But that is not the important question. The debate is not whether climate change is real or not, it is whether man is causing the change and if it will lead to the demise of our species.
Climate change is real, but that is nothing new. The problem is that we as humans have no perspective. Our focus on climate change is based on data of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from the time Homo sapiens came on the scene, around 100,000 years ago. In 1800, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm, which is the level it had been for most of human history. Today, it is around 400 ppm. The scientific consensus is that the burning of fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution is the cause. And if the CO2 level is rising, we assume this will lead to a change in the climate that on balance will negatively affect human kind and our ability to survive.
First, let’s think about the following. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old. In the book “Humans: From the Beginning”, Christopher Seddon (1) says:
“The whole of the hominin story is set within a period of climate change, and the last third of it has taken place against a background of the Quaternary Ice Age, the first ice age for a quarter of a billion years. Climate change, of such concern to us today, is therefore nothing new, and has always played a role in hominin affairs. It may come as a surprise to learn that the Earth is still technically in this ice age, which began at the start of the Pleistocene epoch, 2,588,000 years ago. Ever since then, the planet has alternated between periods of cool, arid and warm, wet climatic conditions as ice sheets ebbed and flowed in higher latitudes. During cold periods, the ice sheets locked up vast amounts of fresh water that might otherwise have fallen as rain.”
To put this in perspective, look at the graphic below:
The top timeline represents the age of the earth. Every major hash mark, therefore, represents 1,000,000,000 years. At this scale, you would be hard-pressed to graphically represent 100,000 years ago from today, which is when Homo sapiens appeared and the time frame for which we have the best data and can make the most accurate conclusions. To do that requires more granularity…a lot more granularity. The second timeline expands the last 500,000,000 years, so each major hash mark represents 100,000,000 million years. It is not until you get to the 4th timeline where each major hash mark represents 4,000,000 years that you can first see where humans appeared.
The point is, the planet has cycled between warm and cold periods for all of its existence, independent of human activity. Do we really think we understand the mechanisms that affect the planet’s climate? If we did, why can’t we better predict weather? What makes us think we know exactly how the very complex climate system works? I am an engineer. I am trained in the scientific method and believe that our science has answered many questions on how natural processes function. But I don’t believe we have all the answers, and certainly not based on our very limited understanding of the climate changes over the last few million years and the mechanisms at work.
Despite the consensus that human activity has led to the increase in CO2 levels, I still take the conclusions that it represents a crisis with a grain of salt, so to speak.
While I remain skeptical that we are so smart to have figured it all out, I am willing to agree that we should find ways to reduce greenhouse emissions and lessen our impact on the environment in general. I do believe we are advancing as a civilization and have a better perspective of our planet as a closed system with finite resources. I do believe we need to be stewards of what God has provided. But we need to do that in a way that does not disrupt the world’s economy. For all my liberal friends, doing so will have a relatively more negative impact on the poor.
The problem is that the issue is not only a question of scientific certainty but also politics. Many who believe, like our president, that climate change represents the single biggest threat to our safety and survival are motivated by other reasons, in my opinion. They view the issue through the lens of cultural relativism. They believe the West, and the U.S. in particular, is the root of all the evil in the world and we need to make amends. We have no right to use more resources than any other country. So, in the name of climate change, they want to see more parity in the economies around the world. It is really about equality of results (note, not quality of opportunity) and wealth redistribution, a common theme expressed by most liberal politicians in the U.S. today. So why not be honest about the real motivation in the debate?
Climate change and human’s role will continue to be debated. Let’s stop the irrational rhetoric and name calling, and debate the pros and cons of various options to lessen our impact on the environment. For example, I remember several months ago a Facebook post making the rounds, being “liked” by thousands. It showed a picture of a dry reservoir in California with a caption that linked it to climate change. That makes no sense and only sensationalizes the issue. It does nothing to advance a discussion of the issues. There are common sense solutions.
- Christopher Seddon, Humans: From the Beginning (Glanville Publications, 2015)
Jeff Groh is a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. He believes more often than not, both sides of the political spectrum actually agree on the ends, but it is the means that fuel disagreements, with the far right and left resorting to name-calling rather than a pursuing a rational debate on the issues, trade-offs and unintended consequences. His consulting company, New Product Visions, helps companies improve their innovation management practices, and he is passionate about the creation of economic value and prosperity by restoring our country’s manufacturing base. Want to email me? firstname.lastname@example.org