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Thursday, May 10, 2007
Global warming: Hot air as a greenhouse gas

GLOBAL WARMING finally came to Chapel Hill. It's called spring. Seriously, global warming is without a doubt taking place. With all the hot air being spewed out about climate change, it pretty much has to be.

What I would love to do is consider the question of global warming in a historical context rather than a hysterical and hypocritical one. Here's my try. Is the earth getting warmer or colder? The answer: Yes! It always is.

Looking at the history of earth's climate during the time we can see observable traces of it, the earth has gotten both warmer and colder. Even without sophisticated science, history tells us that the earth has been, in the relatively recent past, warmer than it is now. Why do you think the Vikings named Greenland Greenland? (Answer: It was green!) So, it has gotten cooler since then.

An article from Newsweek in April 1975 cites "ominous signs that the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically," warning of an impending "drastic decline in food production" and political disruptions that could affect nearly "every nation on earth." Scientists were urging emergency action to head off . . . global cooling. A Time article from June 1975 was entitled "Another Ice Age?"

Granted these illustrious magazines are not scientific journals, but these articles did report measurable trends suggesting the earth was cooling. Do global climate conditions really change that fast? Perhaps, because almost everyone agrees that right now the earth is likely getting warmer.

The next question is why. The evidence for human-activity-induced global warming needs to be examined impartially. But it isn't, from anything I can see, due to a bad case of groupthink stifling any objective discussion. When you hear phrases such as "global warming deniers," you know ideology has trumped science.

Man-caused contributions to the earth's levels of carbon dioxide have been rising significantly for at least a hundred years, so, why the cooling before the warming? Most of the "evidence" that global warming is "man caused" is not data but results from the notoriously scientifically suspect art of computer modeling. It’s hard to model global phenomena occurring over millennia when we have scientific data from only a few decades. We need to continue work with open minds on how climate actually works.

Further, some things about global warming just aren't being discussed. Global warming must have some good effects. I'm no climatologist, but my brother did write a book on the impact of cold weather on the Russian economy, and I'm guessing global warming, however caused, would be good for Siberia even if bad for Florida. (Do note the threatened "global cooling" of the 70s was catastrophic as well.)

If the threat of global warming is real and caused by human activity, we should build wind farms, which produce electricity with a relatively small output of carbon dioxide. But that would require that Edward Kennedy stop opposing wind farms in "his backyard" that will impact his view.

We should reduce energy use, so, however inconvenient, Al Gore should not own a house that produces 20 times as much carbon dioxide as the average house. And John Edwards should settle for an outdoor basketball court at his estate.

If the threat is real, we should be implementing solutions that will actually solve it, and not ones that only make us feel better about trying. Rather than producing food-based ethanol and biodiesel, we should be building nuclear power plants at a dizzying rate. Those who have been blocking nuclear waste storage facilities should be apologizing and getting out of the way. Nuclear energy can produce electricity cost-effectively without producing significant greenhouse gasses.

I say move cautiously, as government "solutions" tend to do more damage than good. By mandating and subsidizing ethanol as a fuel additive for automotive gasoline, the U.S. government quickly doubled the world market price of corn.

For much of the world, corn is the primary food of the poor. (Think Mexico.) High corn prices dramatically cut their meager disposable income (and raised food prices for everyone). And, by the way, many experts say food-based fuels do little or nothing to reduce greenhouse gasses, since it takes lots of fuel and fertilizer to produce ethanol and biodiesel.

My suggestion: we stop hyperventilating (which increases emissions of carbon dioxide) and start acting responsibly. How about hybrid-energy U.S. postal service vehicles, state-owned cars and city busses for a start?

Energy consumed is one of our best measures of wealth. We cannot ask the developing world not to develop. We are not going to "undevelop." Whatever we do we should be careful to make effective and economically sensible solutions as the poor of the world will suffer greatly if we don't -- and the climate won't change.


Gary D. Gaddy currently lives a guilt-racked existence in a mansion almost as energy wasteful as Al Gore's Tennessee homestead.

A version of this article was published in the Chapel Hill Herald, Thursday May 10, 2007. Copyright  2007 Gary D. Gaddy


Authored by Gary G. Gaddy at 11:49 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 9:57 PM EDT
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