We'll start with the two important questions you must answer when you talk about Global Warming:
1. Is the Earth getting warmer?
2. If so, why is it getting warmer?
The problem is most people assume that if the answer is yes to the first question then the only possible answer to the second question is "we are causing the warming by pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."
This is what is technically known as "jumping to conclusions."1
But for the sake of argument let's answer "yes" to our first question and assume that the Earth is getting warmer. Are we causing this warming, as the movie implies? And by "implies" I mean "beats you over the head with". Before I answer that, let's consider a few things:
Real paleoclimatologists will tell you that the Earth's climate has been very different from what it is now, sometimes warmer and sometimes colder, long before humanity came along. There is evidence that the current warming is a similar natural event caused by variations in solar activity and that it would be happening whether we were here or not.
The glacier and ice cap melting many have pointed to as evidence of global warming may have been caused by soot, not carbon dioxide. A fine layer of soot darkens the ice just enough that it absorbs more sunlight than it otherwise would and melts.
Speaking of soot, some researchers believe that small particles from pollution (soot, aerosols, etc.) have a much greater cooling effect on the climate than previous models have accounted for. If they're right then humanity has cooled the Earth, not warmed it.
Ever heard of Global Dimming? The amount of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface has been decreasing for a while now. It was first discovered about 20 years ago but only recently has enough proof been accumulated for scientists to take it seriously. This is probably also being caused by soot (they think) and definitely has a cooling effect.
It's been known for a long time that developed land (agricultural and cities) absorbs more heat and make their surroundings warmer than natural landscapes (Urban Heat Island). But a recent study has shown that this is effect is much larger than people thought, making it a significant contributor to warming.
A recent NASA study has shown that the contrails of high-flying jets over the northern hemisphere causes increased formation of cirrus clouds. These clouds trap heat like the glass in a greenhouse roof and this effect alone may explain all the warming seen in the U.S. since the 1970's.
So what does all this contradictory and confusing stuff actually mean? It means that the only honest answer anyone can give to the question, "Why is the Earth getting warmer?" is "We don't know yet."
This shouldn't be surprising. The climate of a planet is a deeply complex system, dependent on many, many variables, some of which we haven't even discovered yet. Also note that several things we're doing that may be affecting the climate have nothing to do with carbon dioxide.
There have been a lot of climatologists interviewed in the media saying that although the climate shift described in the movie (warming leads to polar melt leads to more fresh water in the ocean leads to shut down of the gulf stream leads to ice age) does have some scientific merit, but that such a string of events would take decades at least. A few days are out of the question. I actually don't have a problem with the whole thing taking place in a few days. It's probably impossible but I can enjoy a "what if" scenario for disaster-movie purposes so that's fine.
However, the "message" of the movie, that global warming is being caused by our carbon dioxide emissions and that the Kyoto Protocols (which really would cost hundreds of billions of dollars) should be instituted immediately is just plain wrong. That would be like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient with a fever saying, "Maybe I should take out his spleen, just to see what happens." Far too drastic an action considering you don't know if it would help.
This was the period when both President Bill Clinton and Al Gore refused - point blank - to sign the Kyoto Agreement.
Dead Heat made a large number of alarming, wild-eyed predictions, devoted an entire chapter to it, and even marked the dates on which Oppenheimer was reasonably sure they would happen (though he offered the caveat that these scientific predictions were still predictions). Many of these predictions, which to a great extent were actually based upon politics and alarmism, were included in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (the mass exodus to Mexico is one such "Hat tip". Because, yeah! The first thing you want to do, when the earth gets warmer, is run toward the equator!).
Yep, if there's one thing these two psuedo-science, alarmist conspiracy rumor mongers could get behind and embrace early on, it was Anthropogenic Global Warming. Such merciless apocalyptic scenarios are the foundation of everything they believe.
Another difference between the two books is that Dead Heat - a popular science book which after a decade - would have revisions and updates by this time, is out of print*. Stephen Hawking's 1980s and 1990s science books are still in print. The late Carl Sagan's science books are still in print. Thor Heyrdahl's KON TIKI and RA remain in print and those science books are from the 1950s! Richard Feynman's 1960s science lectures are still in print!
Yet the most trendy pop-culture Science concept of the millenium, the first book to address Anthropogenic Global Warming and politicize it, based entirely on the U.S. government funded man-made global warming research, by the self-described Activist Scientist, and popular celebrity, Dr. James Hansen, is not?
Damnably odd considering how it was referred as the "Bible" of the Kyoto Treaty, which remains very much in the minds of our pop-culture. With the failure of Global Warming to present itself, anthropogenic or otherwise, in the past 30 years, Dr. James Hansen and his ilk, after many scandals over the last 20+ years, have adopted/rebranded the alarm as "Anthropogenic Climate Change".
copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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