I was originally going to re-write this in a more informal, blog style, but I decided to post it in its current essay form. I wrote this for a college composition course. Students working on similar projects will hopefully get a lot ouf of it, and I think the subject is one that will appeal to the general public, as well. Additionally, leaving in the references to scientific sites and studies backs up my potentially controversial point of view.
Global Warming: Fact or Fiction?
by Edie Montgomery-Pool
Global warming is a “hot” topic right now. News anchors, documentaries, newspapers, the internet, and even petition-waving Greenpeace advocates standing outside of Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores and establishments across the United States–all warn of the dire consequences of global warming. According to an article titled “Why Bother?” published in The New York Times Magazine in April 2008 and reprinted in the book Beyond Words Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing in 2009, “Climate change is upon us…” (Pollan 507). The concern is that man-made greenhouse emissions will continue to warm, and eventually possibly even destroy, our planet.
I used to work in an environmental geology firm. The environmental geologists I talked to about global warming all had two things in common. 1) They were highly educated regarding the earth, its structures and processes, and its climate, and 2) they were of the opinion that global warming was a myth. The disagreement was not about the fact that the earth is getting warmer, which is a universally accepted fact among global warming proponents and opponents, alike, but the claim that the warming is being caused by humans.
In a December 2009 article in The New York Times, the author observes, “…warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, as an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases — produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests” (Revkin). However, in the book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, the authors, S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, state that, “The Earth is warming but physical evidence from around the world tells us that human-emitted CO2 (carbon dioxide) has played only a minor role in it. Instead, the mild warming seems to be part of a natural 1,500-year climate cycle (plus or minus 500 years) that goes back at least one million years” (1).
Dr. Singer is an atmospheric and space physicist and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia. Avery is a former agricultural analyst for the United States Department of State. They go on to say in their book that, “The Earth continually warms and cools. The cycle is undeniable, ancient, often abrupt, and global. It is also unstoppable. Isotopes in the ice and sediment cores, ancient tree rings, and stalagmites tell us it is linked to small changes in the irradiance of the sun….The cycle shifts have occurred roughly on schedule whether CO2 levels were high or low” (2).
There is evidence that the earth’s temperature is prone to cyclical fluctuations. Even those scientists who warn against man-made greenhouse emissions do not dispute this fact. Historical documents written by people experiencing climate change in history, as well as scientific data gathered from the sources stated above (ice, sediment, tree rings, etc.) show this to be true. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website supports this assertion: “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. From glacial periods (or “ice ages”) where ice covered significant portions of the Earth to interglacial periods where ice retreated to the poles or melted entirely – the climate has continuously changed” (USEPA).
Physicist Spencer Weart is the former Director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics and the author of the book The Discovery of Global Warming, as well as the website by the same name. In the 2009 article “Past Climate Cycles: Ice Age Speculations,” he states, “Toward the end of the 19th century, field studies by geologists turned up [a] fact…There had been not one Ice Age but several…The series of glacial periods had alternated with times of warmer climate, each cycle lasting many tens of thousands of years” (Weart). He then goes on to say, “Most geologists concluded that the planet’s climate had at least two possible states. The most common condition was long temperate epochs, like the balmy times of the dinosaurs. Much rarer were glacial epochs like our own, lasting a few millions of years, in which periods of glaciation alternated with warmer ‘interglacial’ periods like the present.”
There are historical recordings of climactic warming in Roman times (200 B.C.-A.D. 600), a medieval warm period (also known as the medieval climate optimum or the medieval climatic anomaly) (900-1300), and a cooling in what is commonly referred to as the “Little Ice Age” (1300-1850) (Singer and Avery 2).
The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change catalogs publications from the scientific community regarding “the climatic and biological consequences of the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content” on their website, CO2science.org. Run by Craig D. Idso, who has an M.S. in agronomy (the science of soil management and the production of field crops), a Ph.D. in geography, and is the author of three books and the producer of three documentaries on carbon dioxide and the climate, the organization attempts to “separate reality from rhetoric” in the ongoing global warming debate. Reports referenced by The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, from different experts in different fields of study, point time and again to the same conclusion: global warming is not a new thing. For example, in a study of sediment core from Lake Redon in Spain, the medieval warm period was categorized “with temperatures about 0.25°C warmer than it is currently” (Pla, S. and Catalan, J. 24: 263-278). In a separate study in Apennines, Italy, on soil periglacial and glacial processes, it was estimated that temperatures in this area during the medieval warm period were “at least 0.9°C higher” than present day (Giraudi, C. 64: 176-184). The people of the medieval era did not possess the technology or the population to impact greenhouse emissions like we do today. So if it is not us, then what is causing this repetitive change in earth’s temperature?
