A Science for Everyone

Climate Change-A Matter of Perspective

Perspective makes a difference on most things. By training, my temporal perspective is, at the least, the last 20,000 years. As I greet the morning, I see a meadow where just over a century ago there was a lake. I have seen photographs of that lake – a vestige of the glacial lakes that were scattered across northwest Montana. There is some solid evidence off the California coast that until about 18,000 years ago, when the Ice Age began warming, sea level was about 600 feet lower than it is today. Estimates show that another couple-hundred feet of sea level rise is stored on land surfaces such as Greenland and the Antarctic.

I’d be more concerned about the water rising if I didn’t live at 3,100 feet elevation. The highest point in Florida is 345 feet above sea level. The high point in Washington DC is 410 feet above sea level. Glaciers have been where I live. Global cooling and ice holds more significance to me. My perspective would be different if I lived in Florida, or DC, or Paramaribo. Surplus elevation staves off the threat of rising seas.

I reside just a little south of the 49th parallel. As June approaches, I have just finished mowing the lawn for the second time. The last frost (hopefully the last frost) was about a week ago. If global warming extends my short growing season, my garden becomes more productive. It’s a matter of perspective – two weeks more growing season would be nice here . . . but might not be so beneficial in northern New Mexico or southern Colorado. There is a different view as the latitude increases or decreases.

Geologists tell me that there have been five major ice-ages, one where the glaciers reached the equator. Each precedes our modern, technical culture – which suggests that climate change has occurred without human causation. The question becomes how much of the change is due to “natural” events and how much is human caused? There is a difference between a 20,000 year perspective and a 200 year perspective. The world view is different from sea level in Washington DC than from 3,100 ft above sea level on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains.

An agricultural perspective shows that longer growing seasons would produce more crops in Canada and Russia. Construction in our southern states shows that it is cheaper to cool our buildings than to heat them. Climate change is not a simple equation, there are advantages to warming as well as disadvantages – and it’s relevance to our lives depends on where we live.

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