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Letter: Keep an Open Mind About Global Warming

To the Editor:

I have done research on global warming and possible ecological effects since 1968, sometimes living in New Hampshire, doing ecological research in the White Mountains. I have worked on some climate models and developed a computer model of forests used to forecast possible effects of global warming on forests and biodiversity. I published scientific papers about forecasting effects on biodiversity and comparing nineteenth century Arctic sea ice extent with today’s, using whaling ships logbooks.

Having read letters to Valley News about climate change, I would like to put some balance in the discussion. What began as a difficult scientific problem with potential major environmental effects has unfortunately turned into a moral issue, a counterproductive blame game. Rather than seek who agrees with one’s informal opinion and accuse others of immoral practices, we need to keep our eyes on the science.

We have been living in a warming trend. The question is whether we are causing it; that is becoming more open to question. Through the mid-1990s, the weight of scientific evidence was on the side that greenhouse gases we produced were a significant cause of climate change. But some scientifically surprising contrary data were obtained recently. Among these: Antarctic glaciers ice cores show for the past 400,000 years, changes in carbon dioxide lagged changes in temperature. A study of today’s Arctic climate suggests a similar lag. If so, CO2 cannot be the primary cause of our current warming period. This created a scientific puzzle: whether this is an artifact of research methods or a scientifically sound result.

Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 continues to increase rapidly, but global average temperatures, increasing slightly, are not tracking the CO2 well. Instead, the best correlation with average temperature is variations in sunlight.

Given such contradictory evidence, what can a citizen do? Maintain an open, seeking mind. Avoid seeing global warming as only a moral issue rather than a scientific and technological problem. Keep alert about global warming, but focus on environment damage we are causing today, such as habitat destruction, controlling invasive species, assisting now-endangered species, reducing toxic substance release, and sustaining forests and fisheries.

Daniel B. Botkin

Adjunct Professor, Department of Biology, University of Miami

Coral Gables, Fla.