One of the most fascinating events I’ve ever experienced was a climate conference several years ago at the University of Texas.
There I observed the constant struggle between science and the special interests that have but one task to achieve: seed doubt about the science.
I saw Texas-based climate scholars say what the vast majority assert about greenhouse gases and global warming. They were followed in rebuttal by figures who, by appearance, had boarding passes in their pockets and airline peanuts on their breaths.
Read all about them in Naomi Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt.” Its subtitle: “How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.”
However, let’s imagine a climate conference years from now in a prominent Florida coastal city. A climate scholar speaks. An industry hired gun speaks. Same old song and dance. Then, in a dramatic counterpoint, the ocean speaks – surging right into the auditorium.
One problem with today’s debate is that moments in time, temperature-wise, can be cherry-picked for propaganda effect. Hence, climate deniers can always point to something that seeds doubt about what most climate scientists say is beyond doubt.
A steady rate of sea-level rise is not something one can cherry-pick. It's not just rising, but rising at an “increasing rate,” says the National Ocean Service.
Says astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Over decades “we are talking not inches, not feet, but tens of feet. It’s going to redraw the maps of the world, unless we do something about it.”
The key factor is melting ice. “Can’t be,” say the deniers, employing fifth-grade logic. “Ice melting in a glass of water doesn’t cause the level to rise.” Well, that’s not the issue, boys and girls. The issue is depletion from ice-covered lands like Greenland and Antarctica. Most recently, data from the European CryoSat-2 satellite affirm these concerns.
Deniers point out that global warming has moderated over the last decade, but that’s misleading. And that, of course, is the objective. If compared to 20 years ago, Earth’s temperatures are higher. And even with the so-called “hiatus,” the planet just had its hottest summer on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Deniers say the “hiatus” is proof that warming can’t be linked to carbon levels. After all, the Global Carbon Project reports they are at an all-time high.
The truth is that varied factors are at play in climatic conditions. A pair of researchers from the University of Washington and the University of China assert that a key factor moderating climate in the face of rising greenhouse gases is a distinct ocean current in the Atlantic which is “devouring heat” and storing it at unprecedented depths.
Their point: Nothing has changed, big-picture-wise, regarding the greenhouse effect being observed.
Believe that, or not. NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Forest Service, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association and countless other scientific bodies believe it. Even the Vatican says this is a critical issue to face directly and actively.
So, too, with the 400,000 people who Sunday jammed the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March — a spectacle observed in 166 nations — a literal sea of people concerned about what actual seas might do if we continue to ignore Earth’s signs.
As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, “The good thing about science, when a consensus of experiment emerges, is that it’s true, whether you want to believe it or not.”
Tragically, however, it’s hard for earthen elements to get a word in edgewise when politics and lucre – industry’s frantic stake in the status quo – are ever ready to occupy the microphone.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.