Feeling the Heat: Global Warming and Climate Change
What Can be Done to Reverse Climate Change?
The Arguments For and Against the Anthropogenic Causes of Global Warming
Meltdown: Why Global Warming is Going to Become Even Worse in the Future
International Strategies for Addressing Global Warming
Global Warming and Policy Development in the United States
The Effects of Global Warming on the Earth’s Oceans
Science or Myth? The Truth about Global Warming
II. Review and Analysis
A. Arguments implicating anthropogenic sources as the cause of global warming
B. Arguments against anthropogenic sources as the cause of global warming
C. Discussion and Analysis
Although there is a growing consensus among the scientific community that global warming is a reality based on temperature readings over the past century and more, there remains less agreement concerning the precise causes of recent climate changes. Moreover, there is even disagreement about the scientific evidence that is used to support the notion that global warming is even taking place, with some scientists arguing that the methods used to collect this data have been inconsistent while others charge that threats of global warming are being used to extort more money from fearful American taxpayers. In addition, there is an especially fierce debate over the precise causes of global warming, with one camp charging that anthropogenic activities are primarily responsible while another camp cites a wide array of other potential causes. To determine the facts about the causes of global warming, this essay examines the arguments for and against anthropogenic sources as the cause of global warming, followed by a discussion and critical analysis of these issues. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning the causes of global warming are presented in the paper’s conclusion.
The average temperatures on earth have increased faster than at any point in recorded history and 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000 (MacMillan, 2017). Faced with these hard facts, there is widespread agreement that the earth’s climate has become warmer in the recent past and will probably continue to do so in the future (Rowland, 2010). Despite a general consensus concerning the reality of global warming, there remains serious disagreement among policymakers and even scientists concerning the causes of global warming, most especially the effects of human activities such as consuming fossil fuels on climate change (Rowland, 2010). These are important issues because there are plans underway to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2030, and these plans will have an enormous adverse impact on the economy.
This essay reviews the relevant literature to identify the arguments for and against anthropogenic sources as the primary cause of global warming, a discussion and critical analysis of these arguments and a summary of the research and important findings concerning the causes of global warming in the conclusion.
Arguments implicating anthropogenic sources as the cause of global warming
The straightforward definition of global warming provided by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that, “Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history [and] the trend is accelerating: All but one of the 16 hottest years in NASA’s 134-year record have occurred since 2000” (MacMillan, 2017, para. 2). Data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that the overall global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade since 1880 and at an average rate of 0.31°F per decade since 1970 (Global analysis, 2016).
According to the NRDC, the overarching cause of this change in the earth’s climate is anthropogenic, or manmade activities, including most especially the consumption of fossil fuels which adds millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere each year, trapping so-called “greenhouse gases” and creating a “greenhouse effect” that is heating the earth to unprecedented levels in recorded history. In this regard, the NRDC unequivocally asserts that the cause of global warming is “a thickening layer of carbon dioxide pollution, mostly from power plants and automobiles that trap heat in the atmosphere” (as cited in Frank, 2008, p. 22). In support of these assertions, scientists cite the evidence from satellite imagery over the past 30 years that confirm glaciers and ice shelves are melting results (Singer, 2013).
A number of other prominent governmental and nongovernmental organizations agree with these assertions, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, National Geographic, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Congressional House leadership (Frank, 2008). For instance, Greenpeace’s website flatly states that, “Fossil fuels — coal, oil and, natural gas — are major contributors to climate change, accounting for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions” (Fighting global warming, 2017, para. 2). The policy positions taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also specifically implicate anthropogenic sources as the primary cause of global warming. For instance, Gillis (2015) reports that, “NOAA is one of four agencies around the world that attempts to produce a complete record of global temperatures dating to 1880. They all get similar results, showing a long-term warming of the planet that scientists have linked primarily to the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests” (para. 4).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also concurs with the anthropogenic causes of global warming. In fact, since its 1995 Second Assessment Report, the IPCC has been making increasingly assured statements that human-produced carbon dioxide is influencing the climate, and is the chief cause of the global warming trend in evidence since about 1900 (Frank, 2008). For example, in its report, “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis,” the IPCC firmly states that: “Human activities are continuing to affect the Earth’s energy budget by changing the emissions and resulting atmospheric concentrations of radiatively important gases and aerosols and by changing land surface properties” (Cubash, 2013, p. 121). The IPCC also argues that there are several sources of scientific evidence that reinforce the assertions concerning the link between anthropogenic activities and global warming, again in unequivocal terms. In this regard, Cubash (2013) adds that, “Unequivocal evidence from in situ observations and ice core records shows that the atmospheric concentrations of important greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased over the last few centuries” (p. 122).
