Categorized | Global View

A Global Warning

[smoke]It’s near dawn, crowds mill about, and cameramen focus their lenses on the ground. All eyes are fixated on a small hole in a meticulously groomed patch of lawn. This is the scene in Punxutawny, Pennsylvania, where every year on Feb. 2, environmentalists, farmers and newscasters alike hold their breath in anticipation, waiting for a furry woodland creature to emerge from the earth and look about for his shadow.
This seemingly insignificant act determines whether or not America will have six more weeks of frosty weather and cold air. But one could safely ascertain that downy little groundhog needn’t worry much, for there is little pressure on him to predict the weather patterns this year, as the earth’s current temperatures have been quite erratic and unpredictable. In the past year there have been unseasonably warm winters, random snow storms and increasingly frequent hurricane patterns across the nation.
If we haven’t seen Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, we’ve heard about it. So is global warming really something to worry about? Once a debatable topic among scientists, global warming is commonly defined as the noted increase of the average temperatures in the world’s atmospheres and oceans and is becoming more widely recognized. While the debate still continues today, will scientists ever agree as to whether global warming is fact or myth?
According to Jim Detjen, Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, the consensus has almost been made. “There is an overwhelming consensus, 99.9 percent of the scientific community of the people that have backgrounds in climate change are overwhelmingly in agreement that what we are doing, what people are doing to the atmosphere is causing our climate to change,” he said. “What humans are doing to the environment is largely by burning fossil fuels from coal fire plants and by oil fire plants, but also factories and also cars are putting more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”
The most accepted cause of global warming is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, which trap in heat given off by the sun, subsequently raising global temperatures. Due to the insistence upon driving SUVs, leaving on too many lights and creating an inordinate amount of refuse and dumping it in enormous landfills, it is said that humans are slowly destroying the earth by changing the weather patterns and eating away at coastlines.
Plant Biology sophomore Spencer Rubin agreed. “In my opinion, [the cause is] human usage and burning of natural resources such as oil,” he said. “As Americans, we drive too many large automobiles that burn too much gas that burn too much fossil fuels that put too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere which is directly causing global warming.”
The repercussions are endless and over the last few years have become increasingly more apparent. No preference freshman Leah Taraskiewicz has taken note. “Something like the six warmest years on record have been in the last 10 years,” she said. “Outside, it didn’t snow all through December, and the polar bears are drowning and the glacial ice caps are melting.\”
Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth correlates with Taraskiewicz’s statements. In the documentary, Gore offers a scary depiction of what the world could look like if temperatures continue to rise as they are. Gore, as a spokesperson for accredited environmentalists and scientists, cites the most notable areas of depreciation from global warming as being in cold climates such as Greenland, Canada and the Arctic Circle.
“I think the Polar Regions will be first and most dramatically affected by global warming,” Detjen said. “There is lots of evidence already that we are seeing that there is significant warming in both the Artic and the Antarctic.”
According to Greenpeace International, the ice sheets in Greenland have doubled their melting rate. In the last year alone, 53 cubic miles of Greenland ice has vanished, compared to just 22 cubic miles that melted in 1996. One cubic mile of water is five times the amount of water Los Angeles uses in just one year. So to have lost 53 times that much water due to global warming certainly turns some heads. If the ice sheets in Greenland were to melt completely, the result would be a 23 foot rise in the global sea levels, wiping out cities such as Los Angeles, London and Amsterdam, which all currently sit at sea levels.
Such an instance should not be difficult for one to imagine, given the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina, which according to the latest report from the Louisiana Department of Heath and Hospitals, left 1,464 people dead. Whether global warming caused the catastrophe is questionable. “Most people will say, and from what I’ve read, global warming will increase the magnitude of our storms,” Detjen said. “You can’t say ‘Hurricane Katrina: that was global warming.’ There are many other factors. El Niño is a natural warming up of current cycles, as I understand we are in an El Niño cycle. We’re not going to see a whole lot more storms, just the severity of our storms probably will be greater.”
[cap]And it’s not just Greenland or the Arctic suffering from the wrath of global warming, it’s the entire world ice supply in general that is threatening to eventually wipe out the earth’s landscape. Ice itself is essential to maintaining the equilibrium of the global atmosphere, and the Polar Ice Cap is especially important. The ice cap helps keep the atmosphere cool, regulate the ocean currents, keep the western part of Europe warm, and it holds five percent of the world’s freshwater supply. Polar ice is by nature reflective, so much so that 90 percent of the sunlight that strikes it returns into the atmosphere, bringing its energy back with it. Ocean water, however, does just the opposite, absorbing 90 percent of the energy it receives.
