Field of Science

Killing the Hydra

As an addendum to the previous post, I want to note that the 'hockey stick' graph by Michael Mann and others which was so much in the spotlight recently has been endorsed in its general features by many bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences. (Link: Climateaudit)

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Once somebody asked me a curious question; Mann's graph shows that the temperature anomaly has been the highest for the 20th century in the last 1000 years. What if we are looking at a cycle that repeats itself in, say, 2000 years? Won't the temperature anomaly that we see then be only part of a cycle?

I guess this is an objection that many people have about global warming. What if it is only a cycle? To my knowledge, the answer to this objection is now clear; computer models can reproduce the temperature that might have existed had mankind and greenhouse gases not been around. This natural variation in the temperature is far lower than what it is. Also, the simple fact that temperature rise can be concomitant with the rise of CO2 is a very telling one, and may appear deceptively simple. Also, it is a simple law of nature that CO2 absorbs certain wavelengths of light. Taken together, these three facts for me constitute as good a chain of reasoning as any. Also, the naysayer's objection is absurd for another reason. If the data had been collected for 10,000 years, he could still have claimed that it was not collected for 20,000 and renewed his objection. I am not sure it makes sense to play these childlish games till the world comes to an end. As I have noted before, do we really want to be one hundred percent certain about an event that could eminently mean the end of humanity? Maybe then we should also stop vaccinating ourselves.

Frankly, given our nature, I don't think any amount of moral reasoning, no matter how true, is going to sway public opinion soon. Indeed, people don't even stop smoking cigarettes when they know they can kill them, so it may appear naive to expect them to suddenly care about global warming, a phenomenon that probably won't directly affect them in their own life. No matter how lofty the moral pillars of reasoning seem, the one thing that can finally force people to pay attention is still the mundane allure of economic incentives. Consider this; this semester onwards, almost nobody from my lab is going to drive their car to work, and they are all going to take one of the three new shuttles that Emory University has begun. I don't believe for a moment that they are doing this for the environment. The simple reason why they are doing it is because Emory University is also going to double the annual parking fees to 700$ a year. If you can't show them the tree, just don't make it free. Do this more often; create new bus services, make wireless internet available on the shuttles, and make the parking fees prohibitive, and people will obediently avail of the service. It's surprising how the simplest of daily incentives can change people's minds about the most profound objectives. But evidently, things like public transportation are not that simple, because they are not being implemented.

The Kyoto protocol is being riddled with blame games, with the US saying they won't sign until India and China do, and India and China saying they won't sign until the US does. China is next only to the US in greenhouse emissions, and if anything, it's going to spew many times more in the atmosphere in the near future. (Link: BBC)

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I for one think this is another childish game that can be played till eternity. Even though the arguments are valid, somebody has to get out of the loop. After all, deep down, does it really matter that the US has increased emissions over the last few decades? It's us who have to suffer the consequences to our environment if we don't cut them down. It is true that as of now, we cannot achieve a high standard of living without using conventional energy sources. But at some point in the future, we are going to run out of oil anyway. How does it harm us to start early and found our new standard of living on unconventional energy sources, an effort that actually can turn out to be profitable in case of a likely oil crisis? At least we have the nuclear deal with the US. Let's avail of it. On the part of the US, I think that if they want us to sign, they should also become ready to sell us some of their already developed research into uncoventional sources of energy, at a cheap cost, and save us the cost that we would have to expend in doing research using conventional energy in the first place. But finally, they also must be prepared to give their citizens incentives to cut down on their standard of living, a standard that neither they nor the world can realistically aspire to in the near future. I agree that governments are to blame, but ordinary Americans need to pitch in too, and they are going to do it only if they are provided incentives of the kind mentioned above regarding public transportation. As Al Gore says, we have the technology to stop global warming, but in a different sense, I think that statement can also refer to the technology needed to give people incentives to combat global warming.

The media has a very important role as always to play in this situation. As noted below, the media has many times embellished global warming research by spuriously connecting it with specific environmental events. However, much needed public awareness did come out of this misused connection. Now, the media needs to highlight the general effects of global warming that are becoming so certain. For example, not the number but the intensity of hurricanes is predicted to increase according to climate experts, and this has been so. A good connection has also been established between mean sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. The media needs to highlight such facts that have been extensively investigated using sound science. In the US, the media has a considerable hold on the people's psyche. For once, they should exploit this hold for a good purpose.

Combating ignorance and galvanizing official policy and public opinion about global warming is like killing the Hydra; when one of its heads is cut off, another one appears from somewhere and grows in its place. But the truth remains that Hercules did kill the Hydra and win the battle, and so we also should know that we can, and fight it with all honesty and sincerity.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, you said :"Frankly, given our nature, I don't think any amount of moral reasoning, no matter how true, is going to sway public opinion soon. Indeed, people don't even stop smoking cigarettes when they know they can kill them, so it may appear naive to expect them to suddenly care about global warming, a phenomenon that probably won't directly affect them in their own life."

    But, I think people need to realise here that smoking kills ! Along with tobacco, there are over 600 chemicals added to cigars and cigarettes.

    When a cigar or cigarette is lit,the burning end produces over 4000 toxic substances including 43 that are known to cause cancer. Several of the chemicals that are added to tobacco products are listed as hazardous materials that are so toxic they are not allowed to be disposed of in landfills.

    I wish people know that and quit smoking right now


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