Global Warming Misperceptions

Global Warming MisperceptionsApril 15, 2010

 by Diana Brandt
 and Science Contributor, Dr. Terry Kubar, A NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at Jet Propulsion Lab
 Consultant, Dr. Wei-Ting Chen

       Many climatologists feel that the media really isn't getting the message about global warming out to the public correctly. There is a misperception about what global warming means. Some take it to mean that the weather will get warmer with each passing winter and scoff at the scientific community and supporters of global warming when they see or read about record-breaking winters in the news. Unfortunately, the confusion arises in distinguishing between short term weather events (like a very cold and snowy winter season after an unusually mild one) with evidence of weather pattern changes gathered over decades. The data shows that substantially more heat content has accumulated in the global oceans. This is critical because our oceans can store more heat than our atmosphere, and their interactions create our weather and climate patterns. But clearly there is a growing imbalance in the climate system due to greater and greater human emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
       The confusion can also stem from a tendency to reduce complex scientific research into easy to understand black and white terms. Snowstorms and tornadoes have a huge and immediate impact on people's daily lives. Distinguishing these events from a longer-term trend of climate warming is like asking people not only to watch paint dry, but to determine the exact moment when the paint is dry. Though some details about global warming are still being researched, the real issue is not if global warming is happening, but how fast and how much will continue to take place.
       Daniel Kammen, a Professor of Energy from UC Berkeley, recently spoke at UCLA's Oppenheim Lecture series on the environment and climate: (see article) He informed people that the weather isn't going to go from warm to warmer and then hot in a perfectly linear and incremental manner, as the climate system is quite complex. What really is happening and what will continue to happen is weather patterns will become more pronounced, with both heavier rains and more droughts simultaneously, due to the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The consequences of this are the shrinking of our polar ice caps and the retreat of glaciers at an alarming rate, which has a substantial impact on agriculture (growing seasons). The disappearing glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere are causing adverse effects, particularly on communities that rely on glacial melt water for their livelihood and wellbeing. All of this is the real and imminent threat the Human Community faces, and that is why action is necessary right now!
       Do we really want to continue to taunt Mother Nature at an increasingly accelerated pace? Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, we have already done so by burning fossil fuels and thus accelerating the increase of greenhouse gases that would otherwise cycle naturally in the climate system and not change discernibly over short time scales. Is there a possibility to minimize the magnitude of climate change already set in motion? The window of opportunity is shrinking to reduce the rate of input of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the climate system by what many climate scientists consider a safe level. Pushing limits seems to be an all too human frailty, but we may just be pushing ourselves along with all the other warm bloodied mammals into extinction by our own hand. While many groups and individuals work hard to get legislation passed that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there remains great urgency for immediate action. Money over reason will be written somewhere on our tombstones if we don't make the needed changes soon! Al Gore states, "The scientists are virtually screaming from the rooftops now... But the political systems around the world have held this at arm's length because it's an inconvenient truth, because they don't want to accept that it's a moral imperative."



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