Global Warming: Carbon Dioxide Filled or Lies Filled?
With the presidential elections going on, the topic of global warming heats up again among the groups that believe in global warming and the individuals who are skeptical. Global warming is the warming of the earth due to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is caused by a variety of gases that allow the ozone layer to trap heat from the sun and keep it within the atmosphere. Without the gases, the earth would be extremely cold. The effect hasn’t been an alarming issue until the noticeable rise in human-produced gases starting from the industrial revolution. The increase of the earth’s temperature has caused melting of the polar ice caps, resulting in a rise in ocean level, and a rise in ocean temperature (EPA, Climate Change Basics). Some scientists anticipate more severe weather patterns, faster spread of diseases, and a decrease in biological diversity. The controversy of global warming is often debated on the basis of its existence and its cause.
The official information about global warming is delivered by groups such as EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). EPA is a U.S. government funded agency that seeks to inform citizens of any type of environmental issue. IPCC was founded by two United Nations organizations and was later endorsed by the same two groups. It is now an internationally recognized authority on climate change. However, some of these data are disputed by individuals doubtful of the information presented to society about global warming. These individuals pull other scientific data to illustrate a different picture, like Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Psychology. While this position is in complete opposition of global warming, other individuals acknowledge the climate change, but propose a different source for the increase in greenhouse gases. An individual supporting this point of view is Sallie Baliunas, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. These sources of information all include the existence (or nonexistence) and cause of global warming.
EPA has been actively working to prevent further contribution to global warming since its founding in 1970. In their FAQ section, they have drawn statistics with other organizations to make a graph showing how natural causes are not the only factors contributing to global warming; human activity is a big contributor as well. EPA has stated, “The Earth does go through natural cycles of warming and cooling, caused by factors such as changes in the sun or volcanic activity. This has been closely examined, and the warming we have seen in the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone.” The figure they provided consisted of 3 lines labeled ‘observed’, ‘with human effects’, and ‘natural forces only’. This graph was used to depict the trend of increasing temperature over a century. The result showed that if global warming were only caused by natural factors, the observed temperature would be roughly 2°C cooler. In comparison, the lines ‘observed’ and ‘with human factors’ coincide for almost all 100 years.
With these data, EPA states some of the causes of the rise in temperature, one of them being greenhouse effect:
“Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”
These gas emissions include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. EPA focuses on carbon dioxide; “CO2 is absorbed and emitted naturally as part of the carbon cycle, through animal and plant respiration, volcanic eruptions, and ocean-atmosphere exchange.” This part of carbon dioxide is part of the ‘natural forces only’ on the previous figure. Now, with human activities calculated in, EPA estimates that “Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by almost 40% since pre-industrial times, from approximately 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in the 18th century to 390 ppmv in 2010.” Considering these numbers, “The current CO2 level is higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years.”
In contrast, Richard Lindzen starts off his argument with, “Is there a reason to be alarmed by the prospect of global warming? Consider that the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA), is always changing. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally—such as for the last dozen years or so—it does little that can be discerned.” He states that, “claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre.” There is general support that temperatures have increased, but Lindzen asserts that the quality of these data is poor. In response, he says, “the changes are small, it is easy to nudge such data a few tenths of a degree in any direction.” There was a “little ice age from about the 15th to the 19th century”, so it’s logical that the temperature would be increasing. Around this time, the industrial revolution happened as well, contributing to an increased output of greenhouse gases.
Regarding the greenhouse gases, Lindzen says, “The defining characteristic of a greenhouse gas is that it is relatively transparent to visible light from the sun but can absorb portions of thermal radiation.” With this definition, Lindzen follows that, “the main greenhouse substances in the earth’s atmosphere are water vapor and high clouds,” rather than “the anthropogenic minor substances.” With this information, “a doubling of CO2 would only upset the original balance between incoming and outgoing radiation by about 2%. This is essentially what is called ‘climate forcing’.” The point being that the alarm about rising carbon dioxide levels are for naught and would not contribute much to the rising temperature. To demonstrate his view on reducing carbon dioxide to stop global warming, Lindzen makes the analogy,
“Suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. Our present approach to emissions would be analogous to deciding that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. The chief difference is that in the case of atmospheric CO2 and climate catastrophe, the chain of inference is longer and less plausible than in my example.”
This quote refers to how carbon dioxide has little effect on carbon dioxide. In fact, it would be ridiculous to. Simply because the carbon dioxide levels are coincidentally rising with the earth’s average temperature, there are other factors to consider, thus his analogy with the eggs.
While Lindzen finds global warming unfounded, Sallie Baliunas agrees that the surface is warming, but it is not all due to carbon dioxide. In fact, she states, “Scientific facts gathered in the past 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming as a basis for drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts.” Along with the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide is not the only one that has increased, “The air’s concentration of other human-produced greenhouse gases, like methane, has also increased. These greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation from the sun, and they retain some of that energy close to earth.” Baliunas also provides information on how the earth is actually warmed: “the low layer of air for one to five miles up (the low troposphere), where the radiation is trapped, should warm. That low layer of air warming should, in turn, warm the surface”. Baliunas adds in a follow up, “The human-made greenhouse warming component must warm both layers of air, with computer simulations indicating the low troposphere would warm more quickly and to a greater amount than the surface.” With this information, Baliunas pulls previous information from the Climatic Research Unit in Great Britain, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences. Both institutions agree that the 20th century was warmer than the 19th. She then looks closer at these temperatures and finds the trend, “From 1900 to 1940, the surface warms strongly. From 1940 to about the late 1970s, a slight cooling trend is seen. Then from the late 1970s to the present, warming occurs. Briefly, the surface records show early 20th-century warming, mid-20th-century cooling, and late 20th-century warming.” Because the increase in greenhouse gases was mostly due to human activity occurred after the 1940s, it implies, “That means that the strong early 20th century warming must be largely, if not entirely, natural.”
Global warming is a highly debated topic with a multitude of positions. The 3 listed here give a range of views—global warming exists and carbon dioxide is a big cause, global warming is not something to be alarmed about, and global warming is happening, but carbon dioxide is not the root. Each source is a highly credible group or individual that backs up their claim with numbers and scientific data. Global warming is still very contemporary and has more arguments than the ones stated above.
Baliunas, Salllie. “Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change.”Heritage.org. The Heritage Foundation, 22 Aug. 2002. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/the-real-story-about-climate-change>.
“Causes of Climate Change.” Epa.gov. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html>.
Lindzen, Richard S. “The Climate Science Isn’t Settled.” Online.wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, 30 Nov. 2009. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703939404574567423917025400.html>.
Contoski, Edmund. “Global Warming Is a Myth.” Global Warming. Ed. Cynthia A. Bily. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Global Warming, Global Myth.” Liberty 22 (Sept. 2008). Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 25 Sep. 2012.
Farley, John W. “Human-Produced Carbon Dioxide Contributes to Global Warming.” Global Warming. Ed. Cynthia A. Bily. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “The Scientific Case for Modern Anthropogenic Global Warming.” Monthly Review 60 (2008): 69-75. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.