Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Opinion Time!

The science that I do is within spitting distance of climatology. Literally. The Climatology lab is on the 2nd floor and I’m on the 3rd floor so I’m constantly dropping loogies on those snooty tree-huggers. No not really, but oceanography and climatology are closely related. So closely related that I end up getting a lot of questions about climate change and global warming. I think it’s a good thing that people want to inform themselves on this subject from a real science perspective and not just the alarmist banter of popular magazines. So here’s what I think…

People like Al Gore have their hearts in the right place. He is being tutored in a very difficult subject by the very best minds in the field. He is a public figure and revered enough to garner the attention of the masses. And, come on, he was on Futurama so he’s awesome. Unfortunatley, some of the ideas he harps on have not been fully validated yet. I'm not saying that they won't be, it's just that some of his claims are a wee bit premature. For example: we get a lot of information from ice cores. Scientists take a slice of the core, look at the gas trapped in there, look at the isotopes in the water, and important implications follow thusly. Problem is that the gas and the ice are not the same age. It's really hard to get the precise age of that gas. There's all this hullabaloo right now about the claim that the rise in CO2 caused warming at the end of the last glacial or if warming started before the rise in CO2. It's a case of the chicken or the egg: warming then CO2, or CO2 then warming? Not clear just yet.

The Earth is warming, that’s a fact. The heart of the matter is whether or not we’re experiencing warming solely due to our own actions or if there are other natural processes involved. Like Milankovitch cycles. The Earth is very special planet and has gone through some dramatic periods of warming and cooling. What we forget is that humans have been around for climate change already, like during the Medieval Warm Period where the ice sheet on Greenland melted just enough so the Vikings could settle there and have agriculture. That didn’t last too long, and eventually the ice came back which made Greenland not that enticing, even to Vikings.

To bring this all home: there’s probably little, if anything, we can do now to halt the effects of all the greenhouse gasses we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere. The Earth will change, but like always humans will adapt. Unfortunately the folks at the bottom are going to get the shit end of the stick, like always. Developing nations will have more and more problems with water supply and it will be very sad because more well off countries probably won’t do much in the way of helping out. The world itself will be fine. Humans will just end up being a messy blip in geologic time. And then in a few billion years when the sun expands and obliterates the planet, it won’t really matter will it?

Happy Wednesday!