President-elect Donald Trump has claimed that “ nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a state that has experienced record flooding over the last few years, has repeatedly said that the science is not definitive on whether climate change is man-made, or even happening. When pressed on these statements, politicians are quick to say that they are not scientists so should not be tasked with these decisions.
Speaking as a scientist, let me help them out. Climate change is real.
The 10 hottest years on record have all happened since 1998, and 2016 was the hottest of them all. Arctic sea ice reached near record lows in the fall. Closer to home, the temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are warming at a greater rate than nearly 99 percent of the world’s oceans.
I do not believe in climate change; belief suggests faith without proof. I understand the facts as determined by the scientific process: Climate change is happening.
Over the last few decades, scientists have examined ice cores to determine temperatures thousands of years in the past, studied satellite and other data showing unprecedented warming, and created accurate computer models that can recreate the past climate and reasonably project near future changes. Scientists have endeavored to discover the drivers of this warming that we see now. We understand these changes, and fossil fuel combustion is the main cause.
But do not take only my word for it. This is one issue on which scientists agree, and scientists are a careful bunch. We double-check, triple-check and quadruple-check our findings before we show them to the world. Before we can publish our results in scientific journals, we must convince other scientists who are specifically looking to discover flaws in our work. It can take months (and even years) to get our work published. This exhaustive process slows down the speed at which science gets to the public, but it helps iron out the kinks in our conclusions.
Consensus in science is rare, but scientists have come together to warn the world that our use of fossil fuels is, in fact, changing our climate. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The leading societies of scientists, such as the American Geophysical Union, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have all issued statements affirming that we have warmed the planet. The National Academy of Sciences — the most prestigious scientific society in the United States and home to numerous Nobel Prize-winning scientists — has stated that humans are changing the climate. The underlying causes of climate change are no longer debated within the scientific community. We have moved beyond this settled issue to examine the effects of the change on our environment.
In this partisan time, it has become too easy to demonize political opponents. Frequently, it seems that we cannot even agree on the facts, let alone opinions and decisions to move forward. But there is one thing that we can agree on. The U.S. was partly built on the ingenuity of hardworking scientists who have put together some of the most stunning achievements of the last 200 years. The U.S. has become the technological leader of the world. Our nation’s scientists have developed technologies that have allowed us to accomplish everything from travel to the moon to placing a mechanical heart into a human body. Our colleges and universities are the envy of other nations. Our politicians should not disregard what the dedicated men and women of science are saying.
As a new president takes office, Republicans and Democrats must stop arguing about whether climate change is happening and start the discussion on what to do about it. The costs of ignoring climate change will be high. Military, business and health leaders agree that we cannot continue to ignore the issue. Conservatives, liberals and moderates have valid viewpoints on how we should address the changes to Earth. It is reasonable to discuss how much we are willing to invest in mitigating climate change. It is reasonable to evaluate the pros and cons of different methods of adapting to a changing planet. This is what politicians are supposed to do.
It is not, however, reasonable to ignore the findings of this nation’s scientists just because their conclusions do not fit one’s political agenda. Let’s not use science as a political football. Let’s use science to move this discussion forward. I am happy to help.
Dr. Charles Tilburg is the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of oceanography at the University of New England in Biddeford.