Most observers of the global warming phenomenon have an awareness of its somewhat controversial nature. And the framework of a move diplomatically to contain the problem exists in the form of the 2005 Kyoto Accord, with 120 signing countries not including the United States. The problem and any proposed solution, however, contain few uncomplicated elements, according to the authors of this perceptive analysis.Ed.
It appears that every generation needs a holier-than-thou ideological mantra (or a new national symbol) with which to wrap themselves virtuously while belaboring their opponents as the political equivalent of demonically possessed.
Was Jesus Christ entirely mortal, entirely divine, or simultaneously entirely mortal and entirely divine? Is "the Union" forever one and inseparable or are the rights of states paramount? Is fascism, communism, Islamic fundamentalism, or vegetarianism the ism-wave of the future? Is pregnancy a question of "choice" or "life"? Is alcohol "Demon Rum" or does a glass of red wine not just enhance but prolong life? Is smoking a cigarette in a restaurant worse than snorting cocaine in its restroom? Can one suffer a Holocaust denier?
Pick your weapon/words and come out slanging.
In this regard, the Kyoto Agreement and global warming have become among the most knife-edged shibboleths of the current culture wars
To complicate matters, global warming and its political surrogate (the Kyoto Accord) appear to have become aspects of bilateral differentiation between nationsdistinguishing the moral, environmentally conscious, energy-conserving Kyoto cultists from the right wing, gun-toting yahoos and Kyoto-deniers epitomized by the United States. And Kyoto would be, if not easy, at least defensible if it were truly effective. Canada, for example, would certainly find Kyoto's provisions easier to achieve without economic pain if it had Californias climate. Luxembourg might be less enthusiastic if it were 100 times larger. The United States might have found it more attractive if it had Saudi Arabia and Canadas combined energy resources to tap and only half its current population. Indeed, there are supportable extrapolations from the Kyoto Accordthose that would result in serious conservation, better R&D, and investment in engineering efficiencies directed at conserving nonrenewable resources for our economies.
In North America, for example, it will take the combined efforts of both Canada and the U.S. to conserve existing continental energy resources and develop alternative energies. Fighting over the intractably hard-to-prove global warming theories or over Kyoto generates gigantic political angst to little practical purpose. Rather than enshrining Kyoto shibboleths, governments should be seeking pragmatic problem-solving approaches. Global warming should not become another facet of culture wars.
No one wept when the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations. Somewhere in the distant future, the U.N. might in turn evolve into a more effective organization (lets say a global equivalent of the European Union). The League/U.N. are Kyoto/post-Kyoto analogues. The general, global United States effort to advance Kyoto alternatives driven by private industry efforts deserves more than the out-of-hand dismissiveness it has generally met. Specifically, in North America, the United States and Canada together have the wealth, weight, will, and technology to form something better than Kyotofor their own sake but from which others could benefit.
Start by Understanding Our Limits of Understanding: Global Warming Science and Global Warming Theories Are Just That.
Nor are scientists saints; indeed, they are as bureaucratic and self-seeking as any professional group. If the funding available is for global warming, then research proposals will be cast as applicable to global warming. If any mention of global warming or global disaster gets more attention in science journals, the topic will be more mentioned. If there is strong hostility to anyone who goes against the current dogma, then those who have yet to receive tenure will be very cautious in commentary. Scientific training forces you to look at other possibilities, and thus honest scientists will often sound like champion diplomatic prevaricators, qualifying their third subtended clause with a fourth. But "honest science" and "politics as usual" are rare bedmates.
Based on work in 1963 by Edward Lorentz of MIT, James Gleick in Does God Play Dice detailed this conundrum. Lorentz calculations yielded results that varied enormously and unpredictably with the most minute change in initial conditions. He called this the butterfly effect (the butterfly flapping in Tokyo creates a Florida hurricane) when he found that the results of one computer run could not be duplicated even when the same data was fed into the systembecause, in his case, putting 0.506000 instead of the original 0.506127a difference of one part in a thousandresulted in vastly different results.
