Various people in Rossmoor have told me they do not believe in global warming. Normally I courteously respect diversity in religious beliefs. Scientists, however, do not do “belief,” they do “verifiable,” “hypothesis” and “theory.”
To scientists, the word “verifiable” connotes observations, measurements or experiments clearly explained and that can be repeated by other observers. That places a substantial burden on scientists. It requires a report in public writing with sufficient detail of both the results of an observation or experiment and how those experiments were performed, so that others can repeat the process. This is the modern view of how to investigate the world. With some minor exceptions, it did not occur to “philosophers” until the time of Galileo. Prior to then, philosophers and charlatans kept their methods and observations secret, reporting only conclusions. Absent such information, their conclusions were unverifiable.
“Hypothesis” is almost a secret code of scientists and mathematicians. Why it remains secret is not clear; most folks take mathematics courses in school. Mathematics begins with an hypothesis; if the hypothesis can be logically proved, it generates a new theorem. Notice the similarly to “theory.” A body of hypotheses and theorems constitutes a field of mathematics: geometry or algebra or topology. Proof can be complicated or difficult. Some great hypotheses of mathematics remained unproved for years; some are still unproved.
In experimental science, one also begins with an hypothesis. A scientist uses an hypothesis to design experiments to test an idea. Such experimental tests are not as exact as a mathematical proof and often end up demonstrating the hypothesis holds for some limited conditions, but point to other conditions for which the hypothesis may be modified. This was true for Newton’s grand concept of mechanics. He proposed the concept of energy and determined that the energy of a moving body equaled half its weight multiplied by the square of its speed. He also invented a concept called “gravity,” which was a property of mass.
Newton’s mechanics enabled the great exploration of the motion of planets and, today, still governs routine calculations for space travel. In the late 1800s, however, astronomers found a minor but real exception to Newton’s equations. Some 30 years later, Einstein developed a new theory that more precisely explained the effect of massive bodies on the behavior of light. In his general theory of relativity, he dispensed with the concept of “gravity,” replacing it with the concept that the geometry of space changes in the vicinity of an object according to the mass of the object.
Newton was not “wrong,” he just did not have the data that Einstein did. Newton was part of the early scientific awakening. At about the same time, other curious folks began to observe and think seriously about the geological objects around them, such as mountains, oceans, glaciers, layers of different kinds of rocks and mineral deposits. Geology is a much more complicated study than Newton’s mechanics, so their progress was slower to generate widely accepted theories.
Basically, however, the first geological “theory” was that in an area where different kinds of rocks are stacked in layers, the lower layers are older than the higher layers. And, as they begin to understand the conditions that could generate the different kinds of mineral “formations,” they realized that various atmospheric conditions had to exist. For example, thick layers of coal required oxygen and higher temperatures. Other formations could only be explained by lower average temperatures. Along with this came the realization that the earth was millions of years old and had gone through many changes. For various reasons, these geologists concluded that the earth should now be getting slightly cooler. Then Louis Agassiz pointed out that in Switzerland glaciers were melting and growing smaller. This did not fit the hypothesis.
Subsequent 20th-century calculations, based on the relationship between the earth and the sun, showed that, indeed, the earth should be getting cooler, not warming. At the same time, scientists who studied how various gases affected atmospheric temperature realized that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere forced warming, not cooling.
It was around this time that scientists began to continuously measure the atmospheric and ocean temperature. These data, traced forward to today, show that the average ocean and atmospheric temperature are both increasing.
At the same time, studies and time-lapse video showed that large ice formations all over the world are melting. These studies have been published in scientific journals. The methods of study are fully described. The data are shown. You or any other person can read how these conclusions were reached. You can read their detailed reports and, if you want, go there and verify their measurements. This is not belief, it is very ordinary science.
Like virtually all scientists, I have read, understood and accept their well-documented measurements and experiments. Scientists do not “believe” in global warming – they have reviewed the measurements and experiments and accept that these folks honestly reported their procedures and data. Many of the measurements have been repeated and confirmed by others in different places around the world, from the North Pole to the deserts to the rain forests to oceans and down to the South Pole. The findings are verified and consistent. Global warming has nothing do with “belief.” It is a verified part of science.
Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 6, 2018 edition. Author Wayne Lanier can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.