Happy Birthday, Global Warming

Candice Gaukel Andrews August 16, 2010 18

Rising global temperatures may be causing more icebergs to break off. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Happy 35th, global warming. No, I’m not implying that the Earth started to warm up just 35 years ago, but that this month marks the birthday of the two-word term.

On August 8, 1975, Wallace Broecker published a paper, titled Climate Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?, in the journal Science. It was the first use of the phrase in scientific literature, according to a search of a database containing more than 10,000 articles. In the three-and-a-half decades since Broecker’s paper appeared, the majority of the public has gone from believing that human activities are causing the planet to warm at an unprecedented rate (thanks in large part to Al Gore and his book and film titled An Inconvenient Truth) back to—just recently—skeptics.

How could that be, especially during what might turn out to be the hottest summer in recorded history?

It came from cyberspace

NASA announced that the previous decade was the warmest on record. ©John T. Andrews

It’s all because of some computer hackers. In December 2009, just days before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, an incident dubbed “Climategate” unfolded. Unidentified persons hacked into a computer server at Britain’s University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and stole tens of thousands of e-mails. The hackers selectively picked out phrases and expressions in the e-mails and crafted a story that supposedly showed that the scientific facts regarding the alarming rate of global warming—and the human hand in it—were falsified.

The contrived story focused on the work of two leading climate scientists: Phil Jones, head of the research unit, and Michael Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center. The story suggested that the two researchers deliberately manipulated data to make global warming statistics look more extreme than they actually were.

In a rush to be the first to break the “shocking” news, many in the media reported the story just as the thieves had created it. The hackers accomplished their goal: the Copenhagen conference failed to develop a strong and binding international treaty.

Although earlier this year both researchers were investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing, the outcome didn’t matter. Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank, says events such as Climategate may be causing “the death of the global warming movement as we know it.” In May 2010, a Rasmussen Reports national poll of 1,000 likely voters found that just 40 percent of respondents said they believed human activity was primarily responsible for global warming, down from 47 percent in April 2008.

This year the states of Texas and Virginia, among other entities, filed legal challenges to stop the federal government from regulating emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. One senator’s website currently lists more than 700 scientists who agree that the Earth is warming but argue that other factors, such as ocean temperatures or solar flares, play a bigger role than human activity. Lately, even President Obama has been modifying his language: In his State of the Union Address in January, the president called for Congress to support climate change legislation for job-creation purposes “even if you doubt the evidence.”

Growing skepticism

Admittedly, some mistakes have been made in reporting global warming statistics. For example, one United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated that global warming could cause glaciers in the Himalayas to melt by 2035. Later, the IPCC admitted the date was incorrect; the information had been improperly taken from a report issued by an outside environmental group and not subjected to the usual standards of vigorous scientific scrutiny.

In May 2010, just 40 percent of likely voters said they believed humans were primarily responsible for a warmer planet. ©John T. Andrews

But despite such errors, Michael Mann says the core argument—that the Earth is warming, humans are at least partly responsible and action must be taken to avoid disaster—remains intact. He’s exasperated by critics who ignore research such as the recent report from NASA that states that the previous decade was the warmest on record. And Carol Browner, the White House director on climate and energy policy, says there are thousands of scientists whose work provides evidence of global warming from human activities.

When it comes to key discoveries in the natural world, such skepticism isn’t new. In 1610 when Galileo had the audacity to publish a paper that argued in favor of Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the universe, the Roman Catholic Church strongly urged him to recant his view. The Inquisition later convicted him of heresy. In 1962 when Rachel Carson tried to warn us in her now famous book Silent Spring that DDT was harming birdlife, she was attacked as an alarmist by chemical industry representatives, DDT manufacturers and even some in the government. They relentlessly hounded her until her death in 1964.

One big berg

Even now as you read this, an island of ice that separated from a Greenland glacier—and that is more than four times the size of Manhattan—is sailing across the Arctic Ocean, probably headed to Canada’s east coast. In its potential path are oil platforms in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.

