I’ve used some of the points below as comments a couple of times, but it looks like I’m going to have to actually write a post about the whole thing. There seems to have been a lot of debate in some circles recently about flaws that have appeared in worldwide climate change research. I say “some circles” because it apparently includes Gather and probably Fox News, but it’s hardly touched us here in Canada nor in most of the academic world that I’m aware of. But it’s causing concern, so it is necessary to address.
The fact is, climate change research has been going on for decades and is done by many countries, involving literally thousands of scientists in various fields. I was one of them when I studied at Penn State, under Dr. Brent Yarnal. My masters research was an exploration of how an Eastern European country (Bulgaria) in economic/political transition could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving industrial and economic efficiency. That would be good for the economy and good for the environment, yes? As part of that research I did a lot of background into the causes, mechanisms and modeling involved with climate change.
I got nothing out of this research other than my education. Well, and it was interesting. I no longer have any “vested interest”; I’m a GIS programmer for the government of Ontario. I get no profit from being a “global warming scare-monger”. I chose not to have any kids partially because I saw the way that the world was heading and did not want to subject them to that. (I can hear you all laughing: but I did. It was a very 70s perspective, but I held to it, and I can see I made the right choice.) That does not mean I don’t worry about the future; I have lots of friends with kids who I do worry about.
There have recently been a number of “climate-gates” (The Guardian, 2010) that have made the rounds in the critical press; researchers recorded or admitting making mistakes (purposeful or otherwise) that have been used to raise doubts on climate change research. Though much of this is true, a lot of what I read was just a misunderstanding of climate change predictions. They are not exact, which is why you will always hear about an “optimistic”, “probable” and “pessimistic” scenarios. The climate is too complex an overall system for an exact prediction. Expecting precise results will lead to misconceptions.
Apparently some of these people have even falsified their research data (The Guardian, 2010; Fox News, 2010). Why would that be? Some guess it’s the money (they obviously haven’t seen a researcher’s salary). My theory would be at least as valid since I actually know people like this: I would guess they wanted their research so show some change so that something would actually be done about greenhouse gas production. They didn’t think that when they got caught, it would be used to put us even further behind. That being said, even twenty such deceptions out of thousands of studies is what statisticians deem “insignificant”.
On the other hand, there have also been stories recently of the Canadian research vessel “Amundsen”, which has spent full years in the waters of the Far North, free and navigating. It is the “first research icebreaker in the world to have undertaken two over-wintering expeditions in the Arctic” (U Laval, 2010). I’m not sure if people realize the significance of this. You know the Far North: it includes the north pole, within the Arctic Circle. That’s where Santa lives. Where polar bears frolic. We think of it as pretty solid, effectively land-like. In reality, though, the North Pole is nothing but one huge ice cube floating on the arctic ocean. Huge is right: hundreds of feet thick. There is no land: look at a globe. This mass of ice is attached to islands in northern Canada and Russia. It’s been there for thousands of years. And receding recently. Look at the graph: it’s half as big as it once was. Even less. For the first time, the Amundsen was able to stay free, north of the arctic circle, during winter.
Many of us know that in 2007 the ice receded significantly, and then many skeptics reported that it came back in 2008 & 2009. This was used to illustrate the “cyclic” (YouTube/greensman, 2009) nature of the problem. Unfortunately, the reforming ice was not nearly as thick nor as strong as the old stuff had been. Would you expect it to be? When the Amundsen explored what was supposed to be strong, new ice, they found it was “full of holes, like Swiss cheese” (Time, 2010).
They did all kinds of experiments, studying the flora and fauna; they found “ecosystems in peril” (Digital Journal, 2010). Not that many of the skeptics will be concerned. They’re too busy enjoying the warmer winter months and turning the air conditioning up in the summer. I called this “arrogant” in one of my comments and I stick by it: enjoying such paltry pleasures while entire cultures (ie. the Inuit & the Eskimo) are melting into the sea. We’ve wreaked havoc on the Native cultures once in the past, through our greed and uncaring attitude: are we going to do it again? Did the recent “apology to Native Americans” (NPR, 2009) mean anything at all?
One of the visitors to the Amundsen, 17-year old Caitlyn Baikie of Nain, Labrador, will be traveling across Canada to speak about what she saw on the ship. Living where she does, she is used to arctic ice, but was surprised by what she saw on the ship. The arctic ice cap is breaking up. “I want to tell them… how the choices they make out there will affect our lifestyle sometimes more than it would theirs,” said Baikie. (The Labradorian, 2010). Particularly in the U.S., as well as Southern Canada: the effect on our lives might be… irritating. But up north it’s obliterating.
As I’ve said before, I only hope that I’m wrong. Really. I have nothing to lose. I would love to wake up and see evidence that the world isn’t getting warmer or we’re not responsible. Canadians are good at apologies. But I have yet to see anything that points me in that direction, and the weight of the current evidence lies totally on the side of anthropogenic climate change. The worst part of that, of course, is that it’s only getting worse: and that we are truly responsible for the changes we’re inflicting on our world.
This post was originally published on Gather.com, and is reproduced here (primarily to try to keep my writing in one spot).