2007-02-02 / Columnists

Drawing On Science

Commentary by Stephen Yaeger



GLOBAL WARMING IV: Natural or Artificial Climate Change?

Needless to say I'm sure that the reader has noticed that this (beginning of) winter is not what we expected. In fact it started out like spring weather, which had caused some plants to sprout after a brief "winter" rest. When I started this writing it was reported that Central Park has not had a "flurry of snow" as of the beginning of this winter. The last time this had occurred was in 1877. We've now had two light coverings of snow. Many are convinced that all this warm weather is due to man-induced climate change (I'll refer to this as artificial warming). Then the cold weather arrived and those who scoff at artificial warming were elated.

Yet there is another group of people who insist that the climate change we are experiencing is due to interglacial global warming (I'll refer to this as natural warming). Now keep in mind that I'm neither a specialist in environmental science nor a meteorologist. But I studied the sciences for some time now and I do understand, from what I've read and learned over the years, something about the natural world and what keeps it in balance. No matter how one looks at the present environmental conditions it cannot be denied that, in the last 600 years, the warmest years occurred in the 20th Century: 1990, '91, '95, '97, '98, '99, 2001, '03' '04, and '05. 2005 has the distinction of being the hottest year to date. From 1780 to 1880 global temperatures increased by 0.5 o F; from 1945 to 1975 there was an increase of 1o F; and in 1980 global temperatures increased 0.5 o F. In fact the temperature in the Antarctic is now 3 o F higher than it was 50 years ago. Based upon this and other factors something is not quite right with the balance.

Since the Antarctic holds 2/3 of the world's fresh water as ice it wouldn't be a good thing if it all melted. Coupled with the melting of the Greenland and other ice fields and, well, you'd be hard pressed to find dry land. I've written about this in my previous three columns on Global Warming.

Let's take a look at natural warming. The Pleistocene epoch (The Geologic Timetable is divided up into three major time divisions: Eras, Periods and Epochs) began some 1.8 million years ago. It played host to cold glacial and warm interglacial periods. About 11,000 years ago it came to an end with the last glacial period (ice age) bringing in the Holocene or recent epoch in which we are now living. Now since it has only been some 11,000 years since the last ice age the question is: Are we living in a post-glacial Holocene epoch or are we in an interglacial warming period of the Pleistocene? If the latter is true then we may be in for another ice age. How can that be possible you ask…if we are in a warming interglacial period how can it get colder?

Above the Arctic and Antarctic sits cold, dry air. Snowfall is very light. As the earth's temperatures rises the amount of moisture in the atmosphere increases. Ocean levels drop as more and more water evaporates. The warm water droplets cool resulting in an increase in snowfall. Snow accumulates over the years increasing the size of snow fields and glaciers. A great deal of sunlight, then, is reflected back into the atmosphere rather than being absorbed. This reduced lack of light energy reduces the warming process, which ultimately leads to a cooling down of the earth and formation of ice. The cooler it gets the more snow and ice. The more snow and ice the more reflected sunlight and, well, you can figure the rest out yourself.

So, you say, artificial warming just isn't so. We are in a natural warming period, which explains the melting of glaciers, warming of the oceans, disappearance of frogs, and so on. But wait…not so fast. The majority of climatologists (scientists who study weather systems) say artificial warming is a fact, as do paleoclimatologists (they study ancient climate conditions).

Keep in mind that any interference with the balance of nature offsets that balance. There is a recycling threshold limit in nature's systems. When this limit is exceeded the system fails since it can't recycle. It will then shut down. Are we near the point where atmospheric conditions are shutting down? For millions of years plants utilized carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the plants died they were buried and remained deep within the earth's crust for millions of years undergoing fossilization. On the geologic clock man arrived about one minute to 12 noon. From that time to the present we have altered and are altering the environment in many ways. One such way is the use of fossil fuels. In the last 200 years or so humans have dug or drilled deep into the crust to extract the coal, oil and natural gases for energy.

Since the Industrial Revolution the three most important environmental concerns are global warming, acid rain and ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere. Research has revealed that these problems are steadily increasing…particularly since the Industrial Revolution. So is global warming the result of natural warming or man's upsetting the balance of the environment? Scientists can't explain what they see unless they plug in the use of fossil fuels and the pollution produced through their burning. No matter how one may look at climate change there is absolutely no denying the fact that, historically, an abnormal rise in temperature has always been accompanied by an abnormal (artificial) increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is no natural reason for such an increase in carbon dioxide levels.

Two thousand scientists of the UN and World Meteorological Organization have projected that in the year 2100 Earth's global temperature will have increased 2.5 o F to (hopefully not) 10.4 o F. Reviewing their findings a 2001 report from the US National Academy of Science has reached the same conclusion.

Climate change is a process that has many questions, but it cannot be denied that we are accelerating the process through our reckless interference with the natural world and only we can stop it. To deny this fact is to spell out disaster. There is only one thing that will destroy this beautiful planet and that is our indifference to its natural balance.

Stephen Yaeger is available for school presentations through The Rockaway Museum.

Questions/comments? E-mail Steve: Drawingonscience@aol.com

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