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Global warming question(14 posts)

Global warming questionDougSloan
Sep 4, 2002 6:23 AM
Let's assume that that global warming is proven beyond a doubt. But, also assume that it is proven to be from natural causes. Given the same projections of effects as from man made global warming existing today, should we attempt to reverse it by artificial means? (my hypothetical, so no fair changing it :-)

Doug
Bravo! A terrifically loaded question to torturescottfree
Sep 4, 2002 6:42 AM
the liberal linthead mind!

But I won't get trapped in dialectic. The answer is no. We can and should control our own destructive behavior. If we're causing it, we ought to stop. But if a great natural process is at work to cause global warming, we'd best just learn to deal with it, not because of some sentimental liberal love of 'nature,' but because attempting to reverse it would be feckless.
too vaguemr_spin
Sep 4, 2002 6:48 AM
What do you mean "from natural causes?" To me, that implies a spontaneous event, such as a volcanic eruption or earthquake.

Or perhaps you mean something along the lines of all the methane produced by animals, which is not necessarily a natural event. After all, humans may have overpopulated the worst offenders by breeding them for food. This lessens its qualifications as a "natural event," along the same lines as if I melt the ice caps, and the oceans rise "naturally."

Anyway, no matter, since it's your hypothetical. If the cause is a real natural event, I think you have to let it play out. You can't reverse an earthquake. You can't reverse a volcano. Messing with nature, even with the best of intentions, always seems to have dire consequences. (I'm suddenly reminded of those old butter/Parkay commercials....).
Moot point, because we won't do anything anyway, but...retro
Sep 4, 2002 7:41 AM
Anybody who thinks the U.S. is going to do anything to slow warming (at least before the Atlantic Ocean is lapping at the threshold of the oval office) just hasn't been paying attention. In the case you've described, though, I'd say no, for one reason: Reversing the effects of a natural process on that scale is probably impossible. It would be a waste of money we could use better to prepare for the changes.
Reversing the effects of something we've CAUSED, while a huge job, might be feasible and is worth spending some money at least to investigate. In the long run the costs could be less than, say, sea level rising a couple of feet around the world.
Incidentally, on that "ASSUME it's proven beyond a doubt:" What proof would you accept that's not already out there?
follow upDougSloan
Sep 4, 2002 8:45 AM
By "natural causes," I intended those causes having nothing to do with man's involvement, like volcanos, meteors, solar winds, and cyclical variation caused by any combination of non-human factors.

What would I accept as proof? Given the vast history of the earth and changing weather patterns, I think we first need, for any analysis to have valid statistical significance, accurate data spanning much longer than a hundred years or so. We need to discern the difference between natural micro variations and human causes. To do that, we need to know what would have happened but for human involvement? In other words, have we eliminated natural causes? Do we even have good grasp on what the effects of natural causes are, such as solar flares, wobble, volcanos, forrest fires, etc. Does the earth periodically get warmer or cooler for reasons of which we have no understanding whatsoever?

If we do understand causes, either human or natural, then we should be able to accurately predict weather patterns years in advance, right? As far as I know, we are not there yet.

While I'm no scientist, I had over 40 hours of math and science in college, including several statistics courses, physics, botany, zoology, chemistry, etc. (no meteorology, though). I have at least a minimal understanding of what it takes to "prove" something in a scientific sense. I agree that the first step is to hypothesize, and then determine what you would accept as proof of the hypothesis (more or less). That does not appear to have been done, or at least it is not reflected by the mainstream press on this issue.

Rather, the reports I've read recite data showing warming for the last 100 years, approximately, but also emphasize that even if the data does not "prove" warming caused by humans, the "what if we're wrong" factor overwhelms the rational discussion. In other words, the reports seem to disregard the data and scientific analysis and focus on the emotional appeal of doing nothing to alter nature's course, with the implied argument that "nature knows better than we do", and the unforseen consequences of human alterations are necessarily worse than naturally caused consequences.

My discussion here intended to focus on that issue. That is, if warming is presumed to be bad, then why not attempt to alter that trend if we have the ability through artificial means? Why assume that nature does know better than we do? I understand the emotional appeal, but is that really valid? This is not to say that we really could change anything, even if we wanted to, but offered for purposes of attempting to illustrate the incongruity of the argument against allowing man-made warming, but not interfering with natural warming. If warming is bad, then it's always bad, right?

