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Burning bridges

Ryan Sutter
Vail CO, Colorado

I recently became involved in a debate in the pages of the letters to the editor about the existence and cause of global warming, but more specifically the word choice in a recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report.

The report stated that global warming could be attributed to humans with 90 percent certainty. I reasoned that 90-percent certainty was quite significant and that most people, if given the same odds at winning the lottery, would certainly buy a ticket. The response I got was that, of course, I would buy the ticket, but would I be willing to “cross a bridge if there was a 90-percent chance it would carry my fully loaded 18-wheeler?” Meaning, I suppose, that there was a 10-percent chance that my big rig wouldn’t make the bridge.

Good question, but what is the reason for crossing the bridge? Just ’cause? That would be like buying a lottery ticket without a jackpot. I wouldn’t buy a ticket without a prize and I wouldn’t cross the bridge for no reason, no matter what the odds.

Just so we’re clear. I don’t actually have an 18-wheeler, but I do, from time to time, drive a 40-ton fire truck.

So let’s say it is a fire truck and on the other side of the bridge is a burning orphanage. The answer would be a resounding “yes.” I’d go without question. While the skeptics would sit on the other side of the bridge asking the “difficult” but meaningless questions about what 90-percent certainty means in scientific terms and exactly why previous orphanages have burned throughout history, my truck and I will be actually doing something to put out the fire. This is an extreme example, I admit, but it wasn’t my question.

The debate is not on the fact that global warming is real, but rather on what is causing it and why we should believe that humans are responsible. After all, the planet was warming and cooling long before we ever swam, crawled, walked or drove on it. To some people, it is more important to know why the climate changed on the dinosaurs than why it is changing on us. Does it really matter? As a matter of fact, does global warming really matter?

While we sit here quoting this scientist against that scientist the proverbial orphanage is burning down.

The real problem is a growing human population and a planet with shrinking natural resources. We have polluted our soil, our water and our air. A quick trip to Denver reveals the brown cloud effect that plagues many of today’s industrialized cities. In some cases, the pollution is so bad that exercising outdoors is discouraged. The earth’s climate may fluctuate inexplicably over time but it is hard to deny that at no other time in history has our natural environment been so toxic. Global warming may or may not be related but the prescribed treatments are the same: more efficient home and automobile choices, renewable energy, recycling, water conservancy, maintaining the integrity of the world’s forests and natural landscapes, etc.

The issue in the on-going global warming debate stems from the remaining unknowns. Greenhouse gasses alone, for example, could not melt the Arctic at the alarming rate it is melting now. Not every scientist has the same opinion and uncertainly exists. Uncertainty is an inherent part of the scientific process. It’s not a sign of scientific failure.

Most certainly, it’s not an excuse to do nothing.

Ryan Sutter is an Avon resident, a Vail Fire Fighter and founder of http://www.mixedmarket.com.


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