Q:  Is global warming for real or a hoax?

A:  Global warming is real and the only hoax is perpetrated by those using phony science to deny it.  Basically, the earth has an atmosphere that contains a number of gasses, some of which have the ability to trap heat.  Carbon dioxide and methane are two such gases that are called greenhouse gases.   The ‘greenhouse effect’ describes the heat trapped by the presence of those gases in our atmosphere.  Right now the greenhouse effect causes about 60° F of warming.  Without the greenhouse effect the earth would be a much colder and less comfortable.   For example, the moon, which is exactly the same average distance from the sun as the earth and receives the same amount of sunlight, is on average about 60° F colder than the earth, largely because it has no atmosphere and therefore no greenhouse warming.   This has been fairly well understood since the early 1800s and is nothing new or controversial.  This idea was first introduced to explain the ice ages and indeed one sees a very good correlation when looking at historical carbon dioxide levels and global average temperatures during the last 400,000 years. 

During most of that time (before the industrial revolution) the variations in carbon dioxide levels were attributable / due to natural causes.  In the late 1800s, scientists calculated that by burning fossil fuels man was contributing to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at a rate that would soon overcome natural variations and might lead to global warming.  By the 1960s, very careful measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels indicated that indeed the levels were rising every year and now were much higher than historical levels.

The greenhouse effect is real and, now that man has added significant greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, we have what is referred to as ‘global warming,’ or more recently ‘climate change.’   Measurements of the average temperature of the earth show a distinct warming trend.  Things are getting warmer; that is, nine of the ten warmest years in history have occurred since 2000.  In addition, storms are more frequent and more severe.  Public opinion reflects increased awareness of these trends and a recognition that global warming or, as Thomas Friedman calls it, “Global Weirding”.

‘Global Weirding’ is a good name as it basically says that things will change in weird ways as climate patterns change and as the oceans warm.  There is no question that warmer oceans mean more and stronger storms, tornados, hurricanes, etc. -- just like we have been seeing over the last few years.  And, there is no denying the economic impact of these events.  If you want to know if climate change is real, ask the insurance companies!

The greenhouse effect is real, and it is a good thing.  It has kept the earth at a very comfortable average temperature.  Unfortunately, largely by burning fossil fuels, man has increased the heat trapping gasses in our atmosphere and this has led to increased average temperatures – global warming or climate change.

For more details see the this presentation that was given at the Club's February 2012 meeting.