A letter from a reader about A polarizing approach to global warming
In a letter in the April 4 issue, S. Fred Singer *48 asserted: "The crucial issue is to establish the main cause of current warming: Is it natural or human caused?" I want to assert in reply that this view is profoundly misguided. The procedure of determining cause requires proof – which for the dynamics of complex non-linear systems is virtually impossible. Professor Singer's approach to the problem simply polarizes attention between two extreme positions – that the human species and most particularly the culture of market capitalism are directly responsible for global warming, which threatens the lives of billions of individuals plus many of the species that make up our biosphere – vs. – there is no proof that human activities are causing global warming, and claims to that effect are being proposed by unscientific scaremongers often hiding the agendas of left-leaning anti-capitalists. As usual in such arguments, the truth lies somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.
Whatever the actual attribution of responsibility, the following statements are almost certainly undeniable to anyone claiming intellectual honesty.
1) The ambient temperature of the Earth's atmosphere is rising.
2) This global warming and the related changes to the world's meteorological system will significantly impair the ecosystems and biosphere upon which human existence depends.
3) Some human activities contribute to this global warming.
4) Slowing down the process of global warming will – whatever its actual causes – provide more time to develop strategies to cope with its consequences.
5) The obvious way to slow down the process of global warming is to reduce human contributions to the process.
6) The institutions of the world need to develop a scientific consensus to determine the full repertoire of human policies that can best reduce our contribution.
Therefore, the crucial issue is: to determine which human activities are contributing to the empirically obvious transitions taking place in the Earth's environment. It might also be emphasized that complex non-linear systems are often extremely sensitive to small changes in crucial variables, so that even a modest reduction in our contribution may be capable of producing significant changes in the way our climate and biosphere will evolve in the future.
And whatever the outcomes of the policies eventually decided upon, at least future generations will know that our generation attempted to do its best – and that we didn't simply leave it for them to cope with the inevitable disasters that almost certainly will follow from our doing nothing.
NORTON JACOBI '55
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