Don Rogers: Global warming’s hot air
November 30, 2018
A friend suggested I gave short shrift to global warming last week in a column about California's biggest wildfire problem: overgrowth from over a century of aggressive firefighting.
After all, California, like most Western states, counts 17 of its largest 20 wildfires in recorded history since the turn of this millennia. The heat underneath everything is rising. Each year of the 2000s sets a new global record for temperature.
The ocean has risen several inches since the 1990s, and the ice cap has thinned at both poles. The ranges of animal and plant life have shifted with the onset of warmth. Triple the hurricanes spin up each year compared to a hundred years ago.
It all matches the increases in the greenhouse gases that trap energy from the sun, which actually has shown a slight drop in intensity since 1978.
The Earth has been warmer than now, and it has been colder, too. Much of Nevada and the Central Valley of California have been vast inland seas, and glaciers carved Yosemite Valley. Humanity has flourished in a Goldilocks epoch, among minor ice ages and warmer periods, over the span of our species.
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Volcanic activity in the deep past dwarfs our onslaught of fossil fuel exhaust throughout the Industrial Age, still increasing today. But the issue isn't so much what happened naturally over four billion or so years, give or take 500 million, but now.
Humans have reshaped the world by land and by sea and very much by air. This is obvious. The global rise in temperature, apparently faster than ever, matches our pumping of carbon into the atmosphere all too perfectly.
Measuring only recently has become satellite precise. Record keeping of California fires didn't begin until 1932. But our scientists can tell much by geological and fossil records, and deep ice.
I think this is a faithful summary of what we know, as well as recognizing the limits of our knowledge.
The trouble starts with our projections for a hundred years from now, source of much dystopian literature. The ocean level might be 10 feet higher by 2100, or one foot, according to NASA, one of the more sober assessors. It could all be a Chinese hoax, if you go with the president, though even Exxon and Chevron concede global warming spells trouble.
Almost as unhelpful as the president and other conservative partisans are the alarmists who make global warming The Culprit for each drought, hurricane, flood, wildfire. The governor and others hollering about new normal fire seasons without end only feed the deniers and skeptics. Oh, look, it rained, they'll point out rather smugly. It's a cold day. Check out all the snow. Where's your global warming now?
California is a world leader in fighting climate change, which is great. Yet we've managed to do almost nothing about the obvious overgrowth in our forests, so simple by comparison. Why is that?
Absent global warming, we'd still have Paradise teed up in this landscape built to burn, naturally needing to burn. California would still stop raining each year between roughly June and November. We'd still have drought cycles that can stretch a quarter of a century or longer. But we don't need to still have overgrown forests like we do, because of us.
Fairly or unfairly, I blame Scientism — turning science, a discipline, into a faith with its own dogma. This is where we get ridiculous statements through history about "settled science," "consensus," "everyone knows." Everyone once knew the Earth was flat, plate tectonics were wackadoodle, "God doesn't play dice" with respect to quantum theory. Experts predicted we were on the cusp of world starvation, a looming ice age, the end of oil, the end of water, population implosion, as well. We weren't supposed to survive the 1800s, the 1900s, the 2000s, according to expert prophets of doom in each age.
This is not to say they're wrong this time. Our science is better, measurements more precise. The picture is much, much clearer today, especially as earlier climate change forecasts prove out, which should give even the president pause.
And maybe we wouldn't have had the Green Revolution in agriculture absent the dire prophesizing beforehand.
I no doubt suffer from an irrational excess of optimism about scientific breakthroughs, although there's some evidence to support my thinking. Moore's law in computing — in essence, capacity doubles every couple of years — applies to technology generally. If so, in at least geologic time, it'll be a blink of an eye before solar energy and battery capacity are efficient and cheap enough to leave oil derricks and gas stations rusting where they stand.
Still, the die is cast for global warming's harm long past our lifetimes. Short of scrubbing all the excess carbon out of the atmosphere, something hard to imagine today, the greenhouse effect is here to stay.
Meantime, we can save lives now with some low-tech, low-cost diligence free of this frankly weird political partisanship that's made climate change an article of faith. Not only that, but we could blunt global warming's incendiary influence on human lives in our time.
So yeah, maybe I do give short shrift to hot air.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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