More on Global Warming from Professor Lee Bailey

Nancy Stezzi, P'07, wrote to "Mailbox" regarding retired religion and philosophy professor Lee Bailey's "Final Word" essay "The End of Progress?" in our 2006/4 issue.

Dear Nancy Stezzi,

Thank you for your concern about the global warming debate. It certainly is complex and influenced by political views on both sides.  In reply to your specific questions:

1. Was global warming responsible for the New Orleans disaster?

I love New Orleans, and hated to see half its population leave and the other half suffer from chaos because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The city is in a major river delta used to flooding, but not to this degree.

Certainly building the city below sea level and poor levees were factors, but these flaws just made New Orleans an easy target for the early phases of long-term global warming. with an increase in hurricanes, floods, and erratic weather. Low-lying regions globally, such as southern Florida, South Pacific islands, the deltas of major rivers such as India’s Ganges, and cities such as Peking, are already suffering from or are in danger of major flooding.

Several authoritative reports are predicting a sea level rise of up to 5 or more feet in the next decades from global warming that melts large glaciers and ice packs and disturbs weather patterns. This is certainly alarming and stimulates denial. I have the greatest sympathy for those who would lose beach real estate investments and the masses of poor people whose lives would be lost or devastated, and I will be part of coming efforts to help refugees. But understandable concern for investment in property, natural resistance to change, and political denial supporting the economic status quo turn a blind eye — to everyone’s peril — to the mass of scientific studies authenticating global warming and its destructiveness.

Global warming’s impact is happening now, and denial only makes the problem worse. Many important scientific studies have warned us. The National Climactic Data Center says that human burning of fossil fuels is raising earth’s temperature with great potential for disasters, as does the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The economic costs of not accepting and preparing for more climate problems outweighs the cost of doing nothing, on the scale of the Depression and World Wars of the 20th century, says the British Stern Review.

Look at the charts of the correlation of high carbon dioxide levels and higher atmospheric temperatures and see why scientists are saying that 2007 could be the warmest year on record, perhaps in the last 1,000 years (World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases).

Add it up: human-caused global warming is creating dangerous, even catastrophic weather changes that will flood and destroy many low-lying areas worldwide. New Orleans was an early warning sign in our part of the world.

2. Is rampant obesity due to our high-fat meat-laden diet?

Of course lack of exercise plays an important part in obesity. But so does diet.

Physicians for Responsible Medicine have been warning about the dangers of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets since 1985. Temporary weight loss from the Atkins diet is typically not maintained, and may promote heart disease, colon cancer, impaired kidney function, osteoporosis, and complications of diabetes. Dangerously high cholesterol levels from all that bacon and hamburger can coexist for a while with short-term weight loss from eating less bread. The chair of Harvard’s Nutrition Department called the Atkins diet “dangerous,” and the American Medical Association published an official condemnation of the Atkins diet as a “serious threat to health.” At his death in 2003, Dr. Atkins, who advocated a high-meat and low-carbohydrate diet, died from a heart attack. He was obese, weighing about 255 pounds, as reported the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. There is a lot of controversy around his diet, but the American Obesity Association certainly does not support diet companies’ illusions of “eat more and exercise less.”

3. Is coal a “dirty” way to generate electricity?

Coal is certainly a quick way to generate heat and is a long-established component of industrial society. But information from the Environmental Protection Agency shows big problems: EPA data from 1997 show that power plants emitted 36 percent of the total carbon dioxide pollution in the United States that year (2 billion tons), 64 percent of the sulfur dioxide (13 million tons), 26 percent of the nitrogen oxides (6 million tons), and 34 percent of mercury emissions from all known sources (52 tons). According to a National Academy of Sciences report released last June, power plants, especially coal-fired ones, are the single largest source of mercury pollution.

While only 56 percent of power plants in the United States are fueled with coal, those coal-fired plants accounted for most of the pollutants emitted by the entire electric industry — more than 93 percent of nitrogen oxides, 96 percent of sulfur dioxide, more than 88 percent of carbon dioxide, and 99 percent of mercury emissions — according to EPA’s Acid Rain Program. (Dave Aftandilian “Dirty, Coal-Fired Power Plants in Illinois”).

All this carbon dioxide is now overloading the upper atmosphere and keeping solar heat in, triggering massive melts of ice in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica. These are raising sea levels and stimulating erratic weather, from floods, hurricanes, and tidal waves to droughts and forest fires. These catastrophic consequences are linked to burning fossil fuels.

Although denied in some mass media, which should present both sides of debates, the connection is no longer the topic of serious scientific debate. I asked a Cornell University professor of earth and atmospheric science whether Al Gore’s predictions of such disasters were scientifically valid, and she calmly said “yes.” Ithaca College’s own well-known climatologist Jason Hamilton agrees, as you may have read in his excellent ICQ “Final Word” essay, “Katrina and Global Warming” (2005/4). Catastrophic global warming is happening, and coal is a big part of it (Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future, and Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth).

I am glad that parents of Ithaca College students are interested in what their children are learning. Welcome to an important debate.

Prof. Lee Bailey (Retired)