The on-going discussion, debate or maybe better termed as “controversy” continues to rage among scientific professionals, politicians and lay-people who are concerned about the environment, their future and maybe even more importantly, the future of their children. The future is indeed where the concern is focused, but in some cases though, it doesn’t seem to be our children that those sounding the alarm are concerned with. Maybe in some cases, it is the level of concern that is expressed or maybe how it is expressed and for what reasons. Regardless, as the old saying about not “killing the messenger” goes, to ignore the facts concerning what we do indeed know about global climate change will become the most costly oversight in the history of mankind. Mark Lynas (2008), in his book entitled, Six Degrees, Our Future on a Hotter Planet, said this well when he stated,
Yes, the impacts presented are terrifying-but they are also, in the main, still avoidable. Getting depressed about the situation now is like sitting inert in your living room and watching the kitchen catch fire and then getting more and more miserable as the fire spreads throughout the house-rather than grabbing an extinguisher and dousing the flames. (p.17)
The issue of climate change and the parallel matter of global warming has been a burning issue now for several years. It seems that another approach to the evidence may be in order.
There is indeed empirical evidence available to the spectrum of reviewers and understandable from one end to the other. Lynas openly indicates that he recognizes that there is a difference between generalized theories dealing with “global warming” and climate change.” (Lynas, 2008, p.19) However, much like his analogy of sitting in the living room and becoming depressed as one watches their house burn down, perhaps the issues have become far to interlaced with emotion and the discussions have become too heated to allow for the smoke to clear and the source of the fire to be clearly discernible. Whether global warming is a fact, theory hypothesis or a fantasy is up for debate by many in the arena. However, it can be clearly demonstrated that it is not a “fantasy.” In addition, all other scientific terms should become non-relevant and yield to what appears to be a stronger and better approach for identifying and then mitigating the results. That term is “evidence.” While it remains uncertain with respect to outcomes based on modeling and scientific speculation, one thing is certain. That is the fact that there is evidence that historical “givens” which have been accepted as “substrate” to human existence are changing. So what we can conclude is that the math was somehow wrong or a variation in our calculations has presented itself and it must be addressed if we are going to solve the problem.
There is not even close to sufficient space or time to adequately address this most important issue. That being a given, it might be helpful to address the math problem analogized above as human experience and the apparent perceived need by well off societies to continue to consume more and more resources with no thought of the resulting deficits.
In terms of climate change, Lynas (2008) notes a most important analogy concerning deficit spending. He stated,
In a masterstroke of creative accounting, conventional economic theory therefore counts the deletion of resources as an accumulation of wealth. This logic is analogous to individual spending all of the money in their current account and counting it as income-an absurdity, but one that underpins our entire economy.
Bearing this societal dysfunction in mind, it is perhaps rather unfair to blame individuals that are not facing up to climate change and the whole weight of economy and society effectively prevents them from doing so. (p.290)
It seems that it would be logical to government and private sector people who live in the free world, who claim to be educated and position themselves as the “moral compass” for the world, that barring all assistance from science, common sense might take over allowing one to realize that there is a reaction for every action. But then, that too is a notion supported by basic physics. The point being that with a little common sense and less emotion interference, the message most important to the scientific community would make its way to the ears, hearts and minds of those who are responsible for reacting to the problem.
While the science behind the evidence may or may not be sound, there are some concerns that Mark Lynas brings to bear regarding the global rise of temperatures. He illustrates that we know beyond a shadow of doubt that the polar ice caps are melting. This has been documented numerous times and a trend is present. In addition, Greenland is also experiencing significant melting. One degree of Change accounts for some very difficult situations, especially as it relates to rain forests. Species of both plants and animals will be lost. Two degrees intensifies these affects significantly and three degrees will result in many losses and changes exponentially creating a kind of centrifugal effect as one issue caused by warming force multiplies another or in turn perpetuates on itself. While there is not time to go into sufficient detail with respect to issues caused by theorized greenhouse gases and their resulting warming affects around the globe, it could be said that in each one degree of warming there will be significant factors that result with significant changes in global conditions. The western United States for instance will most likely have increasing levels of drought and the deserts as they are today will seem green and productive in comparison to the parched and scorched Earth affects that will come should warming increase to four, five then six degrees. Discussion of what will or could happen such as devastating hurricanes, tornadoes and floods is important. However, it is the position of this reaction that the approaches to getting this important information to those that need to understand it and then react to it is as important as the issues of climate change themselves. Without this message being properly heard and digested by politicians and those who lead, then the affects of climate change are inevitable.
