Thinking Globally

2008-01-06

I just sent the following letter to the editor of my favorite local paper, the Washington Park Profile, where of late the front pages have been filled not with local news but with stories about climate change.

To the Editor:

Since when did our beloved Wash Park Profile become the Global Climate Profile? We turn to your pages for your inimitable insights into the affairs of south Denver, not your environmental exhortations regarding the climate change "crisis".

Yes, there are scare quotes around the last word in that sentence. Although the inaugural article in your climate series declared the scientific questions answered for good, I urge you to keep one eye on the work of real climatologists (not politicians and activists). After all, science is not a matter of counting noses, and scientific conclusions are never quite final, especially in so young a science as climatology.

We know the earth has been warming since 1860 or so, but why? Our little planet has been both much warmer in the past (forests in Greenland, cold-blooded dinosaurs in Wyoming and points north) and much colder (mile-high glaciers formed Long Island, the Thames River froze solid many winters in a row). Clearly, human industrial activity didn't cause previous warm periods, nor did a lack thereof cause previous cold periods. Something else must be going on.

There is no lack of theories. Asteroid impacts, volcanic explosions, and solar activity may all play a part. In particular, the sun has a massive effect on our climate: cyclic changes in solar output and the solar wind (seemingly triggered by gravitational interactions with the planets) cause changes in the amount of light and cosmic rays received by the earth's atmosphere and surface, thus affecting cloud formation, precipitation, glacier formation, air and water temperatures, etc.

Working to truly understand the scientific causes behind climate climate does not imply apathy regarding the environment. At the same time that I'm reading up on climatology, I take Denver's marvelous light rail system to work every day, and last year I drove my car a grand total of 2404 miles. Even if it turns out that human beings have little effect on the broader climate compared to the forces of nature itself, it would still be a good thing to cut the waste out of our activities and reduce our dependence on relatively dirty energy sources like coal and oil.

By all means act locally. Just don't forget that thinking globally requires you to think.

Peter Saint-Andre, University Park, Denver


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal