Solutions to climate change mainly need political will


Now that climate change deniers have evolved into climate change effect-deniers (McClaughry: “Climate change debatable,” Dec. 27, 2018, Shelburne News), it is getting easier to point out flaws in their “rational” thought processes. They are using selective skepticism to make the case for keeping the status quo. I’d like to call him out on a couple of his rhetorical sleights-of-hand.

To sum up Mr. McClaughry’s opinion: Because the overall predicted global temperature rise is on the low end of an “extraordinarily broad” temperature range and the estimated average economic impact is low, we really don’t have anything to worry about. Who knows? It might even be good.

Mr. McClaughry assigns the subjective description “extraordinarily broad” to the range of predicted increase in global temperatures without making any assertions as to why it should be described as such. If the numbers are extraordinarily broad, it is only because without human-caused additions of CO2 and other global warming molecules to our atmosphere, the predicted temperature rise over the next 100 years would be in the range of 0.08 to 0.14 degrees C (from NASA: It took 5,000 years for ice age temps to recover 4-7 degree C and only the last 150 years to rise another 0.7 degree C). So, rather than point out the extraordinarily large increase in the rate of temperature increase, he quibbles over whether that number will be 10 times larger or 20 times larger than it has been in the last 5,000 years.

He then goes on to make the assumption that warmer is better. The industrial revolution (that happened 150 years ago) caused human lives to get better. The warming planet is an undesirable byproduct of the technologies that made our lives more comfortable. Even if you granted warming would be a little better for residents of Vermont (less road maintenance!), the selfishness of allowing a planetary change for a local improvement is morally reprehensible.

The same warming might provide marginal benefit to your neighbors but would be disastrous for other parts of the world. For example, the melting of glaciers that are the only source of water for much of the year for many communities around the world.

Which brings us to the economic impact estimates. I find it curious that Mr. McClaughry doesn’t find 4 percent plus or minus 2 percent to be an extraordinarily broad range, or why it isn’t better to be skeptical about predictions made by a soft science like economics rather than a hard science like physics.

If you question my characterization of these sciences, ask yourself why your GPS reliably works (physics) but we can’t predict when the next recession will start (economics). In any change to an economy there are winners and losers. A global temperature rise of “only” 1.6 degrees C over the next 100 years will certainly cause changes to the parts of the economy. These changes will be driven by rising sea levels,  an increased number of heavy rainfalls, and increased drought, all certainties listed in the National Climate Assessment.

Looking only at average economic impact is grossly negligent to the people who will be severely impacted. Global warming will lead to a situation where the privileged do better and the underprivileged do worse, as those with privilege have the resources to not only weather a storm, but profit by the clean up afterwards.

Mr. McClaughry’s piece ends with a call for rational people to be skeptical. Skepticism is an important part of science. However, he has called for selective and irrational skepticism. Climate change (or climate change effect) deniers have a belief that climate change is not a problem and no amount of evidence will prove otherwise.  That is not skepticism, it is faith. No scientific theory can be 100 percent proven. However, when the evidence points to a high probability of something disastrous happening, it is incumbent on rational people to take action.

The technological fixes to reduce the impact of global warming are readily available. All that is lacking is political will.

Eric Coker lives in Shelburne.

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