Lynas does not really deal in detail with the issues of human conflict and what may arise at each increment along this global temperature rise. He skates over the human interaction components of what this scenario means other than incrementally stating throughout the book that people will wander looking to solve their problems and find themselves effectively displaced and in most cases refugees. (Lynas, 2008, pp.100-102, 180) In reality, at one degree of temperature rise, climate conditions will begin to significantly affect food supplies and production. It is highly likely that conflict that will arise over these issues will likely add to and even exacerbate the issues associated with global warming.
Accepting the possible outcomes associated with one, two, three degrees and beyond is not as difficult as getting past the obvious bias interjected into the study and assumptions taken without real or solid scientific proof or support. An example of this thinking is found when Lynas (2008) stated,
Given the pressure that nature is already under from human activities, climate change could not have come at a worse time. Already-independently from any change in the world’s climate-we are living through a biologist’s term the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth (the fifth was the extinction of the dinosaurs and half of all other life Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary). Due to combined human pressures from habitat loss, hunting, pollution, resource use, and the introduction of invasive species into new areas, natural species are already becoming extinct at a rate a hundred to 1000 times greater than the normal background rate of loss over evolutionary time. (p.114)
While this statement seems to have a basis of logic, there are numerous flaws that lend themselves to the listener’s or reader’s distrust. Staying with this example, there is no evidence that hunting has contributed to habitat loss or that it would be an issue to exacerbate the effects global warming. To the contrary, if one were to spend a little time, it is far more likely that a rational person would conclude from available evidence that hunting has been regulated in every state in the United States and that conservation of most species has been delicately considered when setting quotas, geospatial boundaries and annual harvest regulations. Sadly, hunters and conservationist could potentially be one of the strongest advocates for the basis of the book if the focus were to remain on global warming and/or climate change. Additionally, to state that a matter is increasing at a rate of 100 to 1000 times greater (Lynas, 2008, p.114) or to make these kind of broad brush stroke remarks causes the possible champion of the cause to take a second look at the data and unfortunately realize that there seem to be numerous agendas, to include religious slurs riddled throughout the literature. There are numerous examples of this kind of ethnocentric behavior indicated throughout the literature.
Unfortunately, there is an air of hostility that permeates the work by Mark Lynas. (2008) This bias will certainly have a negative impact on the very important message that he has intended to portray. There are numerous remarks throughout the work that lay down fire on the rich, Christians, those who believe in creation versus evolution, Westerners, etc. By comparison, this kind of worldview lends itself to putting oneself in a jar and fastening down the lid. Additionally, it seems that perhaps the obvious evolutionary bias should be supported by stating that the “rich countries” (Lynas, 2008, p.181) should not have provided for those in need and should not have spent literally traceable billions and billions of dollars to help feed, clothe and care for many of the millions around the globe in need. Perhaps, rather, these apparently rich countries should have allowed natural selection to take its course and then the issues of hunger, disease and the plethora of other human related problems would have worked themselves out and only become available through Carbon-14 analysis of future generations.
