Hot, Flat and Crowded?

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Joy Welborn.

My curiosity was piqued when I learned Hot, Flat, and Crowded was to be the freshman summer reading. For all the global warming debates swirling around academic communities these days, I personally had done very little research on the subject. Therefore, I picked up the book with an open mind, prepared myself to think critically about this divisive issue, and began to read. What I found was extremely alarming- but it wasn’t the environment that concerned me. Rather, I was troubled after reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded because of the distorted view and inconsistencies I saw represented there. I highly questioned Thomas Friedman’s supposed global crisis and his solutions for the environment; so, to gain a well-rounded viewpoint with which to compare and contrast both sides of the issue, I also read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming by Christopher C. Horner and Climate Confusion by Roy W. Spencer. Here are my thoughts based on my compiled readings:

First, Friedman asserts that there is a “consensus” among “knowledgeable” scientists that harmful, human-made global warming is occurring. He acknowledges (in his highly simplified list stereotyping everyone opposing global warming) there is a “small minority” of scientists “who have looked at the data and concluded for different reasons that the rapid and extensive increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution is not a major threat to the planet’s livability.” Friendman accuses these scientists of muddying the issue of climate change and preventing drastic “save-the-world” action. I hugely disagree with this entire train of thought. Is “consensus” to be valued in the scientific community? After all, if a consensus was all that was needed to prove the validity of scientific theories, we would still believe the earth was flat. Just as Galileo was persecuted for his heliocentric theory, is it possible that scientists today are refraining from voicing their doubts about global warming in order to avoid being belittled in books like Hot, Flat, and Crowded? A “consensus” proves nothing because science is not a democracy.

Second, Hot, Flat, and Crowded mentioned multiple times how the earth’s surface temperature has drastically risen in the past few decades. Since it is obviously impossible to measure every area of the earth, the earth’s surface temperature is simply an average of temperatures collected from weather stations around the world. In order to understand the global-mean temperature, we must first look at where the temperatures are coming from. From 1989-1992, aka the beginning of the “hottest decade” ever, the Soviet Union was collapsing. This lead to thousands of Russian measuring stations closing, as well as many other stations around the world. Because many of the closed stations were in Siberia and other cold-weather areas, the global mean temperature naturally rose. Hence, global warming!

According to graphs from the past century, global temperature is constantly shifting. The world warmed from 1895-1940, cooled from 1940-1975, warmed from 1975 to 1998, and is currently in a cooling trend, comparatively. The weather we are experiencing now is neither historically unusual nor unprecedented.

Finally, the solutions put forth by Thomas Friedman and the government are unrealistic and crippling, at best, and absolutely catastrophic for the US economy, at worst. The overall cost required to implement the “solutions” would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. The overall effect would be maybe a reduction in the earth’s surface temperature of a hundredth-of-a-degree-Celsius over a period of many years. If, based on the substantial doubts I’ve briefly mentioned above, there is no cause for global warming alarm, the cost to the economy would be absolutely fatal to the US. Tighter, unbearable regulations would force businesses to move to countries such as India and China, thereby negating our attempt to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

It is worth noting that I agreed with a few of the points made in Thomas Friendman’s book. Yes, petrodictatorship is a problem, and we should discuss ways to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, if only for that reason. Yes, our climate is changing (though not necessarily for the worst). Climate tracking is a relatively new area of science that is constantly changing and improving. As such, we should continue to follow the findings of both sides of the debate before dismissing one side’s ideas.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded made me think about an issue that has consequences for me personally, for the United States, and for the world. After reading the book and supplemental materials, I was able to develop an informed opinion on this topic. Thank you for choosing such a thought-provoking book for the freshman 2009 read. I look forward to many more stimulating conversations in the upcoming years as a GWU student!


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