John Stossel’s at it again ‚ ridiculing concerns about climate change, a topic upon which he is grossly misinformed, and largely uninformed.
He bashes those bastions of scientific acumen, Wikipedia and YouTube. YouTube, for example, devotes inadequate attention to “skepticism from conservative and libertarian think tanks.”
“Conservative” and “libertarian” are political stances, driven by their respective ideologies, not to mention a shared reluctance to consider any change that might compromise the free flow of money into their accomplices’ private coffers. If Stossel got his information from scientific sources instead of political “think tanks,” he’d be embarrassed by his previous screeds.
Wikipedia is “biased in favor of desperate alarmism.” Scientists genuinely alarmed by climate change? They’re “hysterical.”
If you’re standing on the tenth floor of a building, and learn the first floor is engulfed in flames, a degree of alarmism is prudent, desperate though it might be. We’ll consider “hysteria” later.
Stossel says “the billions we’re spending now to fight climate change will make little difference.” For once he’s right, but not for the reasons he implies. Billions and billions, is it? Here’s the reality: The measures currently employed to “fight climate change” are grossly inadequate, far from the investment necessary to yield a significant impact.
Some of the spending Stossel touts is not intended to alter the progress of warming per se. It funds “mitigation” of imminent calamities. Higher sea walls, elevated sidewalks in coastal cities, flood control measures, disaster preparedness. In fact, some maintain that at this point, we simply won’t muster the political will to invest in climate salvage, and trying to “live with it” is our only choice. They might be right.
True climate skeptics apply comprehensive data collection and analysis, while denialists search only for numbers that might undercut genuine climate science, in the service of preconceived conclusions. Climate denialists encourage us to feel good about feel-good gestures: we’re spending billions on the climate — so we’re obviously taking it seriously! However, we shouldn’t be wasting resources fighting a threat that might not even be real. At this stage of our understanding, we should just be patient, because we might not need to do anything at all. Haste makes waste. Fools rush in.
And he who hesitates is lost.
Two key dimensions of climate change really are “settled science.” First, the Earth’s surface is warming faster than at any previous time in human history. The cause of this warming is atmospheric insulation by “greenhouse gases,” chiefly carbon dioxide. CO2 levels are the highest our species has ever faced.
Second, human activity is the primary driver of climate change, due to CO2 produced by carbon combustion. There are other sources of greenhouse gases (e.g. cow farts), but this time it’s us; we grow the cows, too.
We can determine whether a given CO2 sample originated with human activities, or with “natural” processes, by analyzing its isotopic carbon content. We can quantify our CO2 emissions using basic chemistry. If we oxidize a ton of coal, we can calculate the amount of oxygen consumed, and the amount of CO2 that results. If you know how many tons of fossil fuels we burn to produce energy, you know the magnitude of their contribution to atmospheric CO2 levels.
Ninety-seven percent of dedicated climate scientists agree on these two things. What’s not “settled” are certain details.
How will the impacts manifest? Unprecedented forest fires? Unusually frequent or intense hurricanes? Floods and droughts? Mass population displacements due to coastal inundation and conversion of pastures and cropland to desert?
Are there unknown geologic or meteorologic “compensatory mechanisms” which might influence the magnitude or speed of change? Hidden heat sinks in the oceans?
How fast will the temperatures rise? Stossel claims that climate models overpredict the magnitude of rises in CO2 and temperature. In fact, scientists have been embarrassed because so many well-designed studies prove to have underestimated the speed with which climate change has progressed.
Climate denialism is championed by the fossil fuel industries, among others. A common tactic is creating doubt in the public mind, lessening the perceived need to act, and relieving anxieties that result from contemplating a warm-world future. Very much the same tactic was used by tobacco barons, employing “junk science” to counter the real thing.
Another tactic we hear little about: using legislation and regulation to stifle the development of clean-energy alternatives. Quit subsidizing solar and wind, and in some cases ban them, while continuing to favor fossil fuel production through various exemptions and props.
It’s not that competition from alternative energy sources is denting Fossil Fuel’s obscene profits at present. Big Carbon has another goal in mind. If they can suppress large-scale development and deployment of clean energy, we will have no functional alternative to bring on line when public awareness shifts, and pressure mounts to stop polluting our future. OK, sure, take away our fossil fuels. Then whaddya gonna do, huh?
Indeed, rapid conversion to non-combustive energy production would entail some real hardships. Fossil-fuel industries support a vast infrastructure — jobs! Technologic challenges must be solved to replace domestic and international transportation entirely dependent on burning carbon. Economic stresses would arise. It’s complicated.
But the consequences of unremitting climate change will be far worse. It comforts people to hear that climate scientists are merely “alarmists.” They don’t welcome warnings about an inconceivably devastating future. We’re advised to tone it down, or we’ll turn them off.
Next time: hysteria, anyone?
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.