Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
The title of Ivor Paul Kaplin’s December 22nd letter “Humans behind climate change” is misleading. But the acknowledgment of the human contribution to global warming is so common now that people overlook the details of the situation. Yes, human activity is contributing to global warming. But human activity is not the “primary cause” that Kaplin writes. The primary cause is that for many thousands of years the planet earth naturally has been in a warming phase. That phase is continuing, evidenced by the continuing retreat of alpine glaciers and polar ice caps. The last ice age did not end twenty thousand years ago and then yield to a so-called “inter-glacial” phase that we now inhabit. Instead, the last ice age is stillin the process of ending. That is why it is impossible to stop global warming. We are contributing to the rise in ambient temperature, but the situation is beyond us, and we are just along for the ride on Spaceship Earth. We already knew that when the Kyoto Accord was negotiated.
Retarding or totally ending the human contribution to the warming trend will not retard or end the trend itself. Even if human activity was the primary culprit it must be pointed out that our contribution is not the result of the industrial age alone. It is the cumulative result of every environment-altering activity and every fire our species has ever undertaken, going back many millennia. Ending our part in it will take many thousands of years more even if our emissions were reduced to zero immediately. Therefore, I do not appreciate hearing talk of “ending global warming” by limiting human gas emissions, nor talk of human activity that ignores the evolution of climate in geologic time.
Curbing human contributions to the climate mess is a good thing. Most of all it makes us feel better about ourselves. But one day our species will become extinct. Extinction is natural, and the planet will go merrily on until the dying and expanding sun consumes it.
Published on Sunday, December 25, 2011 as “Global warming trend beyond us.”
I felt really good about this letter. I thought it made a correct and good point in concise, clear language in just the right timber. But I was a little disappointed with the edited, printed version that appeared on Christmas Day because, once again, the paper’s staff robbed me of some of my eloquence, in the course of which they also modified the tone and emphasis of my thoughts. Not significantly, but measurably. I knew it immediately on seeing the first line. Where I wrote about the title of Ivor Paul Kaplin’s letter being misleading the newspaper’s version opened with the simplified “Regarding Ivor Paul Kaplin’s Dec. 22 letter ...” I thought the printed version made it sound as if I was making an issue of the content of the Dec. 22 letter more than with the title. It’s an important distinction because my point is partly that even the media contributes to confusion rather than clarity on the matter. For example, through poor story titles, photo titles or photo captions. The Japan Times frequently chooses quite poor English titles for its photographs. The staff tries to make an English pun and instead delivers something creepily off-color or borderline inappropriate. Readers who scan titles as a method of gleaning information and selecting stories to read get the wrong message from the newspaper’s choice of title for the Kaplin letter, “Humans behind climate change.”
I don’t want to risk sounding like I do not believe in global warming, because I do. My concern in reference to the December 22 letter is less what are the real mechanics of global warming than the discrepancy between the reality and the public perception and discussion of it. That’s the thing.
The title “Global warming beyond us” sounds too defeatist, like I am dismissing environmentalism and recycling, etc., throwing up my hands and giving up the fight when I am not. On the contrary, I think environmental conservation is good, recycling is good, renewable energy is good, etc. primarily because, as I wrote, it makes us feel better about ourselves, which is a habitually under-estimated motive. But none of it will stop global warming. Global warming cannot be stopped. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.