Hawks, Doves, Owls … and Other Birds

Michael H. Glantz
2 July 2003

Hawks, Doves, Owls … and Other Birds


A long time ago, I began to use the metaphor of birds to identify differing perspectives on the global warming issue. I used hawks, doves, and owls to make my point.

Hawks, at one end of the continuum, encompass those who believe that the signs of global warming are already evident (an apparent increase in record-setting extreme events, the hottest years of record occurring in the past twenty years or so, increasingly intense El Niño events, and so on).

The doves at the other end of the continuum are those who do not believe that human activities can lead to global warming. They might argue that the earth's system is too robust and is filled with feedback mechanisms that can override any effect of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities.

The owls take up the middle of the continuum. They are not as strongly convinced about global warming as are the extreme hawks or doves. They are aware that scientific uncertainties remain in the science of global warming.

Some owls are concerned that societies have the capability to permanently alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere and, therefore, the climate regime. They lean toward the hawks. Other owls are not convinced by existing research about human influences on climate but tend to believe that the human contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are relatively small, compared to naturally occurring gases; hence, it is not necessarily foreseeable that societies will alter the global climate in irreversible and life-threatening ways.

Alas. A new category has appeared on the horizon: the ostrich. In America, an ostrich is used to symbolize people who bury their head in the sand. Hence, there is no communicating with them when they are in such a mode.

It appears that there are governments, or at least government officials, who do not believe in the possibility that human activities can lead to adverse impacts on the global climate system by warming it up by several degrees Celsius. In fact, they tend to reject any information that challenges their own "cast in stone" views.

A draft of a recent report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA's Draft Report on the Environment 2003, www.epa.gov/indicators/) on the state of the environment was reviewed and, in a way, censored by those in the present administration who are opposed to the "doom and gloom" scenarios related to global warming. As a result of this editing, references to the human impacts on the global climate were deleted, as were the references to the adverse impacts on human health of auto emissions and smokestack effluents.

But saying that the prospects of societal involvement in global warming of the atmosphere do not exist does not make it so. Disregarding on purpose the collective assessments of a large majority of scientists is not a refutation of those assessments. It is an "ignore-ance" of them (i.e., burying one's head in the sand).

All this has been done in full view of the media, the public, and those in other nations who do take global warming seriously, scientific uncertainties notwithstanding.

Hawks, doves, and owls talk to, or at least at each other, seeking to convince those who have not made up their minds about the likelihood of global warming. Ostriches seem not to care about the issue at all. True, funds are provided to reduce uncertainty. However, at the same time funds are being provided to scientists so that politicians can avoid having to make decisions based on existing scientific information and consensus. Ostriches are not a problem - unless they are in power.

--Michael H. Glantz

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