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Home » Archives » December 2006 » More On Global Warming

[Previous entry: "Regarding Ron Keeshan's Column: Soros Review"] [Next entry: "New Assisted Living Facility In FH"]

12/16/2006: "More On Global Warming"


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In response to Visser Column:

To the Editor,

Oh, dear. Our local debate over global warming is heating up faster than the planet. And now Piet Visser has jumped in and done a "Bill Weissinger" . Namely, Piet has deliberately mis-stated the issue, then used his mis-statement to launch a political polemic.

In his latest column, Piet contrasts an earlier guest column by Vasko Kohlmayer to Al Gore's new movie, and writes that Gore "took a different position on global warming, providing a great deal of compelling science that global warming is a reality."

In fact, there is no argument whatever about whether the Earth is warming. Indeed it is, and the scientific evidence is solid. The argument is over the cause of the warming. Kohlmayer pointed out evidence to suggest that this warming couldn't possibly be the result of human activity. While I haven't seen the Gore movie, I gather it argues that human activity is the cause.

Today, serious people around the world are working hard to figure out which "cause" of global warming is correct -- natural climate fluctuations, or human activity. Until we get this resolved, it makes no sense to fundamentally shift our economies if we cannot be confident that this (very costly) shift would make the slightest difference to the Earth's temperature. Yet this is what Piet, and others, are suggesting we do.

Piet tips his hand in the fourth paragraph of his column: "No value is given to environmental destruction in a pure capitalist model." The last time I saw this sentence was on a flyer some left-wing nut was handing out at a peace rally on my college campus back in the 1960s. It's nonsense. The entire environmental movement was launched in the "capitalist" countries, and is funded by "capitalist" governments. (And, by the way, it was President Nixon who created the EPA. I know this because I was part of the Nixon Administration task force that wrote the legislation creating the EPA and helped to push it through Congress.)

In fact, the most horrific act of environmental destruction in history was the Soviet Union's probably-irreversible pollution of Lake Baikal, which is the world's largest freshwater lake. As I recall, the Soviet Union was a communist country.

Piet lets his politics slip in again when he uses that tired old line: "The US, with 5 percent of the world's population, used 20 percent of all world resources." People of Piet's political persuasion say this all the time, and it's silly. To understand why, let's use a local example:

The Jones family buys 20 loaves of bread each month at Piet's bakery. The Smith family buys five loaves of bread each month. Therefore, the Smiths are good citizens and the Joneses are a bunch of fat slobs.

This sounds reasonable -- until you discover that the Jones family includes two parents and five teen-aged children, while the Smith family is a young couple with a six-month-old baby.

OF COURSE the US consumes a large share of the Earth's resources. Our population is pushing 300 million, and we are the world's largest, most productive economy. When's the last time you flew on an airplane manufactured in Slovenia, or bought software developed in Ghana -- or had your life saved by a pharmaceutical developed and financed by a drug company in Uzbekistan? We produce more products and services than any other country, therefore we "use" more of the world's resources to do it.

Honorable people will always disagree about how best to deal with the issues that confront us. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, it's as healthy as Piet's bread -- to which, by the way, I am even more addicted than I am to tobacco. But it sure would help if everyone who jumps into the debate -- and the more the merrier -- would keep his or her personal politics out of it by at least accurately stating the issue at hand.

Herb Meyer
San Juan Island
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In response to Mr. Kohlmayer's Guest Column on global climate change

By Shannon FitzGerald

Having studied oceanography and geology in college, I learned about the natural glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods in the Earth's history. However, it wasn't until I took a graduate course in paleoclimatology that I learned that the Earth's current rate of warming is 100 times faster (that is two orders of magnitude) than anything that has occurred naturally. While global warming is natural, the current rate is not. Considering that that this paleoclimatology course was back in the mid-1980's, I wouldn't be surprised if the rate of warming is even greater now.

So what does that mean to us? In 1989, I heard Dr. James E. Hansen, who is currently the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, speak about this very thing. One example that stands out in my mind is that of trees. Ecosystems can gradually shift over time if temperatures change. But if temperatures increase 100 times faster than anything the world has previously experienced, ecosystems have a difficult time keeping up with the change. In the case of trees, they can just pick up and move to colder climates, so the result is temperature-induced stress which makes them more susceptible to pests.

So imagine my sorry surprise when 17 years later I read a March 1, 2006 Washington Post article entitled "'Rapid Warming' Spreads Havoc in Canada's Forests". The article describes how millions of acres of trees are dying due to a voracious beetle whose population has exploded with warmer temperatures.

Another example is oceanic circulation. During interglacial periods, ocean currents have slowed and sometimes stopped. While a decrease in upwelling which brings nutrients to fish might be natural, do we want to hasten such a thing?

And it's not just increased temperatures that will affect us. Experiments have shown that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere favors the growth of "weeds" over that of food crops.

If you would like to learn more about the implications of extraordinarily rapid climate change, go to www.giss.nasa.gov or do a search for scientific, peer-reviewed articles by Dr. James E. Hansen who holds degrees in mathematics, astronomy and physicswhich makes me wonder what Mr. Kohlmayer's scientific credentials are.

Sir Francis Bacon said something akin to people will find evidence that supports their views. I suspect we are all guilty of this, but Mr. Kohlmayer's view is myopic considering the information that is out there. The vast majority of scientists recognize that anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming. Even the chief executive of British Petroleum, Lord Browne of Madingley, acknowledged this in a March 2002 speech when he stated that global warming was real and "Companies composed of highly skilled and trained people can't live in denial of mounting evidence gathered by the most reputable scientist in the world."

Shannon FitzGerald
Friday Harbor
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A note on coal: Coal also forms in temperate climates. Someday Egg Lake will be a pretty little coal bed if given the right conditions. According to Affolter and Stricker, (1988, 1990), Alaskan coal contains low sulfur because of accumulation in peat mires developed in high paleolatitudes and temperate paleoclimatic conditions, and not the smoldering warm swamps envisioned by Mr. Kohlmayer.

Affolter, R.H., and Stricker, G.D., 1988, Effects of paleolatitude on coal quality Ca model for organic sulfur distribution in United States: American Association of Petroleum Geologist Bulletin, v. 73, p. 326.

Affolter, R.H., and Stricker, G.D., 1990, PaleolatitudeA primary control on the sulfur content in United States coals, in Carter, L.M.H., ed., USGS Research on Energy Resources 1990; U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1060, p.1.
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(i>Shannon FitzGerald has worked in a paleo-oceanography isotope laboratory at the University of Hawaii and has studied coal beds in the Bellingham Basin while with Arco Exploration. She is currently a Senior Planner with the Community Development and Planning Department of San Juan County.


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