Climate Change. Those two words are creating a lot of controversy: about the accuracy and consistency of the scientific data; about the origins and analysis of the data. While debate on any issue is often good, the consequences of our decisions getting this one right are astronomical.
If we err and accept that climate change is naturally occurring but has been accelerating because of the impact of human intervention since the 1800s, then the measures being proposed to offset this impact with severe reductions in carbon emissions will cost trillions of dollars to major economies.
If we err and believe that climate change will continue to have natural cycles – regardless of how much carbon and methane is pumped into the atmosphere by the increasing demands of an ever growing global population, then the environmental costs will become irreversible.
So, where is the data that can be deemed reliable and uncontroversial?
I saw a presentation months ago that looked back in time – about 650,000 years – using core ice samples from Antarctica. Al least the ice has been in one place for thousands of years, eliminating the question of consistency. And, if ice is like a tree ring, it is additive year after year so that each incremental unit being measured should be – within a small margin of error – equal and consistent. If all things are equal, then maybe this method will be a more reliable window into earth’s atmospheric history.
The following article from Scientific American (11/28/2005) provides the original data to this study. The core sample is nearly two miles long and is part of the European Project for Ice Coring of Antarctica (EPICA).
The scientists do add a final statement that again tries to explain what the core samples may also reveal:
“the rise in methane levels in the last 10,000 years – thought by some to be a result of human agriculture – could simply be the result of natural variability in the decomposition of plants in boreal forests and wetlands.”
Does this final statement merely add to the confusion? It might except that they also add:
“…but this cold, grey ice also makes clear that humans have steered the atmosphere into unusual territory.”