Friday, March 21, 2014

Earth's Warming History

Diligent inquiry yields informative facts in a complex subject such as climate change. Before 1988 the topic did not generate heated emotions. During the 1970s scientists flirted with the possibility of global cooling. In terms of “scare” topics there is no paucity of subject matter. Some topics are legitimately worthy of fear. Severe weather events embedded in long term climate have long been causes for concern. So-called normal weather is sometimes chaotic. Nevertheless, our climate system sustains human life. Lately it has acquired a reputation for being a threat to man’s well being because of what humans are doing to harness their enormous energy needs. We must look at the history of how we arrived at this state of fear and disagreement.

Some human caused problems yield reasonably simple solutions. Other cause and effect scenarios do not because the causes as well as the effects are less certain. We review a human caused problem which yielded a solution. Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962. It became a Book-of-the Month selection. When I was a new member of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the title and subject matter held high interest for me because of my fascination with wildlife and all topics of the natural world. I hoped my students would learn to share my appreciation. When a “science current events” oral report was required of my students on occasion, some class members focused on topics of environmental impact, partially due to Rachel Carson’s influence. Her campaign reported the powerful, often negative effect humans were having on the natural world due to chemical spraying practices.

Carson highlighted the impact of pesticides such as DDT and the outcome of reduced reproductive success in birds such as the peregrine falcon and bald eagle. Her campaigns were fruitful. The recovery of bald eagles, our national bird, is an unequivocal success story of the environmental movement which began to achieve prominence around 1960. In my northwest Illinois neighborhood, this success has been highlighted by increased eagle sightings, including one recent visit within one hundred feet of our home.

Recalling the days of the nascent environmental movement, one of my visionary teacher colleagues organized a school-wide day of student hands-on participation in May 1970 to celebrate the initial “Earth Day.” This highly successful local school participation was nourished by a number of environmental awareness phenomena. We mention but two. One frequently copied photograph, “Earthrise,” taken during the famous December 1968 flight into moon orbit by astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders, became the emblem for a fragile Earth we take pains to preserve. The picture became a symbol of the newly launched environmental movement. The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich expressed a more alarmist view of the dire outcomes in store for Earth. Ehrlich implied man should do something about the oncoming problem of starvation and overpopulation.

Rachel Carson had a most positive effect on preventing the abuse of pesticides in addition to her promotion of a healthy respect for the environment. Government regulation of pesticides was achieved, but not without opposition from manufacturers of the chemicals. Man-made chemical substances came to be increasingly regulated by edicts from government agencies. Paul Ehrlich’s predictions on human starvation and overpopulation did not materialize as did the harmful effects of pesticides. Ehrlich advocated zero population growth and revised strategies for food production. His alarmism is an example of woefully ill-informed and inaccurate predictions. 

Between 1968 and 1988 a few writers expressed concern about both global cooling and global warming. Some pinpointed CO2 as a possible culprit in a warming scenario. More important players were ascendant in the growing global warming awareness. Key events occurred in 1988. Bert Bolin was chairman of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) from 1988-1997. The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations formed by the linkage of the World Meteorogical Association (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Five assessment reports of IPCC sessions beginning in 1990, most recently in 2014, have been embraced by climate change enthusiasts. The IPCC findings are quoted by climate change campaign advocates as representative of scientific consensus. More accurately, the IPCC positions may be viewed as a “stacked deck” under the auspices of the United Nations.

Another major player turned out to be Maurice Strong who used his ambitions for the role of the United Nations to organize a 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. According to Christopher Booker in The Real Global Warming Disaster, Strong “used the issue of global warming to persuade the politicians and governments of the world to accept the supranational authority of the UN on a scale it had never enjoyed before, handing it powers considerably more far-reaching than anything in the minds of those who drew up its original charter. It was the biggest single step towards turning the UN into an unelected world government since its foundation half a century before.”

The church community must guard against the errors of enlisting in a campaign which may be seriously mistaken on several counts. At a Senate Environmental and Pubic Works committee hearing on January 16, 2014, there were nine people offering testimony on the subject of global warming. Only two or three promoted a balanced scientific perspective. One participant, Judith Curry, is among the most respected professional climate specialists in the country. Curry is Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her testimony is diametrically opposite of the so-called scientific consensus of the IPCC on climate projections for the future. Of concern is our government leadership’s endorsement of climate policies in opposition to responsible energy use. Even worse is our embrace of economic chaos resulting from commitment of billions and trillions of dollars to prevent the climate change which has not arrived and may never arrive.

Rachel Carson’s pesticide campaign identified a clear cause and effect relationship. Problem solutions were clear to all. We do not see the same relationship of cause and effect in our contemporary climate change issue.