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Background on the Global Warming Debate

As you may or may not know one of the more controversial topics in the world today is
global warming.

Some people believe that global warming is a serious threat to our society,
economically, socially, politically, and action must be taken immediately to try to
alleviate it's effects.

Others believe global warming to be a myth and any actions taken in

response to global warming will be harmful to the economy and therefore society
as a whole.

These are the extreme viewpoints. There are many who believe somewhere in
the middle when it comes to global warming issues (such as, it's happening, but
it is not a threat, or it can lead to minor problems, so let's find a way to adjust),
and equally many who simply do not have an opinion.

This week, part one of the Global Warming Debate, we will present the facts about
global warming, the basic arguments presented by both sides, and the political climate
with regards to global warming. You will be responsible for interpreting various
viewpoints on an issue, and formulating your own opinion based on the facts, and the
quality of the reasoning. It is perfectly possible for two people to look at the same facts,
and hear the same arguments, and come to different conclusions about what needs to be

So what is the problem?

The problem is that the global average temperature has been rising in recent decades.
NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies has a page showing these changes of the
global average temperature, as well as changes locations and in different seasons.
The 2000 year temperature trend also shows the warmer temperatures this
century. Many people believe this temperature change is associate with increases in
carbon dioxide. This is because of the greenhouse effect.
Some have criticized the validity of the data showing an increase in global mean
temperature because satellite data has shown the opposite trend. However, this opposite
trend is focused mainly on the temperatures in the upper atmosphere, whereas the
surface temperature trends shown above are only for the surface.
The next questions involve the actual relationship betweengreenhouse gases and
temperature increases, as well as whether or not us humans are actually causing the
greenhouse gases to increase.

Some believe that climates will change significantly as a result of global warming. Look
at a few examples in the Midwest, according to this link, Wisconsin summers in 2095
will be the equivalent of Arkansas summer now. This could lead to adverse conditions
for certain species of plants and animals, disrupting the food supply, or in other cases,
increase the length of the growing season, adding to the food supply. Many also believe
that global warming will lead to more disease being spread from the tropics, sea level
rise as a result of melting polar ice caps, more hurricanes, and fires. See early warning

Feedback Loops
There are many theories on Global Warming, some of which involve the ideas of
feedback loops.

A positive feedback loop is one that amplifies changes.

An example of this the world's population. With a fixed birth rate, the
population of the globe will continue to grow (until checked). Large
populations cause large numbers of births and large numbers of births
result in larger population. The change gets amplified each step. These
feedback loops are dangerous.

A negative feedback loop is one that tend to mitigate a change.

An example of this is homeostasis, the maintenance of body temperature.
As a person's body gets too hot, (s)he begins to sweat in an attempt to
lower the temperature. If their body is too cool,(s)he will begin to shiver in
an attempt to increase the temperature.

Global warming is likely to be amplified by a few key positive feedback loops...

Ice and Snow As the earth warms, the levels of ice and snow decrease, this
decreases the surface albedo, allowing for an increase in absorbed solar radiation
at Earth's surface. This leads to more warming and less ice and snow cover.

Water Vapor As the earth warms, so does the atmosphere, this increases the
amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold. Warmer temperatures mean
more evaporation, leading to a higher amount of water vapor, the most powerful
greenhouse gas in existence, and consequentially even higher temperatures.

Three effects are poorly understood...

1. Changes in cloud cover could dampen the effects, especially if they are low
clouds. Most climate models forecast that this will be the phenomenon that
eventually brings the earth back to equilibrium.

2. Aerosols may or may not counteract global warming. Some studies have shown
aerosols to block out a significant amount of incoming solar radiation, others
have not.

3. The ocean circulation may change leading to varying effects in different parts of
the world. Although "The Day After Tomorrow" is not a plausible scenario, many

scientists believe that although the earth will warm as a whole, some regions,
especially western Europe, may cool as a result of weaker ocean circulation.
These effects make global warming scenarios very different.

Political Landscape
The political landscape is generally focused on whether or not action, such as the Kyoto
Protocol, is necessary. The Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997, by almost all
industrialized countries. It sets targets on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The
key countries that did not sign are Australia and the United States of America. The key
developing nations not involved in the KP are China and India. The main argument
against the KP is that it will cost too much economically.
Facts on the Kyoto Protocol
What about the United States?
The climate change activities currently underway at Federal agencies are a result of U.S.
commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992
by the Bush Administration and ratified that year by the Senate. The Framework
Convention entered into force in 1994.
Facts on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
The debate mainly pits environmentalists against economists.

A majority of environmentalists and scientists believe global warming is

occurring and is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Environmentalists say that
other species, even the dinosaurs, could have died off in the past as a result of
climate change, and we could suffer the same fate.
Read an article from this perspective

A majority of economists and businesspeople, more concerned with the economy,

do not see global warming as an issue. Economists often point to previous claims
by scientists that turned out to be untrue or contradictory to the current
Read an article from this perspective

The Global Warming Debate:

Points made by Supporters

Rise in CO2 and other Greenhouse gases

are anthropogenic.

Historical Temperature records show an

increase of 0.4-0.8C in the last 100 years.

This is an unusually warm period for the

last 1000 years.

CO2 is a first order forcing of Climate


There will be longterm ramifications, the

effects of global warming will be felt
centuries in the future.

Climate models can only reproduce the

current trends if they use Greenhouse gas
forcing, these models show that there will
be warming and a rise of sea level.

IPCC report summerises the state of

Climate Science.

Points made by Opponents

IPCC draws conclusions from Climate

models with acknowledged weakness in
cloud physics schemes.

There is a difference between correlation

and causation. Just because the
temperature were observed to rise around
the start of the Industrial Revolution does
not mean the Industrial Rev. caused the
temperatures to increase.

Earth's climate has been both colder and

warmer than today, and these periods are
not explained by mechanisims that involve
human influences.

Climate Science can not make a definative

prediction yet, the computer climate
models are still evolving to include all the
feedback mechanisms.

Global temperatures are directly correlated

with solar (sunspot) activity.