The IPCC report is out, “An Inconvenient Truth” has been honored by the academy, a sea change is happening in the way that climate change news is being reported, and you can bet the Right Wing and the Ree-pubs are as we speak working up new Talking Points and Spins to deflate the urgency of the issue. It is an axiom that in reporting science, there are two (not one, not three or four, just two) sides to every issue, and one side is the plank nailed to the Democratic Party Platform, and the other side is the plank nailed to the Ree-pub Party Platform. This is a truth as stable and reliable as the fact that Home Depot will always sell 2″ X 4″ studs and plywood in 4′ X 8′ foot pieces. We are already seeing the dubious dichotomies forming up. For instance, yes, the Antarctic Ice Sheet is sloughing off the continent, but it is opening new and wonderful opportunities for both shrimp and scientists. Yes, global warming is real and is anthropogenic, but the Average American thinks, according to Polls, that it is only the third or fourth most important issue. And so on.
This is a repost of the first in a series of entries on Global Warming.
The global warming debate has been running continuously since the now very obscure publication of Moment in the Sun: 1968″ by Dr. Robert Rienow and Leorna Train Rienow. Most people think of the literary beginning of the environmental movement has having been “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, and maybe so, but for me, it was Rienow. This is partly because “Moment…” was the first book I read on the topic, one of the first “adult” books I read at all, and on those early mornings before school I was able to watch Dr. Rienow on that crazy new fangled box … the black and white TV my parents had just acquired … on a thing called “Sunrise Semester” produced by SUNY-Albany. Rienow would lecture, and he and his wife and (I assume) the occasional student would put on skits lampooning industrialists and other polluters.
I remember one day, years after having last seen Sunrise Semester, having just acquired a car and a license (at a ripe old age of 18 or so) exploring the territory south of town, along the Hudson River. I encountered an old narrow road running down into the wooded valley from a minor highway, and took the turn thinking it would lead somewhere interesting. Soon enough there was another turn onto a narrow gravel way called “Holly Hock Hollow” … that name sounded familiar, but I could not place it. So I made that turn as well. A mile and a half or so later, the road leveled off to join the floodplain of a small creek, and I started to see little wooden signs in the forest, extolling in a few words here and there the virtues of nature, and imploring the reader to “leave no trace of your visit” and “respect the trees and animals” and such. Eventually I spied, along side the road where a stone wall opened to a gate, a sign: “Holly Hock Hollow Farm ~ Robert and Leorna Rienow.”
Holy Crap, I had found the very place where the professor and his wife lived. For me, it was like finding Gandolf’s hideaway, or a really good used bookstore, or, well, I don’t know what. Naturally, I did not have the guts to stop in and say hello, and although I drove by the place on my explorations several more times in coming years, I never bothered the couple. But my memory of that discovery will never fade (but details subject to random neural modifications, of course).
Anyway, at some point in time, I believe in the 1970s, many scientists realized that the greenhouse model was a powerful predictor, and started to believe that global warming was going to happen, even in the absence of enough clear empirical data. Keep in mind: Theories can be very powerful. A theory like the “Greenhouse Model” was very powerful, and had already been tested in a lot of contexts, including other planets. But the empirical data of change in the Earth’s climate was not fully developed at that time. From this early speculative period into the 1980s (maybe the late 1980s?) the data started to come in line as well, and an increasing number of scientists were forced to conclude that global warming was underway and likely to get worse.
But we had Reagan/Bush, Reagan/Bush, Bush, (Clinton/Gore, Clinton/Gore), Bush/Cheney, Bush/Cheney in the White House, and a congress that I think on average was more often Ree-pub than DemocratIC. And Big Oil has always been powerful. So moving from informed speculation to virtual certainty by the early or mid 1990s, then to the point of hard and fast conclusions that not even dyed in the wool right wing yahoos could not deny, was delayed. It probably could have happened by the late 1990s or so, but we had to wait another seventeen years. In other words … yes, had Al Gore been inaugurated rather than the Loser Bush, this would all have happened already.
Have I got this right? Remember, we were almost there. We were there at Kyoto but some bad decisions were made and we slid back a decade or so in terms of political reality. But I admit these dates are subject to revision after a closer look. I do recall writing an article for a monthly newspaper some time around 1988 (or maybe 1990?) that, in my view, summarized a number of lines of evidence and absolutely nailed down (for the readers of that fairly left wing publication) the fact that global warming was real and anthropogenic. I think a lot of us feel that we’ve been spinning wheels for many years, and that this planet, our civilization, the environment, have all been cheated out of a couple of decades of progress.
So what is this an introduction to? I plan to systematically go through a number of topics related to Global Warming (and more broadly climate change, to some extent) and provide up to date information and description. What are the components of “forcing,” what are the greenhouse gases, and why do some matter more than others? Why is sea level so important, and so incredibly interesting? What is the link between overall climate pattern and important events such as hurricanes and tornadoes, or whether we have a lot of snow or very little in a given winter? And so on.