So, if you are even moderately paying attention, you've probably heard two bits of news lately:
1: There's a conference in Copenhagen where the countries of the world are going to band together to save the world from man made global warming and
2: global warming has been exposed as a hoax cobbled together by a conspiracy of scientists, as revealed by the publication of their stolen emails.
I'll start with the second bit of news: Even if every single scientist in the world were colluding to dupe developed nations into crippling their economies, it doesn't change the underlying reality of whether the world is or is not warming. I'm convinced by enough untainted data to say that the earth certainly does seem to be experiencing a warming trend for about the last 150 years. I hear some people claim that the trend is over; that, since 1998, the trend has gone down. I think it's fairer to say that the trend has stayed flat. Of course, I also feel that, in matters of global climate, it's difficult to point to any ten year span and be able to call it a trend.
The data that convinced me that the world is, in fact, warming, were rather mundane canal records dating back a few hundred years. A lot of civilized places build canals, and a lot of these place keep records of when the canals freeze over and when they thaw. These dates have been recorded without any agenda, and they show that canals freeze later and thaw earlier than they did a century ago. Unless the global warming conspiracy is in possession of a time machine, I'm prepared to acknowledge that a fair judgment of objective data shows that the world (or at least the northern hemisphere) has been warming, and I also accept that this warming correlates with an increase in carbon dioxide from industrial activity.
But, correlation isn't always proof of causation. There was a warming trend about a thousand years ago that is well documented and obviously can't be blamed on an addiction to coal or oil. The argument that our increasing temperature of recent decades is purely coincidental with industrial activity is very difficult to prove or disprove in any politically useful time frame. Given the constant natural fluctuation of temperatures, I don't see how anyone can claim, as I often hear, that the debate is settled.
One place that you'll be hearing that it's settled is Copenhagen. Currently, the right wing is all fired up about the US damaging its economy by signing treaties calling for carbon cuts. Personally, I'm upset for a completely different reason: If the world ever does face a truly global environmental threat, I worry that toothless, wheel-spinning conferences such as this are going to destroy any ability for effective action later on. I think we'll come out of this conference with nation committed to a bunch of targets for emission cuts, and I think that, a decade from now, not a single target will have been met, and, in fact, net global emissions will have risen.
Fortunately, if global warming is man made, and can be blamed on carbon, I still don't see myself losing much sleep over it. The earth isn't going to turn into Venus. Pre-industrial men have adapted to living in the Sahara with their greatest technology being tent making and camel husbandry. I suspect that modern men will be able to muddle through. Nature will adapt as well. No one is talking about temperature extremes as what we experienced during the last ice age. There was wildlife during that time, there's wildlife now, there will be wildlife in the world to come. It's true that some islands might vanish beneath the waves, but that's just a reality of some types of islands. A lot of islands exist for only a blink of a geological eye. I suppose that it's vaguely possible that in a century the Outer Banks of North Carolina could vanish, but unless we chain the people who live on the islands to posts, its difficult to imagine anyone getting killed because of this. Prudent people will move inland as the waves start lapping at their door. (Though, one may argue that prudent people wouldn't build homes fifty feet from the ocean to start with.)
For me, my biggest objection to the arguments of proponents of global warming is that it's going to produce catastrophe. I will accept it's going to cause change, but it's going to be gradual change, decade to decade. We'll plant different crops in different places, we'll build new homes on new shorelines, and life will go on. And, fifty years from now, if a real global threat arises, we'll point back and laugh about how worried we were about global warming, and do nothing. This really is a case where hyping the fear of global warming can potentially do more harm than just learning how to live with it.