Well, it’s official. The Earth is warming up, and we’re to blame. A United Nations panel of scientists has said it’s more that 90% probable that human activities have caused most of the warming in the last 50 years. That’s up from a 66% probability in a 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And way up from a 30-year-old warning of a coming Ice Age in Time Magazine. (Oops! That was right in the middle of our 50 years of man-made global warming.)
Anyway, the Time piece (June 24, 1974) reported, "The University of Wisconsin’s Reid A. Bryson and other climatologists suggest that dust and other particles released into the atmosphere as a result of farming and fuel burning may be blocking more and more sunlight from reaching and heating the surface of the earth." So, you see, we were also responsible for the global cooling even though, as it turned out, we were in the middle of global warming, although those wacky climatologists of the 1970s didn’t notice.
I’m sure this U.N. panel is made up of highly scientific men and women with no political or social agendas, but I find it amazing there can be such unanimity of opinion among them about the cause of this latest warming of the Earth. I use the word "latest" because, of course, the Earth has been alternately heating up and cooling down throughout its history and well before SUVs threatened to destroy the planet.
Of course, there are members of the scientific community who — while agreeing we’re in a warming cycle — seem unconvinced that man is responsible, but I have a hunch they weren’t a part of the U.N. panel.
The scientists of 30 years ago were not as certain about the causes of the impending Ice Age as their modern-day counterparts seem to be about global warming, but, in that same article in Time, they did warn, "Whatever the cause of the cooling trend, its effects could be extremely serious, if not catastrophic." I’m puzzled by how quickly we moved from one potential catastrophe to another; after all, in geological time, 30 years is less than the snap of a finger. And I’m also puzzled by how quickly our decades-long efforts to clean up the environment, reduce air pollution and fluorocarbon emissions, mandate greater efficiency in businesses and spend untold billions to be kinder to Mother Earth have been rewarded by this dramatic shift.
So I guess it’s the logic (or lack of it) that gives me the greatest pause. On some level, I suppose, its comforting to think man has the power to turn the Earth’s thermostat up and down at will. There’s also the argument that we should take all steps deemed necessary by this panel "just in case". I say, let’s wait a bit before dramatically adjusting our lives. After all, if we can switch from an impending Ice Age to catastrophic global warming in just 30 years, we should be able, with some effort, to drop the temperature a degree or two in pretty short order.