Do Humans Cause Global Warming? The Carbon Dioxide Debate
Quick Link: NASA is spending an incredible amount of resources on the topic of Global Warming. They have many different websites on the subject.
The Very Beginning: A Little Background About This Site
Several years ago I began wondering if it would be possible to get to the bottom of the ongoing global warming debate. I figured there must be real facts out there to answer the same repeated questions about carbon dioxide pollution and whether humans cause global warming or not. Maybe if I could dig past the agendas of the politicians, tree huggers, booksellers, news networks, and big corporations, I could find some truth.
Well, it turns out there are lots of studies, but a whole bunch of different interpretations of them. And it turns out there are a whole lot more assumptions and disagreements than I ever dreamed - about carbon dioxide's role in the greenhouse effect, about natural warming and cooling cycles, about the human contribution to carbon dioxide, about historical data, and more. Straightforward simple facts about the human impact on global warming and climate change are few. Hence the debate. Super.
Climate Change? Global Warming? Know What You're Talking About So You Can Ask Better Questions
"Climate change" is the term scientists use to discuss the warming and cooling cycles of our planet.
"Global warming" is an emotional and sensational term because it suggests that a rise in temperature is abnormal. It creates the misleading notion that global temperatures have never gone up before, should never go up, and definitely shouldn't be going up now. It implies a failure of the greenhouse effect to work properly. It leaves no room for perfectly normal global warming cycles, or the existence of global cooling cycles. Instead, it focuses your mind on a one-way road to disaster. The term bypasses logic to get right at your emotions, which is exactly why it is used.
If the Earth is currently entering a period of warming, it wouldn't be suprising. Whether humans impact global temperatures is an important question, but the term "global warming" puts such a bizarre focus on just one aspect of climate that it influences the questions we ask, which makes it awfuly hard to learn anything. The term "global warming" itself leads us to ignore so many other aspects of climatology that it becomes counter-productive in finding the truth about the human relationship to global temperatures. (Don't misunderstand the importance of this - the marketing and advertising industry learned in the early 1900's that it's ridiculously easy to control what people think by controlling the questions we ask.)
To be fair, more and more "environmentalists" in recent years are using the term climate change instead of global warming. This is probably partly to distance themselves from more extreme green activists, and partly to give themselves room to backtrack if they're called out for their claims in the future as global temperatures fall.
Anyway, since the billion-dollar environmental-industrial complex has successfully marketed the deceptive term "global warming" to the public and mass media, that's the term we'll use on this site. It's the phrase everyone knows, so there's no point fighting it even if it is one-sided and misleading. Let's just keep in mind the bigger picture and stay focused on facts.
Climate Change Headlines: Here's An Automated Feed of Current News From Various Sources
Global Warming Basics: An Explanation Of The Greenhouse Effect and Carbon Dioxide
Global temperatures are controlled, at least to some extent, by the "greenhouse effect". This is simple science, no debate here. This term is a description of how a planet maintains a specific environment, it doesn't refer to something that shouldn't be happening. I found that some people had misunderstood this concept entirely and thought that the greenhouse effect itself was a man-made catastrophe and shouldn't exist, so I want clear that up now. All planets with atmospheres have a greenhouse effect, that's how it works.
To understand global warming we need to understand what the greenhouse effect is, and understand which specific gases are greenhouse gases.
There are a number of substances, some naturally occuring, others man-made, that contribute to global warming by influencing the greenhouse effect. Water vapor and carbon dioxide are considered the two most abundant greenhouse gases, thus affecting climate more than others. In some ways this is an unusual acknowledgement in the debate because both of these are naturally occuring, which would indicate climate change has little to do with human activity.
Water vapor accounts for between 1% to 4% content (it varies over dry land vs. oceans), while carbon dioxide is said to account for a mere 0.0387% by volume (source). That's a pretty drastic difference between the "two most abundant greenhouse gases".
That statement is technically true, these are the top two gases. But don't be fooled into thinking they are anywhere near equivalent in terms of the amount of each in the atmosphere or their effect on the greenhouse just because you can lump them together in that sentence. Carbon dioxide is a far, far, far distant runner-up to water vapor as a greenhouse influence.
