It comes across as a classic Right-Left dispute. Liberals, led by Al Gore, claim global warming is due mainly to human activity and something must be done before it is too late. Conservatives question that and are quick to accuse the Left of scare tactics fueled by a desire to expand the powers of government. Yet if we put our emotions aside, reasonable discourse can take place and rational conclusions can be drawn.
According to the U.S. National Academy of Science, average surface temperatures on earth have increased by over one degree Fahrenheit over the past 50 years. Some regions in the Arctic and Antarctic have warmed by substantially more (4.5 degrees F) while the portion of the earth covered by ice or snow the year round has declined by 10 percent and glaciers are melting. Since land is not as reflective of the sun’s heat as ice and snow, this sets off a vicious cycle of increased warming. The Inuit peoples of the Arctic have experienced sufficient climate change so as to require unprecedented migration and/or changes in their lifestyle, while polar bears are dying to due lack of ice floes. Every one of the past 13 years is among the 17 warmest years on record. Anyone who would deny these facts might want to consider joining the Flat Earth Society.
The question is, what are the causes of this significant climate change? Conservatives say such change is naturally occurring and that there have been alternating warmer and colder epochs throughout history. They attribute the current warming largely to changes in the amount of heat reaching earth from the sun, naturally occurring variations in the earth’s orbital pattern, and increased volcanic activity. Many of them believe man is simply not powerful enough to have a significant bearing on the earth’s climate.
Liberals, on the other hand, attribute the warming mainly to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide and methane, due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels (oil and coal) and also to widespread deforestation. The primary greenhouse gas, however, is water vapor, which many scientists say has been increasing due to the increased CO2 and methane.
The greenhouse effect, by which atmospheric gasses keep the earth warm, is necessary. Otherwise, the planet would be uninhabitable. It is the increase in greenhouse gasses that is seen as cause for concern, with atmospheric CO2 having increased by nearly 20 percent over the past 50 years and methane rising at an even higher rate. There are those who say that as the polar icecaps melt, ocean levels will rise and low-lying areas will be permanently flooded.
It clearly appears that the majority of scientists studying the problem attribute most or at least a significant portion of it to human activity. But there are many who insist the changes are natural and man is not to blame. The fact that the majority holds to a certain opinion does not necessarily prove it. However, even if one could absolutely prove that fossil fuels do not cause global warming, that would hardly make them innocent of causing any harm.
For example, fish (and fish oils) constitute an important part of the human diet and it is undeniable that dangerous levels of mercury are now found in some ocean fish, particularly tuna. All that mercury didn’t get there due to people throwing away their old thermometers. Rather the mercury is spewed into the air due to the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal. From there it is carried by rain and snow into the world’s water systems. It is now increasingly believed that ingesting mercury can cause significant neurological harm, especially to children. In addition, the burning of oil and coal continue to cause acid rain, leading to the loss of fish in our lakes and streams.
Even more dangerous are the vast amounts of carbon monoxide (CO) spewed into our atmosphere, mainly from motor vehicle exhaust. CO is known to harm the central nervous system and is particularly dangerous to those with heart disease. Along with nitrogen oxides, another common pollutant caused by fossil fuels, CO is known to cause the formation of ozone, the most irritating air pollutant and the main component of summertime smog.