Friday, November 10, 2006

Global Warming: Fact Or Fiction?

Television viewers in Maine won’t be watching much coverage of global warming. The general manager of WVII and WFVX, the ABC and Fox affiliates in Bangor, has told his joint new staff that when “Bar Harbor is underwater, then we can do global warming stories.”

Michael Palmer was apparently upset over his station’s coverage of Al Gore’s movie on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.” In a memo to his staff, Palmer said he wanted no more reports on climate change placing “global warming stories in the same category as the killer African bee scare.”

This head in the sand attitude in Maine is in sharp contrast to environmental leaders in England who recently proposed a 50-year, $1.2 billion plan to combat global warming. “We are talking sizeable expenditure in which we have no choice because climate change is happening and we have to defend ourselves,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with the proposal. “We are heading towards catastrophic tipping points in our climate unless we act," Blair wrote in an article for the London Sun newspaper. "Creating cleaner energy whilst using less has to be the key."

Using less, recycling more and planning for changes in the environment seems like a logical approach to the issue of climate change. But a German scientist has created quite a stir with a controversial plan for combating global warming.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, a researcher at the Max Plank Institute for Chemistry, says an “escape route” is necessary before global warming reaches irreversible levels. Writing in the August issue of Climate Change, Crutzen suggests that sulfur particles be injected into the upper atmosphere. He believes the particles would reflect sunlight and heat into space cooling the Earth.

Crutzen came up with his idea after studying the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. When the Philippines volcano blew its top thousands of tons of sulfate aerosols were emitted into the atmosphere. For the next year, global temperatures dropped by average of 0.5 degrees Centigrade around the world.

Crutzen says the sulfate particles act as tiny mirrors that deflect sunlight away from the Earth’s surface. He believes that a relatively small amount of sulfur released into the stratosphere (8 to 30 miles high) could have a similar effect as Mt. Pinatubo.

In his essay, Crutzen says the particles could be distributed by high-altitude balloons or by heavy-artillery shells, either of which would scatter the sulfur throughout the atmosphere. The cost of his idea: $25 to $50 billion.

As you might expect, Crutzen’s idea to fool with Mother Nature has been met with some skepticism. Some critics worry about the side effects of his proposal, wondering what changes in weather patterns (beyond the slight cooling of temperatures) the world might have to endure. Crutzen admits that his geo-engineering experiment could lead to the elimination of the ozone and a whitening of the sky.

And, by the way, not all scientists agree that Global Warming is even occurring. Hurricane guru Dr. William Gray, for example, has abandoned work on hurricane predictions and now spends his time trying to prove that Global Warming is a myth.

Gray and other scientists question the reliability of the computer modeling on which future assessments of the Earth’s climate are made. This modeling, critics say, has difficulty simulating important climate processes and should be treated with caution. After all, they argue, if a computer model has a tough time predicting tomorrow’s weather why should it be trusted to accurately simulate the Earth’s environment 50 years from now.

Climate change remains a controversial and contentious issue that will continue to challenge scientists and governments. Still, waiting to do something until “Bar Harbor is underwater” is obviously the wrong course of action.

Posted at 8:10 AM