For those arguing that nature always knows best, then what would you have us do if an asteroid capable of destruction of all higher life on earth was on a collision path with the earth, but we might have the ability to change it's path? Would interference be wrong there, too? Is nature always right?

Doug
follow upSintesi
Sep 4, 2002 9:17 AM
I agree that the "natural is good" argument is emotionally value laden when in fact what is "natural" can and has easily out-damaged anything man has come up with yet. Whether the oceans rise because of car smog and chlorofluorocarbons from hairspray cans, or from a volcanic super-eruption (anyone watch Discovery the other night?)the end result is NY, Miami and Tokyo under 40 (let's say) feet of water.

Perhaps we should be engineering the earth to best suit all life on the planet rather than worry about so called "natural progressions." That smacks of teleology.

One thing tho, if scientific data is starting to indicate bad things are happening because of human action, isn't it prudent to try to reverse this process with the limited knowledge you posess rather than wait until something bad actually manifests itself. This is the exact argument out goverment is using to justify war with Iraq. No one can prove Saddam will nuke Tel Aviv but then again who wants to wait to find out?

Maybe the questions shouldn't be "Is global warming a real detriment?" but rather "is it likely?" Is the theory sound? If so what can be done about it?
Long before humans arrived ...RoyGBiv
Sep 4, 2002 9:56 AM
... planet Earth was at various times a lot warmer. How else do you explain fossils and pollen from sub-tropical regions found in the bedrock of sub-Arctic and temperate areas. (On the flip side, it's been a lot colder from time to time.) However, I think it's safe to say that humanoids have sped up the naturally occuring process of warming.
You could take that one step further and say that humans are part of the natural cause.
Brian C.
That's the keymr_spin
Sep 4, 2002 10:47 AM
100,000 years ago, a caveman was out hunting on the frozen wastes when he slipped and fell into a crevasse. In 1988, he was discovered by some scientists and thawed out. He then went to law school and became...Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer!

Seriously, at various times on earth, huge parts of it were frozen. These were called ice ages. We are not currently in an ice age, which implies that natural global warming took place. Furthermore, since we don't have climate data that goes back to the origins of the planet, it is absurd to draw conclusions based on 100 years of data that we do have.

I always shake my head when I hear or read a news story drawing historical conclusions. The ones that bother me the most are about how rates of some disease are rising, or are higher than they've ever been before. How long have we been able to detect and distinguish diseases? The answer is: not that long. At best, maybe the 1930s for most, and more likely, not until the 1960s. So, based on 30-70 years of data, someone can draw a historical conclusion? Things like HIV and Ebola didn't even have names until 1980 or so, and many people think they just appeared out of thin air. Then I read they think they found a guy who died in the 1930s from Ebola. Oops. Maybe it's been around for a while after all, killing thousands of people we don't even know about over hundreds of years, because the people who lived in the Great Rift Valley didn't keep records. That would mess up the statistics, now wouldn't it?
Actually, technically we're still in the Ice Age.RoyGBiv
Sep 4, 2002 11:28 AM
It's a long story about isostatic rebound, but we're at the very tail end of the most recent Ice Age. Not that it matters anymore. Well, actually, this could be the warm spell between glacial stages. In previous warm spells between glacial stages, fossils found in the Toronto area suggest it was a lot warmer than it is today. Be that as it may, I still believe humans are hastening the proccess.

Further to your point about drawing conclusions from 70 years of data, I'm always intrigued when I hear weather reports that say it was the hottest day since 1934; or it broke a snowfall record set in 1944. I wonder what they were thinking about back then? Surely not global warming?
I did not know thatDougSloan
Sep 5, 2002 6:13 AM
Interesting. Ice ages are sometimes hundreds of millions of years:

"What are Ice Ages?
Ice Ages are intervals of time when large areas of the surface of the globe are covered with ice sheets (large continental glaciers).
The term is used to describe time intervals on two very different scales. It describes long, generally cool intervals of Earth history (tens to hundreds of millions of years) during which glaciers waxed and waned. The term also describes shorter time periods (tens of thousands of years) during which glaciers were near their maximum extent. These shorter intervals are also known as "glaciations."
http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/ice_ages/what_are_ice_ages.html

"The Big Chill
by Kirk A. Maasch http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ice/chill.html
During the past billion years, the Earth's climate has fluctuated between warm periods - sometimes even completely ice-free - and cold periods, when glaciers scoured the continents. The cold periods - or ice ages - are times when the entire Earth experiences notably colder climatic conditions. During an ice age, the polar regions are cold, there are large differences in temperature from the equator to the pole, and large, continental-size glaciers can cover enormous regions of the earth.

