Like many conservatives, I have been known to make a crack about “global warming” during a particularly cold day. Like other conservatives, I have remarked on the change in terminology from “global warming” to “climate change”–suspecting that the terminology change is about silencing those “global warming” cracks.
But I don’t know whether or not other conservatives have the same questions and doubts as I regarding the-phenomenon-previously-known-as-global-warming.
You see, I’m not sure about climate change.
I have no doubt that climate change is occurring-the earth’s climate has never been static. Things like sunspots, volcanic eruptions, and ice age cycles have affected earth’s climate for millenia. But I’m not sure about the current conversation regarding climate change. I have questions.
My first question is what sort of climate change is occurring. My second question is what is causing climate change to occur.
I’ve heard apocalyptic tales of oceans rising and knocking off the left coast or flooding New York City. I’ve heard discussion of how world food production will grind to a halt as formerly fertile lands turn into arid deserts. But I’ve never seen the science that indicates at what scale global climate change is occurring.
How much are global temperatures rising per decade? How many degrees does it take to cause x increase in ocean levels? How many degrees does it take for the Midwestern breadbasket to become no longer fertile? I want to know those numbers.
Furthermore, I want to know what exactly is causing global climate change. What does historic data on ice age cycles predict that global temperature should be at this point? How far does current climate differ from what ice age cycles predict? What does historic data on sunspot cycles predict that global temperature should be? How far does current climate differ from what ice age cycles predict? Ultimately, what I want to know is how much of global climate change is due to natural cycles and how much is due to controllable factors?
Why do I want to know this? I want to know this because this has important implications for action. If global climate change is primarily due to natural cycles, action should involve developing technologies to deal with the inevitable change. We must work to either build protections against encroaching water or to move ourselves further inland. We must work to develop additional drought and heat resistant crops or to transfer agricultural industry to newly fertile regions. We must take action to cope with the change that will occur regardless of our actions. Knowing how fast this is occurring will give us a sense of what our deadlines are, how we need to move technology along, what technologies to prioritize.
On the other hand, if global climate change is primarily due to human activity, whether through deforestation or the use of fossil fuels or the raising of methane-producing livestock (heh), then our focus should be on adjusting human activity to maximize the “livability” of the planet.
But instead of answering my questions, stories on climate change sound a lot like a recent episode of “This American Life”. From the tagline:
“After years of being stuck, the national conversation on climate change finally started to shift — just a little — last year, the hottest year on record in the U.S., with Hurricane Sandy flooding the New York subway, drought devastating Midwest farms, and California and Colorado on fire. Lots of people were wondering if global warming had finally arrived, here at home. This week, stories about this new reality.”
In “Hot in My Backyard”, we learn that Colorado’s main climatologist has recently decided to “come out of the closet” that he believes in climate change. The instigating factor? Last year’s wildfires. Which makes for a wonderful story, but not a convincing impetus for decision. One event does not a burden of evidence make. Give me facts, I say. In the second and third parts of the episode, we learn of a Republican and a Democrat who are trying to change the national conversation on climate change–except that they’re skipping my questions and going right to “what we should do”. The Republican is trying to convince conservatives that they should take action on climate change using a carbon tax. The Democrat is trying to stir up old-fashioned (er, 60s-era) social activism to make oil companies a pariah.
I’m open to the idea of climate change. I’m open to the idea that climate change is man-made. I’m willing to discuss making changes to improve the livability of the planet. But I’m not willing to make changes until someone gives me some facts instead of just emotion.
Does anybody know of any fact-based articles, podcasts, books, etc. that can help answer some of my questions?
I am a climate change agnostic who wants to know.