Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot air

Is global warming literally hot air? or, only figuratively? The term 'hot air' signifies many things. Physics-wise, it is the air around us that becomes (or is) hot. The term also has another interesting connotation. It refers to things, ideas, realms that are closer to fantasy and are floated as though real. Here, I want to talk about the first definition, as-in not literally hot-air but more encompassing concept called global warming. But interestingly enough, it is also a topic of my second definition. This is an essay on the topic and is not meant to be a scientific study.

Is climate change a myth? Is global warming a myth? Is anthropogenic global warming a myth? What is myth and what is not? Unfortunately, we have landed into many such questions related to planet earth due to diabolic studies that seem to have had some vested interest (or were just poor research). What was once considered undisputed has now been drawn into disputes. What was once considered uncontroversial is now controversy. So we need to set the clock back and start all over again. Start from the time (or notions) that can not be disputed and work upwards to the final conclusion (whatever that be).

Is climate change real? How is climate change defined? Climate change is basically seasonal variations at a given location. Ofcourse, the variations have to be outside of tolerances so have to be drastic in some sense. Maybe we could call it 'extreme variations' in climate? The places which used to have highest rainfall no longer are that way. Temperatures were never outside of 30-35 degree Centigrade in the place where I grew up in summer. It is upwards of 40 now in summers. Places which used to be cold have become unbearably cold. There are torrential rains in places where rainfall was modest not so long ago. There are areas of increased snow-fall around the globe (why did Europe get so much snow this winter?) compared to earlier times. Yesterday Bangalore recorded highest temperature in summer in 25 years! There are droughts at some places and some places not. There are floods and there are not. Two conclusions can be drawn. One is that at a given location, climate change or extreme variations in weather are a given. These are observed phenomena that can not be disputed. These clearly indicate a departure from the 'norm', if there was one and hence climate change is real.

Is global warming for real? We have to be a bit careful with what we mean by global warming. I explained climate change as a local phenomenon. When we observe a series of such local phenomena and transcend them with a grand unifying theory, we call it global warming. Is global warming for real then? It depends upon, statistically speaking, how many local phenomena of the observed series pass that criterion. If they do, statistically, we talk of global warming.

Is anthropogenic global warming a myth? What is anthropogenic global warming? Man-made or man-induced. Have humans contributed to this? This is where we start entering scientific twilight. It was undisputed till a few months back but no more. Clearly there is a lot of data to be made sense of and clearly there is a debate required over the conclusions to decisively conclude that global warming is man-made. So until proven guilty, let us say it is a myth or a fantasy. Basic climate study will tell you that the globe warms by a degree or 2 every 250 years. What is now disputed is this part of the larger cycle of nature (of which humans are an insignificant part) or is it that humans attained superhuman scales and altered the cycle of nature to a point beyond reversibility? It is possible, distinctly possible, but not proven yet.

What is worrying is that every article that is written on the topic is seen through the lens of vested interests. Including this one. Some one can easily say that I have been 'bought' by anti-GW lobby to write an article like this. Each one of us can not go into each other's courts to clarify our versions. Somewhere we need break this vicious cycle. Harm was done by some inaccurate research. The harm needs to be undone without the angle of doubt.

The problem with these kind of debates is also that they get very passionate. People on both sides are passionate. That is why, it would take some out-of-the-box thinking to get us out of this muddle. If we as humans dont get our act together, like dinosaurs of today, we may soon too become an object of fancy for some alien out there. If existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence is also disupted, then there wont even be any admirers left of us. Did I say climate change is anthropogenic?

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