Deniers: Wrong for a very long time
THE FLAT EARTH BELIEF: For untold centuries, people were sure that Earth was flat, because it looks flat. This is not surprising, because the earth’s curvature is only 417 feet below the horizontal at a distance of 25 miles — hardly noticeable when there were almost no structures taller than 100 feet. But the belief persisted long after factual information proved that our planet is a sphere.
Between 500 BC and 200 BC, a number of Greek philosophers and astronomers tried to unravel the mysteries of the earth, sun, moon, planets and stars. Anaxagoras (500-428 BC), based on the erroneous assumption that Earth is flat, used the increase in the height of the sun as one goes south to calculate that the sun was 4,000 miles away and 35 miles in diameter. Eratosthenes (276-194 BC), reasoning that the increase in the height of the sun as one goes south is due to the curvature of a spherical Earth, calculated a polar diameter of 7,850 miles, amazingly close to the currently accepted figure of 7,900 miles. But the uninformed went on believing in a flat Earth, as any fool can plainly see.
EARTH IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE: All anyone has to do to confirm this belief is to watch the sun, moon and stars rotate across the sky from east to west. But Heraclides (ca. 388-315 BC) surmised that was due to a spherical Earth rotating on its axis. He also concluded that the appearance of Venus and Mercury in both the morning and evening skies was because they revolved about the sun. Aristarchus of Samos (312-230 BC) was the first to suggest that everything revolves around the sun.
But as late as 1583, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, although he correctly claimed that all the planets revolved about the sun, wrongly thought that the sun and stars revolved about a stationary Earth.
It was a Polish astronomer, Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), who after years of study, completed a book proving that all of the planets (including Earth) revolve around the sun, which he dared not publish until he was on his deathbed for fear of religious persecution. In 1633, Galileo, who adopted and was teaching Copernicus’ theory, was charged with heresy, forced to recant and imprisoned. Scientific evidence has since proven the belief that Earth is the center of the universe to be false, but not without prolonged denial.
GLOBAL WARMING NOT DUE TO BURNING FOSSIL FUELS: There are even a few who claim global warming is a hoax, despite the rise in atmospheric and ocean temperatures recorded over the past 100 years. They claim that fluctuations in Earth’s temperature are a natural occurrence caused by variations in solar energy output or perturbations in Earth’s orbit.
Over the past 500,000 years there have been temperature peaks 2-3 degrees C above the 1961-90 average at roughly 100,000-year intervals, but each one coincided with a peak in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels between 275 and 300 parts per million. With atmospheric CO2 now above 400 ppm, what does that portend for our future?
Deniers also question the accuracy of climate forecasts, citing the 1972 forecast of a cooling future, based on solar activity and Earth’s orbit; but instead temperatures increased. Shouldn’t that be a reason for concern, indicating that some other effect was overpowering the phenomena on which the cooling prediction was based? In 1972, the warming effect of CO2 had not been confirmed, and was not taken into account.
Finally we come to the deniers’ argument that human activities, primarily burning enormous quantities of fossil fuels, could not possibly be significant enough to affect world climate. Real scientists, not the hired guns the energy industry claim to be “experts” to challenge legitimate scientific findings to support their wishes, are almost 100 percent unified that CO2 (aided by methane) is the cause of global warming. A huge CO2 increase and current global warming have occurred in just 100 years, whereas those in the past have taken centuries.
And computer analysis clearly shows a correlation between the rate at which we have been burning fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rate at which atmospheric and oceanic CO2 have been increasing. Furthermore, the decrease in the concentration of carbon isotopes in that CO2 matches the amount of fossil fuels, which are devoid of those isotopes, we have burned.
Deniers, consider the consequences of being wrong.
Hal Sundin’s “As I See It” column appears on the first Thursday of the month.
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