One of the most contentious topics burning through American discourse is climate change. This truly scientific issue has been forced into the political fray by decades of corporate lobbying against regulation and in the name of big energy, especially coal and oil.
One would think science would be the handmaiden of legislation. Not so.
Despite thorough analysis of the quantifiable changes in the Earth's climate patterns and mountains of evidence pointing to the impact of human life on warming trends, melting, and extreme weather, official denial remains the policy of a cadre of politicians. These include many influential legislators: John Boehner. Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor, to name four.
Why is that? One need only look at voting records and public comments to see which side of the issue these naysayers occupy. Official skepticism protects drilling rights and tax subsidies for oil companies, ensures reduction of emissions controls, and spares automakers from concerning themselves with engine efficiency and pollution control.
Ironically, there is nobody on earth more skeptical than a scientist. The idea that climate scientists would invent theories to justify an anti-business, regulatory agenda is preposterous, but it seems to explain the irrational tenacity of climate change deniers and the voters who support them. It isn't scientists who have created political and economic agendas. A number of national and international organizations have been studying global warming and other climate changes for years, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and the Berkeley (University of California) Energy and Climate Institute.
Consensus is that a century of carbon dioxide and other emissions, deforestation, pollution, and other human behaviors have accelerated planetary warming by about one degree Celsius. Unimpressive though that degree may seem, it has unleashed a devastating havoc of flooding, drought, and prolonged heat waves that scientists in the groups named above predict will worsen in the coming century.
Global warming is irrefutable. Other factors are as yet hard to quantify, including percentage of extreme weather that can be blamed on human activity, deaths caused by climate change, and economic loss due to drought, flooding, landslides, and other catastrophes. Insurance companies are particularly interested in quantifying the economic impact of human behavior on climate; it will be interesting to see how they influence legislators in the near future.
Science is vulnerable to errors, such as data being skewed to warmer urban areas and equipment quality varying from site to site. Enter Richard Muller and his team of Berkeley scientists, whose 2010 study built these points of skepticism into a rigorous study of global warming and climate change. Their work ended up corroborating existing studies. The results were made transparent and subject to peer review. The Berkeley study and those of the other scientific organizations validate the finding that there is global warming and some degree of man-made climate change.
America's oil-based energy economy is part of the problem. State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and U.S. Rep. Tom Reed consistently vote against emissions regulations and for the use of all possible means to obtain coal, oil, and gas, presumably in the name of business.
Environmentalists would do well to encourage all legislators, especially the deniers, to support a healthier alternative based on American strength and energy independence through clean energy in cars, homes, and businesses. There is a rising market for green energy, as demonstrated by the growing presence of windmills, turbines, solar panels, and autocycles right here in this community.
Ideally, business will adapt to a changing market, and if legislators support freedom from regulation, so too should they end taxpayer-financed support of oil and coal. We voters must hold them to a position of support for a truly free market.
Of course, if the deniers refuse to heed the overwhelming consensus of science, they might listen to some strange bedfellows. It is hard to disregard this harsh warning uttered by Pope Francis: "If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!" Equally profound is the petition of the Evangelical Environmental Network - hardly a bastion of liberal activism - asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott to change his position of denial for the sake of "pro-life values."
Americans can wrangle in federal and state legislatures over the best solutions for this global threat. That is appropriate.
But the time for denying the existence of that threat is over.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org