Global Climate Change Information

I wrote this in March 2010. It is already quite dated.

The human impact on global climate will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. It will require the world's peoples to navigate very complex issues in science and extremely difficult questions involving economics, ethics and politics.

The science of global climate change is not a political issue. It does not matter if you are liberal, conservative, libertarian or socialist. The laws of physics are completely apolitical. There is a broad consensus among climatologists that gases emitted by human industry - principally carbon dioxide CO2 - are causing rapid changes to Earth's climate. Over the next century these changes will include rising average global temperatures leading to rising sea levels, more frequent major hurricanes, and shifts in rainfall patterns that will disrupt agriculture.

Are scientists absolutely certain of all this? No, that is not possible. A series of volcanic eruptions or a drop off in sunspots (as happened in the 1600s) could cool the climate more than our greenhouse gases warm it. There is no basis for predicting such events, but they can't be absolutely ruled out either. [Update: Reseach has shown such a solar minimum would only reduce global warming by 0.3oC by 2100. New research has also shown that the sun may indeed be going into cooling phase.] Maybe every computer climate model has the same bug buried it in - all the programmers made the same mistake and no one has caught it - but this is unlikely. We need to learn how to make decisions and plans based on what is most probable recognizing that everything involves risks and trade offs.

In the 1900s we faced the very real possibility that we would destroy ourselves in a nuclear war. People from all walks of life from all parts of the world worked very hard to forestall this and we made it through with only two cities destroyed - so far. I believe we will rise to the challenge presented by human caused global climate change. The links and comments below are my effort to be a part of this. I hope you will do your part too!

Michael Sullivan
Professor of Mathematics
Southern Illinois University

Statements from major scientific associations

Learn about the science of climatology Climate Models. Complex computer models are used to understand the likely changes Earth's climate will go through in the next 100 years or so. These links give information on how they work and how accurate they are.

Weather verses Climate. It is a surprising fact that it is easier for computers to model global climate over a few decades than to predict regional weather over a few months. This is because many random factors that affect local weather are averaged out over longer time periods and global expanses.

Environmental Impacts. While there is general agreement that climate change will produce serious environmental disruptions there is still a great deal that is not known. This is a very active area of research and you should expect to see contradictory studies and debate among scientists. Some media talking heads will exploit this to claim global warming itself is not settled science. They are wrong.

Economic Impacts. Economics is very far from being a rigorous science. Estimates of the economic impact of global climate change are varied. But the dollar figures are in the trillions.

War and Peace. When resources diminish, people tend to fight over them.

Policy Options

How to respond to human induced global climate change is a political issue. Even though there are many different ideologies, religions and cultures in the world we have to find a common solution. That's just the way it is. The major ideas are taxing greenhouse gas emissions, often called a carbon tax for short, a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, and technical innovation. Energy conservation is of central importance and should be at the top of everyone's to do list.

Cap and Trade.

Ethanol. Is ethanol part of the solution? Should current production technologies by subsidized? I'm skeptical that ethanol production as currently practiced actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Ethanol production uses a great deal of land and other resources. But, research should continue especially into producing ethanol from cellulose.

Nuclear Power. Personally I favor the expansion of nuclear power as a means of reducing CO2 emissions. But nuclear power plants are expensive take many years to build so other measures are needed now and many environmental groups still have safety reservations.

CO2 sequestering. This an edgy idea. Can you pump CO2 emissions from power plants deep underground, sequestering the CO2 there more or less permanently? I doubt this technology will be workable in the short term if ever. But you never know.

Geo-engineering. Some have proposed schemes to manipulate Earth's climate artificially. These ideas include injecting massive quantities of sulfur dioxide SO2 into the atmosphere or positioning giant mirrors in space to regulate the amount of sun light reaching Earth. These are unlikely to be realized in the short term, but may be important a hundred years from now. There are a handful of "visionaries" who believe such schemes can circumvent the need to reduce CO2 emissions.

Solar, wind, geothermal, etc. You can Google these.

What you can do

What you can do - personal

What you can do - political

Local Groups

Illinois Politicians

Skeptics and Deniers

Some people are skeptical that climate change is real or that it is caused by humans. It is a complex issue and it is understandable that people don't want to make changes in their lifestyle because of something they don't understand. If you are in this camp give yourself time and read up on the issue as best you can. It still makes sense to support greater fuel efficacy for cars, better insulation for homes and energy efficient appliances for many other reasons.

Skeptical scientists? Yes there are a few. The term scientific consensus does not mean absolute unanimity. Just as creationists can trot out an occasional biologist who believes in intelligent design and there a few medical doctors who don't believe AIDS is caused by HIV, there are a small number of climatologists that are skeptical that humans are causing global climate change. It should also be pointed out that there are climatologists who think the consensus view is overly optimistic.

Some people will go to doctor after doctor until they hear what they want. If the first nine doctors tell you to lose weight, eat better and get more exercise but the tenth one says not to worry, it is tempting to go with the tenth doctor, but this is not wise.

A few people think that the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by scientists who want grant money or environmentalists who want worldwide socialism. This is insane. How on earth would the activities of thousands of scientists from many different countries be coordinated into such a scam? Did Ralph Nader and Treesong strong arm the Chinese Academy of Sciences into going along? How did the far left trick the major oil companies into agreeing that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans?

Such idiocy boggles the mind. It is as ludicrous as the belief of some creationists that the world's biologists are part of an atheist plot or the view of some on the left that George Bush and the C.I.A. planned the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, the editor of our local newspaper, The Southern Illinoisan, Gary Metro, is in this camp. See his editorial; you can read my response in the discussion afterward.

Many denier groups are based around blogs. As you might guess blogs are interesting to read sometimes but are not a reliable source for scientific information. None-the-less, here are a few of them.

University of East Anglia CRU Hacked/Leaked E-mails

In November 2009 someone got hold of private e-mails of scientists with the Climate Research Unit of University of East Anglia. Many deniers latched on to these as "proof" that climate change is all a hoax. People who have taken the time to study the e-mails have concluded otherwise.

Global Cooling??? Deniers bring this term up in two different contexts. In the 1970s some studies appeared that projected a global cooling trend. These got a lot of media play. But, there was never a scientific consensus. Science academies did not endorse these tentative findings. Deniers ignore this and claim scientists are flip-flopping and hence cannot be relied upon as though this was a political campaign. See these two articles.

More recently deniers have been claiming that the climate has been cooling since 1998. This is flat out false. 1998 was an especially hot year, but the trend line has not reversed. You can read more on this here and here.

Statements from Big Oil companies!

Other Big Businesses

Conservative Politicians

Do you really think a few tree huggers could trick Newt Gingrich and Shell Oil into supporting a socialist plot?

I am going to set up a section on the money behind the denier campaign. Here are get a couple of links.

The next are activists sites. They seem pretty solid but do sometimes resort to hyperbole and occasional name calling. They are not run by scientists. New from GreenPeace. Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science A Brief History of Attacks on Climate Science, Climate Scientists and the IPCC