The more energy the water accumulates, the warmer it gets, the more it expands and the more sea levels rise, a phenomenon known as a feedback loop. With nearly 20 percent of the Polar Ice Cap melting, scientists predict that if temperatures continue rising at the current rate, the majority of sea ice in Antarctica will be gone by 2100. That\’s within the next generation\’s lifetime.
“It would directly change the types of species that are living right now,” Rubin said. “Many species cannot survive in conditions they are not used to. Say you have a snow mammal that lives in cold and depends on the snow; what happens when there’s no more snow? Since global warming is happening so quickly across the world, many species in all different habitats are going to die off and other ones are going to start forming.” Polar bears, in fact, are the first species predicted to become extinct. Due to the loss of their habitat and subsequently their food source of fish and seal living in the habitat, it is predicted that the bears will be extinct in less than 100 years.
While most scientists won’t deny the impacts of global warming, there are some who argue the phenomenon is not due to human error and that there are other factors which come into play. Detjen, however, stresses this is a minority. “If you look at their background, and I’m not saying all, but many of the few remaining ones that are arguing that this is not the case are heavily funded by the coal industry and by the oil industry, and in some cases, these scientists don’t even have backgrounds in climatology. But they are being paid very well for saying ‘we’re not sure.’”
Some of these scientists think that based on the history of the earth’s temperatures, the earth is simply undergoing what is called a Little Ice Age which occurs after a warmer temperature era. Those who believe this theory do so based on decreased levels of solar activity and increased levels of volcanic activity, citing them as the primary causes of the LIA. However, there is difficulty identifying a more exact cause of LIA, because scientists have varying opinions on what is considered a “normal” climate.
[berger1]To others, however, the idea of an “ice age” sounds too unassuming and conjures up images of Ray Romano as a mammoth trudging through the snow with a hyperactive squirrel. International Studies sophomore Ruth Berger said she has had little faith in the theory. “It [global warming] causes more extreme weather. There’s been droughts in parts of the country, then ice storms and snow storms, and then people say, ‘oh, there’s no global warming, look at the snow,’ but it’s because of global warming,” she said.
Detjen concedes the issue is complicated, and natural warming trends may play a role in global warming. “There are some natural cycles of everything from sun spots to how the earth tilts on its axis to a variety of things which, over long geological periods of time, causes us to have ice ages and warming periods,” he said. “However, I think the evidence is there to show that we have dramatically increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and scientific consensus is it\’s exacerbating and causing climate change to occur. They are both factors in it but clearly human activities are making it worse. I think the human factors play into the natural cycles.”
Non-believers of LIA argue that referring to global warming as simply a cyclical change in Earth’s dynamic lessens the severity of the situation and takes the blame off humans’ actions. “I think it’s a bigger problem than people are making it out to be,” Berger said. “A lot of people are ignoring it. I’m actually really worried about it. I think people will only realize when it’s obvious, and it will be too late.”
Thus the scientists who advocate the LIA are often ostracized from the society of credible scientists. In 2003, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, astrophysicists at Harvard, published an essay detailing the LIA theory and were widely criticized by environmentalists, scientists and lawmakers for even questioning the purported causes for global warming. They were regarded as hacks by mainstream opinionates.
Another theory offered, but taken even less seriously is that of the Urban Heat Island Effect which suggests that more heavily populated and urbanized areas of the globe, such as New York City, create more heat and higher temperatures than less populated and urbanized areas, such as Juno.
“It would seem true because there are more highly dense residential areas in large cities, therefore they are using more fossil fuels and making those areas warmer,” Rubin said.
[bear]According to the public policy group The National Center, scientists have acknowledged that the Urban Heat Island Effect accounts for rising temperatures in specific cities only, not the global spectrum. So when calculating the degrees of rising temperature, most scientists disregard any possible effects the Urban Heat Island Effect may have caused.
Detjen believes it is time for a shift in the debate about global warming. “I think the debate should be over what the impacts will be and what we should do about it,” he said. “If you go to other parts of the world, the newspapers in England do not treat this as an open debate; they treat it as the facts. Climate is changing and the atmosphere is changing, what are the policies we should be doing? They do not frame it like the American media still does.” So, what can we do about it?
“I think the world’s leading countries such as America, Canada, and Great Britain and so on need to regulate their use of fuels, and people need to take individual responsibility for the future and be more conscious of their energies,” Rubin said.
If global warming continues to accelerate at its current rate, and the general public continues to ignore the issue, there are many questions about the future that remain to be answered. One can only wonder about the possibility that the small hole in Punxsutwany may soon disappear and the groundhog could be left swimming about the ocean without even a chance of glimpsing its shadow.

Leave a Reply