Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why are we so worried about global warming? (MNA Jan. 07)

Associate Editor

It seems like every few years when I was a kid, we had a major snowstorm, i.e. “the blizzard of ‘76!” when the Detroit area would be paralyzed with snow, and we would miss multiple days in a row from school.
We would invariably have a yearly ice storm, too, which froze the roads, downed power lines, and made it impossible for my parents to drive to work, or for the school bus to make it down our street. One year my sister and I ice skated on our frozen street for two days after one particular storm.
Most of the time we had a white Christmas, too — allowing us to try out our new sleds and cross country skiis on Christmas Day in the state park by our home.
So, here we are — fast-forward to the 21st century — in the beginning of January with spring like temperatures; and I’m wondering what happened.
Some say global warming, resulting from factors such as the greenhouse effect, and El Niño have made their mark on the current meteorological situation. A lot of scientists, politicians, and media types, as well as members the general public, are very concerned.
The greenhouse effect actually is a bit player in global climate (although without it’s benefits the average temperature of the Earth would be minus 18 degrees celsius, or four degrees farenheit). Human’s did not cause the greenhouse effect, but critics maintain that human additions to atmospheric greenhouse gases may cause global temperatures to rise too much.
Generally understood, but rarely publicized, is the fact that 95 percent of the greenhouse effect is due solely to natural water vapor. Of the remaining five percent, only 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of the greenhouse effect (depending on whose numbers you use) is due to emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from human sources.
The other suspect in the warming game, El Niño, is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific, which has important consequences for weather around the globe.
The impacts of El Niño upon climate in temperate latitudes show up most clearly during wintertime. For example, most El Niño winters are mild over western Canada and parts of the northern United States, and wet over the southern United States from Texas to Florida. El Niño affects temperate climates in other seasons as well.
So, if the warming we are experiencing is mostly a result of natural factors, why do we humans keep beating ourselves up about it?
I agree that the citizens of this planet should work to slow the growth of emissions which contribute to the greenhouse effect, try to strengthen science, technology and institutions in order to protect the global environment, and enhance international cooperation in these efforts.
Don’t get me wrong.
What some people don’t realize, however, is that massive global climate change has been going on here on planet earth for millions of years. There were ice ages and warming trends back when humans weren’t even burning fossil fuels.
There is a plus side to all of this warmer weather that we might be forgetting about.
Milder winters aren’t such a bad thing. When I lived in California, I enjoyed being able to engage in outdoor activities year round. It was nice not to have to shovel snow, scrape ice off of my windshield, and pay those high winter heating bills.
Sure, it isn’t so great if you enjoy snowmobiling or skiing, but there are still places to go if those types of outdoor winter sports are your thing.
How many of us here in northern Michigan would really be all that sad if we could go to the beach year round? Or wear our shorts in December? Or get a suntan in February?
So I say, relax, all you scientists. Take it easy, Al Gore.
Lets protect the environment, do our best to save those species which are endangered as a result of the warming process, and embrace the global climate change. We can’t stop it, so why let it keep us up at night?
I, for one, would enjoy having to put on sunblock to golf in January at Manistee National.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
Cean Burgeson can be reached before the dawning of the next ice age at

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