Sunday, April 22, 2012

Our Choice

It's common these days to hear global warming skeptics admit that climate change is real, but doubt humanity's impact on it.  The advocates of the do-nothing approach are these days no longer able to deny the fact of climate change, so they are forced instead to spin the remaining uncertainties.  In so doing they have set upon a classic bait-and-switch that aims to confuse those who are not well versed in the physics of the environment.  To admit global warming is real, and then to turn around and question the scientific consensus on its cause, is for some people a kind of reasonable middle ground, a halfway point that is appealing because it's conciliatory.  Unfortunately, it's just wrong.

Sometimes you will hear it said that the evidence is ambiguous.  It is not.  More than one hundred years of study, on perhaps the most pressing issue in science, points to a clear correlation between rising CO2 levels, rising temperatures, and the explosion of the human population in the last 150 years or so, coinciding with the industrial revolution.  For the entire history of humanity -- hundreds of thousands of years or so since the dawn of what we typically call a human -- the population was very low.  It was not until the mid-19th century that the population reached 1 billion people.  Today, it is more than 7 billion.

This exponential rise in the human populations begins at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  And as our lives improve, our population swells, and our technology enjoys an exponential growth.  In short order we are able to produce millions upon millions of machines that spew obscene amounts of carbon into the air.  This carbon remained below the Earth's surface for millions of years -- deposited over millions of years -- but today we are devouring it at an insatiable rate, dumping our waste products into the air and into the ocean.  There is no natural mechanism that could have released such enormous amounts of carbon into the environment all at once.  It required the human catalyst for rapid change.