The reason for global warming, many scientists exert, is not greenhouse emissions, but solar activity. A Wall Street Journal article called “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming is a Myth,” explains:
“The temperature of the atmosphere fluctuates over a wide range, the result of solar activity and other influences. During the past 3,000 years, there have been five extended periods when it was distinctly warmer than today. One of the two coldest periods, known as the Little Ice Age, occurred 300 years ago. Atmospheric temperatures have been rising from that low for the past 300 years, but remain below the 3,000-year average (A. Robinson and Z. Robinson 2).”
That is not to say that the greenhouse effect is not a real thing. Even without humans on the planet, plants and animals would contribute to the greenhouse effect, which is part of a natural cycle. The National Climatic Data Center website states that:
“The greenhouse effect is unquestionably real and helps to regulate the temperature of our planet. It is essential for life on Earth and is one of Earth’s natural processes. It is the result of heat absorption by certain gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they effectively ‘trap’ heat in the lower atmosphere) and re-radiation downward of some of that heat. Water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide and other trace gases. Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about zero degrees F (-18°C) instead of its present 57°F (14°C). So, the concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect by the emission of greenhouse gases through fossil fuel combustion and deforestation (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).”
The facts surrounding global warming have often been distorted or misrepresented. It has been portrayed as the cause of all our current climactic catastrophes and the imminent cause of our doom. Roy W. Spencer sums it up best in his book Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies That Hurt the Poor. “Dramatic video of weather events that occur naturally every day suddenly becomes evidence for global warming. Floods? Global warming. Droughts? Global warming. Ice calving off of glaciers and falling into the ocean? Global warming. Hurricanes? Global warming. Do you see a pattern here? Global warming” (xiii).
In addition, in a Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change article titled “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming, Where We Stand on the Issue,” the authors state, “In…considering the seven greatest temperature transitions of the past half-million years–three glacial terminations and four glacial inceptions–we note that increases and decreases in atmospheric CO2 concentration not only did not precede the changes in air temperature, they followed them, and by hundreds to thousands of years” (C.D. Idso and K.E. Idso).
I am not saying that we should not focus on minimizing negative human impact upon the environment. Environmental consciousness and activism are always good ideas, and a reduction of fossil fuel emissions can only be beneficial for us all. However, while we continue to work toward contributing to a healthier planet, let us also get our facts straight. And the facts are these: the earth’s temperature is cyclical, global warming has happened before, and global warming will happen again, whether we humans are here to witness it or not.
C.D. Idso and K.E. Idso. “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming, Where We Stand on the Issue.” The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 1998. Web. 8 May 2010.
Giraudi, C. “Middle to Late Holocene Glacial Variations, Periglacial Processes and Alluvial Sedimentation on the Higher Apennine Massifs (Italy).” Quaternary Research. 2005. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 2010. Web. 8 May 2010.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center. “Global Warming Frequently Asked Questions.” 20 Aug. 2008. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.
Pla, S. and Catalan, J. “Chrysophyte Cysts from Lake Sediments Reveal the Submillennial Winter/Spring Climate Variability in the Northwestern Mediterranean Region throughout the Holocene.” Climate Dynamics. 2005. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. 2010. Web. 8 May 2010.
Pollan, Michael. “Why Bother?” The New York Times Magazine. 20 Apr. 2008. Beyond Words Cultural Texts for Reading and Writing. Ed. Lynn M. Huddon, Katharine Glynn, and Donna Campion. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2009. 507. Print.
Revkin, Andrew C. “Global Warming.” The New York Times. 8 Dec. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.
Robinson Arthur B. and Robinson Zachary W. “Science Has Spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth.” The Wall Street Journal. 4 Dec. 1997. Print.
Singer, Siegfried Fred and Avery, Dennis T. Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007. Print.
Spencer, Roy W. Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies That Hurt the Poor. New York: Encounter Books, 2008. Print.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Climate Change – Science.” 28 Sep. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2010.
Weart, Spencer. “Past Climate Cycles: Ice Age Speculations.” The Discovery of Global Warming. Oct. 2009. Web. 7 May 2010.