Other proponents of the anthropogenic causes of global warming cite the several streams of separate scientific evidence that is incontrovertible, including:
Land surface air temperature as measured by weather stations;
Sea surface temperature that date back to 1850 showing that 2000 through 2010 was the warmest decade in recorded history;
Lower troposphere temperature as measured by satellites for a half century that confirm the 2000s as the warmest decade as well as confirming that each of the previous 3 decades has been increasingly warmer than the preceding decade;
Ocean heat content data that extends to the 1950s that show 90% of the extra heat from global warming is going into the oceans which contribute to rapidly rising sea levels as demonstrated by tide gauge records that date to 1870;
Specific humidity has increased along with temperatures;
Melting glaciers with 2009 being the 19th consecutive year that experienced a net loss of ice from glaciers on a global basis;
Northern Hemisphere snow cover has diminished in recent decades; and,
Melting Arctic sea ice based on satellite data that date to 1979 as well as nearly 65 years worth of reliable shipping records that show the extent of sea ice has decreased by more than one-third (35%) since 1979 (Wight, 2017).
Armed with this growing body of scientific evidence, the main arguments that are typically used to implicate human activities as the cause of global warming include the following:
Global temperature over the past century has risen;
Temperature will continue to rise over the next century and impact climate; and,
The main cause of this continuing temperature rise is the emission of carbon dioxide due to consumption of fossil fuels (Payne, 2014).
The first two of the foregoing arguments are clearly supported by the scientific evidence as depicted in Figure 1-A below.
Figure 1-A. Average global temperatures: 1880-2020 (projected)
As shown in Figure 1 above, the 10 warmest years over this 136-year range took place since 2000, and the warmest year on record was 2016 (Global climate change facts, 2017). Indeed, if current projections are accurate, the long-term effects of global warming will be catastrophic, including an increase of between 3 and 9 degrees in average temperatures in the United States by 2100, rising sea levels and more intense heat waves, wildfires and droughts. In addition, disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes will become more widespread and the human species may even be threatened with extinctions (Frank, 2008). Nevertheless, critics charge that not only is the scientific evidence less compelling than global warming alarmists claim, it may be totally inaccurate. Moreover, the jury is still out concerning the precise effect, if any, that anthropogenic activities have on the earth’s climate and these issues are discussed further below.
strong>Arguments against anthropogenic sources as the cause of global warming
There have been some serious misconceptions concerning the scientific evidence that implicates anthropogenic sources as the primary cause of global warming (Miller, 2012). Complicating the argument is the fact that the harsh winter weather that was experienced on the U.S. East Coast during 2014 and the 15-year-plus “hiatus” that defied predictions by the IPCC of sustained increases in global temperatures since 1998 (Payne, 2014). Moreover, even influential agencies such as the IPCC concede that their global warming models are based on a number of assumptions that may or may not be accurate (Payne, 2014). In addition, other members of the scientific community point out that there are a number of other possible natural sources for the global warming that has been experienced, including increased levels of nitrous oxide and methane (Payne, 2014). Likewise, Rowland (2010) emphasizes that, “Climatologists do not agree on all aspects of their discipline and much has still to be learnt about feedbacks and oscillations in climate systems” (p. 1163).
Most climatologists agree, though, that the earth’s climate has always been dynamic, and that there were numerous episodes of cooling and warming long before humankind ever stepped foot on the earth. Indeed, the regularity of these episodes has been interpreted in completely opposite ways to the prevailing global warming arguments. For instance, Rowland points out that, “The advance and retreat of glaciers follow predictable cycles and with such regularity that some argue an ice age is due” (2010, p. 1164). Likewise, Carter (2009) cites the cyclical nature of the earth’s climate and argues that there is absolutely no reliable evidence that recent increases in temperature are attributable to fossil fuel consumption. In this regard, Carter emphasizes that, “Global warming is not unusual, is not tied to fossil fuel use, and there’s little man can do to change the trend, based on the geologic record” (2009, p. 37). While Carter (2009) concedes that the earth’s average temperature has increased by about 0.9 degrees over the past century, there is no legitimate correlation between this increase and human-generated carbon dioxide levels. Indeed, there have been periods in the earth’s geologic history when carbon dioxide levels were fully twice as high as current levels and there were no corresponding increases in temperature (Carter, 2009).
