Who You Gonna Believe?

If your child has a serious chronic illness with a persistent high fever and you take her to 10 doctors and, after conducting a battery of tests, nine come up with the exact same diagnosis and recommend the same course of treatment and the other one says your child is fine and her illness is a normal part of life and not to worry about it, which course of action are you going to take? Of course we’d all follow the advice of the nine doctors.  The exact same thing is happening right now with our common mother, Mother Earth, yet many people are chosing to believe the doctor in the minority. 

 In the last few months two conservative friends asked me individually if I was aware that 95 percent of heat reflecting from the earth was trapped by water vapor in the atmosphere.  The implication was that only five percent of the reflected heat was left to escape or be trapped by heat-trapping gasses such as CO2, and that this was such a small percentage that CO2 could not be to blame for much, if any, global warming.

 Another clear implication was that this fact had somehow been overlooked by the scientific community of climatologists, who spend their lives studying such things, and that this valuable information was somehow limited to the exclusive domain of global warming deniers. 

 My friends clearly held this data as a “statement of fact.”  I doubt they got it from a scientific study, but rather from information circulating among the global warming denier community on the internet.  It’s entirely possible that their information is true; not being a climatologist, I have no idea.  What is confounding is 1) their belief that climatologists would overlook something as obvious as atmospheric water vapor in conducting their research and 2) their quick willingness to assume that the small percentage of heat which is reflected back into space, even if it is only five percent, could not be responsible for anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming.

 If there’s one thing that science has learned in the last century, it is that all ecosystems (including the earth’s climate) are finely tuned to a delicate set of inputs and outputs and that small changes can have significant impacts.  Carbon dioxide, for example, represents only a tiny fraction of one percent of the atmosphere—380 parts per million to be exact (up from 260 ppm just a century ago)—and yet an overwhelming majority of climatologists believe that this is responsible for Earth’s rising temperatures, both recent and projected. 

 I’d be willing to bet that far less than one percent of those on either side of the global warming debate have ever read a single climatological study on the issue. I know I haven’t, and I seriously doubt that my friends have.  It’s pretty dry and technical stuff.  This is why we have experts who make it their life’s work to study such topics.  This is why we have the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), a large consortium of the world’s leading climatologists, the vast majority of whom support the notion of anthropogenic global warming.

 There is a very small percentage even of these experts who say global warming is bunk. It is these few people that the global warming deniers chose to believe.  So the question has become: Do you chose to believe the 90+ percent of climatologists who believe that the introduction of vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere during the last century is causing global warming or to the small minority (some of whom are paid “consultants” to the oil and coal industries) who believe otherwise? 

 The only difference between this example and climatological “debate” being staged by a relatively few outlier climatologists is that we’re not talking about our child; we’re talking about our mother, our common mother—Mother Earth. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t provide the same level of “health care” for our mother—who sustains us throughout out lives—as we would for our child?  Do we really want to gamble with the future health of our planet and human civilization by ignoring the broad scientific consensus about anthropogenic global warming?  Thanks to the efforts of a relatively few people spreading misinformation on the internet, this seems to be the case.

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