Tuesday, July 8, 2014

While you were denying...

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park. Three years of drought have reduced it to a trickle.

Climate change continues to be a prominent political issue in the United States, with the debate in large part remaining focused where it was 25 years ago: Is this, or is this not, a real phenomenon? Rod Blum, the Republican congressional candidate from this district, told Iowa Public Radio before his June 3 primary election victory:
I remember the 1970s, and there was a cover of Time magazine that showed the polar ice caps of the planet. And it said that scientists were thinking that we should spread ash on the polar ice caps, and that dark color, that black color would absorb the heat because we were heading into a period of global cooling. They were afraid our planet was going to be frigid and frozen. That was in the 1970s, during my lifetime.
We go from that, to now global warming, and that’s been changed to climate change. I’m not a scientist, and I know most scientists’ paychecks come from the federal government, and so right away that makes me a bit skeptical.  Thirty  years ago we were going into a global cooling period.  That makes me skeptical. The planet is 4.5 billion years old.  Billion.  I guess I say, how long of a time frame does it take to make a trend? Does 20 years make a trend? I don’t believe the planet has warmed in the last 17 years, so is that a trend now? I even look at 20, 30, 40 years out of 4.5 billion and think, well, is that a trend? So, I’m not sure, I’m not sure. 
Blum is arguing that climate change is (a) a current and passing fad, just like the "new ice age" stuff I also remember from the 1970s; (b) a government-sponsored racket; and (c) disproven by simply looking at recent climate trends. (The warmest year on record was 1998, so things have arguably been cooler since?). Never mind that current scientific pronouncements on climate change are based on decades of accumulated research, that there are such things as moving averages, or that most climate concerns are based on future rather than recent impacts. (See this brilliant info-graphic from the xkcd site.)

I bring this up not to pick on Blum, but because his way of thinking is quite widespread in contemporary American politics. While there have been some efforts to shift the focus of opposition to the economic costs of policy responses, or whether climate change is due to human activity, outright denial remains a common element of election-year rhetoric. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would prevent the Department of Defense from spending money to research the national security implications of climate change. The sponsor was Representative David McKinley (R-WV). This was a largely symbolic vote, because it will surely be blocked by the Senate, but it's notable that even if rising incidence of floods and droughts are caused randomly or by sunspots DOD would be prevented from planning for it. Similarly, the State of North Carolina refuses to plan for rising sea levels. Meanwhile, the National Parks Service is putting out rhetoric like this at Yosemite National Park:
Perhaps they too should be silenced? (Or at least ignored? I understand they too get a lot of their money from Washington. Smearety-smear.)

For some time now, however, I've noticed that the scientific community has moved on from this stage . As with the theory of evolution, a lot of scientific research builds on "anthropogenic" (human-induced) climate change, instead of just pushing the Washington line as Blum alleges they do. This is true in the business and military spheres as well. I began to keep track of what I was hearing about, and in six months have accumulated quite a list. I haven't gone to any special effort to hunt these down; I've just noted them when I saw them. The list is in part 2 of this post.


Ryan Koronowski, "House Votes to Deny Climate Science And Ties Pentagon's Hands on Climate Change," Climate Progress, 22 May 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/05/22/3440827/mckinley-climate-pentagon-climate-change/

Lindsey Moon and Katherine Perkins, "Candidate Profile: Rod Blum," Iowa Public Radio, 29 May 2014, http://iowapublicradio.org/post/candidate-profile-rod-blum

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