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In the tradition of the one-act play, here is a great dialogue between a sceptic and a scientist as they discuss a topic that will continue to impact lives of humans for years to come.

SCEPTIC: It’s not really getting warmer.

SCIENTIST: 100% wrong. The global measured temperature average is about 1 degree warmer now than in 1900, and more than half of that has occurred since 1979. The greatest local increase is in the Northern Latitudes and in the Arctic Circle.

SCEPTIC: It’s been hotter than this before.

The Sceptic and the Scientist

The Sceptic and the Scientist

SCIENTIST: 100% correct. Lots of times, and for various reasons like solar flares, earth orbit wobbles, shifting continents. But none of those situations applies to us in the year 2008. None of those things are driving the 21st century warming.

SCEPTIC: The world may have gotten warmer, but it’s not getting hotter anymore.

SCIENTIST: 50% wrong, 50% right. The hottest year ever recorded was in 1998. The last 10 years have not been as hot. But the 10 year trend and 100 year trend is unmistakable. It is getting warmer, on average, on planet Earth.

SCEPTIC: The computer models are not accurate and the atmosphere is not behaving like the models predict.

SCIENTIST: 50% wrong. 50% right. Computers are not able to exactly forecast climate change and include all the different variables. And it is true that some measurements show that the lower levels of the atmospher are not warming as fast as the computers predict. But the majority of data and the two largest studies show that yes indeed, the lower levels of the atmosphere are consistently warming.

As for computers, the reality is that computer models are very sophisticated, and they evaluate many more variables than the original models. Computer models are also becoming more location specific. The 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report offered regional climate projections that are far beyond the capacity of computers six years ago. They are never going to be perfect, but they have both theoretical and observational support.

He doth protest

He doth protest

SCEPTIC: Al Gore claims that carbon dioxide levels are causing the temperature increase of global warming. But the ice-core samples from Greenland and the Antarctic show that the carbon dioxide rise came after the temperature rise, not before.

SCIENTIST: 100% correct, but this global carbon dioxide increase is unique. Those ice-cores are on a 100,000 year cycle based on the Earth’s orbit wobbles, and show the ocean releases carbon dioxide in response to warmer temperatures. But the carbon dioxide of the 21st century comes from burning carbon, not the ocean releasing carbon. Current atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher than anything measured in the 650,000 years of ice-core records, and my the the highest in the past 3 million years.

SCEPTIC: The long term date on Hurricanes and arctic ice is too short and too poor to make any predictions.

SCIENTIST: 50% wrong, 50% right. The data on hurricanes goes back over 60 years, and the measurement of arctic ice patterns goes back about 120 years. So, while it would be nice to have longer trends, it is possible to document that the severity of hurricanes has increased. And the summer arctic ice has never melted as much as it does now. The arctic measurements have never showed the arctic as warm as it is now.

SCEPTIC: Water vapor is the major greenhouse gas, not carbon dioxide.

SCIENTIST: 100% wrong. Water vapor is part of global warming, but mostly over the short term of a few years and with local effects, just like clouds. Carbon dioxide sticks around for decades and centuries. It is true that as global temperature rises, water vapor concentrations will increase. This feedback loop is included in computer climate models.

SCEPTIC: Global warming may be a problem but other problems like HIV/AIDS, the war on terror, and poverty are more important and immediately affect people’s lives.

SCIENTIST: Who can say what is most important, or which problem of humanity should be solved first? Global warming solutions will impact people everywhere and require a high investment of time, effort, and money. These solutions will probably require the end of the burning of coal and the drilling of oil for energy around the world. If the new energy solutions promote regional energy independence and local sustainability, then they will improve people’s lives and reduce poverty, limit disease and promote healthy communities everywhere. Ignoring global warming is guaranteed to result in coastal flooding, more destructive climate patterns in the tropics, and increase the severity of storms everywhere. It is possible that much more severe climate changes will also occur. Solving global warming can help create a new world. You can be part of that solution.

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