Arguing with a global warming skeptic in a dance club was extremely frustrating. It would not have been my first choice of venue to entertain such a complicated discussion. As an environmental activist, I feel that it is important to try to convince even the most skeptical people of the upcoming plight that humanity will have to manage. But as you may have guessed it was difficult to reach any consensus between the the unsupported arguments and thumping hip-hop beats. He subscribed to the belief that all of the evidence published in the media was part of a large conspiracy. When I mentioned many reputable sources he listed just as many obscure sources that contradicted my claims. He placed a large confidence in his observation of cooling local weather patterns. At the time I was too muddled and unprepared to respond. Thankfully, the decision makers that will attend the Kyoto 2 Conference in Copenhagen in December have largely acknowledged the complexity of global climate change more than the clubber skeptic I ran into. There is a need to look beyond our local experience (which may or may not reflect the global trend of warming) and recognize that it is not just “global warming” that we are dealing with, but “global climate change.”

The term “Global Warming” has too narrow a definition to be a useful because there are a whole host of other climactic and ecological changes linked with anthropogenic climate change that may have different, but no less significant consequences as is described in the What’s in a Name? Global Warming vs. Climate Change article on the NASA website. International institutions and governments have adopted the term “climate change”, which reflects a a commitment to recognizing the multiplicity of issues involved.

There are so many complexities within and between the cryosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere that it is important to consider all of these issues when discussing global climate change. Also, it can be difficult for scientists to collect enough of the right type of evidence sufficient for convincing all of the clubber skeptics out there of the tremendous problems occurring to the aforementioned systems on a global scale. It is easy to understand how there are people like the clubber skeptic from all walks of life who do not take climate science seriously enough and are deceived by political deception. Because we are unable to directly measure environmental systems from the past, scientists have developed indirect methods for collecting indirect or “proxy data” on the former temperature and green house gas concentrations using some of the following techniques:

These methods have flaws, but hopefully better methods will be developed in the future. Joseph Bump et al. suggests an alternative to tree rings in his  Stable isotopes, ecological integration and environmental change: wolves record atmospheric carbon isotope trend better than tree rings. Despite their flaws, the current proxy data are useful, because they can be incorporated into models, which can be used by politicians and disseminated to the public through the media. If I had given the clubber skeptic any evidence that anthropogenic activities were causing global climate change I would have first and foremost been a dork for bringing it to a club, but if I had known of my need for evidence and been willing to commit social suicide I would have brought evidence including some of the following:

  • Green house gas levels (source: IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report)

  • The increases in recent periods of wild fires
  • Sea Level Rise

Data and data analysis like this are imperfect and constantly being updated and expanded upon. The earths systems are too complex for all of the consequences surrounding global warming to be quantified. However, we cannot deny its existence through localized experiences, because there is so much fluctuation globally and locally that one must look at the overall trends as is illustrated in this graph from the IPCC AR4 Synthesis Report.

Therefore, need to spread this type of data more thoroughly amongst the general public and agree to abide by the precautionary principal. This is because there strong evidence from the past that the earths systems are responding to human induce climate change and that the consequences will be more severe than a global tan. The clubber skeptic has been warned!

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