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What About This…? 5.8.2014

By Wayne William Cipriano

We’ve all heard a lot about climate change over the last several years, listened to liberal and conservative radio commentators battle it out, perhaps even read Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Crichton’s State of Fear, certainly watched television reports with dueling authorities. They cannot all be correct, can they?

The more “information” we collect, the more confusing the problem, but there does seem to be a large scientific majority holding the earth is warming. And, this presents three questions: 1) Is this warming a short-term variation that will be averaged down by a series of cooler than normal years resulting in a fairly static long-term climate or is this a trend toward more heat that may vary from year to year but result in a warming long-term climate change?   2) Do humans have much of an effect on the long-term climate of the earth, warming or cooling being the result of human behavior that can be modified? And 3), most important I think, if, and I repeat if we are experiencing a long-term warming event, and if human behavior can effect earth’s climate, are these effects a slow and incremental set that can be reversed whenever we decide we have had enough and things are becoming dangerous or can these effects combine into a “tipping point?”

Think about the London “pea soup” fogs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; New York City in the 60s where just breathing was like smoking cigarettes; Los Angeles covered in smog that could be seen from an airliner. Each of these were corrected by strong environmental regulations. Though each was somewhat isolated by geographic features and small compared to the earth’s surface, each argue that very serious environmental challenges can be relatively quickly and successfully addressed.

Tipping points are something else. A snowball at the top of a hill given just a slight push, a balance given just a touch more weight on one side begin events that cannot be reversed by the rest of the system. Tipping points. And the problem is that if we find as an absolute certainty that climate change has an irreversible tipping point, it is probably too late to do much about it. Which is why it is the most important question.

If, and again I say if global warming is a fact, and we can effect it, and there is a tipping point, can we visualize this as waves on a beach?

Some waves roll in strongly and almost reach our sand castle, the next may be weak and doesn’t come close. Sometimes several waves join together and wash away some of the wall around the castle, but as they recede they hold back incoming waves giving us the chance to rebuild the wall higher and stronger than before and resist even stronger waves on the way.

And then someone tells us high tide is approaching.

Since we will never be able to stop the moon, maybe we should move the castle while we have the chance – just in case.

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