May 112010

Many prominent scientists and engineers claim there is no such thing as man-made global warming. One engineer, living in Canada, goes so far as to say human responsibility for global warming is a “stunning whitewash of reality”. On the other hand, environmentalists like Al Gore and Dr David Suzuki claim the very opposite.

Faced with these conflicting views, I did a little research of my own. I found that belief in man-made global warming is much like belief in god – there is lots of evidence but no absolute proof, and we will not know for sure until we are dead.

The skeptics claim that the human contribution to environmental pollution is negligible; nature generates far more greenhouse gases than human activity. They question the science behind climate change because different computer simulation models produce different results. They point out that ice ages have occurred in the past even when there was no industrial activity.

The supporters of man-made global warming, on the other hand, point out that the recent increase in levels of carbon dioxide is far greater in the last couple of hundred years than at any time before, and there has been a dramatic increase in global temperatures during this time. This cannot be just a coincidence.

The supporters also point out that climate change models can reproduce the observed temperature trends with reasonable accuracy only when the effects of greenhouse gases are included in the computations. Different climate change models do produce different results, but this is generally true of all computer simulations. The supporters also point out that there is almost unanimous consensus amongst climatologists about man-made global warming.

I found that belief in global warming varies from region to region. Most of the world believes in it, but many North America “think tanks” totally deny man-made global warning. There are also “think tanks” that state that even if global warming exists, the most cost effective approach is to do nothing about it right now and simply adapt, as future technologies will be more cost efficient. This is called the adaptive model of global warming. Further investigation reveals that many of these “think tanks” are funded by big businesses including oil companies that have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

To me the “do-nothing” approach appears to be the most inappropriate. Ignoring problems does not, in general, solve them, and delayed action is inevitably much more expensive than tackling issues early on. The “do-nothing” viewpoint helps only large corporations to delay the inevitable a little longer. This is similar to the disinformation campaign used by tobacco companies a few decades ago.

Does the greenhouse effect really exist? To find out, I observed the outside temperature conditions during a recent flight to New Delhi, India. This city is known for its high air pollution levels.

As the airplane lost altitude during its descent, the outside air temperature increased from minus 60 deg.C at cruising altitude, to plus 32 deg.C at a height of about 3000 feet above the airport. Then, surprisingly, the temperature started dropping again, until we touched down at the airport with an outside temperature of 29 deg.C.

Hence, the temperature was highest about 3000 feet above ground level, creating a temperature inversion layer. This was, indeed, the greenhouse effect occurring in a localized area, due to air pollution. No matter what the deniers may say, to me this is clear and simple proof that pollutants generated by human activity do indeed cause warming. And, unless we take immediate action, what happens in a few polluted cities today may become the blue -print for the future of the entire planet.

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Author: Niraj Chandra
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Niraj Chandra

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