Ben Bova on Global Warming

I hate to say it, but I suspect that Ben has come to the Global Warming party rather late in the day with the horse disappearing over the hill. Global temperatures are reported to have dropped swiftly and significantly and there is no sign of a quick rebound.

And we are having a real winter.

Global warming was very real until the peak in 1998. It stayed warm until the excess heat escaped into the Arctic in 2007. Then it dropped. Unless something sharply changes in the next few months using as yet unidentified mechanisms, this recent cycle of global warming is over.

It was pleasant while it lasted, but my concern today is the likelihood that recently elected governments are so committed to this silliness that they enact a slew of well meaning policies that are not only wrong but will turn out to be historically bone headed. Since 1998, the data was telling us to wait and see. Now it is telling us to back off.

He even hauls out poor old Patrick Henry who merely asks us to open our eyes. Please look at the data Ben.

Ben Bova: Facts show global warming is real

7:01 p.m., Saturday, November 29, 2008

I have a number of friends who don’t believe that global warming is real. They suspect it’s all a plot by Third World collectivist nations to cripple our economy.

Global warming has lots of doubters.

For example, in a commencement address a couple of years ago, the late author Michael Crichton remarked that if weather forecasts can’t be depended on for accurate predictions a few days ahead, why should we take seriously alarms about a global warming that won’t fully manifest itself until decades or even centuries from now?

Global-warming opponents are quick to jump on any shred of evidence that the current warming trend isn’t global, or is not actually happening. They have long pointed out that as recently as the 1970s climate experts believed that the Earth was cooling, not warming.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of the main sources for global-warming data, was embarrassed recently when it had to admit that its declaration that last month was the warmest October on record was wrong, based on a faulty reading of the temperatures in Siberia.

One of my closest friends sent me through the Internet a newspaper account of the Goddard fiasco, together with 136 pages of comments by various bloggers, many of them gloating over the error.

In the face of such doubts and mistakes, though, I remembered a piece of wisdom uttered by the great science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Heinlein once told a graduating class at Annapolis:

“What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget ‘what the stars foretell,’ avoid opinion, care not for what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable ‘verdict of history’ — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

The facts are based on actual temperature measurements around the world. Despite the Goddard Institute’s recent gaffe, those measurements consistently show that global temperatures are rising. The rise is most noticeable at high latitudes, where Canadian and Siberian villages that have for centuries rested on solid ground are now sinking into mud, because the permafrost beneath them is thawing.

Migrating animals head north earlier because spring temperatures are arriving weeks earlier in the year.
Plants blossom earlier too. And both plant and animal species are expanding their habitats northward because of the generally warmer temperatures. Arctic sea ice is thinning drastically. Glaciers are melting away.

These are observable, measurable facts.

In California’s Yosemite National Park, a group of researchers recently completed a survey of small mammals in an area that had been surveyed about a century earlier by other scientists. The new survey found that, compared to a century ago, species that lived at low altitudes have moved their habitats to higher areas, while the original high-altitude species have declined in numbers. This is a clear response to a warming climate: as the climate heats up, the low-altitude species are seeking cooler habitats and making inroads on the living space of the original high-altitude species.

Field mice and pine trees don’t have politics. They are responding to the climate changes that they face. Those changes are real.

What’s not real is the claim that until the 1970s climate scientists were worried about Earth’s climate cooling into a new ice age. That’s a canard. A team from the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina surveyed climate research papers published between 1965 and 1979; their study showed that only seven papers predicted that global temperatures would grow cooler, while 44 papers predicted warmer temperatures and another 20 were either neutral or offered no long-term predictions.

The climate-change doubters are especially hostile to the idea that human actions are causing global warming. They fear that attempts to control climate-altering greenhouse-gas emissions are thinly-disguised attacks on the economies of the Western nations, especially the economy of the United States.

While I agree that the Kyoto Treaty’s approach to lowering greenhouse-gas emissions is a half-baked piece of international politics, and the U.S. is right to refuse to sign it, it seems equally clear to me that human actions are indeed causing at least part of the planet’s rising fever.

Our Earth goes through climate shifts over the course of time, but the greenhouse gases we humans are pouring into the atmosphere are accelerating a natural warming trend. If we can move away from fossil fuels without doing fatal harm to our economy and our way of life, it will alleviate the warming.

In his famous “Liberty or Death” speech, Patrick Henry said, “… it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. … Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and to provide for it.”

Despite the naysayers, global warming is real. It may be hardly noticeable to most of us, but the world’s temperature is rising. How far and how fast it will rise, no one can yet predict. But studies of past climate changes show that the planet can switch from ice age to tropical in a few decades.

If we want to avert wrenching changes that would come with an accelerated global warming, we should do all we could to move from fossil fuels to cleaner, less-damaging energy sources. Such a change would be good not only for our global climate, but it would be good for our economy and the world’s political situation, as well.

Look at the facts. Make up your mind. Then act.

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