FUD = Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. FUD about global warming persists, despite the science being solid for decades. Below, I’ll go through some common and important questions about global warming as well as responses to them.
Global Warming — Is It Real? How Do We Know? Is Global Warming Climate Change Or Is It Weather?
First, we need to know that global warming is caused by climate change, not weather. Weather happens on the timescale of days, Climate change happens on the time scale of years, decades, and millennia. The big freeze last winter in Texas and the recent heat waves in California are weather. An individual heat wave, hurricane, or tornado outbreak is weather. The twenty-year drought we are experiencing here in the Western US is climate. The recession (melting) of 90% of the mountain glaciers in the world in the last 200 years would have to be caused by climate change/global warming.
What is the cause of global warming?
Scientists explain that global warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect.”
What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect gets that name because greenhouses are made of glass and use the sun to keep them warm in winter. If you have climbed into your car after it has been sitting out in the sun and observed how warm it is and how hot the seats are, you have personally observed the greenhouse effect. Your car windows are transparent to visible (shortwave) radiation from the sun, so it passes through the car windows and heats up the seats and interior, which absorb the shortwave radiation. The longwave infrared radiation emitted by the hot seats and interior cannot pass back through the windows, which are opaque to longwave radiation. That is the mechanism that heats up your car or a greenhouse. If you have felt the heat (longwave) radiation when passing your hand over the burners of your stove, even before the elements turn red, you have sensed longwave radiation.
How does the greenhouse effect work in the Earth’s atmosphere?
Scientists postulate that the CO2 in the atmosphere acts like the glass in a greenhouse or your car. The atmosphere transmits visible (is transparent to shortwave) radiation, which is absorbed by the ground, which heats up. Picture a blacktop road or the concrete around a swimming pool that gets too hot to walk on with bare feet in the summer. The ground emits longwave (heat) radiation but it can’t pass back through the atmosphere, which is opaque to the longwave radiation. How do we know that this is true? Only atmospheric physicists specializing in radiation transfer fully understand how this process works. So, if someone who is not an atmospheric physicist claims that greenhouse warming of the Earth is not true, he/she most likely doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. But to us, the evidence comes from the atmospheric and oceanic temperature rise (Figure 1) and from the melting of ice in glaciers, Greenland, and Antarctica since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
What evidence do we have for global warming/climate change?
Over 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and that it is caused by human burning of fossil fuels. The few scientists who don’t agree with the consensus each have their own theories as to what is going on with the climate, and each of them sees the flaws in the other’s logic.
There’s evidence of global warming from mountain glacier recession (melting), melting of the Antarctic and Greenland icecaps, and increased intensity of hurricanes, fires and floods.
The new IPCC again through its latest 2021 report says: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
Why Have Governments Been Unable to Significantly Address the Problem?
However, throughout history, whenever new scientific evidence has challenged current thinking and the revenues of large corporations, a strategy has been cooked up and continually used to obscure the truth of the new evidence.
- DDT: During WWII, DDT was used indiscriminately to kill mosquitos to stop the spread of malaria, particularly in the South Pacific. After the war, it was used to fog neighborhoods in the US and to even spray on children to kill head lice, etc. When Rachel Carson’s book The Silent Spring was published in 1962 laying out the dangers of DDT, including the thinning of eagle egg shells, backlash from the chemical industry was fierce.
- Smoking: When a direct link between smoking and lung cancer was scientifically proven, backlash from the tobacco industry was fierce.
- Acid Rain: When the direct link between the sulphur dioxide emitted by power plants and acid rain contaminating downwind lakes was scientifically proven, backlash from the power companies was fierce. This was discovered by one of my dad’s former students, Gene Likens, in 1963.
- Hole in the Ozone Layer: When a direct link between chlorofluorocarbons used in refrigeration and the hole in the ozone layer, backlash from the refrigeration industry was fierce.
- Global Warming: The link between anthropogenic CO2 and global warming was postulated over 100 years ago. The scientific evidence has become stronger in the years since. Surprise — backlash from the fossil fuel industry has been off the rails.
In each case, those opposed to the new scientific evidence have used the same technique. They have coopted (bribed) a few scientists to spread doubt about the new evidence. Then they have gone into a full court press to spread the doubt to delay governments from acting to address the problem. This technique was documented in the 2010 book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, described below from Wikipedia.
“Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming is a 2010 non-fiction book by American historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. It identifies parallels between the global warming controversy and earlier controversies over tobacco smoking, acid rain, DDT, and the hole in the ozone layer. Oreskes and Conway write that in each case “keeping the controversy alive” by spreading doubt and confusion after a scientific consensus had been reached was the basic strategy of those opposing action. In particular, they show that Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, and a few other contrarian scientists joined forces with conservative think tanks and private corporations to challenge the scientific consensus on many contemporary issues.“
Some of the book’s subjects have been critical of the book, but most reviewers received it favorably. One reviewer said that Merchants of Doubt was exhaustively researched and documented, and may be one of the most important books of 2010
Why are There So Few Republican Politicians Who Will Agree that Global Warming is Real?
It is very simple: led by the Koch brothers, the fossil fuel industry has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Republican politicians in exchange for their denial of global warming. Furthermore, conservative Republicans believe that all problems can be solved by the free market, and they believe that attempts to address global warming are a move to subject the United States to world government.
Has the Recent Uptake of EVs and Clean Power Generation Reduced CO2 Emissions?
NOAA has established its prime global CO2 observatory on a tall volcanic mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere before reaching the observatory and is not biased by local sources.
In the chart shown in Figure 2, you can see a steady increase from 320 to over 400 parts per million over the last 60 years. You can see that in spite of important progress worldwide to decrease the emission of CO2, the global increase has not slowed even slightly over this period.