Ever since the Pre-Cambrian (600 million years ago), ice ages have occurred at widely spaced intervals of geologic time - approximately 200 million years - lasting for millions, or even tens of millions of years. For the Cenozoic period, which began about 70 million years ago and continues today, evidence derived from marine sediments provide a detailed, and fairly continuous, record for climate change. This record indicates decreasing deep-water temperature, along with the build-up of continental ice sheets. Much of this deep-water cooling occurred in three major steps about 36, 15 and 3 million years ago - the most recent of which continues today. During the present ice age, glaciers have advanced and retreated over 20 times, often blanketing North America with ice. Our climate today is actually a warm interval between these many periods of glaciation. The most recent period of glaciation, which many people think of as the "Ice Age", was at its height approximately 20,000 years ago.

Although the exact causes for ice ages, and the glacial cycles within them, have not been proven, they are most likely the result of a complicated dynamic interaction between such things as solar output, distance of the Earth from the sun, position and height of the continents, ocean circulation, and the composition of the atmosphere.

Climatic Cooling from 60 million years ago to present day
Between 52 and 57 million years ago, the Earth was relatively warm. Tropical conditions actually extended all the way into the mid-latitudes (around northern Spain or the central United States for example), polar regions experienced temperate climates, and the difference in temperature between the equator and pole was much smaller than it is today. Indeed it was so warm that trees grew in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and alligators lived in Ellesmere Island at 78 degrees North.
But this warm period, called the Eocene, was followed by a long cooling trend. Between 52 and 36 million years ago, ice caps developed in East Antarctica, reaching down to sea level in some places. Close to Antarctica, the temperature of the water near the surface dropped to between 5 and 8 degrees Celsius. Between 36 and 20 million years ago the earth experienced the first of three major cooling steps. At this time a continental-scale temperate ice sheet emerged in East Antarctica. Meanwhile, in North America, the mean annual air temperature dropped by approximately 12 degrees Celsius.

Between 20 and 16 million years ago, there was a brief respite from the big chill, but this was followed by a second major cooling period so intense that by 7 million years ago southeastern Greenland was completely co
I did not know thatDougSloan
Sep 5, 2002 6:13 AM
Between 20 and 16 million years ago, there was a brief respite from the big chill, but this was followed by a second major cooling period so intense that by 7 million years ago southeastern Greenland was completely covered with glaciers, and by 5-6 million years ago, the glaciers were creeping into Scandinavia and the northern Pacific region. The Earth was once more released from the grip of the big chill between 5 and 3 million years ago, when the sea was much warmer around North America and the Antarctic than it is today. Warm-weather plants grew in Northern Europe where today they cannot survive, and trees grew in Iceland, Greenland, and Canada as far north as 82 degrees North.

We are still in the midst of the third major cooling period that began around 3 million years ago, and its effect can be seen around the world, perhaps even in the development of our own species. Around 2 and a half million years ago, tundra-like conditions took over north-central Europe. Soon thereafter, the once-humid environment of Central China was replaced by harsh continental steppe. And in sub-Saharan Africa, arid and open grasslands expanded, replacing more wooded, wetter environments. Many paleontologists believe that this environmental change is linked to the evolution of humankind.

Possible Explanations for the Past 60 Million Years of Cooling
Climate change on ultra-long time scales (tens of millions of years) are more than likely connected to plate tectonics. Plate motions lead to cycles of ocean basin growth and destruction, known as Wilson cycles, involving continental rifting, seafloor-spreading, subduction, and collision. Several explanations of the latest cooling trend that involve a climate-tectonic connection are summarized below.
Would it be too hot to bike outside?carnageasada
Sep 4, 2002 11:41 AM
re: Global warming questionLeisure
Sep 4, 2002 6:11 PM
Global warming from natural causes? We'd leave it alone until it became too uncomfortable for the first-world nations. Realistically, that's what would happen. That's not much different from what we'll do about artificial warming anyway. Fine by me.
re: Global warming questionJon Billheimer
Sep 5, 2002 7:24 AM
Two very small points: 1) what is good or bad is simply relative to our survival interests as humans; 2) whether it would be prudent to alter a weather trend I would think would be entirely subject to our ability to foresee and control consequences of our interventions. If we could, then sure, go ahead. It would be no different from any other human technological intervention that we've come up with for our own comfort and convenience.