I have been having an ongoing discussion regarding Global Warming-related issues with a conservative lot at LibertyPundit.com. The discussion was sparked by commentary on the Politics Junky Global Dumbing? article, which was inspired by the Politics Junky Barack Obama on Global Warming article.
Here's an adaptation of my most recent post on their comment section. Feel free to engage here or over at LibertyPundit.com:
I do not discount the possibility that rising temperatures might be happening, at least in part, due to natural processes. But, consider the following:
CO2 is a greenhouse gas, no?
It's a good thing we have some greenhouse gasses, otherwise Earth would be pretty chilly, possibly beyond an ability to sustain life. One of the compounds released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels (a.k.a. human activity) is CO2. Therefore, the more fossil fuel burned, the higher the CO2 level in the atmosphere and, hence, an increase in the greenhouse effect. Plants absorb CO2 and release oxygen. In a natural setting, plants serve to balance CO2 levels in the atmosphere. However, if we couple the phenomenon of an increase of CO2 resulting from burning fossil fuels with a decrease in the number of plants via deforestation/urbanization, then it becomes clear that CO2 levels cannot be expected to be held in check the way they would naturally. (This is why some people freak out about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.) It follows that there is no logical debate to be had as to whether or not the burning of fossil fuels contributes to an enhancement, at the very least, of the greenhouse effect and, thus, global warming.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level"
"Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."
"The IPCC defines 'very likely' as greater than 90% probability of occurrence."
Of course, one can simply decide not to believe the world's scientific community because said consensus does not correlate with one's politically charged prejudices.
Which brings me to my next point:
Many Right-wingers suggest that people who are concerned about global warming are motivated by a desire to "crush our economy and end our trade agreements and raise our taxes."
Over half of the world's population lives on or near the world's coastlines. Now, consider the economic upheaval that we all will face if a significant portion of those people are forced to relocate inland due to rising sea levels. A charge that I often hear on the Right, is that the environmental movement is really a tool of socialists or communists who simply hate capitalism and business. This is utterly ridiculous since communists/socialist societies also burn fossil fuels as they produce goods and power and meet transportation needs. In fact, the great communist/socialist powers (the USSR, China) have absolutely atrocious records as stewards of the environment. They make American industries look like saints.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina gave us a little taste of what is likely to happen as people are driven inland from coastal areas. I'll readily attribute the flooding of New Orleans to a combination of corrupt local government and "That-should-be-good-enough..." engineering of the levee system, but the surrounding region, Atlanta and Houston in particular, found themselves inundated with refugees. This influx of now-unemployed people into those regions increased the competition for the job openings that did exist and added strain to other local services such as schools and hospitals.
Environmentalists are often construed as alarmist, which raises the question; would we rather that the whole global warming issue simply be ignored? As for alarmists, part of the problem is that we have clowns like the people who made the film, "The Day After Tomorrow." While the things that might make for dramatic science fiction on the big screen might generate box office profits, movies like that do a disservice to the issues at hand. It isn't as if humankind collectively agrees to stop driving cars today, Florida will be spared 50-foot tidal waves tomorrow. What is far more likely is that over the next 50 to 100 years, slowly rising sea levels will reform the world's coastlines, perhaps not as dramatically as Al Gore (correct spelling) indicated in his PowerPoint presentations, but still rendering ocean-side communities either worthless or very expensive to protect and maintain (by the taxpayers). Rising temperatures will also mean more evaporation inland from lakes (hello, Atlanta!) and even the soil itself, meaning that some current cropland might become useless (not good news for an ever-increasing global population). Meanwhile, the uninformed observers will probably just marvel at a sequence odd weather-related events.
Now, what is debatable is what, if anything, should or could be done to combat climate change. On this matter, I sort of feel like a bystander who is aware of an impending disaster, but is helpless to make a difference; like a pedestrian watching two cars speed toward a malfunctioning traffic light and realizing that they will collide long before the drivers and occupants come to the realizations of their fates. Coming up with solutions that are both economically and socially palatable is a tall order. We live in a nation where a significant number of the people honestly believe that Jesus will return some time between now and Game 3 of the 2008 World Series to take the true believers with Him and leave the rest of us behind. There's simply no long-term concern on the parts of many of our fellow citizens. The particular brand of capitalism that currently drives America is one based on turning a quick dollar, not one based on long-term outlooks and, so, the business community will likely be hostile to any demands by government to adjust current practices in the interests of defending against future problems.
I haven't completely lost faith in humankind yet. I don't think these problems are insurmountable. We need to rethink energy use and its relationship with the environment. We can go about our business, but we need to be and can be smarter about our relationships with the environment. If we can send men to the moon, then we can address these issues, but this will only happen if we acknowledge the issues to begin with.