In defense of climate change science
Climate change, whether the science is embraced by supporters or vilified by detractors, has slid into the quagmire of other hot-button liberal vs. conservative/Democrat vs. Republican political issues, including social services, abortion, gun violence and the Second Amendment, President Donald Trump's impeachment and so on. Even the question of vaccinations for children, the practice of which has led to remarkable scientific breakthroughs toward the near elimination of ancient world diseases such as the measles and whooping cough, has recently morphed into a right vs. left political battlefield in our modern culture wars.
And, as a result, we've witnessed the recurrence of diseases only recently believed to have been completely wiped out.
Science is under attack. Vast populations of peer-reviewed scientists, physicists and visionaries are being cast as conspirators by climate change-denying laymen who scramble, seemingly desperately so, to latch onto conclusions that support their identifying ideology — or the deeply held beliefs of the political ideology they subscribe to.
This week's letters include material produced by two writers who believe climate change is a colossal hoax. Dick Magnuson, in his letter "Give me a break on climate change nonsense," attempts to dissuade readers from believing climate change had any influence on the unprecedented raging and deadly bushfires in Australia, instead pointing to poor foliage management as the result of environmentalists' interventions, arsonists and other conditions.
Chris Brumbles, who routinely appears on our opinion page as a champion of Second Amendment rights, references a recent summit sponsored by the Columbia County GOP last week that included two climate change critics, Dr. Gordon Fulks of The Heartland Institute, a conservative/libertarian free market think tank, and Chuck Weise, who routinely appears on conservative media outlets as a so-called climate change debunking scientist.
Brumbles equates climate change as a religion rather than science. Per his letter, "Man-made global warming, or climate change, or whatever they call it next, is pure fallacy and a religion, not science." And yet, in the fashion of a modern-day revival, Brumbles and fellow climate change revelers assembled in St. Helens just last week to cast out the offending scientific assertion that the planet is warming due to human activity. If climate change believers are devotees of a religion, climate change deniers exhibit all the trappings of a cult.
Notably, the case Magnuson, a former law enforcement official, presents is contrary to what the overwhelming majority of credible climatologists, meteorologists and others disciplined in the study of climate science assert, though he has peppered in other factors — the Eucalyptus trees, which do indeed create conditions more susceptible to fire — that obfuscate the foundational flaw in his claim that climate change is fake news. His argument that the Earth is cooling, rather than warming, is false — yet it is true that the Earth goes through natural cooling and warming cycles.
The volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere, has been steadily climbing since the onset of the industrial revolution. In 1950 it hit the highest level it has seen over the last 800,000 years, according to ice core sampling data provided by NASA. Since then, it has doubled — and not surprisingly. There are 7.53 billion people on the planet, an increase from only 1.6 billion people in 1900. And we're on a trajectory for 9.8 billion in 2050. Consider: In 150 years, we will have added five times more people to the planet than had existed through all history leading up to 1900.
But there is not nearly enough space here, nor is there really the will, to attempt to persuade Magnuson, Brumbles or those who are convinced climate change is a vast conspiracy that they espouse flawed thinking. Anyone who seeks "facts" to support a biased political position, for which climate change denial undoubtedly qualifies, can find those "facts" in many of the echo chambers available online — usually on poorly designed, obscure web pages that promote themselves as caches of underground information accessible to the enlightened few are who clued in to the conspiracy. People are
going to believe what they want to believe.
This also doesn't mean climate change deniers such as Brumbles, Magnuson and others are necessarily bad people. Many hold the same beliefs and are positive, contributing members of their communities. Still, it's difficult not to equate this vein of outdated thinking with that of mass polluters — litterers, air polluters, polluters of the streams and oceans — in the post-World War II era leading up to the 1970s. Debate occurred then, too, including from interests that argued the Earth contained a near inexhautable supply of fresh air, fresh water, and uncontaminated soils. Hence, regulation — now there's a dirty word to some — was unnecessary.
Thankfully, scientists overwhelmingly recognized the peril of our waterways and lawmakers in 1972 passed the Clean Water Act with the awareness "our nation's waters cannot indefinitely absorb an endless avalanche of waste." Thankfully, James Lovelock, a scientist, developed the electron capture detector in the early 1970s and was able to clearly show the depletion of our atmosphere through the use of chlorofluorocarbons (i.e. Freon), which have since been globally banned — yet the stratospheric ozone holes above Antarctica and, less so, Australia remain. Thankfully, agencies like the U.S. military have recognized climate change as a threat to the future stability of the nation and are planning accordingly (if not actually taking the necessary steps to reduce its carbon footprint). And thankfully, the overwhelming majority of publish-
ing climate scientists agree that
humans are causing the Earth to warm.
If Brumbles, Magnuson and other deniers are correct, that's great. Without having lifted a finger, we have avoided a future fraught with floods, droughts, famine, increasing swells of Category 5 hurricanes, super tornados, melting permafrost and glaciers, mass human migrations and the re-emergence of long-dormant diseases. If the Earth is cooling, all should be well, right?
But if the Earth is warming on the trajectory scientists have identified and humans are not the cause, so that there's absolutely nothing we can do about it, we — our children, grandchildren and other future generations — are screwed.
Darryl Swan is publisher of the Columbia County Spotlight
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