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Human Caused Climate Disruption: Dangerous Denial or Great Grandiosity?

Is Human Caused Climate Change a Fact or a Fear?

Have you ever really considered the available scientific data or have you just unquestioningly accepted the claim that our species is causing a potentially catastrophic, global climate disruption? Are those who refute the idea of human caused (anthropogenic) climate change in dangerous denial or is the belief that we puny, human beings can disrupt our planet's climate the height of grandiosity? Here are some facts that might interest you.

First, most people are not very scientifically literate which is why snake oil still sells very well in the 21st century. Indeed, the biggest scientific blunder most people make is confusing correlation with causation (i.e., just because two events are associated in time does not mean that one caused the other).

For example, it has been observed that sleeping with one's shoes on is strongly correlated with waking up with a headache. Hence, one might conclude, sleeping with one's shoes on causes headaches (but passing out drunk and fully clothed is also associated with both variables and much more likely to be the true causal factor). Now consider that since the 1950s, both the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and crime rates have increased sharply. Therefore, one might conclude, CO2 causes crime. But could there possibly be another more likely causal factor; a third intervening variable such as massive population growth and overcrowding?

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Similarly, since the 1950s both the levels of human produced atmospheric carbon dioxide and average global temperatures have increased sharply. Therefore, many have concluded, anthropogenic CO2 emissions have caused global climate disruption. But could there possibly be [many] other causal factors; various intervening variables that are the true cause of climate change phenomena?

Now before I trigger a Category 5 hurricane of blow back (pun intended), let me be perfectly clear that I firmly believe that climate change is a very real fact and our species has had a dramatic, ecologically negative impact on our planet mostly with pollution, deforestation, habitat destruction, and so called "urban heat islands." And, yes, I do agree it is possible that anthropogenic climate change is a very real phenomenon, however, it is also possible that when the available data are considered within the context of vast, geologic time there may be other explanations.

The fact is, there are simply too many variables and the complexity of our planet's climate is so far beyond our current understanding that no firm conclusions can yet be reached.

And therein is the crux of the matter. Namely, most people are not sufficiently skeptical of the scientific information they're exposed to because they rely more on feelings and faith than on rational, critical inquiry. This, in my opinion, is why the "nutraceutical" and supplementation industry fleeces billions of dollars a year from naïve and scientifically ignorant consumers and why psychoanalytic therapies are still common in the modern day, psychotherapeutic marketplace.

What's more, at the risk of coming across as a conspiracy nut, the government and various special interest groups have a long history of promulgating a "Chicken Little" the sky is falling state of fear to keep our citizens in check. In the 20th century it was the "military-industrial complex" that kept people in a state of high anxiety about the cold war, nuclear annihilation, and the Communist threat. (Remember "duck and cover" and all the bomb shelters that were sold?). Now that the cold war is over, in the current century, it is the "political-media complex" that, like its predecessor, seems committed to subduing the citizenry with equally anxiety provoking messages, but this time of terrorist threats and, of course, global warming. (Also, let's not forget Y2K. What happened with that?)

Nevertheless, since the stakes are so high, it makes sense to invoke Pascal's Wager and proceed accordingly. Blaise Pascal was a 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, physicist and theologian who posited it is better to bet on the existence of God, risking nothing if wrong, rather than bet against God's existence risking eternal damnation if wrong.

This idea has applicability far beyond religious and spiritual matters. In medicine, for instance, Pascal's Wager would have a physician bet there is an emergency and take life-saving action instead of bet there isn't an emergency and thus fail to take possible life-saving measures.

Therefore, with respect to the possibility of anthropogenic climate disruption, Pascal's Wager would suggest we accept the hypothesis as valid and take appropriate mitigating steps (risking little) rather than bet the opposite and take no corrective action (risking a lot).

Still, despite the ferocious, hot-button nature of this subject, a truly scientifically minded person has to wonder what impact human activity really has on global climate when we consider that climate is an extremely dynamic process that has been occurring on Earth for billions of years yet, at best, we have only a few hundred years of systematic climate records. Even the holy grail of climate records, paleoclimatology based on ice core samples, dates back less than one million years (e.g., Alley, 2000). (To put some of these numbers into perspective, consider that by counting at a rate of one number per second it would take you less than 12 days to reach one million but almost 32 years to reach one billion!)

