Sunday, September 10, 2006

Global warming - the story so far...

OK, stay with me. I don't care if you think it is a hoax or a left-wing plot, if we ignore the causes for just a second, there is some interesting information coming out about the possible consequences. It's not all end-of-the-world stuff, just what happens when glaciers melt, etc.
Inconveniently, the earth is getting warmer. Polar ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, coasts are eroding, and weather patterns may be shifting. Scientists are predicting increased droughts, floods (not a contradiction), wildfires, a massive disruption of agriculture and the food chain, and more severe storms, especially hurricanes. The sea level might rise by several feet in this century alone. The best-case scenarios look pretty awful. [More]

Some believe the "sham science" of human-assisted global warming could place an onerous burden on farmers. But if memory serves me correctly, farmers tend to think everything places an onerous burden on them.

Some farmers could make out like bandits. F'rinstance, those wily Scots:
Climate change could be good news for Scottish farmers, according to ESRC funded research at the University of Stirling. Rising temperatures and increased CO2 levels could mean increased yields and a boost to local economies, according to Professor Nick Hanley, who led the project. The research findings are based on a series of interlinked models, which analysed the effects of projected changes in Scotland's weather on land use, regional economies and biodiversity. The possible effects of reform to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were also taken into account. [More]
Some farmers, however, may lose everything.

But today's prophets of climate change are not quite so sanguine as Arrhenius about the prospect of anthropogenic forcing. This is because, according to some models, even a relatively small rise in global mean temperature would result in dramatic changes in local climate patterns. While climate modelers generally agree that farmers in subarctic latitudes will benefit from warmer summers and milder winters, their forecast for the rest of the planet approximates the apocalypse: famine, drought, hurricanes, floods, mass extinctions—the list goes on. Most of these calamities, said to be of such a scale that they could threaten the viability of human civilization, are predicted to result from changes in weather patterns that would follow from rising temperatures in the oceans and the lower atmosphere. [More]

Should we care? I mean, anyone reading this will be dead before the predict cataclysms occur.

This is an individual answer. Doubtless, many who picture themselves as virtuous will choose to sacrifice before the reason is clear. This is the proof of faith, after all. Others will embrace action as a response to their discomfort with a world they see as sadly self-interested. Embracing the fight against global warming can be a way of demonstrating a concern for strangers and the future - hardly a bad thing. In fact, opponents of anthropogenic global warming are losing the PR battle - looking all the world like self-obsessed misanthropes.

The result is, I believe, a scientific debate that has taken on the added baggage of discontent with individual lives. This is not unprecedented. Prohibition was a not just about alcohol, but undisciplined lives. Evolution is not just about anthropology, it is about religious principle.

The difference for this argument is a flood of real-world data will confirm or deny our beliefs much faster than previous debates. The trick is to be gone before you are proven wrong.

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