Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

April 10, 2009

Thoughts on climate change and my job

Filed under: Hippiery — zarazilla @ 7:19 pm
Tags: , ,

A reply I wrote recently to a 3rd grade classmate, climate skeptic, and political verbal sparring partner (she is a hardcore US republican):

Hi J***,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you – my new job is tiring me out! I should probably be going to bed in about negative half an hour, but thought I’d drop you a quick note addressing your points.

I’ve gone through the stuff you’ve sent me, and tried to find stuff of my own that says that climate change isn’t happening, but to be honest I have not really run up against any evidence that is reputable and would make me change my mind. About the best I have is Freeman Dyson’s argument ( http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dysonf07/dysonf07_index.html ), and as far as I can see he believes that the earth’s natural environment will take care of reducing carbon for us. My argument to this, however, is that the earth has never seen so much carbon in the atmosphere before.

And that brings me to the facts that I can believe in, and these are:
a) Atmospheric carbon is far above and beyond any levels known of previously for the last 10,000 years, with evidence from ice cores.
b) The temperature of the earth by and large tracks the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As someone who has studied statistics and economics, I wouldn’t normally put much stock in this alone, as it is mere correlation which does not mean, in all cases, causation, apart from that I know
c) Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That is, that it is a scientific fact that carbon dioxide absorb and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range.

I also know that climate is variable. I don’t put much stock in “in the last five years it has been warmer/colder than the five yeras before that” because, as we both know, there are crazy climate systems out there such as el nino and la nina that show up every once in a few years and throws things out of whack. Long-term variability though, that is the key.

I do believe that over time the world will start warming up. Now what will happen once it reaches a certain temperature is obviously up for debate. One of the theories is that it will trigger us into an ice age through the halt of the gulf stream. One of the theories is that of positive feedback – that is, once it reaches a certain temperature, certain things will change so that it will get hotter and hotter much more quickly. And of course, one of the theories is that it will make the earth a better place to live. I think, I hope not, but I think that it will by and large cause a lot of problems.

Now I hear what you’re saying about the “global cooling” “global Warming” debates, and all I can do there is point you to this website. http://www.grist.org/article/one-hundred-years-is-not-enough Look at those graphs – over 150 years, 500 years, you have to admit that the last 20 or so have been pretty warm.

And I agree that scientists not only have the right, but the duty to show non-biased information. However, I very much doubt that scientists have had their grants pulled or been blacklisted for offering studies from “the other side”, as there are many corporations, including Exxon-Mobil, who fund scientists for research that will make them look good. Also, there’s stuff like this: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/03/with-all-due-respect/

You might think the next thing I’m going to say is a bit weird, so I’m going to give you some background. I studied computer science for four years, and was good at it, and enjoyed it very much. I could be working in computer science and earning a lot more than I do now. But I’m not. I re-routed my career and completed a masters in Environmental Economics and Policy. I’m a research assistant at an environmental economics consultancy, earning about 2/3rds my expected salary as a computer scientist because I believe climate change is happening unless people act now to stop it. I feel completely inadequate in my job because my background is in computers, not economics, but I’m there because I know that in twenty years I want to at least say that I tried.

So to be honest I would really love to be able to think that climate change isn’t happening, and you have intrigued me, but I have not been able to find anything reputable, with reputable scientific sources to argue the other side. All I can find are conspiracy theories. So you would be doing me a huge huge favour if you could point me towards papers that have scientific merit arguing your side of the argument. Then maybe I can give this up and go back to programming and leave my guilt behind. :)

Best,
Zara

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