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Climate change could unite us

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

It’s morbidly fascinating to watch the few climate-change skeptics continue their Quixotic tilting at the science behind the now-global consensus on global warming.

Don Quixote didn’t understand windmills and the doubters choose to misunderstand the science, preferring instead to invest their energies in the art of spinning instead. It’d be amusing except it’s our world and not a book.

Still, what can you expect? These ardent fans blindly follow the ideological lead of the Bush administration. The Government Accountability Project and Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a report ” Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science.” It details the ridiculous lengths our government goes to hide the facts.

Actions included preventing scientists with the “wrong” results from talking to the media, indefinitely delaying interviews, altering press releases to inject uncertainty, removing all catchy phrases like “global warming” and changing the information in the science advice sent to Congress.

This happened across seven federally funded bodies including the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Ignoring science is one thing but changing the science so it misrepresents the truth, but better reflects your ideology, is something else. Why waste $3 billion on climate research if you’re going to make up what you want to hear anyway? The EPA even has a nice 1984 “newspeak” term for science authored by the political appointees that contradicts the findings of the actual staff scientists. Welcome to “policy-relevant” science.

The problem with this “our-ignorance-will-be-your-reality” policy is that physics and chemistry play to a higher authority.

The skeptics main objection to climate change seems to be that it’ll require government action to force the free market to act instead of react. This is anathema to them, so the science must be wrong and they jump around from one ephemeral uncertainty to another: Little Ice Ages ” a regional cooling of Europe caused by a slight decrease in the gulf stream and not a global event ” the fear of global cooling in the early 70s (a few inexperienced scientists’ flawed overestimates of the effects of particulate pollution blocking the sun) and even the corruption and ethical lapses of all the tens of thousands of researchers looking into the climate.

These skeptics don’t offer up any alternative explanations for what is happening to our planet. Even if ” and its an ‘if’ shared by very few ” we’re not responsible for most of the planet’s warming we should still be preparing for the effects of a warmer world. This would also require some government action, building regulations to reduce the number of people living in high-risk coastal areas, for instance.

Willful ignorance also helps assuage any feelings of unease as we watch millions starve in drought-stricken Africa and drown in floods in Bangladesh as we continue to drive our SUVs. Is there really much moral difference between what you don’t do versus what you do?

The current International Panel on Climate Change report tried so hard to reach consensus to get all government representatives signing off on it that it kicked out any science with some uncertainty. As a result the report is conservative to the point of being misleading. There’s a real concern in the field about positive feedback loops and tipping points ” permafrost, tropical soils, ocean currents, ice sheets, etc. ” but none of these are in the report because we don’t know how big they’ll get. We should be less concerned with averages compared to how these averages affect the extreme weather conditions that periodically threaten us.

My guess is that much of what we don’t know for sure will turn out to be worse than the IPCC report.

Perhaps global warming is inevitable, and combined with energy scarcity and population growth it’ll lead to societal breakdown and war. If so, why not get the war out of the way first, which may solve some of the other problems, too?

Our best qualities emerge in times of crisis and in the presence of a common threat. Combine these with the power of democracy, science and free markets and we could emerge from the climate change crisis in a better state than before. If we act, that is. Climate-change waits for no discussion group.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily.


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