Gleick explained the implications. Climatologists using global computer models to simulate the long-term behavior of the earths atmosphere and oceans know their models allow for a dramatically different equilibrium. " this alternate climate has never existed, but it could be an equally valid solution to the system of equations governing the earth. It is what some climatologists call the White Earth climate: an earth whose continents are covered by snow and whose oceans are covered by ice." Computer model designers are aware of this possibility, but avoid it as too unpredictable. To explain large changes in climate, they look for external causeschanges in the earths orbit around the sun, for example. Yet it takes no great imagination for a climatologist to see that "almost-intransitivity" (another Lorentz hypothesis in which a system fluctuates within certain bounds for long time, but then, for no reason whatsoever, shifts into a different behavior, still fluctuating but producing a different average) might well explain why the earths climate has drifted in and out of long Ice Ages at mysterious, irregular intervals. If so, no physical cause need be found for the timing. The Ice Ages may simply be a by-product of the underlying complex nonlinear relationships or chaos.
In sum, the underlying mathematics and modeling, the immensely complex interactions mean that, while we can try to extract support for this or other trend, in our very, very short timescales, we cannot prove any of the theories. Even attempts to backcast with models where we have data can do little. We could be in the midst of a major warming trend that will have orchids bloom in the Arctic. Or we could be in a small warming trend with our descendants valiantly fighting glaciation in New York City. Or everything could swing back to the 1900 average.
Some Humility Is Appropriate: The Ice Ages Came and Went and Dinosaurs Roamed the Antarctic with No Help from Us
At the same time, close to half of all deep-sea animals went extinct, asphyxiated in the suddenly warmer and stagnant deep waters.
Now for a change of pace and to look at nearer to our time changes:
The point of these "tip of the iceberg" citations is simply to remind of the geological scales of real climate change. We still cannot prove our theories of global warming or cooling in the past because we cannot time travel to the past and measure the real changes; and, even if we measured the real changes, we would still be ignorant of the complex mechanisms then affecting earths climate. We are not much farther ahead today, despite our best wishes or best models.
We need to emphasize the requirement for perspective when viewing global climate change data. So far much of studies are akin to deducing all of human history by studying only the cells of the pancreas. The solar system has and will continue to change over time. Meteors and larger objects will continue to strike the planets. A wandering comet that visits Earth once every 100 million years can have an effect we can't predict. The "Gaia" enthusiasts treat Earth as a closed system in permanent (they hope) dynamic equilibrium and exclude consideration outside perturbation. Along these lines, it is not irrelevant to recall that once Earth had much more oxygen in its atmosphere (ergo dragon flies with meter-long wing spans).
The "League of Kyoto." Thus our arguments with "Kyoto" are less its idealism than its ideology and impracticality. Following World War I, the allies created the League of Nationsan idealistic exercise that failed ultimately on virtually every test of political reality. So, analogously, is it with the "League of Kyoto" whose failure to construct formulae even vaguely acceptable to the USG (hence the 95-0 Sense of the Senate rejection of Kyoto in 1997) defined its irrelevance before its inception. The creation of parameters satisfactory to small European states or failed communist economies while excluding massive, rising economies such as China and India suggested that Kyoto was an attack on the U.S. economy rather than a realistic proposal to limit "greenhouse gases." Consequently, the likelihood that the U.S. will accept Kyoto strictures is zero; no number of unprovable doom warnings on global warming is likely to convince U.S. leadership to eviscerate the economy. A recent study, for example, by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council of the minimalist McCain/Lieberman plan, and the Bingaman proposal suggested annual GDP declining by 1.9% in 2020 under McCain/Lieberman, with accumulated job losses topping 1.3 million, while the Bingaman plan would reduce GDP growth by 0.4% in 2020 and the lost job total hitting 326,000. Not political "best sellers" to be sure.
The League of Nations hoped, ineffectively, to prevent warpresumably a human activity that might be subject to human control. The League of Kyoto seeks to prevent what looks far more to be a geological and natural circumstanceand to attempt to do so with mechanisms that are unproved, improvable, and unacceptable to significant human actors. Moreover, Kyoto has created a mental block that stifles creative thinking. While quietly there is recognition by all but the theologians of the "League" that Kyoto goals are unobtainable, the you're-with-us-or-against-us rhetoric has created dichotomies that make some prefer to "burn" rather than admit that an opponent might have a "cool" thought.
