A Journalist's Archive

Global Warming - The Wrong Debate
By Kathy Hare

          A woman in her mid-fifties walked into a Christmas Party on a snowy evening last December and announced; "Global warming, phooey, I don't believe a word of it!" Then she looked directly at me and asked, "Do you?"

          Now this woman may have possessed more sound evidence against global warming than one freezing winter night in the Rocky Mountain foothills, but I was in too good of a mood to get involved in another "global warming" debate. So I topped off my wine and walked away. Besides, the global warming debate is a smoke screen, covering up the real issue. Is the current global warming trend going to continue? If I had a crystal ball, I would let you know. But here is a hard-cold fact; humans have been spoiling their nest for centuries.

          At first, it was because of necessity. As sea levels rose after the last major ice age, population pressures made it impossible for all societies to survive as hunter-gatherers. Slashing and burning off small patches of land converted forests into farms. When the practice began about 10,000 years ago, I'm sure no one was concerned about the build-up of greenhouse gasses or soil degradation. Humans were just doing what every species must do in order to survive - they were adapting. And boy, what at adaptation! Agriculture is now feeding 6.7 billion people.

          Now put 6.7 billion large mammals anywhere on earth, human or otherwise, and it would almost be impossible for them not to have an impact on the atmosphere. According to the EPA, 1.5 billion cattle are responsible for 28 percent of global methane pollution. And they don't even drive automobiles or have central heating and air conditioning!

          Unfortunately, scientific facts can be used to support both sides of the global warming debate. Proponents have a lot of recent data to back up their argument. A few examples are: a pronounced warming trend that has accelerated since the 1970's; a 20 percent shrinkage in the Artic polar ice cap since 1979; and an extended drought in the West. But opponents of global warming can point to numerous times in the earth's history when the planet was warmer than it was today - and they are not wrong! As for the drought in the West, the Anasazi Indians provide a good example of how cyclical droughts impacted human settlement patterns long before the industrial revolution. The Anasazi had a thriving culture in the Four Corners region between 200 AD and 1300 AD. Most archeologists now attribute their disappearance from the area to an extended drought. Therefore opponents argue the climatic changes we are experiencing today may also be another natural event.

          To throw a monkey wrench into the debate, a number of scientists are now reporting it's not global warming - but the next ice age - we should all be worrying about.  Harry Byden, a British oceanographer, said global warming has caused a "50 percent reduction in the amount of cold, deep water flowing from the North Atlantic to the tropics."  Without that current of cold water, more warm water stays in the subtropics instead of circulating to the shores of Europe where it has an overall warming effect on the climate. Byden predicts key changes in the Atlantic circulation systems may set off an ice age in Europe within the next 50 to 100 years.

          Brain Fagan, author of "The Little Ice Age," comes to a third conclusion. After studying climate changes between 1300-1850, he said; "The Little Ice Age reminds us that climate change is inevitable, unpredictable, and sometime vicious. Some of these potential cycles of change are frightening to contemplate in an overpopulated and heavily industrialized world." While he is certain human activity is responsible for the global warming since the 1970's, he is less sure about the climatic outcome. If global warming continues to accelerate, Fagan predicts the earth will experience very large and extremely unpredictable climate changes.

          In other words, we don't know how nature will react to the tons of pollution humans have pumped into the atmosphere. But we can see and measure the adverse effects pollution is having on human health today. Here is just one example. Global pollution maps were developed from satellite data. Not surprisingly, pollution hotspots were found over major cities in North America, Europe, and China. These areas had the largest concentration of carbon emissions, nitrogen dioxide, and carcinogens such as benzene and dioxins. Excess amounts of nitrogen dioxide alone increase the incidence of emphysema, pulmonary edema, and cardiovascular death. Children living in a polluted environment also have a greater chance of developing respiratory diseases such as asthma. And a recent study in the British Medical Journal showed children living in these "hot spots" have a much greater risk of developing childhood cancer and leukemia.

          So it's time to stop debating about the weather, and start discussing how we are going to reduce the most harmful pollutants in the environment. Humans must adapt once again. We've removed the lead from gasoline and eliminated chlorofluorocarbons that were damaging the ozone layer. Now one of the many debates we should be having is whether the earth can support 6.7 billion people and all of their automobiles, or if private transportation will have to become a thing of the past.

          It's time to stop worrying about the weather and start thinking about survival.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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