The Boy Who Cried Wolf...
And the Global Warming Debate

Michael H. Glantz
20 December
2005

The Boy Who Cried Wolf … and the Global Warming Debate

 

The debate about the causes behind the global warming of the Earth's atmosphere still continues three decades, more or less, after it began. One point on which all scientists now agree is that the global climate has warmed since 1900 by about 0.7 degree C.

In the past thirty years, the balance among the various positions in the debate, however, has shifted significantly in favor of those who believe that the climate is warming up because of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and the cutting down of tropical rainforests in different parts of the globe and those who believe that the warming is part of a natural cycle independent of human influence.

It is pretty safe to say that, among scientists, the yeasayers (those who believe that human activities are affecting global climate) well outnumber the naysayers (otherwise known as skeptics who do not believe in a human-induced warming). There is a third category, the undecided, and of those there are some who lean toward the views of the yeasayers and others who favor the naysayers position.

I think that in many cultures there is probably a story about a boy who cried wolf. It goes like this: a shepherd herding sheep spent many lonely days and nights tending his family's sheep. So, to get attention, he would cry "Wolf!" so that others would come running to help him protect the sheep. At first the villagers were happy that no wolf appeared. But the boy continued each night to cry wolf and soon the villagers no longer believed his calls for help. One night a wolf did come to attack the sheep and the boy cried wolf yet again. This time, no one came to help him, and his sheep were killed.

For several years now the naysayers (skeptics) have been saying that the yeasayers were "crying wolf'" about a human-induced global warming of the atmosphere. The truth of the matter is that the naysayer is the one who is crying wolf. Some key policy makers or influential advisers use the increasingly weakened arguments of the naysayers in order to avoid having to take serious action to combat global warming. Yet, each major study adds another missing piece to the climate change puzzle in support of the yeasayers' argument that humans are influencing the climate. The naysayers try to find an article to refute the apparent progress in scientific understanding of global warming of the 20th, and now 21st, century.

Each of the most recent years seems to take its place on the list of the ten hottest years on record, most of which have occurred within the past 20 years. Hmmm; is it rocket science to conclude that something must be going on here with regard to forcing the global climate system to change?

Now we learn, thanks to satellites, that the coverage of Arctic ice is dropping and is at its lowest level in recent times. Great, say the naysayers; some governments can use the ice-free Arctic for a shortened navigation route between the Pacific and the Atlantic. Great, eh? Not so, if you listen to the arguments about the potentially devastating impacts on climate in the Northern Hemisphere. Apparently, for evidence of global warming the northernmost latitudes represent the proverbial canary in the mine [in the old days canaries were brought into the mines as an early warning of gas buildup].

People fear change in general and some suggest that the North American breadbasket --- the US Midwest and the Canadian Prairie Provinces --- will become drier with a warmer atmosphere (which is causing the Arctic sea ice to melt!).

The point of the comments above is an attempt to re-right a wrong. It is not those who say that humans are a contributing factor in global warming that are the proverbial boy crying wolf. It is the skeptics who are crying wolf, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary of their position. Isn't there enough evidence already in space, on the ground, in the ocean, in ecosystems and in society to support a governmental comprehensive “precautionary” approach to dealing with global warming of the atmosphere that has become a worldwide concern?

It's time to leapfrog the obstacles placed by naysayers in the way of political action on global warming, so that future generations can say that our generation of Americans preferred being safe as opposed to being sorry.

--Michael H. Glantz

Fragilecologies Home Page | Full List of Articles