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Two weeks ago in this space we examined the conclusions of author Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, who recently wrote in Rolling Stone that global warming is now looking a lot worse than previously forecast. Last week we discussed the opposing viewpoint of James Taylor in Forbes Magazine, managing editor of Heartland Institute's Environment & Climate News, who lost credibility, in this writer's opinion, for referencing peer-reviewed academic studies which actually reached opposite conclusions than his skeptical assessment of anthropogenic climate change (ACC).
There are other curious denials of ACC out there. Taylor asserted that the number of U.S. wildfires has decreased, both in the long and short term. Climate blogger Anthony Watts documented the same results with approximately 50 years worth of fire data from a division of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment (W.I.S.E.), which indeed show significant decreases in the number of fires. However Mr. Watts overlooked the fact--recorded in the same data--that the average number of acres per fire has quadrupled, and that the total acres burned has increased since the 1960's "from an average of 4.6 million acres per year to 6.8 million acres per year," according to the W.I.S.E. study.
In a Senate hearing last week, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions disputed the findings of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study of 1,372 of the nation's "strongest and most credentialed" climate researchers, 97-98% of whom agree that ACC has been responsible for most of the "'unequivocal' warming of the Earth's average global temperature over the second half of the 20th century."
Senator Sessions is joined in this perspective by Senator James Imhofe of Oklahoma, who also disagreed with the NAS, which happens to be one of the most eminently respected and long-lived scientific colloquiums in the world, established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.
Perhaps the most curious recent instance of climate change denial comes from North Carolina's General Assembly, which in June attempted to pass legislation that would have made "sea level change illegal," according to some headlines. The crux of this legislation required scientists to use a linear rather than a non-linear or exponential model to predict future sea level rise. Accurate science dictates an exponential model, given the compounding effects of the ocean's increasing volume, due in part to increasing ice cap melt rates, from Greenland and Antarctica in particular.
Under this model, coastal sea levels are projected to rise from three to six feet by the end of the century: a method of computation the proposed legislation would have prohibited. Following widespread global criticism and some satirical TV mockery from Stephen Colbert, the concept of legislating sea levels was tabled via a four-year moratorium by the North Carolina House.
One of the perplexing imponderables of the climate change debate--if it can be called a debate, given the demonstrable lack of evidence for the skeptical perspective--is that it is such a political football. The conservative Heartland Institute, for example, proudly quotes a comment by The Economist, which describes it as "the world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change."
If you believe in global warming, the assumption goes, you're a liberal. If you disbelieve, you're a conservative. These are unfortunate labels for a global situation that is indisputable fact.
Whether you're conservative or liberal will certainly influence your view of how anthropogenic climate change should be addressed. But that's another issue.
Published: August 09, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 17