arnab gupta

It doesn’t matter if global warming is man-made

January 12, 2013

Earth’s climate is changing. If you’re not wearing blinkers, and usually follow the news, this should no longer be a controversial statement to you. (Of course, climate change is a better descriptor than global warming. Earth’s temperatures will not literally rise everywhere all the time. Instead, extremes of climates will become more extreme, and the overall nature of Earth’s climate will shift dramatically.)

For example, from this great New York Times piece:

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”

The question, then, apparently shifts to: ‘Is this climate shift man-made? Or at the least, is the climate shift exacerbated by human contribution?’ People who are ‘skeptics’ on this matter hold forth on how Earth’s climate has changed many times before. On the one hand, they doubt claims made by climate scientists—that the Earth is becoming hotter—based on their research, and on the other hand cite the very same scientists’ results on how temperatures on Earth have varied over the millenia.

A crude example—in the New York Times article cited above, a commenter writes:

Hasn’t “extreme weather” raged world wide since time began.? I think the dinosaurs might have something to say about that. It is time to put your words in the proper respective in regards to how long the Earth has existed………Solve our current pressing problems, then worry about how to pay for “climate control”. If you can.

So very true. The question is—where did said climate change, so naturally occuring on Earth over millenia, leave species that existed in those times? Thriving and healthy? Or as dust covered fossils scattered around the world? About 90-99% of all species of life to have existed on Earth are now extinct. Yes, that many.

What many people don’t realize is—it doesn’t matter if the climate shift is man-made. The Earth does not need humankind; we need the Earth to maintain a certain kind of climate for us to thrive, and, indeed, survive. If the Earth’s climate changes to an extreme, and we are not able to adapt to the new conditions quickly enough, we will run a very real risk of joining those 99% of extinct species. The Earth will happily continue to exist, and a new burst of evolution will spring forth a new dominant species to rule the Earth, just like homo sapiens now, and the dinosaurs before us.

Let’s stop fighting over whether we are the reason climate change is accelerating. (Most likely, we are, but as I said, that’s besides the point.) There’s absolutely no doubt human activities at least contribute to global warming (via burning fossil fuels, for example), and there’s no doubt a drastic change in climate is not good at all for the overall health of the human species. We already know what a runaway global warming process leads to: just look at Venus! It’s currently so toxic that we have a hard time even getting our space craft to operate on its surface. We will be extinct long before Earth’s global warming reaches even a percentage point of that of Venus. Not in 10 years, not in 100, not even in 1000, but the seeds of the far future are being planted now.

So let’s do something about it! I can understand the influence exerted by industries that would suffer if we changed our energy usage, but seriously, the health of the human species should take precedence over the relatively shorter term goals and ambitions of interested parties. Let’s stop being tone deaf; let’s take our collective hands off of our ears and eyes and start believing our own data. And please, let’s not selectively trust our scientists. They are experts in their field, and know what they’re talking about.

And no, climate science is not the same as economics and statistics.

The Earth is the only home we have; let’s not burn it down. Even if we are not the primary cause of the fire, we have to make our best effort to contain it, and if possible, put it out. Our survival depends on it.

P.S.: While looking for a suitable link for global warming on Venus, I found more links disputing the comparison than affirming it. Interestingly, most of such articles, with analyses, are written by, for example, Economists, and medical doctors; articles by climate scientists seem to be curiously missing. I will address this “dispute”, since I brought up the comparison with Venus, but in a separate post—let’s only focus on Earth for now.