09/06/06

Michael Shermer, the founding publisher and editor of Skeptic magazine, told Saint Mary's College students that he is no longer skeptical about the dangers of global warming and climate change.

Shermer, who also writes a monthly column for Scientific American and is the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series at Caltech, visited the SMC campus on Sept. 6 as part of "Sustainable Saint Mary"s Day."

Until January of 2006, Shermer said he agreed with those who believe that increases in temperature are a normal part of the rise and fall of average heat of the earth.

"Our job at Skeptic is to be debunkers," Shermer told an audience of more than 150 in the Soda Center. "Our job is to debunk myths. It's a nasty job, but someone has to do it. In the 1970s I was told there would be no more forests by the 1990s, so I'm naturally skeptical on the topic."

His opinion started to change when Evangelical Christians released writings on their shifting beliefs about global warming. Shermer, who is not an Evangelical Christian, was intrigued that a group viewed as widely conservative would subscribe to a more liberal viewpoint on the issue.

Shermer's skepticism about global warming continued to erode after he saw Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" in March. Then, after reading a variety of books, such as Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers," he completely flipped his view on global warming.

"The amount of CO2 being produced is off the charts," Shermer said. "Everything naturally goes up and down, but this is extreme. We are up to 380 CO2 parts per million as opposed to a normal level of 280. If we get up to 450 to 550 it will be too warm for us to sustain."

Whether or not human abuse of the environment is to blame for the recent spike in carbon dioxide is a debatable topic, Shermer said, but he does believe that even drastic declines in greenhouse gases may not be enough to stop global warming.

"Even if we reduce CO2 levels by 70 percent, we will still see a climate change of 2 to 9 degrees Celsius by 2050," Shermer said.

The fact that 20 percent of the North Pole has melted since 1979 was one of many startling statistics Shermer cited during his speech. He said that the amount of water that melts off the North Pole each year is 200 times the amount of water used annually by the city of Los Angeles.

"The problem is we don't have an exact theory on what causes climate change to occur, and people have a hard time comprehending big numbers," Shermer said. "I think we all have to look for evidence and be open to change our minds."

--Kevin Damore
Office of College Communications

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