OPEN QUESTIONS AND OVERLOOKED REALITIES
REALITIES AND UNCERTAINTIES OF GLOBAL WARMING
Despite contentiousness often surrounding the global-warming debate, scientific
consensus is that the planet is warming, thanks to data from numerous thermometer
readings and satellite records.
highly publicized worries about melting ice caps, increasing hurricane activity,
and rising sea levels, one wonders how much the planet has warmed. When asked
how much the planet warmed during the twentieth century, a plurality (28 percent)
of respondents correctly answered that global average temperatures increased
by about 1 degree Fahrenheit.
How concerned should we be about this increase? Evidence suggests that climate
and temperatures greatly fluctuated for thousands of years prior to the Industrial
Age; known causes include alterations in the earths orbit, changes in
the suns intensity, and volcanic eruptions. Scientists believe that changes
in the earths orbit, which occur over periods of thousands of years, are
the most significant cause of ice ages. Changes within the sun affect the intensity
of the sunlight that warms the earth; and volcanoes emit carbon dioxide and
aerosols into the atmosphere when they erupt.
Recent evidence has suggested that human activity contributes to climate change
as well, through heat-trapping gas emissions and through pollution from aerosols
and soot particles. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas,
can cause warming and aerosol emissions can cause short-term cooling by blocking
SHOULD WE RECYCLE CARBONOR BURY IT?
University of Nebraska professor Craig S. Marxsen calculates that
appropriately constructed land-fills could capture roughly
2 billion tons of carbon annually, right now, and virtually stop
global warming cold in its tracks.
About two-thirds of what we put in landfills is carbon based. And
buried in a modern landfill, the carbon goes
doesnt rot. The landfills are well compacted, and their contents
stay dry. They are not composters; they are mummifiers.
By mummifying carbon, we simply complete the carbon cycle. For
a society that is consuming 70 quadrillion BTU of fossil-fuel energy
every year, there is only one honest way of recycling
carbon wastes, and that is to put them back where most of the carbon
we use came from, deep underground.
The notion that there is no room down there is absurd.
If we take old carbon out of the ground, we can put new carbon back
With rare exceptions, recycling is the worst possible option.
Composting food wastes and recycling newspapers are the last thing
we should want to do: Both interrupt the return of carbon to the
Peter Huber, Hard Green, pp. 11415
Two points regarding global warming are often overlooked. First, accounts of
climate change convey a sense of certitude that is probably unjustified. Scientists
are all but unanimouson the inevitability of global coolingin 1975,
Peter Huber notes. And almost unanimous againon the inevitability
of global warmingin 1992.
Yet the cooling/warming flip is quite
typical of the business. Second, the best
solutions to global warming may not be the ones we expect. Recycling,
for instance, may do far less to counter global warming than simply putting
garbage in landfills (see sidebar).
Measuring the earths average surface temperature over the course of a
century is not easy. Measurements vary depending on where and when they are
taken. Gauging average temperatures for the entire planet over one year requires
averaging temperatures recorded at many points. Data must be accrued from thousands
of thermometers at land stations, as well as on ships, in addition to more recentand
more accuratesatellite records.