Any time you talk about climate change, you open the door to a lot of passion. On the one hand, you have people saying that we must take all necessary steps right now, regardless of cost, to reduce our impact on the planet lest we destroy it in the very near future. On the other hand, you have those saying that all the talk about climate change is simply hysteria, citing examples of those calling global warming “a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry, created by fanatical anti-industrial environmentalists.” In reality, the truth is somewhere in between.
Scientists have known about the heating potential of gases such as carbon dioxide since British physicist John Tyndall first began experiments in 1859, leading to the discovery that CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs the sun’s heat. In 1938 an engineer by the name of Guy Callander published a study suggesting increased atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuel combustion was causing global warming. In 1958 US climate scientist Charles Keeling became the first scientist to confirm that atmospheric CO2 levels were rising rather than being fully absorbed by forests and oceans. (Carbon sinks) In 1988 NASA presented testimony to the U.S. Senate stating that increases in CO2 were roaming the planet and changing our climate. The 1987 Montréal protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. It was signed by all 197 members of the United Nations and has resulted in the phase down/out of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs. (Hydro chlorofluorocarbons)
The current administration has been very active in the discussion on climate change, in 2010 it tried but failed to pass a cap and trade system. When that failed, they began tightening EPA restrictions by executive order, creating some consternation within the HVAC industry. In his 2015 State of the Union address Pres. Obama said that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” In 2016 the Obama administration essentially called for a carbon tax in the State of the Union address when the President suggested he wants to “change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and the earth.” This was followed up only this week when the president directed the Pentagon to incorporate climate change in everything they do, from weapons testing to training troops to war planning to joint exercises with allies. Critics like Nobel laureate Ivar Giaver rejected the president’s claims that man-made global warming is causing climate change, calling the president “dead wrong.” Giaver claims that global warming studies by Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri (former United Nations climate head) measured the average temperature for the world for one year, and says this means nothing. He says that from 1880 to 2015, the temperature has increased 0.3%, and he says he thinks the temperature during that time has been “amazingly stable.” Still others cite the new Ice Age predicted by 1970s global cooling advocates, which hasn’t come to pass. More recently, MIT graduate Charles Clough argues that the link between CO2 levels and global temperature averages are insufficient, because they fail to look at their correlation before the Industrial Revolution. According to Clough, pre industrial CO2 levels remained relatively constant while global temperatures have not.
So what should we believe? It would seem prudent to take all reasonable steps to minimize our impact on the planet, which after all, is the only one we have. At the same time, we need to continue learning all we can about our planet and the things that affect it, without assuming that science as we know it today is all defining. Clean energy initiatives should be pursued with vigor, but with the realization (as cited in a recent MIT Technology Review article) that wind and solar power, in spite of declining costs are intermittent energy sources that are insufficient at affordable prices for a modern industrial society. In essence, we should avoid the temptation by some to overreact in ways that would throw tens of thousands out of work in certain industries while raising basic costs of consumer goods that could result in unforeseen economic changes. In other words, let’s use some common sense for Pete’s sake!