Environmental Geology – Lots of “Environment” and not enough Geology


  • Exploration Journal
  • Environmental Geology Unit 1
  • Climate and Beyond

In Unit 1, we learned of geologic research, glaciers and greenhouse gasses. We covered the earth and the evidence and effects of climate change on lands and peoples. As we discussed as a class the text and videos documenting these issues, real time news was being made on these subjects.

As I read the book and watched the videos, I was fascinated with every little thing. This is a science subject that has played a small role in my life thus far, but I have been very interested in learning more. As I mentioned previously in the Unit 1 exam, I very much enjoyed the chapter on glaciers and Arctic sea ice. The Nova Extreme Ice video was very interesting and as suggested in the class materials, I shared this video with my family and we all enjoyed watching.
Questions that were raised in my mind were about observable facts vs. interpretations, assumptions, predictions and narrative or story. I was looking at the text and listening to the discussion in the videos for observable facts. I was surprised at how much emotional language was used in both places. I understand that there are fears associated with climate change and glacier melt and other phenomena over which we have limited knowledge and control, but I believe there is an imbalance if we weigh the solid rock of observable facts provided against the shifting sand of interpretations, assumptions and story. For example, I read this headline today at dailystar.co.uk:

Climate change warning: Killer winter storms for next THIRTY years
KILLER freezes, floods and heat waves will devastate Britain during the next 30 years, climate ­experts have warned.

The article points to yet another IPCC study, when the IPCC has already had to backtrack and rewrite its annual report after the hurricane season did nothing like what was predicted. This is irresponsible. The IPCC reports are used by governments for making policy decisions and spending money. IPCC has stretched data to say whatever it wants to be printed in the papers. Roger Pielke Jr, Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado writes about this issue on his blog here. A comment on this blog crystalizes the issue with relying on IPCC reports:
“Interesting that you see the intrusion of policy actions in a WG1 summary. I noticed the same thing… quite a lot of “you have to do this to avoid that”. In light of all the technical uncertainty, such prescriptions for policy action betray a clear policy agenda in ‘the science’ and the scientists/activists I think this is neither helpful nor appropriate, and means those involved simply can’t help themselves…. they just HAVE to make us stop burning fossil fuels, by any possible means. Not going to happen, of course, but it is telling what makes it into a technical summary.” – Stephen Fitzpatrick, Sep 2013

In comparing the IPCC report on climate change from 2007 and again the one from September of 2013, Roger Pielke offers 5 points to consider with the new report:

1. The core scientific understandings remain unchanged
2. The IPCC itself is engaged in PR spin and messaging
3. We will not be able to clearly distinguish human influence on climate change from natural variability for decades.
4. Actions to mitigate climate through reductions in carbon dioxide will not have a detectable effect on climate until after mid-century.
5. There is not a strong scientific basis for claiming a discernible effect of human-caused climate change on hurricanes, floods, tornadoes or drought.

In a New York Post article dated December 5, 2013, journalist Michael Fumento says Global Warming ‘proof’ is Evaporating.

“…evidence to the contrary was there all along. Back in 2005 I and others reviewed the entire hurricane record, which goes back over a century, and found no increase of any kind.”

Regarding the media and scientist/activist response, it is in IPCC reports, headlines and news stories that the guesswork takes place. The actual observable data does not support the alarm and extreme predictions that make it to the general public and most importantly to the powers that be who make policy and squander resources on the basis of alarmist predictions rather than data:

“Just five years ago, the head of the International Panel on Climate Change, the group most associated with “proving” that global warming is man-made and has horrific potential consequences, told Congress that Earth is running a “fever” that’s “apt to get much worse.” Yet he and IPCC knew the warming had stopped a decade earlier. Those who pointed this out…were labeled “denialists.” Yet the IPCC itself finally admitted the “pause” in its latest report. The single most damning aspect of the “pause” is that, because it has occurred when “greenhouse gases” have been pouring into the atmosphere at record levels, it shows at the very least that something natural is at play here. The warmists suggest that natural factors have “suppressed” the warming temporarily, but that’s just a guess: The fact is, they have nothing like the understanding of the climate that they claimed…”

In conclusion, observable data is where I go first when questions are raised in my mind. If I have no frame of reference for the data, I will want to hear from an expert to help me interpret this data. I believe that there are many activists who know that the general public has little knowledge of the science that goes into extrapolating the data and therefore they attempt to steer public response by making emotional statements as ‘experts’ rather than factual statements as scientists. I saw the same type of alarmist, emotional language when describing what would happen if all the earth’s ice reserves melted. Is this really an imminent occurrence? The data shows that earth’s global surface temperature stopped warming 15 years ago. Based on the data, the textbook shouldn’t make statements about sea levels rising and ice sheets melting. This statement is not a statement of observable facts, but rather assumption, prediction and story: (From textbook, Environmental Geology by Carla W. Montgomery, 9th Ed.)

“…large-scale melting of ice sheets would take time, perhaps several thousand years. On a shorter timescale, however, the problem could still be significant. Continued intensive fossil-fuel use could double the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before the middle of the century. This would produce a projected temperature rise of 4 to 8 degrees C (7-14 degrees F), which would be sufficient to melt at least the West Antarctic ice sheet completely in a few hundred years. The resulting 5-6 meter rise in sea level, though it sounds small, would nevertheless be enough to flood many coastal cities and ports, along with most of the world’s beaches…This would be both inconvenient and extremely expensive. (The only consolation is that the displaced inhabitants would have decades over which to adjust to the changes.)”

This type of prediction simply cannot be made in all seriousness. Why only decades to adjust to changes that might happen over hundreds or even thousands of years? And to whom is it extremely expensive? If the powers that be have their way, that would be us.



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