Climate change: Illness and Medicine

Appeared in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan on Dec. 2, 2008

In a recent Soapbox (Cutting CO2 won’t solve problems), Dr. William Gray concludes his argument by stating that, “A slightly warmer globe because of CO2 increases would, in the net, likely be more beneficial to humankind than a slightly cooler globe.”

It is clear from this statement that Gray agrees with scientifically proven fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, meaning CO2 acts to warm the atmosphere by trapping infrared radiation. The problem with Gray’s concluding statement is that it is misleading in terms of the scope of the problem in that he is not being candid regarding the likely extent of the “illness.”

The world’s rate of CO2 emissions is higher than even the most dire scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The world is on track to double the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by the middle of this century. The scientific evidence that has been compiled by thousands of scientists over decades of research suggests that this will lead to a warming of the Earth’s climate not seen for almost a million years. From this perspective, it is hard to characterize the anticipated change as a “slight warming.” The illness of global warming will bring with it many undesirable symptoms, such as increased drought, more intense storms and rising sea level.

The bulk of Gray’s article argues against the policy prescriptions that are being developed to guard against the risks of global warming. These policy prescriptions, such as deploying renewable energy, are essentially the medicines proposed to combat the problem of global warming. I can sympathize with his concern; the problem of global warming is enormous and the actions our society will take as a result will likely lead to changes in how we go about our daily lives.

As each of us considers the issue of global climate change, we must keep in mind one very important fact: We cannot pretend that the illness of global climate change does not exist because we are uncomfortable with the medicine. Ignoring serious problems do not make them go away. In this case it would just pass an even bigger illness requiring even stronger remedies onto our children and grandchildren.

Over the next decades, the scientific community will continue to learn more about how Earth will respond to increased levels of CO2. And our policymakers will hopefully continue to adjust the needed policy prescriptions based on these scientific findings. Today, given what we know about global warming, each of us should make sensible decisions about how we use energy in our daily lives. Installing CFL bulbs, winterizing our homes and using public transportation are just a few of the many possible changes that are “win-win”; we reduce our carbon footprint and save money at the same time. In addition, we should press our government officials to take sensible actions at the city, state, national and international levels to reduce carbon emissions, such as requiring utilities to offer incentives for energy efficiency technology, installing renewable energy on the electric grid and taxing carbon emissions.

As each of us considers the issue of global warming and the subsequent lifestyle changes that may result, we need to consider the following: Are we questioning the illness or are we uncomfortable with the medicine?

Todd Ringler (todd.ringler@mac. com) of Santa Fe, N.M., is the science adviser to the Fort Collins Sustainability Group. He holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences and worked at Colorado State University as a scientist from 1996-2006 in the atmospheric science department. He is currently employed as a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory working on issues related to global climate change. This Soapbox does not represent the view of LANL or the Department of Energy.


Author: Rick Casey

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