Climate change series: The ‘terrified’ vs. the ‘sanguine’
January 4, 2014
Editor's note: This is the final part in a three-part series about climate change as it relates to the ski industry.
Barbara Coddington is terrified of climate change. The Glenwood Springs woman applauds the ski resorts in the region for anything and everything they're doing to help the environment, but she's worried that global environmental damage is so bad that it will be impossible to reverse the consequences.
Coddington believes 100 percent in the science that proves climate change is human-caused. She points to the fact that more than 97 percent of the scientists in the field agree that it's happening and doesn't think the other 3 or so percent who argue different viewpoints are credible.
At 65 years old, she also attributes some of her confidence on climate change to her age.
“People tend to trust things that come from the government, and very often that trust is quite a bit misplaced. … It’s a group-think.”
Howard C. Hayden
Editor of The Energy Advocate
"I guess you need some age, some years, to see the changes that are happening in the weather," she said. "Things are changing and I think it's obvious — it's obvious to me."
Coddington came to Colorado 38 years ago from Missouri and remembers all of the Monarch Butterflies she used to see in the mountains. But she doesn't see them anymore.
She also thinks there are fewer bird species around and when she's back home in Missouri she has noticed less noise from the insects that used to sing throughout the night. She attributes all of it to a warming climate.
Coddington is passionate about the environment, so much so that she finds herself frustrated and angered when she sees others being inconsiderate of it. She said she got very heated just recently while at the bank because a truck driver had left his tractor-trailer idling outside.
She writes letter after letter to the newspaper on the subject because she thinks the media doesn't cover the subject enough, therefore she fears people remain ignorant about environmental issues. She used to prod her daughter to have children because she wanted to be a grandmother, but now she's not so sure.
"Now, I don't even mention it," Coddington said. "I think it's not a good world to bring children into. It's very sad — it's frightening."
Computers Predict Differently
Howard C. Hayden is a climate change skeptic who has no fear about climate change based on the science he follows. Hayden is a former professor of physics at the University of Connecticut and is the editor of The Energy Advocate, a monthly newsletter about energy and technology. He recently retired and lives in Pueblo.
He talks about the climate's ongoing changes throughout history and, unlike Coddington, doesn't have a worry in the world that any of it will harm humanity.
The computer models that the mainstream scientists use to research and analyze climate change can't be right, Hayden said, because there are so many models.
He points out that temperature is affected by so many variables; from sunshine to cloud cover to deforestation to how much snow is on the ground reflecting back into space. The mountain pine beetle, which has killed millions of acres of trees in the Rocky Mountains, has caused changes in reflectivity and the evaporation rate of water on the ground, too. Even the Earth's orbit affects temperature.
All of those factors, plus countless others, are called positive and negative terms. The climate models just need to miss one single term to throw off the accuracy, Hayden said.
"Now you begin to see the absurdity of it all," he said. "There's something like 83 different models for climate — obviously at least 82 have to be wrong because they all disagree with one another."
Hayden points to the billions of dollars that have been spent on climate research by people with vested interests in the outcome of that research.
"The people who are, let's say, a little more sanguine about climate change have no such resources," Hayden said. "People tend to trust things that come from the government, and very often that trust is quite a bit misplaced. … It's a group-think."
Craig Idso, founder and former president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, has published numerous scientific articles on issues related to data quality and urban carbon dioxide concentrations. He heads up the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, which released a report in September that includes 1,000 pages of scientific research that says global warming is not the crisis that governments and government-paid scientists say it is.
"This work provides the scientific balance that is missing from the overly alarmist reports of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which are highly selective in their review of climate science and controversial with regard to their projections of future climate change," the report's executive summary reads. "In many instances, conclusions have been seriously exaggerated, relevant facts have been distorted and key scientific studies have been ignored."
The report came out a week before the United National Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth assessment report, blames global warming for recent extreme weather events.
Humans Are A Factor
But equally credible and distinguished scientists and researchers — the majority of them — think more like Coddington. "Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective," a report released in September by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society,included the work from 18 different research teams from around the world. It shows that natural weather and climate fluctuations played a role in the intensity and evolution of many 2012 extreme events, and in some cases that human-caused climate change was also a factor.
When National Climatic Data Center Principal Scientist Thomas Peterson, one of the report's lead editors, answered questions about the report on behalf of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, he acknowledged that scientists who participated in the report came up with different conclusions in some cases about whether events were human-caused or naturally occurred.
"Well, you've hit a touchy subject. It is a difficult question even for some scientists to understand," he said in question and answer interview posted on http://www.climate.gov. "Some of it is due to exactly what metric one is looking at. Are you looking at how warm the temperature was, or are you looking at how often you could reach that particular temperature? Those are different metrics of change, and so exactly how you look at it does alter the answer."
Case of Group-Think
Certainty does exist, whether it's 100 percent scientifically proven or not, among 98 percent of scientists in the field that human-caused climate change is happening. Hayden calls it group-think, but the ski industry and citizens like Coddington believe in the credibility of such a large percentage. A small scientific opposition on the subject doesn't bother Coddington, who faces opposing views in her own home.
"My husband works for the (Bureau of Land Management) and he does oil and gas, so there's tension in this household," she said.
Without definitive answers about what the future holds for the ski industry, resort companies can only plan for the worst and continue to increase environmental responsibility. At Aspen Skiing Company, that also means continued efforts to create a vibrant community, said Sustainability Director Matt Hamilton.
At Vail Resorts, when faced with questions about environmental stewardship in the face of a large expansion of summer on-mountain activities, it means growing a business in the most environmentally sound way possible.
"We believe that is really environmentally responsible. We're taking advantage of existing infrastructure, in a concentrated area on National Forest land," said Vail Resorts Vice President of Natural Resources and Conservation Rick Cables. "Hopefully to cultivate new recreation enthusiasts — we need a constituency that's really going to care about the environment in the future."
Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at email@example.com and 970-777-3125.