Science: noun, the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Scientific method: noun, a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
We have seen the headlines over the last few years, about CO2 levels increasing to historically high levels. Of course, we’ve also heard how this increase in greenhouse gasses is predicted to have dire ramifications for the next several generations of humans. What’s been missing is observational science rather than predictive math-based science.
That has now been remedied.
A team of scientists, lead by the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have spent ten years gathering data through observation. Lots of observation. At a couple of geographically diverse locations. Using spectroscopic measurements to determine the contributors to the uptick in radiative forcing to the burning of fossil fuels and fire. As we’ve known, for quite a long time, greenhouse gases cause the Earth to retain more of the sun’s energy, causing temperatures to rise. This increase in energy retention is also called positive radiative forcing.
We’ve all heard that 2014 was the hottest year on record and that nine of the hottest ten years on record occurred in the last decade. We’ve been debating the root cause. Well, in all honesty, some are debating whether this is true at all. Recently the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, brought a snow ball to the Senate floor to prove it was unseasonably cold outside and to disprove global climate change. But, for those that acknowledge the “hottest ten years on record,” the debate has been the cause, with “solar cycles” and greenhouse gas increases as the cause.
Now, there is observational science backing up the culprit being CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. It also shows some lessening of the effect, during plant growth seasons, as plants absorb some of the CO2. (The link at the beginning of this paragraph will explain the science in greater detail.)
Also, on the environmental front, debate has raged over the role of fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of fossil fuels), in the increase in the number of earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey has addressed this question on their website. Recently it was announced that fracking is, in fact, a causative agent in the increase in earthquakes. In Oklahoma, between 1978 and 2008, Oklahoma experienced about one earthquake per years that measured at magnitude 3 or higher. By mid-July 2014, Oklahoma had experienced 258 earthquakes of that magnitude or higher. Nothing shows this quite as effectively as a graph and there’s a doozy here. This debate boiled over in my neighborhood, when a fracking well was erected very close to our home. My wife has experienced several earthquakes in Irving Texas, where she works, describing one as “a sudden bang, like a car had hit our building.” Having grown up in Texas, I have never felt an earthquake myself, and was somewhat jealous of her experience. Perhaps my opportunity is in the near future…
Last week, focusing again on Oklahoma, a state representative introduced a bill to prevent municipalities from banning fracking within their jurisdiction. Why introduce this bill? Why to protect the financial interests of the state, of course! But what about damage to the state’s infrastructure? Isn’t that a financial interest as well, one that affects many more constituents? Oh well…
When the Surgeon General publicly linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer, there were doctors and scientists that claimed it was untrue. We now know many of those were funded by the tobacco industry. Today, each side in the climate change debate and the fracking debate has scientists to back up their position, although the number of scientists who believe the evidence points toward global climate change outnumber those opposed by about 97% to 3%. With that lopsided a majority, why is there still debate? Well, those opposed to the majority opinion have stated that money is the corrupting influence. Their belief is that scientists have to obtain grants to fund their research, in order to make a living. Grant applications are a pain, so if a scientist can obtain a grant for a climate study, which by definition would span many years, their problem is solved. Of course, the opposing side says that the billions of dollars reaped by oil & gas companies, is the reason the debate lingers.
There are real costs associated with stopping or slowing global climate change. Many of these costs would not be accepted by the voting public (fossil fuel price increases, possible oil shortages and the resulting lifestyle impact). Politicians fear the backlash of those angered voters and the loss of their jobs (another case of money muddying the waters).
Every time I think about these debates, a couple things come to mind:
Superman’s father, Jor-El, tried to warn the highest levels of government, on his home world of Krypton, that the planet was doomed. The politicians forced him to be silent about the threat, so as not to alarm the public needlessly. Of course, shortly after they sent their son to Earth, their planet exploded…
The movie, The Deer Hunter has a few scenes of Russian Roulette, played as a form of gambling. Of course, the bettors are not the people pointing the gun at their own heads. They are the people watching the competition and placing bets. How would you collect from the loser, if by losing they died? Anyway, I think about what the payoff would have to be, before I would place a revolver to my head and pull the trigger. If the bullet represents the one chance, that the people who believe that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to it are right, why do we want to pull the trigger? Is the payoff (keeping the status quo) so valuable that we should accept the risk of pulling the trigger? Yes, the global economy will take a hit, if we curtail the use of fossil fuels. But the new industries, that will come into being to fill the void, will bring new jobs with them. Renewable energy, battery production, etc. will be where the jobs will shift. If you believe the odds are only 1 in 100 the vast majority of the climate scientists are correct, it would be like having a revolver with 100 chambers, only 1 containing a bullet. Would you put that gun to your head and pull the trigger?
Just a thought…