Recently, both in the media and in the scientific world, there has been much attention paid to the "reality" of global warming.
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Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared the recent warming experienced was very likely due to human actions. Just days ago, Prince Albert II of Monaco said, "The hour is no longer for skepticism. It is time to act and act urgently," when announcing the International Polar Year, a project involving 50,000 scientists from 63 nations. This project is arguably one of the most aggressive scientific endeavors undertaken.
Numerous scientific reports on recent climate change include dire predictions for the not-too-distant future, most the product of complex mathematical models. Mathematical theory tells us that with any estimate beyond what is possible to observe we must take into account what we don't know. Paleoclimatology tells us our recent climate trends are not unique. The same changes in climate have occurred many, many times in the past, without human involvement. Our problem is, the outcomes of these trends in the past are extremely variable, and we don't know why.
To put this in simpler terms, ask yourself, how many times is Rockin' Ron right about the weather over the weekend? What about 50 years from now?
Unfortunately, our reliance on fossil fuels has allowed a rich and powerful giant an iron grip on the "world society" (a.k.a. the oil industry). Renewable and clean fuel sources have been developed; Big Brother won't let them become economical (I refer to oil's influence on the steel, plastics and technology industries). It could be decades, maybe even generations, before we have enough influence to stand up to these companies and make real changes in our use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that's right when all of these predictions should be coming true.
The virtues of this issue are many. There are Native Americans from our own state standing before the world and declaring that the era of unchecked destruction of the environment must stop. Our society is slowly becoming aware of the consequences of overexploitation of our natural resources.
If we base this movement on doomsday predictions and scare tactics that could be wrong, without acknowledging the uncertainty in these predictions, the power and influence that will be built over the coming years may be lost in a heartbeat.
Peter-John F. Hulson
University of Alaska Southeast School of Fisheries and Oceanic Sciences