What's more, stupendous amounts of "natural," sub-oceanic CO2 and methane are out-gassed more or less continuously and volcanic activity also releases colossal amounts of greenhouse gasses. (Yes, I'm well aware that, overall, human emissions of CO2 dwarf volcanic output - my issue is what is correlational versus truly causal? Obviously industrialization has significantly increased atmospheric CO2, but does the cause-and-effect "trail of bread crumbs" really lead to that as the engine - no pun intended - that's driving recent trends in climate change?)

Moreover, according to paleogeological data, the planet has undergone extreme climate swings lasting epochs of deep time long before our remote ancestors even evolved. There were times when the Earth was a blazing inferno (the Hadean epoch; e.g., Knoll, 1996) and billions of years later totally encased in a mile thick sheet of ice (Snowball Earth; e.g., Kirschvink, 1992). Numerous glaciers and entire ice-ages have come and gone many times over millions of years; whale fossils have been found in the Sahara desert indicating it was once an ancient ocean; entire continents have emerged and vanished several times and continue to change to this day (e.g., Kearey et al., 2009); and several mass extinctions have occurred, one wiping out 95 percent of all marine life and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrates (i.e., the Permian-Triassic extinction; e.g., Benton, 2005).

In addition, it has been mathematically demonstrated that variations in the Earth's orbit (i.e., eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession) determine climatic patterns including the glacial and interglacial periods (e.g., Milankovitch cycles; see Hays, et al., 1976).

Furthermore, recent satellite data have suggested the sun's energy output is increasing (e.g., Willson, 1997). Evidently, even a fraction of one percent rise in total solar irradiance will have devastating effects on Earth's climate. Indeed, since the formation of the solar system the Sun's output has increased by about 40% and will continue to increase steadily until it eventually engulfs the inner planets and completely obliterates the Earth. (These data have nothing to do with sun spot activity or the familiar 11 year solar cycles that are often erroneously cited as causes of climate change.)

And then there's Venus, our "bizzaro" twin planet that has undergone a true catastrophic, runaway greenhouse event evidently without any human involvement whatsoever!

Yet we mighty humans in the course of a mere half-century have radically disrupted our planet's climate? Well, forgive my skepticism! Still, in keeping with Pascal's Wager I'll bet with the herd mentality and accede to the possibility of anthropogenic climate change and take appropriate steps to reduce my "carbon footprint" because it will be quite a while until enough unequivocal data are in to firmly conclude the matter one way or another.

So, are the skeptics in denial or are the climate disruption proponents grandiose? You decide. Perhaps you might conclude that the data thus far suggest either a politically convenient lie or a very dire truth. But unless you question the propaganda, ask the right questions, and carefully examine the science, you are simply taking on faith or feeling what the political-media complex is dispensing.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.


Alley, R., (2000). The Two-Mile Time Machine, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Benton M J (2005). When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. Thames & Hudson.

Hays, J.D., Imbrie, J., & Shackleton, N.J. (1976). "Variations in the Earth's Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages". Science 194 (4270): 1121-1132.

Kearey, P, Klepeis, K,A., & Vine, F.J. (2009). Global Tectonics (3rd. ed).
Chichester:Wiley.

Kirschvink, J.L. (1992). Late Proterozoic low-latitude global glaciation: The snowball Earth. In Schopf, JW, and Klein, C. (PDF). The Proterozoic Biosphere: A Multidisciplinary Study. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 51-2.

Knoll, A.H. (1996). Hadean and Proterozoic Paleontology. In Jansonius, J.; McGregor, D.C. (eds.) 1996: Paleontology: Principles and Applications. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, v. 1, pp. 51-80.

Richard C. Willson of Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research, "Sun Is Getting Hotter, Satellite Data Indicate," cited by the AP in The New York Times On The Web, September 30, 1997.

 

Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D., is Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute.

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