The following post was printed (in nearly the same form as below) as a Letter to Editor in The Daily Gazette on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
The members of Schenectady Torch Club got a sober reminder last Thursday night (March 8, 2012) about the precarious nature of the earth’s climate from Dr. Ryan Torn of the University at Albany, SUNY. Dr. Torn, an atmospheric scientist, carefully explained the various forces that determine the earth’s climate. He clarified the causes of dominant air and ocean currents, their variability from season to season and around the globe, and the fact that small changes in these forces can make a large difference in weather patterns. Dr. Torn emphasized the science of what we know about these forces and how they affect the overall budget of energy the earth receives from the sun.
It became clear that the greenhouse gases (such as CO2 and hydrocarbons such as methane) being released into the atmosphere starting with the industrial age are helping trap some of the heat that would have escaped to space. However, the increase in the earth’s average surface temperature accounts only for a fraction of this heat. The rest of the heat is being trapped in the oceans and are released only very slowly. Thus, if human beings stopped today to release any more greenhouse gases, the earth’s average surface temperature would continue to increase for many more years.
Despite these established facts which are accepted by over 95% of scientists, forces in our culture keep us from making any reasonable progress to address this challenge. For one of the most advanced countries in the world that has benefited so much from science and technology, and has led so much of the technological progress, the lack of national will to address global climate change is beyond my comprehension.