The subject of man-made global warming is almost impossible to discuss without a descent into virulent name-calling (especially on the Internet, where anonymity breeds a special kind of vicious reaction to almost any social or political question), but I’ll try anyway. I consider myself to be relatively well-read on the matter, and I’ve still come down on the skeptical side, because there are aspects of the issue that don’t make a lot of sense to me. Though I confess to have written none-too-reverentially on the subject, I want to try to put all that aside and ask ten serious questions to which I have been unable to find definitive answers:
1. What is the perfect temperature?
If we are to embark on a lifestyle-altering quest to lower the temperature (or at least minimize its rise), what is our goal? I don’t ask this flippantly. Can we demonstrate that one setting on the global thermostat is preferable over another? If so, what is it, and how do we get there? And, once there, how do we maintain it? Will we ever have to “heat things up” again if it drops below that point?
2. Just what is the average temperature of the earth?
At any one time there are temperature extremes all over the planet. How do we come up with an average, and how do those variations fit in with our desire to slow global warming?
3. What factors have led to global warming in the past, and how do we know they aren’t the causes of the current warming trend?
Again, I don’t ask this in a judgmental way. There is no argument that warming cycles (or cooling, for that matter) have been a part of earth’s history. Why are we so sure this one is different?
4. Why is there such a strong effort to stifle discussion and dissent?
I’m always troubled by arguments that begin, “Everybody agrees…” or “Everyone knows…” In fact, there is a good deal of dissent in the scientific world about the theory of man-made global warming. A large (and growing) segment of those who study such things are questioning some of the basic premises of the theory. Why should there be anything wrong with that? Again, this is a big deal, and we should have the best information and opinion from the best minds.
5. Why are there such dramatically different warnings about the effects of man-made global warming?
Predictions of 20-foot rises in ocean levels have given way to talk of a few inches over time. In many cases, those predictions are less than the rises of the past few centuries. Whatever the case, why the scare tactics?
6. Are there potential benefits to global warming?
Again, I don’t ask this mockingly. Would a warmer climate in some areas actually improve living conditions? Would such improvement (health, crop production, lifestyle) balance any negative impact from the phenomenon?
7. Should such drastic changes in public policy be based on a “what if?” proposition?
There are some who say we can’t afford to wait, and, even if there’s some doubt, we should move ahead with altering the way we live. While there are good arguments for changing some of our environmental policies, should they be based on “what it?”
8. What will be the impact on the people of the world if we change the way we live based on man-made global warming concerns?
Nothing happens in a vacuum; there are always unintended consequences to our actions. For example, if we were to dramatically reduce our need for international oil, what happens to the economies of the Middle East and the populations that rely on oil income? There are thousands of other implications, some good and some bad. What are they? Shouldn’t we be thinking about them and talking about them?
9. How will we measure our successes?
Is the measuring stick going to be temperature, sea level, number of annual hurricanes, rainfall, or a combination of all those things? Again, do we have a goal in mind? What happens when we get there?
10. How has this movement gained such momentum?
We’ve faced environmental issues throughout our history, but it’s difficult to remember one which has gained such “status” in such a short time. To a skeptic, there seems to be a religious fervor that makes one wary. A gradual “ramping down” of the dire predictions has not led to a diminution of the doomsday rhetoric. Are these warning signs that the movement has become more of an activist cause than a scientific reality?