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Climate denial: Seductive but not morally excusable

Posted June 12, 2013, at 1:22 p.m.

There is a distinctive hypocrisy to Dr. Alan Boone’s bold-faced call for scientific integrity in approaching climate change in his June 6 BDN OpEd. The essence of scientific integrity is doing your research, using credible peer-reviewed scientific sources, accurately reporting those sources and carefully analyzing objective data. The overwhelming consensus among scientists studying rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, melting Arctic sea ice and increased humidity is that the world is warming as a result of more than 90 million tons of carbon pollution humans add to the atmosphere every day.

The evidence is ever mounting. Last month, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were measured at 400 parts per million for the first time in several million years. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the annual average sea temperature for the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem in 2012 was 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest average ever calculated since measurements were first collected in 1854. This trend clearly threatens Maine’s fishing and lobster resources.

In March, researchers at Harvard University published a report in the distinguished journal Science, finding that temperature over the last 100 years has warmed 1.3 degrees, whereas during the last 5,000 years, the Earth cooled about 1.3 degrees. Temperature on earth is, in effect, changing 50 times faster than it did during the period that agriculture and modern civilization developed.

I urge readers who may have been swayed by Boone’s rhetoric to read the online version of the text, and follow the nine web links imbedded in the article, presumably to Boone’s sources on climate science. The first eight of these sources directly refute Boone’s overall assertion; the last, related to ice age cycles, simply fails to support him. One source is materially misquoted. For an even more thorough analysis of Boone’s opening contention that the British Meteorological Office “confessed” that the world’s temperature hasn’t increased in 16 years, see the Oct. 15 analysis by Minnesota Public Radio, “British Met Office refutes ‘misleading’ claim ‘Global Warming stopped 16 years ago.’”

Do take this web journey yourself, but here are a few examples: Boone quotes 20 retired NASA astronauts and engineers who “signed a statement summarizing their conclusions, including this: ‘There is no convincing physical evidence to support the man-made climate change hypothesis.’” Nowhere does the full quote appear in the cited online report by the so-called “Right Climate Stuff Research Team.” These retired astronauts admit, parenthetically, that “climate science is not one of our technical specialties.” They also admit that “the ~39% increase in atmospheric CO2 (from ~280 to ~390 ppm) over the past century correlates to the estimated amount of fossil fuel burned over this period.” The authors argue that climate change is not yet clearly “catastrophic,” but they stop well short of challenging the “man-made climate change hypothesis.”

Even more astonishing is Boone’s mischaracterization of the 1998 article published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, regarding the “Maunder Minimum”. The article actually states: “One should be aware of the political background to this delicate issue, and not fall into the trap of using possible solar warming as an excuse for delay in reducing man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Whatever the magnitude of the effects of these in the long term, there is no doubt that their concentration has increased dramatically in the past 30 years, and that for many reasons this is not a desirable path to follow.”

Boone’s insinuation that variations in temperature are due to solar sunspots is also not supported by the linked online article. In fact, a quote from NASA scientist Dean Pesnell in the National Geographic article that Boone cites says that because of greenhouse gas emissions, “I don’t think you’d see the same cooling effects today if the sun went into another Maunder Minimum-type behavior.”

We all, like Boone, wish that man-made climate change was not real. But wishing isn’t science. And we cannot afford the risks of denial. More than four years ago, a joint statement of the National Academies of Science for the G8 and four additional nations stated: “The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”

Our government has unforgivably failed to respond to this call by the leading scientists of the world for urgent action. But there are signs of hope, thanks to nature’s remarkable ability to instruct us. As Bob Inglis, former Republican representative from South Carolina, and a carbon tax advocate, told the Associated Press after Superstorm Sandy: “I think the impossible [a carbon tax] may be moving to the inevitable without ever passing through the probable.”

Sharon S. Tisher teaches environmental law and energy policy in the School of Economics and Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program at the University of Maine.

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