These points are conveniently overlooked, disregarded or otherwise discounted by proponents of the anthropogenic argument. In sharp contrast to the assertions by leading scientists and influential organizations and the mounting body of scientific evidence, Jasper (2014) counters that, “Contrary to the non-stop bombardment of headlines and broadcasts about catastrophic warming, the evidence shows that there has been no global warming for the past 17 to 18 years” (p. 18). This assertion is supported by the data shown in Figure 1 above which indicates a “flattening” of the average global temperature from 1998 to around 2013, with the increases shown thereafter being based on current projections only. Not surprisingly, the scientific community has been hard-pressed to explain the 15-year-plus hiatus in global warming that took place between 1998 and 2013 (Jasper, 2014).
In response to this unexpected hiatus in the predicted global warming trends, organizations such as NOAA cited inconsistencies in the manner in which global temperatures were measured during this period, and counter than when the average temperatures for 2013 and 2014 are included in the analysis, there was no slowdown in global warming at all (Jasper, 2014). These changes resulted in charges from critics that NOAA was simply manipulating and exaggerating the data in ways that supported their long-held views that anthropogenic activities are the primary cause of global warming (Jasper, 2014).
These types of criticisms have become increasingly commonplace since the so-called “climategate” events of 2009 that seriously undermined public confidence in the purported scientific evidence that implicates anthropogenic activities as the main cause of global warming. According to Carrington (2011):
In November 2009, over 1,000 private emails between climate change scientists were stolen and published online. The uproar that followed briefly shook the public’s faith in global warming science, and prompted investigations that debunked skeptics’ allegations that the mails showed the planet wasn’t warming. (para. 1)
The fallout from climategate was severe and widespread, and for good reason. The leaked emails and other documents included some of the most respected and influential members of the scientific community in the anthropogenic camp who were alleged to have engaged in fraudulent practices, unethical attacks on and censorship of other members of the scientific community with opposing views and even criminal misconduct by withholding and destroying evidence (Jasper, 2010). Since that time, critics charge that global warming alarmists, including these same highly influential members of the scientific community, have engaged in “unethical behavior and outright fraud, as well as wild exaggeration” (Jasper, 2014, p. 19).
The effect of these revelations has been to call into question the entire body of scientific evidence that implicates anthropogenic activities as the main cause of global warming and the motives of those who support these views, including most especially politicians, organizational policymakers and others who stand to benefit from legislation to mitigate anthropogenic causes (Jasper, 2014). Indeed, following the revelations brought out by the BBC in climategate, a Pew poll in October 2009 Pew found that just 36% of Americans were swayed by the arguments in support of the anthropogenic argument and this issue has been consistently rated as being the last in a list of public priorities today (Newman, 2010).
By following the money, skeptics suggest that it quickly becomes clear why the anthropogenic activity as the main cause of global warming argument has been so aggressively advanced by some members of the scientific community and like-minded lawmakers. By creating a culture of fear, the reasoning goes, the American public will be eager to shell out even more tax dollars to prevent the sky from falling. In this regard, Newman points out that, “Scaremongering to swindle the public out of money and freedom is an old trick. But hopefully, people will know better than to fall for it again next time” (2010, p. 26). The diametrically opposite interpretation of the scientific evidence concerning temperature increases over the past century that are advanced by proponents of these two schools of thought is proof positive that both sides deserve closer scrutiny. It would appear that the follow-the-money argument, though, emerges as the winner in this debate.
More troubling still, there is far more than just money at stake in this debate and critics of the anthropogenic argument maintain that the alarmist rhetoric, distortions, lies and even fraud that have been used make it apparent that proponents are desperate to salvage what they can, while they can. For instance, the editors of The New American recently reported that, “the alarmist movement –described by top climate experts as a ‘cult’ or even ‘global warming Nazis’ threaten the lives of millions of people” (State AGs in criminal conspiracy to prosecute climate skeptics, 2016, p. 8). Moreover, many of the fraudulent practices that were revealed by the climategate scandal with the objective of extorting trillions of dollars in taxpayer monies were committed using taxpayer funds, but there has been no discernible response by states to prosecute these individuals (State AGs in criminal conspiracy, 2016). Taken together, it is difficult to reconcile the two opposing views about man made global warming based on how the scientific evidence has been interpreted and the motivations of those who advance these arguments and these issues are discussed further below.
