Yesterday my work hosted something called the “Great Climate Debate” in which a notable in the field of climate study from each of the opposing viewpoints (Global Warming is man-made vs. it is a natural phenomenon that we can’t control) was able to express his views. The debate itself wasn’t what I expected exactly; there wasn’t really any back and forth and the issues argued were very scientific and subtle. Also, both sides had some slight flaws in their arguments such as taking particular ranges of time that supported their arguments, but not examining the entire timeline altogether. But I did learn a thing or two and I am grateful that I work at a place that would sponsor such a thing.
One interesting thing is that the “natural phenomenon” guy agreed that the globe was warming and even agreed that humans were causing at least some part of that. He was only arguing that our contribution was very small and didn’t impact it much. So the actual disagreement was only about the degree to which we are affecting the climate. I’m not sure everybody gets that, I think there are general lay-people still believe that the climate is not warming. But even this guy, who had incredible credentials, is at the forefront of this movement, and who is rabid in his belief, agrees global warming exists and we are causing at least part of it.
For his part, one interesting point that he made was about the self-regulating abilities of Earth. For example, as the temperature rises more humidity goes in the air causing the greenhouse effect. But it also causes the creation of clouds and clouds actually help reflect radiation from the sun back into space. So the Earth is heating to some degree from the greenhouse effect, but also at the same time cooling to some degree from the loss of energy from the sun which is no longer making it to the surface of the Earth. It was also interesting to think about the fact that the Earth was warmer at the time of the dinosaurs than most climate modelers predict it will be due to our global warming.
The most interesting issue that came up was political. The question came up, “Is global warming even a bad thing?” Well, it turns out that for countries in our position of the globe (“our” meaning the U.S. but also Europe, Russia, etc.) global warming would actually be better for our crops, etc. and would probably increase our GDP. But for other countries (especially Africa) it would be devastating. So the people who are causing most of the greenhouse gas emissions actually stand to benefit from it and the people in the 3rd world (predictably) would be the big losers.
At the end of the day I have to reject the argument of the “natural phenomenon” guy, but not necessarily because he is wrong. He could be right. But his argument was, well the other guys with their fancy models aren’t correct, so therefore the opposite must be true. Not so! That doesn’t logically hold. Their position could still be correct, even if they can’t prove it.
Anyway, my position on it is the same as my positions on many things: this argument is irrelevant. Whether our pollution is causing global warming or not, I think we all know we shouldn’t be polluting. So we should stop polluting based on its own merits whether it causes global warming or not. It kind of reminds me back when people used to argue about whether smoking causes cancer or not. Who cares? It does a lot of other bad things and you know you shouldn’t be smoking! So if there is even a chance global warming is caused by us, that is just one more reason on top of all the other reasons to stop polluting. And if that is the final straw that makes someone stop doing it, then great!