Friday, September 20, 2013

Global Warming

Since even before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth there was discussion of Earth entering a period of Global Warming.  Climate scientists were making claims about how man's adverse effect on the environment was driving the planet down a road to imminent demise... But it wasn't/isn't too late to change course...

I'm not saying I agree or don't agree about global warming.  And if the Earth is warming, I'm not certain of the extent to which we, as humans, can be blamed.  I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm not trying to deny it... I'm putting another idea out there...  Isn't it possible that it's still too early to tell whether or not we're entering a dangerous period of global warming, let alone determine how much we, as humans, are contributing to that warming?

Maybe the Earth is warming, and maybe we as humans are at least partially responsible for it.  But maybe we're not.

The age of the Earth is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years.  Humans have been inhabiting the Earth for about 200,000 years.  Not to make anyone feel insignificant, but that means we've been inhabiting the planet for less than half of percent of the planet's entire existence.

Using a very liberal consideration of the origins of the science of climatology there was a Chinese scientist, Shen Kuo, in the 11th century that inferred that climates shift over a very large span of time.  Using Shen Kuo's climatological's inferences as an origin point, the science of Climatology has only existed as a science for about 900-950 years.  That works out to less than half a percent of the amount of time humans have inhabited the Earth.

Humans have inhabited the planet for less than half a percent of the Earth's existence, and using generously liberal estimates climatology has only existed as a science for less than half of a percentage of the amount of time that humans have inhabited the Earth.

Given the insignificant amount of time that we've inhabited the Earth and the even more insignificant amount of time that humans have been studying climatology, I submit there's a bit of hubris... a human conceit if you will when it comes to the Sciences in general, and in recent years this has been particularly true of climatology.

I'll concede that our climatologists (and for that matter our paleo-climatologists) have been learning about the climate at exponential rates over the past few decades.  We know far more about climate now than we did even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago.  But that being said, the Earth was around for literally BILLIONS of years before we were and I wouldn't be surprised if its around for billions of years after we're extinct.

Remember during the Cold War when there were all the fears of a Nuclear holocaust wiping out the planet...  Well such an event WOULD very likely have wiped out humankind and would also have had a substantial impact on the environment in the short term (and the amount of time it would have taken the radiation from fall-out to wear off would have been a drop in the bucket on a macro scale of the overall planetary lifespan) but, while we as humans would have been done as a species had such an event occurred, the plant would eventually have recovered and eventually all traces of our existence would have disappeared.

To put it into further perspective, let's say the Earth is a living organism, that would basically make us its "cells."  And while cells can have an adverse effect on the body as a whole, I submit our impact on the climate is more akin to a scraped knee than it is to cancer.  Yes we have the capacity to cause visible and real damage, but in the grand scheme of things that damage is largely superficial.  The damage doesn't run deep... we aren't significant enough to cause any macro-level long term damage.

I'd further contend these changes in lifestyle, economy, and general culture we're making to "go green" have minimal impact at best and are completely insignificant at worst.  I bring this up because, unfortunately, the politics of environmentalism and climatology tend to lose any sense of real perspective and often get blown out of proportion.

We as humans have also historically had a bad habit of acting on impulse and generally forgetting or ignoring the "law of unintended consequences."  That is to say, we tend to unleash a greater wrath upon ourselves through the unanticipated and unintended consequences of the actions we take to repair or fix things (including the environment) than we did in messing things up in the first place.  We act on what we THINK we know, and then we get more data and find out that the opposite of what we "knew" is true.

Science isn't about questions and answers, it's ever evolving.  Science is about the new questions we end up having to ask once we get the answers to the questions we initially asked.  Science is questions answered with more questions.  It's the evolution of not just learning what we didn't know before, but also about learning about what we didn't even realize that we didn't know before (or as our former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld worded it, the "known and unknown unknowns").

So let's shed the intellectual human conceit, regain a bit of perspective and start discussing this issue a bit more rationally.

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