Hot About Warming

Global warming is real. Forget the arguments about what’s causing it. Forget trying to figure out whether it’s going to be good or bad. Forget wondering what should be done to stop it. The fact of the matter is that the Earth’s atmosphere has been getting measurably warmer for quite a few years and shows every sign of continuing.

I don’t remember when I first heard of global warming, but I do know that it became a political football soon afterward. Sadly, it seems like the issues around it have turned into a screaming match about whether it even exists. This is silly and needs to stop so that we can figure out what to do next.

I am not an atmospheric scientist. I’m pretty sure I don’t even know any. I do follow science news rather closely, though, and it’s become obvious to me that almost all scientists agree that the Earth is warmer now than it was a decade ago, that the decade before was even cooler, and that the average temperature has been trending upward.

I’ve also noticed that while scientists agree that global warming is real, the only groups who disbelieve it are political in nature (including some that I’m usually a part of; more on that later). When presented with a scientific question, I’m more likely to trust experts in the field than politicians.

Along those lines, those politicians who refuse to accept global warming tend to dismiss it as a conspiracy of liberal meteorologists. To me, that idea is just asinine. I was a science major in college, and one of the things I learned very well is that it’s almost impossible to get a bunch of researchers to agree on something. No matter how obvious the statement, someone will nitpick it to death and argue until someone is able to demonstrate that the statement is most likely true. Because of that, there are a few reasons why this vast left-wing conspiracy is beyond silly:

First, there is an enormous body of evidence supporting the idea of global warming. Most people seem to think that science is about proving theories, when in reality the exact opposite is true: scientists do their best to disprove hypotheses and only the ones that stand the test of time are elevated to theories. For example, a lot of physicists have made careers of trying to show that some of Einstein’s ideas were wrong. Because so many scientists have tried and failed, those ideas are generally accepted as accurate and used as the basis for other theories. If anyone designed an experiment that demonstrated flaws in his theories, that person would win the Nobel prize and be given all the research money they could ever want to run other experiments.

Well, the same is going on for global warming. Researchers from around the world have studied climate data with a fine-toothed comb to look for flaws and anomalies that would show that our atmospheric temperature hasn’t been rising. The fact that no one has been able to convincingly do so is a strong indicator that the scientific consensus is correct.

Science is driven by a need to understand the world around us. Possibly the only stronger motivation for researchers is fame. Those Nobel prizes don’t only go to physicists; lots of climate researchers would love to see their names in the big journals and on newspaper headlines.

Finally, the scientific community is brutally harsh to its own members who knowingly publish false or misleading results. Even allegations of wrongdoing are sufficient to ruin a lot of careers. No researcher wants to get caught submitting shoddy work or invalid data as the punishment is severe and thorough.

So take your pick of reasons: whether from fear of being caught lying, personal ambition, or of a dogged determination to find the truth, it’s just not possible for such a large body scientists to almost entirely claim that global warming is taking place unless they have reason to believe it really is happening.

On thing that drives me absolutely nuts is when people confuse climate with weather when they’re actually different subjects. “How can scientists know what the climate will do ten years from now,” they’ll say, “when they can’t even guess what the weather will be next week?” The best analogy I’ve heard involves boiling a pot of water. Climate is like looking at that pot, seeing that it’s on a burner, and using a thermometer to see how fast it’s getting hotter. Weather is like trying to figure out where the first bubble will form on the bottom.

Another common misperception is that global warming is the same as universal warming. It’s not. A lot of researchers have started referring to “climate change” to more accurate describe what’s happening. Basically, as the atmosphere grows warmer, the jet stream moves around, ocean currents shift, and weather patterns change. As some spots on the planet will get much warmer, others will get cooler. The important part is that the average temperature is increasing, even taking into account localized drops.

Think of it like the refrigerator in your house. Anything that uses electricity creates heat – that’s just the nature of energy. Your refrigerator uses that electricity to shift some heat from inside itself into the rest of your home. But even if you left the door open, because of the electricity consumed by the motor and turned into heat, the average temperature inside your house will go up.

My last weather-related pet peeve is people who think that unusually cool days are proof that global warming isn’t true. Equally bad are ones who believe that warm days prove that it is true. It sounds dumb and is very unflattering. If you do that, stop.

A recent report claimed that the trend to warmer temperatures has reversed and we are actually headed toward a cooling period. The problem here is exactly the same as with weather versus climate, discussed above. The only difference is that the time intervals involved are a year or two instead of weeks. Now, don’t get me wrong: I sincerely, wholeheartedly hope that this turns out to be correct and that we’re moving toward the same average temperatures our society has learned to handle over the last few centuries. We already know how to deal with the status quo and that’s definitely the easiest outcome to manage. However, it’s important to remember that it’s still too early to know whether this was a one year fluke or a long term change, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably lying to you.

The most vexing part of the whole subject is why this is such a politically charged issue. Now, I understand the difficulty of agreeing upon an acceptable response to the problem, or even whether it’s a problem at all. However, I just don’t see why global warming’s existence is even in question outside scientific circles. To me, that’s like arguing that nuclear fission is a lie because to accept it would mean that people can build nuclear bombs. Our feelings about the implications of the facts are immaterial to whether the facts themselves are correct.

I think it’s the height of absurdity that a person’s opinions on scientific topics depends on their political leanings. I’m not even sure how views on the matter became so sharply divided along political lines. Since when did a bunch of hippies become true believers in science? And what prompted industry to turn its back on the very idea instead of embracing new markets and a shift to cleaner, cheaper power? This could so easily have gone the other way, but the sides have been chosen and neither shows any sign of wavering. As a conservative, I’m irked to no end that my cohorts have ceded the intellectual high ground to groups who were preaching granola and pyramid power a few decades ago.

In a nutshell, I wish politicians would quit making this an us-or-them issue and accept or reject global warming on scientific grounds. As of right now, that means accepting it. Within the circles of experts on the subject, almost everyone believes that the Earth is getting warmer and will continue to do so. To continue to argue otherwise on emotional grounds does nothing but marginalize the people who should be stepping up to address the issue.

Whether global warming is a problem, whether we caused it, and whether we can do anything about it are questions requiring serious debate. This can’t happen until we accept that it is real. It is. Now lets move forward, shall we?