As a meteorology student, I often get asked questions from non-meteorologists about “global-warming.” Somehow we have all developed personal opinions about this subject unlike other environmental topics. (Do you have a personal opinion about the stabilization of the ozone hole? Of course not, that is like sooo 90s!) After all, a wide spectrum of disciplines is embedded within climate change: economics, ecology, politics, environmental science, engineering, and even art! Plus, there is A LOT of money involved within this field….Thi$ is what is at the backbone of my personal take on “climate-change.”
Before proceeding, I feel compelled to make a very important distinction between what is really meant by “climate-change.” I believe what we actually mean is, “anthropogentic climate forcing” or how much does human activity directly or indirectly affect the changes in the earth’s climate. This is very different from climate change; climate change is natural and has occurred throughout history. Many pundits can confuse the general public by making this claim as long as our society continues to adopt a misnomer for the world’s leading environmental topic.
Speaking of pundits, let’s consider another leading counter point towards the argument that the climate evolves without human forcing: climate model data. Basically, scientists attempt to resolve the future state of the earth’s climate based on complex computer simulations (programs that can take months to compile on some of the world’s fastest computers). From a previous posting we can remember that environmental data (surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds, sea surface temperatures, etc…) is developed by assimilating coarse spatial scale data on a gridded surface that is meant to represent the surface of the planet. While it is not perfect, it is all that we have. There comes a point where fine resolution data becomes impossible to use anyway, as it would exceed the computational capacity of the supercomputers that operate many of the climate models.
Technically there are two popular scientific obstacles to directly declaring “mission accomplished” on climate change: rhetoric and computing. The indirect effects are byproducts of the two obstacles, mainly via feedback mechanisms. How will the clouds respond? How will the thermo-haline circulation respond? How will ocean currents respond?……
This brings me to my primary concern. What are the anthropogenic forces that may effect climate change and why are they so hard to reverse? Most agree that atmospheric emissions are the leading cause of climate change. These emissions originate from industrial to personal consumption, airline travel, and even bovine flatulence (methane). Many have pointed out we should just pollute less. Wow! What a concept, but why is the effort not placed in this domain? The answer involves the negative economic impact that less consumption (both personal and industrial) would create. Therefore, we are taught to believe that “I” am not the problem, but factories, jet liners, cows, and other face-less entities are responsible. At that point accepting personal responsibility is impossible. Instead we point fingers at industry (that we use), cows (that we eat), cars (that we drive), and jets (that we fly). Imagine if we attacked the issue by looking in the mirror. Not only would we begin to make positive steps towards a sustainable way of living, but we would also become healthier while doing it: eat better, drive less, consume less.
In my opinion, we are investing too much money in the wrong direction. We spend millions on computing, satellites, fuels efficiency, and policy that represent the faceless entity. Imagine for a second that we invested that money in subsidized organic gardens, real public transport, sustainable urban planning, and safe and isolated bike paths. That would force a change that would not only decrease the threat of anthropogenically forced climate change, but it would make us healthier and happier at the same time; a technical term us scientists like to call a “twofer.”
To summarize, our fixation with solving the climate puzzle is misguided because we avoid taking personal responsibility. Therefore, in my opinion, this potential crisis is best described as a social disorder in which the solutions continue to be misdirected. Change the actions from those who contribute to this mess and voila! Invest the money in in us in practical and highly effective solutions. (OK…you may be outraged at the fact that I am imposing an unrealistic constraint on developing nations. But, is it really them that needs to accept the majority of the blame? Shouldn’t the major polluters (you and me) accept the lion’s share of responsibility and commit to making a change?)
But, this still does not answer the question of whether I agree or disagree that “climate change” is real and needs to be addressed. This link summarizes my outlook in a much more eloquently presented style than what I am capable of communicating through a blog: