Warming Paper Topic
Version Date: December 22, 2011
There seems to be enough heat around the topic of global warming to
cause global warming. Positions are frequently fixed and held with
fervor. Opponents are greeted with anger or scorn. So if you have
chosen or been assigned global warming or climate change as a paper
topic, it's especially important to write in a calm, focused,
reasonable way, using research support. In other words, write in the
same way you should for any research paper topic.
If you are writing a research paper, search the usual places (online
scholarly research sources such as ProQuest, JSTOR, InfoTrac, EBSCO
Host, etc.), including a plain old Google search. If you want to find a
list of available databases, just google "list of online databases" and
you'll find lots.
Search terms should include global
warming, climate change, and perhaps global cooling because it's always
good to get contrarian ideas. In fact, when you search, in addition to
the plain phrases, add the word controversy
to your search string and see what you get.
Here are some questions that will help guide you. Depending on the
length of your paper, any one of these questions could be the focus of
the entire paper. With research papers, it's better to be thorough on a
limited topic that attempt to cover ten aspects of a topic in a
1. Is global warming taking place?
This is an obvious starting point. But before we can begin to address
the issue, we need to know whether it is real or not. Considerations
2. If global warming is indeed taking
place, does it reflect a permanent, ongoing increase, or is it a
temporary upsweep in a rising and falling cycle?
- Is global warming real or is it the result of a measurement
- Are the historical records accurate?
- What is the greenhouse effect?
- What is the relationship between carbon dioxide and global
- Are current measurements correct or are they distorted by the
place and circumstances of measurement? For example, was a parking lot
recently built around the temperature recording apparatus, causing a
rise in recorded temperatures? What are the thermometers measuring?
There is quite a bit of controversy here, with some pointing to the
past when temperatures were different--higher or lower than normal.
Research points here include:
- the Medieval warming period
- the "year without a summer"
- the predictions in the 1970s of a coming ice age
- the effect of sun spots on global temperatures
3. If global warming is permanent, is
Earth temperatures and carbon dioxide levels in the past (think about
all that lush plant growth that we now pump out of the ground as oil).
Earth was once a greenhouse, so what if that state returned? Research
4. If global warming is bad, is human
activity contributing to it?
- How much is the rise and where is it predicted to go? (You'll
find lots of enormously different projections here, so look up several,
not just one.)
- Rising sea levels and coastal flooding. (Again, find several
predictions because lots of variation.)
- Climate change might mean drought, flooding, storms, more ice in
some regions, etc. Look for climate implications.
- Benefits of a warmer global climate.
This question gets closer to the heart of the issue, because if global
warming is taking place as a result of, say, sun spots, then there is
no reason to get exercised about it since we can't do anything about
it. But if mankind has contributed to it--and it's bad--then that opens
the door for doing something. Research concepts:
5. If human activity is contributing
to global warming, how significant is the contribution?
- fossil fuels and global carbon dioxide levels
- natural versus manmade carbon dioxide production
- the carbon cycle
In addition to the tailpipes of automobiles, the back ends of cattle
produce a lot of carbon dioxide, as do decaying plants and forest
fires. So, what degree of the overall problem can be assigned to human
activity? Research ideas:
6. If human activity contributes
significantly to global warming, and if global warming is bad, should
interventions be attempted?
- manmade sources of carbon dioxide
- natural sources of carbon dioxide
- total carbon dioxide production by source per year (look into an
almanac for something like this)
Here we get to the stage of "let's solve this problem." And that's the
time to paraphrase economist Thomas Sowell, who reminds us that there
are no solutions to problems, only tradeoffs. So in your research and
analysis of "solutions" to the global warming problem, remember that
every solution is likely to have tradeoffs--negative
consequences--whether or not the solution has a large, small, or
nonexistent effect. Research ideas:
- For a given proposed solution, what will it cost in money? And
since that money will have to be taken out of the economy of whatever
city, state, or nation spends it, what will be the consequences in lost
jobs, health, etc.
- Are the consequences (tradeoffs) of a given proposal worth it?
- Who gets to say whether the tradeoffs are worth it?
- What is the likelihood that the solution will have its proposed
effect? In other words, what if it doesn't work?
7. Global warming implies a global
solution. How can this be accomplished?
It's not going to do much good if, say, the United States cuts its
carbon dioxide output by 50% while China increases its output by 300%.
So how does one get global cooperation for a global problem? Issues:
- Since we don't live on planet Utopia, should individual nations
take steps while others take advantage of those other countries'
constraints? For example, if we stop making steel to save carbon
dioxide generated by gas-fired electrical plants, will another nation
simply take over the task and sell us the sooty steel?
Think about these general questions as you research:
- How can we know? Since much of this argument focuses on
predictions and assumptions, how can we know with any degree of
confidence that the problem is as described or that any proposed
solution is likely to have a net beneficial result?
- Is it a bit arrogant and even foolish--if not downright
dangerous--to think we can control the Earth's climate?
- Is this really about global warming or is it about power and
control? This might seem to be an odd question, but some have noted
that the issue has become dogma now, where the "openness and
reasonableness of science to let truth find its way" is no longer
operative here. Opponents are suppressed and ridiculed, while
proponents sometimes seem to be more interested in industrial collapse
(or the collapse of capitalism) than in solving gobal warming.
2011 by Robert Harris | How
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About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com