I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth on Sunday. It was very good — go see it if you can. See it with an open mind — for like any documentary of late, it is heavily biased to one side of a highly controversial topic. However, from the best of my abilities to sift through the science, the bulk of scientific consensus does still point towards global warming being a real manmade phenomenon.
Today I saw a new report by the National Academy of Sciences that shows a multifaceted approach to get good estimates of global temperature for the last 400+ years, and the last few decades are by far the hottest on record, with a clear upward swing since 1900. If you want the executive summary, here’s a press release, distilling the report down to a fifth-grade reading level. Basically, this is a follow-up study done to verify the infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph that has recently been called into question (the graph was generated with some poor mathematics and a flawed combination of mixed data-types).
Usually, when a topic is this controversial, the truth lies somewhere between the extreme viewpoints espoused by fanatics. The worst thing one can do is make up their mind and pick a side in advance. Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly what most people are doing. The scientific evidence for this sort of thing (backwards projections and forwards extrapolations) will always be inherently unreliable. If you pick a side in advance, you can always spin the projections your way. If you’re a believer in Global Warming, then even the slightest trend can be seen as solid evidence. If you’re against it, you can always call phooey on the results being suspect, unprovable.
While I’m a tree-hugger, to be sure, I am a Scientist first. Right now, all we can do is carefully weigh the evidence, and collect more of it. There is a large body of fairly solid evidence that mankind is rapidly altering the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise. Is it as bad as some think it will be? Maybe, but it’s not clear.
I often wonder if there is a large overlap of people that disregard global warming theory with the people that disregard evolution. Understanding the mechanics of both theories requires abstract thinking over extremely large scales of time and space. In their primary arguments, creationists often cite the incomprehensibility of small random changes developing the amazing complexity of living systems. A similar argument is made against global warming theory — that mankind as a whole could possibly make a dent in the atmosphere. Are there just a brain-type or personality-type, (or IQ-level?) where a person simply cannot fathom concepts involving scales far beyond one’s basic surroundings?
How can a mere 6-billion people possibly impact the climate of something so large as the earth? I just can’t see it….