Hubris in global climate science scares me. As a scientist, I often carry a British coin that bears Isaac Newton’s statement “standing on the shoulders of giants” as a reminder of humility. I try to remember that most of what I know and understand comes from the work of others before me and a larger reservoir of existing knowledge. Considering this, and hoping knowledge leads to wisdom, it becomes very important to seek wisdom in the climate-change discussion.
Consider geology. From the recent G8 discussions, it is apparent that we are intent, as humans, to mitigate global climate change. During a recent climate-change forum, I heard a distinguished International Panel on Climate Change scientist state that “113 distinguished scientists” agreed that the earth is warming. This statement was made, rather emphatically, to a room filled with hundreds of geologists who did not react at all. The fact is that geoscientists worldwide, and possibly many archaeologists, would agree.
The earth has been warming for the past 18,000 years, since the last ice age. Climate change since the last glacial maximum and the resulting Holocene (recent geologic period) warming and sea level rise is a fundamental fact in the earth sciences. Temperatures have varied, sea levels have risen and fallen and ice sheets grown and diminished many times in the past, with evidence readily apparent in nature. Data from ice core studies, sediment analyses, locations of ancient shorelines, submerged archaeological sites and even from the oral traditions of ancient peoples all verify the Holocene sea level rise plus many more in the deep past.
Most if not all of our history begins after the last glacial maximum, and in fact, modern human civilization has developed in a geologic period of increasing global temperatures.
Enter hubris. Humans tend to judge everything by the now and in terms of our own lifetimes. Events in the time of our grandparents were long ago, and anything over a few hundred years is ancient. For the earth, these are short-term concepts. However, if science indicates we have been warming since ice last covered half of North America, then we are not dealing with short-term events.
We are experiencing global phenomena that occur on geological and astronomical time scales. The earth’s climate is variable, on measured and predictable time-scales, fully supported by an amazing array of data from numerous scientific disciplines. If we have such absolute proof of global climate variability in the recent and geological past, should we not be very careful in our approach to the present? Consider sea level rise alone.
In the Carolinas, there are ancient shorelines many miles inland. Globally, there are numerous archaeological sites submerged by rising seas. What else has changed? The addition of 6 billion people, ever growing, and most gauging the universe against the metric of their own existence. It is only natural, I guess.
Use wisdom. Statisticians often say, “correlation does not imply causation,” but as our population grows there will be environmental effects - not just because of any unique changes in the dynamic earth system caused by man but because we increasingly notice, or measure, natural changes by our human reference frame. It only makes sense because any change will progressively affect more and more people. This is true for the carbon dioxide debate. Carbon dioxide has been increasing naturally due to global warming. It is an equilibrium response. If we are adding significantly more carbon dioxide to the process, the earth will respond according to pre-existing natural cycles but maybe not according to our human metrics. If we are not adding significantly more carbon dioxide to the process, then pre-existing global processes will still continue. Wisdom comes in knowing the difference and that maybe our knowledge is not sufficient.
We need to better understand causation and the global systems and then task our uniquely human ability to research, engineer, utilize and benefit from nature in efficient and comprehensive methods.
Avoid hubris. The global climate will change. It has in the past and will continue in the future with or without us. It is a part of our dynamic planet that makes life possible. We learn, understand, adapt and utilize.
Before we assume that not only are we the cause of global warming but also the cure, let us make sure the science is comprehensive and that we have the knowledge and wisdom necessary. As the writer of Ecclesiastes aptly states, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever".
Source Link: thestate.com