Rhetoric Heats Up

Posted July 23, 2009, at 5:28 p.m.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist, has charged that those who disagree with him about global warming are “betraying the planet.” He accused them of “treason against the planet” and “irresponsibility and immorality” and said they had “no interest in the truth.”

A manager at the Environmental Protection Agency tried to suppress a report by a 35-year veteran EPA economist warning that climate change ought to be better understood before the agency declares CO2 a dangerous pollutant. In the leaked report, Alan Carlin wrote that emissions reduction “would be ineffective in solving the dangerous climate change effects of global warming, because it would be technically risky, inflexible, extremely expensive and politically unrealistic.” His boss, in an e-mail, called his paper unhelpful, and ordered him not to discuss it or further study the matter.

Under the previous administration, the EPA did the opposite, withholding reports saying human activity was affecting the climate and that limits on greenhouse gas emissions were needed.

Harsh language and suppression of dissent are no way to deal with an issue that sharply divides Congress and the American public. At the same time, while more study is clearly needed, so too is action to deal with ongoing and expected climate changes.

At stake is the question of whether the world’s population is — or is not — in jeopardy. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others, including Al Gore, present convincing information that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, unless halted, will make the planet unlivable within a few decades.

Skeptics say not so fast. They may be wrong, but they include serious and reputable scientists. They rightfully resent being denounced as heretical outcasts. Among their views:

• The Earth has actually cooled since 1998, contrary to climatologists’ predictions, and the CO2 in the atmosphere has increased far less than in past surges.

• Human activity doesn’t cause climate change. Drastic cooling and warming cycles occurred long before industrialization. Warm times were prosperous. Cold times brought famine, mass migration and depopulation.

• CO2 is no pollutant but essential to human, plant and animal life.

• Other factors such as changes in solar energy, sea temperatures and cosmic forces are disregarded in a faddish concentration on CO2.

• The “consensus” of 2,500 scientists of the IPCC is actually a negotiated compromise by environmental enthusiasts and political activists as well as climatologists and meteorologists.

Ignoring or denigrating such concerns will backfire as the U.S. and other countries embark on an expensive venture to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As a skeptical Australian geologist, professor Ian Plimer, says in his new book, “Heaven and Earth,” a mind is like a parachute: It only works when it’s open. Good advice for all involved in this debate.

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