don’t get interested soon, Chinese investments will reap economic advantages while our economy declines due to our failure to advance our technology.
Finally, if there is some truth to the argument, even a little truth, and we take action to reverse climate change, we can prevent human suffering by reducing the frequency, or severity, of forest fires, floods, tornadoes, and glacial and polar melting caused by climate change.