Guest columnist David King: Perplexed by climate column

  • Close-up of a climate change installation at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. AP

Published: 1/3/2022 4:36:02 PM
Modified: 1/3/2022 4:35:23 PM

I am sure I wasn’t the only reader who was perplexed at the recent column in the Gazette, “Another viewpoint on climate change,” Bob Couch, Dec. 29. In it, the author cites a couple of authors who question the extent to which climate change exists, or is responsible for phenomena such as historically unprecedented December tornados and catastrophic wildfires.

This contrasts to the evidence presented independently by hundreds of scientists from universities, government agencies and NGOs across the planet who argue, using the same scientific approach that created your cellphone, that climate change is real, is accelerating, and is caused by increased emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities.

Because they are honest, scientists always concede there is some level of uncertainty about their conclusions, however despite these constraints of the scientific method, which produced the science needed for heart bypass surgery, there is a solid consensus among scientists about the reality and perils of climate change.

And although complex models are needed to forecast future conditions, historical increases are readily understood with temperature measurements over time from a simple thermometer. These show clearly that the average temperature of, say, Amherst, has increased over time to record highs. The author implies that instead of reporting patterns evident in nature, which have been revealed with the same scientific method that created penicillin and the internet, that scientists across the planet are somehow engaged in a plot to create the illusion that climate change exists.

The author doesn’t offer any explanation for why scientists would engage in this undertaking, or even how they could accomplish such a feat of coordination. A key element of the scientific method is ideas are ruthlessly challenged through peer review, and the rewards don’t go to the researchers who conform, but to those who are able to overturn existing paradigms.

In the case of climate change, this has simply been impossible, because as you can see by looking out the window at the December lilac blossoms and green and soggy lawns, climate change is here — the New England winter has receded to a dim memory.

A better question might be what to we risk by switching to renewable energy? Scientists at the University of Minnesota, employing the same scientific method that created your television, estimated that 50,000 Americans die each year due to air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels. That is 18 times the number of American that died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center — each year!

Maybe the author will miss the incessant oils spills like the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that destroyed the livelihoods of fisherman in that region? Or perhaps they will miss the spikes in energy prices caused by the whims of despots in Saudi Arabia and other countries? Or the specter of children wading in the oil-contaminated water in the Amazon or the Niger Delta?

Our country and the world is at a turning point. We can continue to offer support and subsidies to the sociopathic CEOs of the fossil fuel industry and relegate ourselves to a global backwater of climate denialists as the rest of the planet forges ahead with the technologies of the future that will yield energy without killing our kids, or we can ignore the misinformation promulgated by the Koch-funded think tanks and create a future where our use of energy does not poison the world that our grandchildren will inhabit.

David King lives in Northampton.

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