These statements are facetious and intended to illustrate the loss of focus on what otherwise should be reckoned as a most important work and a matter for serious and timely discussion. In addition, the evidence that is available in the writing of Mr. Lynas could be used to bring together persons of differing beliefs and cultures based on what is known and not on what should be according to “bearded hippie environmentalists.” (Lynas, 2008, p.301) While the information found even in this one paragraph where the author paints such a poor picture of himself and others engaged in this important battle, the information itself is most agreeable and very much worth the consideration of the reader.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Lynas (2008) paints a very compelling and disastrous picture of the future. He provides significant data to indicate the Earth’s polar caps, numerous glaciers, Greenland and many areas cooled by ice that he claims has been in place for millennia are melting. This is a fact that can be documented. Many of his conclusive remarks concerning cause and effect are disturbing and should be immediate topic for discussion, debate and solution generation. This paper as a reaction finds and takes issue with the problematic method of approach rather than the data behind it. It is safe to say that there is conclusive evidence available to all scientists and all involved in the debate as to current Earth trends and what will happen if the human species does not act in time.
Much of the data and conclusive remarks found in this book and apparently most of the literature is based on modeling. Lynas (2008) stated,
But models are a useful tool and give a valuable insight into the likely future conditions on this plan-something humanity has never had access to before. Unlike the oracles consulted by the ancients, models offer a way of divining the future based not on the miraculous visions of some unseen prophetess upon observable physical data. (p.129)
Lynas (2008) is correct, in that, modeling is a phenomenon that has risen in use and popularity as a result of computing and super-computing. To his credit, he addresses a cliché issue of “garbage in-garbage out” that should be argued by those opposing the modeling approach. (Lynas, 2008, p.128) However, simply because he addressed it, does not in itself make the assumption correct. The cliché unfortunately is true. In this case and probably in many cases, there are times when the “law” that is used as a given may or may not be fully correct and deviation no matter how slight can influence or even corrupt the entire data pool.
Modeling is used in many professions these days. Weather is certainly one use and meteorologists and climatologists have done remarkable things with their ability to forecast. Most however would readily admit that there is as much art involved with understanding the data as there is empirical data itself. Thus, it is interesting and revealing that the author chose the word “divining” (also considered a cultural art in historical rural communities) rather than something much more definitive or precise. While modeling has worked well with respect to climate models, it has also been very useful for combat related simulations and determining various security vulnerability scenarios. Modeling is in use by nearly every professional community that deals with dynamic and causal relationships related to networked or interrelated data. One issue that is consistent across the board of predictive analysis is that any level of micro data can skew the entire model, going back to the old English adage of the “Horse and the Nail.” There are many instances in all modeling scenarios where the parameters set concerning a specific entity or process may be skewed because of its own data settings. In contrast, results can also vary if those settings are offset by processes that work themselves out in the real world such as a person’s dexterity, strength, stamina or resilience or an environmental issue such as wind current, velocity, prevailing winds or any multitude of contributing factors.
The reason for concluding with a brief discussion on modeling is to bring light to the issue that between the flawed reality of models and the unfortunate reality of emotional blowback, the very real issue of global warming and climate change appears to have been lost in the smoke of competing interests. A strong recommendation to deescalate the engagement is in order. Recommendations to step back and take a look at the available strong empirical data are advised. Because there is real physical evidence such as the poles melting and ice melt on all of the major peaks around the globe, studies should be changed in scope to demonstrate a more unbiased and pragmatic approach. Efforts to unify groups who while disagreeing on terms of beliefs and agendas could all agree that efforts must be made with respect to carbon and greenhouse emissions for the common good. Many who would listen to the affects of deforestation could and should be brought to the table by helping them to visually work their way along the same visual paths that scientists have, just by other routes. In the end, evidence speaks. To both the American and British minds, which are critical to this debate, evidence has already been embraced as a cultural way to determining the truth and weight of matters. In essence, this issue is a justice issue. It is equally a matter of conscience. The matter’s importance is such that scientists must back away from methods that have given them comfort, some for less than the last forty years or so, and make the same uncomfortable concessions they are “asking,” not “requiring” of everyone on the planet. This matter of global climate change is a very serious matter and must be tackled by a united team called – Humanity.
Lynas, M. (2008). Six degrees: our future on a hotter planet. Washington, D.C: U.S.
© 2012 David Henderman, CPP, OSINetwork (Reprint is permissible with credit and notice to source via email@example.com)