Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ben Bova: It’s best to prepare for the worst on global warming

Physicist and science fiction writer Ben Bova recently wrote about climate change in the Naples News (Florida): …Assertions and accusations are not facts. Wishful thinking or political opposition are not measurements. OK, I don’t much like Al Gore either, but his exaggerations about global warming don’t mean that the globe isn’t warming.

If man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are a critical factor in global warming, that’s good news! If we’re the cause we can do something about it.

…How will the world’s political situation change when millions, perhaps billions of people have to leave their homelands because of droughts or floods? We have terrorism and wars today; tomorrow might see much, much worse.

Climate change might not come gradually, either. In the past, severe changes in climate have overtaken the world in the span of a few decades. The gradual changes we measure today may reach a tipping point, a sort of “greenhouse cliff,” where the global climate shifts too rapidly for us to protect ourselves from its drastic effects.

One reader offered a semi-practical suggestion. Pointing out that methane is also a potent greenhouse gas, he proposed a “flatulence tax” on the 6 billion humans who are expelling tons of methane into the atmosphere every day. Apparently such a tax has already been considered in Alabama — on the cows, sheep and other farmyard animals that contribute methane to the atmosphere.

Seriously, though, to me it seems better to prepare for the worst. Instead of denying the obvious, we should take steps now to reduce our use of fossil fuels, to develop new and clean sources of energy, to change the world in the direction we want to go, rather than be overtaken by disaster.

Earth seen from Apollo 17

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