A big part of my concern for global warming goes back to my childhood.
My childhood was both lucky and unlucky.
Unlucky because we lost my father when I was seven and my little sister was three.
Lucky because until I was ten I lived in a wonderful place on a hill in Connecticut surrounded by trees and flowers and backed with an orchard.
The evergreen tree at the side of the house was where I played.
The maples along the country highway protected my little sister and me. We were not allowed to venture past them.
And the juniper was where we could escape into our own little house, step onto the rounded granite stone that was our front hall, sit on the horizontal branch that was our couch, peer up at a higher branch that was our "upstairs," and label the airy space behind the central trunk of the juniper our "kitchen."
I felt a partnership with those trees--they were my friends and protectors, particularly after our father died.
So it's not surprising that when I learned in science class that we breathed out carbon dioxide and trees breathed it in, and that trees breathed out oxygen and we breathed it in, all seemed right with the world.
She was a female Homo Erectus who lived half a million years ago, more or less. Let's call her Grumpa. While the other females forage and the males hunt wildebeast, Grumpa spends her time trying to make fire. Note her biceps. She has this cockamamie idea that fire lives in wood and she's trying to find it.
Behold. Grumpa has succeeded.
When her companions return she shows them her discovery. Most rejoice--now everyone with the right technique can stay warm, cook their food, stay up late telling stories around the campfire and throw flaming branches at their enemies.
But no, when allowed to choose two more sticks and watched carefully, Grumpa is once again able to create fire. The others can see it with their own eyes!
Half a million years later, Homo Sapiens uses Grumpa's discovery to initiate an industrial revolution. Energy from fossil fuels replaces manual and animal labor. Life becomes more comfortable for many. The Earth's population starts to soar.
Homo Sapiens pats himself on the back. Fossil fuels have become the lifeblood of civilization.
Grumpa discovering fire was one beginning but there was a second "beginning" shortly after the start of the Industrial Revolution.
This second beginning was the discovery of the "greenhouse effect."
Here we see Frenchman Joseph Fourier sitting in his chilly Paris apartment in 1824 theorizing that something in the atmosphere must be keeping part of the sun’s energy from radiating back into space. Otherwise, he suggested, Paris and the rest of the earth would be even colder.
As yet, he has no idea what that something might be....
Fifty years later, an English scientist, John Tyndall, discovers that gases produced by burning fossil fuels, in particular CO2 and methane, are the warming agents.
No one worried at the time.
It was hard to imagine that humans could change the entire planet's atmosphere when most people were still peasants.
And at the end of the century, in 1896, a Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, builds the first climate model showing that doubling CO2 could warm the earth 6 degrees C. (9 F.)
The twentieth century saw increasing industrialization, population growth and nations battling ignorance, disease and each other. Wartime meant invention. Weather satellites and computers were born. Both would prove decisive in the discovery of global warming.
This scientist on top of the Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is Charles Keeling. He's invented a way to measure the carbon emissions in our atmosphere and is testing the cleanest air he can find. Over the years his measurements show the percentage of CO2 in our atmosphere is going up. His results are known as the Keeling Curve, one of the bedrock studies of modern climate science.
James Hansen, probably the most famous climate scientist in the United States, testified before a Senate committee in 1988 as to the necessity of reducing carbon and other emissions before grave damage to the earth's natural processes occurred.
Paleoclimatolists studied cores of ice, wood, rock, coral and sea sediments so current temperatures and CO2 levels could be compared to those in the past. Their data, assembled by statisticians, was used to design climate models.
To build a climate model, scientists like Michael Mann had to take into account a host of natural processes as well as the effects of industrialization and deforestation by mankind.
Scientists have worked hard to discover the truth that CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels is causing potentially disastrous warming of our climate and that something must be done.
But those opposing any action are gambling with our future.
Many of us don't want to face the problem.
How stupid are we!?