Reflections of a Humanist



 DeKalb, Illinois....Sunday, February 28, 2010....The Climate Change deniers made hay last year over charges that a scientist may have distorted data. There are some challenges here, to one who sincerely wants to understand what is truly going on.

      For one thing, just because ONE scientist MAY have distorted or even hidden research data hardly invalidates the work of THOUSANDS of scientists around the world engaged in research in precisely this subject.  This is what an instructor i had years ago called a "red herring flea" - a flea being an intense annoyance that distracts you so much you lose sight of your goal, and a "red herring", dragged across the path a bloodhound is following can pretty much ruin his whole day.

     There are TWO issues, (1) IS the planet warming? and (2) is human activity part of the reason, if it is?

     It's true the two "sides" have trotted out contradictory data and graphs.  That befuddles the rest of us, who are trying diligently to evaluate the validity of these products.

      But our own experience can help.  Just look at the photographs of glaciated areas around the globe, taken over decades. The effects of warming are not only clearly visible, they're downright frightening.  TALK TO outdoorspeople such as park rangers, who've been around for decades, and no matter where you find them, they'll TELL YOU they see the evidence of warming.  They have not been paid off.

      Just yesterday on NPR's Science Friday, i heard a discussion of the quandary polar bears around Hudson's Bay face as they find grizzly bears, for apparently the first time ever, invading their territory - why?  Because it's warmer up there now, and thus more hospitable to the polar bears' southern cousins.  Look at the readily available compilations of weather data showing that large scale storms (such as hurricanes) are growing more frequent, more powerful, more destructive.  This is not sunspot activity.  This is warmer air soaking up more vapor from a warmer ocean surface.  Measurably - and measured - warmer.

      Observations by many people over long periods of time confirm that ice is melting, glaciers are receding, storms are more intense, weather is warmer, animal populations are moving closer to the poles, arctic animals (N. and S.) are having a harder time coping, and ocean levels are already rising.

       You may choose to disbelieve the preponderance of evidence from many quarters showing that we live on a steadily warming planet, but as for me, it scares the bejesus outa me.  Lookit: where do we get oxygen from?  Not from God (sorry) - but from plants, which take in CO2 to produce the O.  And we (humans) are cutting down trees in the Amazon at an unbelievable clip.  How could this not affect the O/CO2 balance in the air??

       As to the second question, our role in it, the science of greenhouse gases is very well established; there is NO controversy over it.  The production of more of these gases (such as CO2 and methane) that trap heat in the atmosphere and thus help warm the planet is NOT due to "natural" causes, and it IS increasing.  Furthermore, these effects, a general warming trend, exacerbated by greenhouse gases, are NOT importantly cyclical, they are not much influenced by sunspots, and they DO threaten the survival of many species in our fragile ecosystem, including, not least of all, US.  All those cars and factory smokestacks belching, all that fuel burning, all those hundreds of millions of cattle, bred to feed humans, farting methane - 25 times the greenhouse effect of CO2 - and you want to seriously maintain that humans have little or no effect on the climate?  Next you'll have a bridge to sell me, maybe in Brooklyn....  In the '50s there was an inversion over Pittsburgh, which drowned in smog...hundreds (or was it thousands? i don't recall) of people DIED.  Many more were sickened.  This doesn't happen with fog from rain in the pristine rainforest.  It happens when human-made pollution makes weather.

      What scares me?  The fact that you don't turn climate changes on a dime....the changes already wrought will go on affecting the earth's climate for decades, maybe centuries, and in the meantime, WE HAVEN'T STOPPED!!  We're going merrily about our way, acting as if there were no crisis, or maybe it's debatable.  This is crazy.  I have a friend at the Unitarian fellowship i attend, a screaming lefty (like me), who (like Alexander Cockburn) denies climate change, viewing it as the one-worlders' conspiracy to "take over" the planet.  She says, "Carbon dioxide?!?  It's not a posion!!  It's a natural gas!!  See?  I'm breathing it NOW!!"  I just shake my head.  Pitiful.

       I appreciate those who acknowledge that it certainly can't hurt for us to look at ways to reduce pollution and use resources more effectively.  And this is true, isn't it, regardless which "side" of the gloabl warming controversy you're on.  But in the end, i want to respectfully suggest that there's really only ONE side: the survival side.  We can work together, ALL of us, if we first of all, acknowledge whatever stake - financial, emotional, or otherwise, we have in one position or the other, so that others involved can judge better where we're "coming from", and secondly, if we agree to look for the best available data that everyone can AGREE on.  And if it isn't there now, then, well, by Gollum, let's go out and get it.  Our grandchildren are depending on us.
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