Given the high stakes that are involved, it would be foolhardy to reject the anthropogenic argument outright without taking into account the possible reasons why the American public, lawmakers and even many members of the scientific community have been reluctant to jump on this bandwagon. Some of the more popular misconceptions that also affect public and scientific opinions about the cause of global warming include the following:
An emphasis on “facts” and a demand for “proof”;
A view of theories that equates them with unsubstantiated guesses;
A strong discomfort with uncertainty and unresolved questions;
A failure to recognize the importance of scale and context in recognizing trends and formulating explanations; and,
A rejection of scientific consensus because it is perceived as politically or philosophically motivated (Miller, 2012, p. 221).
The last misconception can be readily attributed to climategate and subsequent revelations about the shady practices used by some members of the scientific community to advance the anthropogenic argument, but the other misconceptions can hamper legitimate efforts to address the proven adverse effects of global warming.
Yet another problem that complicates the debate over the main causes of global warming concerns the methods that climatologists have used to formulate their views, interpret their findings and make predictions about the future. Even the most sophisticated computer-modeling technologies are based on human-imposed assumptions that vary in their level of accuracy from nill to nearly completely accurate. As Miller cautions:
[Computer models are] sophisticated, put together by experts, and getting better all the time. But even if they could predict the climate correctly (they can’t), even if they were based on solid proven theories (they aren’t), they still wouldn’t count as evidence. Models of complex systems are based on scores of assumptions and estimates piled on dozens of theories. (2012, p. 221)
This is not to say, of course, that proponents on both sides of this fence are totally right or totally wrong, but it is to say that even the best and well-intentioned analyses of the causes of global warming and predictions about the future must be taken with a global-sized grain of salt. More importantly, even the growing body of data concerning global warming is based on a mere blip on the geologic record, and the earth might well experience an ice age before the dire predictions about global warming ever come to pass.
[ source: Wikimedia “10 Indicators of Global Warming”]
While the jury is still out, the research showed that the earth is in fact becoming warmer, but that is largely where the consensus ends. Proponents of the anthropogenic causes of global warming maintain that the scientific evidence concerning climate change is incontrovertible and addressing the problem will require a Manhattan Project-level response by the international community before time runs out for humankind. Conversely, critics of this school of thought counter that not only have some prominent members of the scientific community manipulated and exaggerated this evidence, they have engaged in fraudulent and criminal practices that undermine their credibility. Moreover, critics also point out that the earth’s climate is always changing, and to expect otherwise would be contrary to the historical record. In addition, even subject climatological analyses are limited in their ability to accurately interpret and predict climate patterns due to the virtually infinite number of internal and external variables to the climate system that can cause changes at the global level. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that if the experts are right, it may be too late to do anything about global warming, but the deceptive and fraudulent practices that have been used by proponents of the anthropogenic argument as the main cause of global warming have clearly hampered meaningful efforts to address this potentially extinction-level event, thereby doing far more harm than good in the process.
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Works Cited / Bibliography
Cubash, U. (2013). Climate change 2013: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Frank, P. (2008, Spring). A climate of belief: The claim that anthropogenic CO2 is responsible for the current warming of earth climate is scientifically insupportable because climate models are unreliable. Skeptic, 14(1), 22-26.
Griffin, D. (2015, April 20). 5 years after the Gulf oil spill: What we do (and don’t) know. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/us/gulf-oil-spill-unknowns/.
Jasper, W. F. (2010, January 4). Climate ‘teacup tempest’? When the released e-mails of some of the world’s most respected climate alarmists showed that they were manipulating data, environmentalists tried to downplay the deceit. The New American, 26(1), 17-22.
Jasper, W. F. (2014, August 25). Desperate dash of global warming. The New American, 30(16), 18-22.
Miller, K. B. (2012, December). The nature of science and the public debate over anthropogenic global warming. Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 64(4), 220-224.
Newman, A. (2010, April 12). Global-warming alarmism dying a slow death: Promoters of global-warming alarmism have falsified data and smeared contrarian scientists. but even though they have no scientific credibility, they won’t go away soon. The New American, 26(8), 29-33.
Payne, J. L. (2014, Fall). The real case against activist global warming policy. Independent Review, 19(2), 265-269.
Rowland, M. J. (2010, December). Will the sky fall in? Global warming-An alternative view. Antiquity, 84(326), 1163-1169.
Singer, M. (2013, March 1). Respiratory health and ecosyndemics in a time of global warming. Health Sociology Review, 22(1), 98-101.
State AGs in criminal conspiracy to prosecute climate skeptics. (2016, May 9). The New American, 32(9), 8.
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