Saturday, December 17, 2016

How to be a Climate Skeptic

The fact that I earned two degrees in geology and worked in that field for many years does not make me an expert on global warming; however, I have studied the relevant literature on this subject for the last 15 years, so I think I can discuss this topic intelligently.
Don't take my word for it, though. Be skeptical, but practice skepticism in the modern sense, which, according to Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, "is the rigorous application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims."
Not all of us have the wherewithal to do that, but if a person tells you they don't "believe" in global warming or think it's a hoax, feel free to question their thinking, sources of data and qualifications of people they quote. These are the sorts of questions I'd ask:
- Why have Arctic average temperatures increased at least 4 degrees since the mid-20th century?
- Why have global average temperatures increased by 1.5 degrees since the 1960s?
- Why has the Arctic ice pack volume decreased 40 percent since 1979?
- Why are almost all major mountain glaciers receding at a rapid rate?
- Why is Greenland's ice cap shrinking?
- Why has the frequency of extreme weather events (floods, droughts, wildfires, major storms) been increasing since the mid-20th century?
- Why is sea life in the Atlantic Ocean migrating to higher latitudes?
- Why are global temperatures increasing while the energy output from the sun is actually decreasing?
The list could go on and on (I'd be happy to provide literature citations for all the above assertions, by the way).
There are still a small number of climatologists who are not convinced that global warming is a problem. They mostly question the validity of climate models, but not, to my knowledge, the observed data.
There are many websites and organizations with information about climate change and global warming. Many of them represent legitimate research, government, or academic institutions. Others are nothing of the sort.
For example, both the "National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies" and the "Space and Science Research Corporation (SSRC)" have equally impressive names, and both claim expertise on climate change.
NASA Goddard has studied climate change (natural and man-made) since 1961. All their research and data are publically available for download.
SSRC was apparently started by a former NASA engineer named John L. Casey who has no background in climate science, a blank corporate web page, one self-published book on global cooling, and no peer-reviewed publications.
Rhetorical question: Where would you start your search for accurate and comprehensive information on this subject?
Some final thoughts:
First, a prominent self-described climate science skeptic, physicist Richard Muller, of U. Cal. Berkeley, performed a rigorous statistical analysis of climate data and in 2012 and found "that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."
Three years earlier, he said he doubted that global warming was even happening. Again, all his research is publically available.
Second, a generation ago, scientists discovered that the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigerants and aerosol sprays were destroying the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which absorbs ultraviolet light. The loss of this layer would have caused extreme harm to all life on this planet.
Before the problem could fester, even before scientific consensus was reached, the world's governments signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which phased out the use of these chemicals. The ozone layer is expected to fully recover by 2070.
We are at a similar cross roads with CO2, yet even though there is great scientific consensus that global warming is very real, we are nowhere near where we are with CFCs and you have to wonder why.
My goal in writing this series of editorials was to explain global warming in an understandable way, because I am pretty sure that most people do not grasp the magnitude of what is going on here or how it is already impacting our world.
I hope I have helped a little on that score.

Originally published in the Westborough News 09/27/2015.

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