The Right Temperature

global.jpgAlmost every time you open a newspaper nowadays, the world’s ecology seems to be taking a turn for the worse. Icebergs are breaking off in Antarctica, glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, there is more rain in some parts of the world, less rain in other parts and a whole host of hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones running amok. The media is not shy in reporting the underlying cause of these freaks of nature. All of the above, they say with one united voice, are caused by Global Warming. So now, it has become fashionable to blame the slightest fluctuation in the world’s weather on Global Warming. In fact, there is a group of scientists who believe that it was global warming that caused the biblical Noah’s Flood.

Global warming has become the whipping boy for scientists, ecologists and politicians to collectively blame whenever they have an underlying motive to raise funds or an excuse to garner votes.Global warming is a theory that proposes increased levels of ‘greenhouse gases’ are causing an increase in the average temperature of the Earth because of the ‘greenhouse effect’. The major, so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ are methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide and, of course, carbon dioxide. These gases absorb the infrared rays that the earth radiates and trap it in the atmosphere, thereby keeping the Earth warm. Since 1960, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 22 percent.

It is also ‘widely known’ that the surface temperature of the Earth has risen considerably over the last century. Supporters of the ‘greenhouse effect’ argue that these two pieces of information when taken together, prove that increase in carbon dioxide emissions is causing global warming. This, in turn, is causing melting of polar ice, Arctic permafrost, and glaciers; changes in ocean currents including the Gulf Stream; increased coral bleaching and mortality of reef ecosystems; species migration and mass extinction, especially among cold climate species; heightened danger from human pollutants like ozone; health impacts including the spread of tropical disease into cooler climates and range expansion of other pathogens; and water shortages, to name just a few. At this point, I must inform the reader of one or two flaws in the theory given above. If I were an enthusiastic proponent of the ‘greenhouse effect’, I would say that they were minor imperfections, not important enough to be considered. If I were a diehard skeptic, I would say that the flaws in the theory conclusively prove that global warming is not a problem at all. Since I’m neither of the two, I will leave you to make up your own mind.We do not know whether the increase in the Earth’s temperature is caused by increase in CO2 or is merely correlated to it. From 1940 to 1970, global temperatures went down, but CO2 levels went up. Also, since CO2 constitutes 0.03% of the Earth’s atmosphere, much less than water vapor which is another ‘greenhouse gas’, the increase in temperature might not be solely attributable to CO2, as the eco-lobby vociferously states. The 22 percent increase, in actual terms, means that the concentration of CO2 increased from 313 parts per million to 381 parts per million. The second flaw in the theory is that, incredible though as it seems, we do not know with any certainty, the exact change in the Earth’s temperature over the past millennium. At least a dozen different temperature models exist which are in agreement over one thing; agreement that they disagree totally with each other. They all show a general trend in heating over the past century, but the exact amount varies from .3 degrees Celsius to 0.8 degrees Celsius, a variation of roughly 160%. There are also serious doubts about the reliability and accuracy of data from weather stations in the 1800s. Worst of all, there are huge anomalies in the data, which are not answered by global warming, but which support other theories such as the urban heat island effect. A typical example is that, since 1850, the average temperature of New York City has risen by almost a degree Celsius while the average temperature of

Albany, a small town 100 miles away, has fallen by .5 degrees Celsius in the same time period. Perhaps the title of this article should be changed to “Nobody’s got the right temperature.” The fact of the matter is, we simply do not have enough data to reach any definite conclusion. Sensationalist reporting by the media, among other things, has compounded the problem of global warming. In 1988, Mr. James E. Hansen caused quite a stir when he announced that a phenomena known as global warming would lead to the planet heating up by 0.35 deg. C over the next decade. In 1998, the increase in global temperature was found to be 0.11 deg. C. Mr. Hansen, on August 18, 1998, in a collaborative article titled ‘Climate Forcings in the Industrial Era’ said, “The forcings that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs), which are well measured, cause a strong positive (warming) forcing. But other, poorly measured, anthropogenic forcings, especially changes of atmospheric aerosols, clouds, and land-use patterns, cause a negative forcing that tends to offset greenhouse warming. One consequence of this partial balance is that the natural forcing due to solar irradiance changes may play a larger role in long-term climate change than inferred from comparison with GHGs alone. Current trends in GHG climate forcings are smaller than in popular “business as usual” or 1% per year CO2 growth scenarios. The summary implication is a paradigm change for long-term climate projections: uncertainties in climate forcings have supplanted global climate sensitivity as the predominant issue.” The purpose of this article is not to turn people against the ‘greenhouse effect’ and global warming, but to show that the problem is not as simple as is thought to be. I do not seek to tell people what to think, but urge them to think for themselves. It is clear that our planet is becoming warmer, but the implications and causes of this warming need to be conclusively determined if we ever want to find out the truth. Tushaar Kuthiala