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To Open The Sky

The Front Pages of Christopher P. Winter
Check out this new Web site from NOAA's Global Change Research Program:
Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States
Also take a look at their new, comprehensive 196-page report.

Disbelieving in Global Warming

This Earth we inhabit has continually been warming or cooling. It has often been hotter than it is today, and sometimes far colder. Sea levels too have advanced and receded far beyond our present shorelines. Much of the U.S. Midwest was once an inland sea. At other times, during ice ages, the sea fell back as great masses of water were locked up in glaciers.

Life survived all these changes. Humans endured the most recent ice age. But those humans were primitive — often nomadic, or living in huts along the edge of the sea. If the waters rose to cover their settlement, they would abandon it, move inland and build anew. Our civilizations do not have that luxury. We simply have too much to lose. If the warming trend we observe today continues, we will be in big trouble.

That is why the controversy over global warming — the dispute that will not die — is so puzzling. The world's climate scientists report measuring a warming trend over many years, and a big chunk of the American population doesn't believe them. A small but vocal political faction I call the Denialists has fostered this disbelief. For over twenty years they have argued against the reality or the potential impact of global warming, using a flurry of specious arguments.

Of course, if somehow the Denialists are right — if global warming is not real, or if it is real but potentially beneficial, then fighting it would be a criminally irresponsible waste of money. But I believe they are wrong. I believe that global warming is happening, and that human activities are causing it. I believe that this AGW (anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming) will, in time, damage our civilizations if we do not control it. Yet despite a mountain of evidence for AGW, the Denialists keep up their campaign of obfuscation. They are finding converts: a substantial fraction of the American populace today doubts that global warming is anything to worry about. This widespread misunderstanding blocks any concerted action.

In the pages linked here, I debunk some of the arguments Denialists commonly use in their three-pronged attack: arguments against the science behind AGW; arguments against its projected harmful effects; and arguments that mainstream scientists aren't doing science right. I will show that the Denialists are not, as they claim, skeptics pointing out flaws in climate science; their arguments show they do not understand science well enough to do that. Nor are they the realists warning the rest of us against a political conspiracy or boondoggle; their warnings do not hold up any better than their pseudoscientific arguments.

What then is the Denialists' goal? Why do they persist in their campaign against what most of the world regards as indisputable facts? And why are the arguments they employ so ludicrously inconsistent? I believe their goal is to preserve a status quo they find comfortable, either for financial or ideological reasons. Further, I believe that their campaign is a political one, intended to delay action as long as possible. I believe the tactics they use are intended to confuse rather than clarify the issue — as I demonstrate here:

The Bottom Line

Climate science is complicated. Many details of how Earth's climate behaves are still unclear. Concerns that a crash program to fight global warming might be unnecessary, or even counterproductive, are valid and should be heeded.

But the broad outlines of the picture are clear: The world is getting warmer, and the best evidence shows the cause to be rising CO2 levels due to human actions. The effects of AGW are seen in ocean waters rising, in glaciers melting, and in springtimes coming earlier. Another trend is equally clear: over the past several decades, most scientists — even if skeptical at first — have joined the consensus. The majority of the public also believes that global warming is a real concern, although not an immediate threat.

The bottom line is that there is no longer any rational basis for disputing the view that global warming is a problem demanding action — not a crash program, but thoughtful, step by step action. Yet the Denialists continue to insist that the only cause for concern is the majority of people who believe something should be done about global warming. If their misleading arguments are gaining ground with the public, we have a situation succinctly portrayed in this cartoon:

Two Theaters
(Clay Bennett, Christian Science Monitor)

I leave it to you: is this in any sense desirable?

About this Web site

My objective in assembling this site on global warming was to pull together the facts of global warming as I understand them and present them in a well-organized fashion. This site is intended to be a resource for those who are still undecided. Of course, it's only one of many that provide the straight dope on global warming (a few are linked in these pages), but there's value in redundancy. And I hope that my design will provide a unique perspective that helps visitors understand the big picture.

The opinions expressed here are solely my own.

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This page was last modified on 21 October 2015.