Global warming is a very hot topic that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast. The conception is that there is definitely global warming and, moreover, man is responsible for it by producing greenhouse gases (CO2). This is becoming increasingly politicized, but the majority of earth’s inhabitants (who think about such things) believe this to be true and supported by scientific studies.

There are several things that must be taken into account when considering the topic of global warming. First of all, the belief that we are the cause of global warming is a human concept. Human ego is involved: we can do anything. Second, science is a continually evolving study of a variety of phenomena. What is true in science today may or may not be so tomorrow. Scientists recognize that they can make mistakes in accessing information and its evaluation, and new hypotheses must always be investigated. Science teaches us to continually evaluate. The test of time is really the basis of scientific evaluation and evolution. The current belief is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, placed there by human activities, prevents radiation of heat away from our planet into outer space. Evidence for this is the shrinking of glaciers and ice caps at the earth’s poles. The polar bear population in our north is threatened by the loss of their habitat. The oceans’ sea levels are rising and will encroach upon low-lying lands where populations live. The news media periodically print stories that reveal evidence of future catastrophes that will occur because of the warming of our globe.

There are, however, some questions that need answering. In the earth’s roughly 4.5 billion year history, there is evidence of wide swings in the earth’s temperature. Our very state’s land mass was shaped by glacier formations and their retreat. What caused the cooling for glaciers to develop; and then what caused the warming that resulted in their retreat? There is geological evidence of repeated periods of warming and cooling in the earth’s history. Meteorites have collided with the earth and dark clouds of materials have prevented the sun’s rays from warming the earth, and it has cooled. Volcanic eruptions can do the same thing on a smaller scale and for a briefer time.

We have been advised to eliminate the use of carbon dioxide producing fuels for our energy needs. As the world’s populations become increasingly industrialized, more and more energy will be required. Traditionally this has come from wood, then coal, then petroleum and natural gas. Our planet can handle a certain amount of the byproducts of combustion from these materials, but I have noted a relatively recent change here in Maine. My wife and I began visiting the Midcoast back in the early 1970s. After a night-time rain, our car would look like it had been through a car wash. Back in the Midwest, rain would leave your car covered with a lot of precipitants from carbon produced pollutants. Today in Maine, a rain will leave your car spotted, looking like a car in the Midwest in the ‘70s. There are also people with respiratory allergies, asthma and the like, who have difficulties because of man-made contaminants. There are, indeed, many more gases and precipitants from fossil fuels in the air over the last few decades than there were before. Is this responsible for global warming?

I agree that we should cut down on our use of carbon-based fuels. We have many alternatives: wind, solar, tidal, and — yes — nuclear. The French are so far ahead of us in their use of nuclear fuels to produce there electrical needs. They believe that the human mind can deal with the catastrophes of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and develop new controls to make nuclear energy safe. (It is sad that the American mind — previously considered to be one of the most innovative — is shy on developing safe nuclear energy and the means of dealing with the nuclear waste.)

But one of the most strategic advantages achieved by turning away from fossil fuels is that we no longer would be dependent upon the Middle East for our energy. Franklin D. Roosevelt met with the king of Saudi Arabia in the Suez Canal at the end of World War II. He agreed to defend the Saudi royal family if we could have unlimited access to their oil. He believed the United States defeated the Nazis because we did not run out of fuel for our planes and tanks, and we destroyed the German petroleum supplies in south-eastern Europe. Ever since, we have been dependent on the Middle East for our petroleum thirst. If we developed energy resources that did not involve petroleum, we could exit the Middle East and let them come knocking at our door when they would like to join the western world.

There have been recent reports concerning potential flaws in scientific evidence for the cause(s) of global warming. We shall see what happens as scientific studies continue.

Keep an open mind!

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.