BY SIMEON TALLEY | MARCH 01, 2010
Is climate change not so much of an inconvenient truth after all?
For years, we have been subjected to prophets bearing witness to the incontrovertible truth of climate change and global warming. Al Gore — the world’s chief Jeremiah on climate change — has made a career (including a fortune, an Oscar, and a Nobel) persuading the public that the warming of the Earth’s temperature, if left unabated, will surely lead to our doom.
But if the Earth’s temperature is supposed to be getting warmer because of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, how do you explain this winter? All across the East Coast, winter was a lot more, well, wintery. There wasn’t just heavy snowfalls in New York, but in Houston. This certainly doesn’t seem like global warming. In fact, here in Iowa, we probably could use a little warming to get us through this stubborn remaining month or so of cold weather.
Furthermore, a series of gross errors and scandals have called into question the very science of climate change. In 2009, we learned that scientists at the British Research Center selectively withheld information that might conflict with their findings of historical warming — otherwise known as “climategate.”
And most recently, we have learned that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report exaggerated claims that most of the Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035. The report was also flat-out wrong about the susceptibility of the Netherlands to rising sea levels. The document guides most of what we understand the science to be and what effective responses to climate change should be.
Climate change could be the biggest hoax ever perpetuated. Advocates of cap-and-trade could simply be pulling wool over all our eyes to feed their zealous environmentalism. Could it be?
While critics have gained new ammunition and a new target to attack in the international climate panel, the facts of climate change have consistently remained clear. Human activity is changing the climate in unsustainable ways. The warming of the Earth’s temperature— resulting in melting glaciers and rising sea levels — threatens our ability to exist as we know it.
It’s convenient for climate-change skeptics to point out regional fluctuations in weather, but the reality is that this decade has been the hottest since modern records have been kept. And 2009 registered as the second warmest year we have on record. These are not the findings of scientists in European capitals, but of NASA (not to disparage Europe or scientists from Europe). Even the U.S. Defense Department recognizes that climate change exists and poses a threat to our national security.
While many people have come to understand climate change and global warming to be synonymous, there is some difference between the two. Global warming refers to a rise in temperature; climate change refers to changes in the Earth’s climate. So warming temperatures will increase the rate of evaporation from the ocean, putting more moisture in the atmosphere, creating the heavy snowfall we just saw in the Northeast. And that’s exactly the point: It’s not only rising temperatures, but abnormal weather that can be attributed to climate change.
But what about those errors in the climate-panel report? Well, science must be rigorous and held to a high standard. But the panel is not a body that conducts primary research; it collects and presents the scientific consensus of the overwhelming majority of the science. So errors within the report don’t undermine the science of climate change at all. To disprove the science of climate change, you would have to refute the body of work that has been done on the topic for several decades from scientists all over the world.
Climate-change deniers have used recent controversies to suggest that action be shelved until later or that nothing be done at all. But the truth is that we really can’t wait. The longer that we do, the more inconvenient it will be economically and politically.
The current generation — those born after 1980 — is often referred to as Millennials. And most of you, being a part of this group, get it: Climate change is a fact, and we have to act now.