Sunday, April 12, 2009

"The elephant of global warming" -- commentary by Dr. Hsu Huang-hsiung [許晃雄], in Taiwan at NTU

The elephant of global warming

By Dr. Hsu Huang-hsiung [許晃雄], NTU

Tuesday, May 08, 2007,

The upcoming arrival of former US vice president Al Gore in Taiwan is certain to
set off a new wave of discussion about global warming in Taiwan. The
topic is like an elephant with a fever being cared for by a group of
blind people.

Some say the elephant doesn't have a fever and that only the room
temperature has increased, while some touch the elephant's tusks and
say the temperature hasn't risen at all. Global warming is a
multi-faceted issue. Each person has his own observations and
attitude, and sometimes it's like the famous Indian legend of the the
blind men and the elephant -- each man touches the elephant and all
three come to different conclusions as to what it is.

Some people passionately call for humans to protect the earth. Some
have a more conservative attitude, saying that the sun is getting
stronger and that global warming isn't necessarily related to what
humans do. They believe that global warming will actually make the
earth's climate milder.

Then there are some people who quote biased reports to refute global
warming theories. Some people question why weather bureau data differs
from that in media reports. I am a climatology researcher who has also
come to feel the elephant and report my observations.

Over the past 100 years, temperatures in Taiwan have risen twice as
fast as the global average. Taiwan, northeast Asia, Siberia and the
northern Asian and European continents are all experiencing this kind
of phenomenon. Other areas in the 20th century experienced a decline
in temperature, making temperature increases over the last 100 years
less significant. This climatic diversity is clearly influenced by
different factors.

Over the last 30 years, the rate of global temperature increase has
suddenly escalated to about three times its pace over the last 100
years, or about two degrees per 100 years. Temperatures in Taiwan have
increased at about the same rate, with winter temperatures rising more
than summer temperatures.

The documented changes over the past three decades reflect global
warming in its most obvious form, with almost all regions of the globe
becoming hotter.

Climatic diversity seems to be gradually disappearing. Biological
diversity is beneficial to ecological and environmental
sustainability, while climatic diversity helps to maintain a stable

More importantly, over the past 30 years land temperatures have
clearly increased faster than ocean air temperatures -- whereas during
the previous 100 years, they warmed at about the same rate. Climatic
modeling for future global warming shows a similar trend. By the end
of the 1980s, climatologists had predicted that greenhouse gas
emissions couldn't be checked and global temperatures would continue
to rise.

Greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen over the last 30 years,
while the global warming trend has become more evident. These
phenomenons have deeply worried many climatologists.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently
issued its fourth report, stating that it's very possible that the
global warming experienced over the past 50 years could have been
influenced by humans.

It said that the average global temperature will rise by 1.1oC to
6.4oC by the end of the 21st century, possibly intensifying storms and
droughts in some areas.

Some people doubt the reliability of these results because climate
modeling has many flaws and climate predictions tend to be inaccurate.
These skeptics believe there is much uncertainty about global warming.
There is some basis for all of these theories, but modern science
doesn't provide firmer predictions, instead emphasizing probabilities
and possibilities.

Global warming is very complicated. It isn't a purely scientific
question, but a matter of risk assessment and management. Moreover, it
is a question of human choice.

The IPCC employed hundreds of scientists, used the most advanced
climatic modeling, analyzed the most complete information in history
and cited hundreds of academic papers to finish the most comprehensive
climate assessment the world has ever seen.

Its report tells us that different research centers, using different
models, all came to a similar conclusion: humans have created global
warming, and with the prospect of uncontrolled greenhouse gas
emissions, global warming will become more and more severe.

These are not simply foregone conclusions, but are the consummation of
research by many scientists.

Confronted with this kind of warning, how should wise governments
respond? Perhaps decades from now, all of these global warming
predictions will be proven false.

But we must deal with these potentially disastrous problems in the present.

The heart of the issue is the greatest challenge humanity has ever
faced: how to interpret this information and carry out the best
counter-strategy to minimize the dangers of global warming.

This is not a question of right or wrong, but a matter of choice.
Humanity's common challenge is Taiwan's challenge, and humanity's
collective fate is Taiwan's collective fate.

Taiwan will not be able to remain outside the next wave of
globalization -- or global warming for that matter. So what should the
nation's decision be?

We can choose not to act, then pray that global warming turns out to
be the greatest scientific blunder in human history. Or we can take
concrete action to solve the problems facing our environment.

This action will not only help lessen the global warming trend, but
will also make Taiwan a nation with a sustainable environment and
limitless commercial opportunities.

Hsu Huang-hsiung is a professor at the department of atmospheric
sciences at National Taiwan University.

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