The Environmental-Entertainment Industry: Any Misinformation Is Good Misinformation
I discovered there are totally inept and unqualified people (Al Gore, news reporters, etc.) making claims about the human role in global warming, and other very qualified people also making claims (climatologists, meteorologists, geologists, etc.). The biggest problem with the whole global warming debate seems to be the media itself. News networks, newspapers, and related websites (and the owners of them) have a simple agenda as profit-based international corporations. And sensationalism sells, period.
Even worse, people mistakenly think that news programs report facts, and don't understand that Fox, CNN, and NBC are just as much entertainment programs as The Price Is Right and Jersey Shore. They exist for one reason: profit. Seriously, people turn on the "news" and immediately believe 100% of what they see and hear. Unfortunately this is how most people have come to their conclusions about the human role in global warming, on both sides of the debate. Foolishly believing that their chosen authority figures are in the business of education rather than entertainment.
Another thing I learned is that the only people capable of asking intelligent questions about global warming are real scientists. Once you hear real scientists discuss global warming (and the human impact on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), you'll never want to listen to another evening news clown fumbling over stupid questions ever again. Without intelligent questions, the general public will never learn anything about global warming that has any significance. We need to understand that news anchors are simple and sometimes pretty dumb people. It's the same with "documentaries" - for some reason the general public thinks that anyone who makes a documentary is some kind of genius, which is hardly the case.
Turning Panic Into Cash: Humans Cause Global Warming! ...or Maybe Not!
Any talk about climate change, especially the notion that humans cause global warming (and especially emotional reporting instead of fact-based), is terrific for ratings. And the politicians, tree huggers, booksellers, news networks, and big corporations are ALL guilty of using emotional tactics in place of demonstrable facts to manipulate our beliefs about global warming. It's essential to their bank accounts that global warming remain in the spotlight for many years to come.
It's the one thing both sides agree on: regardless of anything else, people need to be kept as scared as possible, as long as possible. Hysteria is great for everyone on both sides. Hysteria not only sells a ton of products, it keeps people coming back for more. It's solid gold.
Feature Video: An Inconvenient Truth
Feature Video: The Great Global Warming Swindle
The Claim: Human carbon dioxide pollution causes global warming
A) we are now in the hottest period in the history of our planet
B) global warming is caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
3) the global warming/CO2 relationship can be shown in charts going back hundreds of thousands of years
C) carbon dioxide pollution is caused by burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, etc.)
D) humans are therefore the cause of global warming
E) global warming causes floods, hurricanes, and famine
F) evidence of global warming includes shrinking ice caps and holes in the ozone layer
G) "Big Oil" and other polluters deny global warming
H) Approximately 2500 IPCC scientists agree to these facts
The Rebuttal: Carbon dioxide has little to do with global warming
A) this is certainly not the hottest period in Earth's history
B) global warming has essentially nothing to do with carbon dioxide
3) the global warming/CO2 charts show that warming occurs first and causes increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, the opposite of what we're told
C) 99% of all carbon dioxide is caused by decaying plants and ocean activity
D) human activity has pretty much no influence on global temperatures
E) cooler air, not warmer, causes increased floods and hurricanes
F) the ice caps are growing and shrinking like they always have, and the ozone layer is just fine
G) "Big Oil" is making a fortune from global warming hysteria, they love it
H) There were only about 1000 people on the IPCC panel, and many were lobbyists and politicians, not scientists
The raw data used to argue about the cause(s) of global warming is very small, with most of the so-called facts being derived, implied, and infered from interpretations of other information. There are many assumptions...
For instance, factual temperature records only exist since around 1860, when Farenheit invented the thermometer. Anything before that is guesswork. Sure, it may be educated and scientific guesswork, but pretending to be using factual raw measured data when using estimates isn't very scientific or honest.
Even today there are different ways to measure air temperature, including satellite imaging with visual sensors, weather balloons, and radar.
There are many things that affect the climate on Earth, each to varying degrees, and some more locally than globally. Carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, ozone depletion, deforestation, massive fires, solar radiation and flares, the wobbling of Earth's axis, ionospheric flux, and other things all contribute to the weather we experience. How much each contributes to overall climate change, either temporary or permanent, is the question.