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Still Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

We humans are programmed to make assumptions, to extrapolate, to assume things move gradually from the past and into the future. If we see an object rolling down a slope, we’re wired to conclude it will gradually gain speed and ultimately reach the bottom of the slope. This ability serves us well when shooting clay pigeons, jumping on escalators, and swatting flies with a newspaper. Problems arise when the phenomenon being observed is more complicated than the simple, linear events we’re accustomed to seeing.

Consider a couple of rather poignant examples. House prices will always go up so buying a house is the only safe and secure investment a person can make. For a long time, that was true. House prices bounced a little, but by and large they increased continuously for a long time. But nothing increases forever, not even entropy. Many Americans were lulled into a false sense of security, but have now learned the meaning of terms like “short sale”, “up-side-down”, and “sheriff’s sale”.

Even today in the wake of the disaster on Wall Street, many financial “experts” insist that over the long haul, stocks are the best investment possible. They’ll always go up if you hold them long enough or so they say. People believed it even though it should have been intuitively obvious nothing continues unbounded. Thanks to the human animal’s uncanny ability to assume constant actions, many Americans have lost much of their net worth and will be working well past their previously planned retirement dates.

When an event has occurred over and over again, humans reasonably assume it will happen again. But we’re not always right. In fact, if we wait long enough, we will most assuredly be wrong. Such is the case with global climate change.

Picture the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. A structure so big, so massive, it was known worldwide and was considered by many to be all but indestructible. In an instant, the world changed. Before the day was done, both towers lay in a smoldering heap of twisted metal.

Understand this, the jet that crashed into the building did not topple the tower. It didn’t cause the tower to collapse. The jet merely set in motion a sequence of events, a fire with intense heat. The building’s structure in the area of the impact was weakened by the impact, but it stood firm and tall. Over the course of the next 52 minutes (in the case of the first tower), the fire raged as the world watched in horror. The heat slowly reduced the strength of the structural steel that was the backbone of the building. Fire fighters were unable to quell the flames and the skeleton continued to weaken until it reached a critical point where the load bearing capacity fell below the weight of the concrete, steel and contents on the floors above the fire.

A floor collapsed, pan caked with the next. As it fell, the momentum gained meant the load bearing capacity of each floor below was overwhelmed with the weight from above. Floor after floor collapsed suddenly and etched the indelible image we all carry with us in our memories.

The parallels between global climate change and the collapse of the World Trade Center are many. The most important to understand is that a gradual process precipitated a sudden convulsion that resulted in total destruction. Another lies with the reality that once the means of destruction are identified and understood, it is too late to do anything about it even if we could. Another is that in each case, the price of inaction is catastrophic.

Those that sit back and assume this is going to be a nice ride in a buggy through a garden where the flowers bloom a few weeks earlier and summer evenings are a bit warmer are in for a rude awaking. It is not out of the question that the havoc wreaked in the WTC attacks will be child’s play when compared to the disaster we’re perpetrating upon ourselves.

If you’re interested in a slightly different viewpoint on the subject, I recommend reading FIXING CLIMATE – What Past Climate Changes Reveal about the Current Threat – and How to Counter It by Wallace S. Broecker and Robert Kunzig. It is one of the most sobering, objective and non-political treatises I have seen on the subject. The prospect of sudden climate change is proven possible. It has happened in the past without our help. But now, we’re taunting fate. It’s not a pretty picture.

You can sit back and continue shooting clay pigeons until it’s too late or you can invest a little bit of time and effort to educate yourself on the topic. It’s your choice. But act fast; the jet has already impacted the tower.

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