So, happy birthday, global warming—although I can’t say I wish you many more.

Have you recently become a bit more skeptical that our actions on Earth could be a major contributor to global warming? Share your thoughts below.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Art Hardy August 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    It seems obvious that man has had a major influence on global warming. Any effort to slow the warming trend down would also have to be a global effort and I don’t see that happening until the situation is much more dire and probably irreversible.

  2. Mark B. August 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    I would rather call the “skeptics” main line science! It’s becoming increasingly clear that this more than poor research, but rather a fraud committed in the interests of money and power. Two years ago John Coleman (founder of Weather Channel) called it the biggest scam in history. At the time I thought it was hyperbole, but now it seems he was dead on.

    Also, it seems we may be entering a period of cooling rather than warming so the CO2 levels can’t be the cause of both increasing and decreasing temperatures.

    For real scientific info on the subject, I have found this site terrific. No weepy eyed polar bears, but lots of science. http://www.icecap.us

    Good topic, Candice!

    (Originally posted on LinkedIn)

    • Pincas Jawetz January 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      Yes, it is about money – the money comes from pockets of people that got it ln profits they made in the oil industry.

      To decrease the vector of global warming one has to understand concepts of sustainability, and act on sustainable energy, which means decreased dependence on fossil fuels.

      From my own work I learned how oil interests did not allow even the development of natural gas fields – let alone institution of renewable energy sources. I have witnessed by now 40 years of oil industry bamboozle. Just ask New Zealanders how Mobil Oil got them to turn natural gas from Motunui to synthetic gasoline for no good reason. They turned steak into hamburgers, lost their pants, and staid dependent on oil imports as ever. Now ExxonMobil is a major source of funds to stop change.

  3. Maralyn August 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Most scientists, when completely honest questions are posed, do not believe that global warming exists–hence the new term of convenience–climate change.

    My opinion is personal and not the reflection of any association with which I am affiliated.

    (Originally posted on LinkedIn)

  4. Bud Kuppenheimer August 19, 2010 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Your article on global warming is fair and balanced — something both the current crop of newscasters and academics seem to have forgotten. I certainly agree that there is global warming going on and that man is contributing to conditions that exacerbate that to some degree and therein lies the debate. The scientific community is definitely divided on this issue and that is enough for me to be skeptical. But this is more than just an academic argument; our economy hangs in the balance. Cap and Trade is about global warming and could push our debt and, by extension, our economy over the brink. But even if the alarmists are right, despite all the scandalous evidence manipulation that tends to undermine their own argument, without an equal commitment from two of the worst polluters on the planet, China and India, our jeopardizing our economy and burdening our grandchildren with a mountain of debt would have little practical effect on the environment. That said, though, I do agree that we should be working toward alternative sources of energy, which has two practical benefits for our society and the world: 1. we ease whatever contribution we are making to global warming, making us more responsible stewards of our world and 2. less dependence on fossil fuels will make us less dependent on the Middle East leaving them less able to threaten the free world.

  5. NineQuietLessons August 18, 2010 at 11:44 am - Reply

    It seems to me that climate change “skeptics” could more readily be classified as climate change denialists. Being skeptical means not dismissing ideas out of hand, but demanding proof. Denialists, on the other hand, find the peer-reviewed research of qualified scientists to be unbelievable, yet are infinitely credulous of any hack who tells them that nothing is wrong and they can go on as they have been. And that is the very opposite of skepticism.

  6. Jack August 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Where there’s smoke, there’s fire!

  7. John Howard Gaukel August 17, 2010 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Lets think about this global warming debate for a minute. The glaciers are disappering and the perma frost is melting. The summers are getting hotter and the winters are getting warmer. Certain insects and plant species that live along the equator are on the move to areas were it was previously to cold for them to survive. Yep!! There might be something a foot. But I’m certain it’s not us humans that are causing the problems, we have never done anything before to mother earth or the environment to cause a problem. OR HAVE WE ???

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