There may be no "answers"; indeed, the best results from enduring global warming may be no better than human survivala not trivial consequence to be sure, but an outcome that would be easier to navigate if the approaches were technical rather than ideological.
Addressing the Problem.
That range of political attitudes in a democracy will require politicians to follow the State Department's unofficial motto: "Don't just stand there. Do something." Yes, do something, but what?
One thing we do knowthe earths population will continue to increase, barring major plagues, asteroid strikes, and cataclysmic seismic events. The Chinese term for population is renko or "people-mouth"a very pragmatic appreciation of demographic burdens on the ecosystem. Indeed, there are some ecologists who argue that the current global population is not sustainable, let alone the projected rates of increase. And that conclusion has nothing to do with global warming. Fossil fuels will not increase. Nor will natural gas increase as a resource. By definition such nonrenewable resources will not increase, and thus we have good reason to conserve. One observer commented that burning natural gas for heat was akin to washing windows with champagne. Even renewable resources, such as waterespecially potable watercan become very scarce for more and more of the population. Although there are renewable sources for methane such as rotting vegetation and flatulent sheep, these are not significant. An even worse case, a seaquake that massively releases methane clathrates from the deep seabed could overpower all the carbon dioxide emission cuts.
Instead of arguing over the "models" or whether the fact that year X is 0.001 percent higher than year Y, we should seek agreement that the precautionary principle could be a point of agreement on all sides. To make any progress, we must avoid the classic case of making the "best" the enemy of the "good enough for now." It is worthwhile noting that so long as global GDP grows, world carbon dioxide production should rise; there are some estimates, notably by the International Energy Agency in Paris, that with modest growth, energy use and greenhouse emissions could more than double by 2050. Consequently, there will not be a neat mathematical model with independent variables. In the end, our concern is not the abstract geological future for a warming or cooling cycle that might (or might not) last 100,000 years, it's the next generation that we need to consider; the next generation whose energy needs and hopes of a higher standard of living will depend on new sources of abundant and cheap energy. No currently available renewable resource will perform this trick. Economist Robert Samuelson has observed, "The trouble with the global warming debate is that it has become a moral crusade when it's really an engineering problem. The 'inconvenient truth' is that if we don't solve the engineering problem, we're helpless."
Both bilaterally and multilaterally the United States is seeking pragmatic, engineering/technical, essentially voluntary approaches to reduce energy waste and increase fuel efficiencies. It is not a question of who has (or lacks) that mythical "global conscience." Rather it is a question of recognizing that market forces and pure pursuit of profit can create desirable results. The U.S. national vehicle fleet miles per gallon measurement has risen over a generation while household appliance efficiencies have risen. Likewise, concern for national security is a driver for seeking alternate energy sources. But legislating ecological purity is like legislating morality: "those convinced against their wills remain unconvinced still."
We should not be in the position of picking winners so far as endorsing one or another energy-associated technology. Nuclear energy or gerbils on exercise wheels charging nanotech batteries may both be relevant. However, any effort needs to be done for sound economic reasons and with a clear understanding of the costsnot driven by global climate change theology where demons, legends, and damnation all are used to threaten the ordinary folk. Perhaps it is easier for populations to worry about global warming and live the illusion that they can control it rather than deal with the fact that we will die, the Earth will die, and the sun will dieor the plagues could returnthan to address the prospect that an Earth with a population of 6 billion, 8 billion, or 10 billion may make its inhabitants conclude that global warming is a tertiary concern.
Finally, if global warming activists pin all their hopes for action on a warming trend, they risk seeing support evaporate as soon as there are several cold winters akin to those we experienced in the 1970s when all the talk was of a new ice age, complete with old etchings of New York harbor frozen. At that juncture, even the disarmament scientists were busy with "nuclear winter" predictions from a global nuclear war. In short, we do not need a new "Crusade" but rather a new Industrial Revolution.