Walt Staruk was back in fashion again on the Jan. 9 opinion page, peddling his two favorite bogus assertions about climate change: The prevailing science doesn’t prove humans contribute significantly to global warming, and those who presume we are want to institute global socialism in order to reverse it. It’s confounding that The News-Post continues to publish his letters, which on the whole are full of discredited science, half-truths and outlandish speculation.
Like Walt, I’m not a climate scientist. But I accept the preponderance of peer-reviewed scientific data amassed by very smart people at NASA, NOAA and myriad scientific agencies around the world who are unequivocal in their assessment that human activity is indeed warming the planet. Worse, we’re just in the nascent stages of cataclysmic natural disasters that these scientists have been predicting for decades. What further proof does one need to understand that this really is happening?
Let me debunk a taste of Walt’s phony scientific arguments. In his latest letter, he slips in a reference to the “Little Ice Age,” a canard often used by deniers to lead people into believing that what’s happening now is just a continuation of a natural warming cycle that began in a pre-industrial age. Walt is correct that the LIA effect was “natural” as it was caused by an acute period of volcanism late in the 13th century that had a delayed, short-term cooling effect on parts of Europe (University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research [NCAR], January 2012: Abrupt onset of the Little Ice Age triggered by volcanism and sustained by sea‐ice/ocean feedbacks). However, there’s no correlation to the cause of the LIA to what’s causing the climate to change now, which is owed entirely to our incessant burning of oil and coal from the onset of the Industrial Revolution. According to NASA (climate.nasa.gov), “This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air.” And there are no other terrestrial or extraterrestrial factors happening at present, like variations in Earth’s orbit or changes in solar weather, that account for Earth’s current warming trajectory. It’s all on us.
Walt went on to speculate, without offering any scientific proof whatsoever, that temperatures “should peak again in a century or two, then decline.” He is dead wrong on the latter part of that statement. NOAA has a line graph tracking the atmospheric CO2 concentration looking back 800,000 years (climate.gov). During this period the concentration fluctuated within a range around 180 to 300 parts per million (ppm). In 1950, we passed 300 ppm for the first time in 300,000 years, and in 2013 the concentration passed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. The current level is around 413 ppm and rising. NASA puts this problem in sobering terms: “If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels of order of 1500 ppm. The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future.”
Not even Walt disputes that higher levels of CO2 bring about higher temperatures, so it’s safe to say that if we don’t stop what we’re doing, the Earth will soon become so hot that the surface will be uninhabitable for us and most other species. Then what?
In my estimation, Walt’s not really trying to convince people this isn’t happening, because the science he presents doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny. Instead his aim is to inject doubt and fear into people’s minds so that they think the cost of taking action really isn’t worth it. His letters are nothing more than political punditry masquerading as a legitimate scientific debate — ‘The socialist bogeyman is coming to get us!’ The science is settled; the only thing left for us to do is take careful consideration of solutions.
As far as we know, this planet is a solitary miracle of life out in the cosmos. There’s no help for us out there if we can’t solve this self-inflicted crisis, so we really have no choice but to get on it. The worst thing any of us can do is sit back and wait for others to take action.