Last week, Charlie Rose presented this summary of a report which laid out how the melting of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is “beyond the point of no return,” reminding us of the grim consequences: the slow but significant rise in the earth’s sea levels.
I always wonder when I come across scientific findings like these: what does the common American think about stuff like this? In particular, how long will we go on, month after month, year after year, with reports like these piling up around us, before we ask our leadership to develop an energy policy that makes sense, given the realities of climate change (and the other issues associated with the burning of fossil fuels: ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, increasing rates of cancer, etc.)?
I’m afraid the answer is that our attitudes towards climate change are shifting at the same pace that the glaciers themselves are melting: slowly. If we’re making progress here, at this rate, it’s happening over a period of decades.
The answer may be summed up in another event in the mainstream American media this week: Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s confident assertion that “the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change is false”. Rubio, highly regarded by almost half of U.S. voters, was unable to cite any sources for his skepticism, but, for reasons I have trouble comprehending, the absence of any facts behind his belief doesn’t make him any less credible among his many tens of millions of supporters.
The bottom line: a frighteningly large percentage of us put more stock in the speeches of politicians who act at the behest of their huge campaign donors than we do in the peer-reviewed publications of many thousands of our top scientists. Until that changes, we may find ourselves “stuck in neutral” with respect to our energy policy — or perhaps, under the circumstances, a more apt term may be “treading water.”
Actually, the polls are trending the other way, with more people doubting the claims of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) supporters. Why? It’s simple and the truth of it can be seen in the latest round of alarmist hyperventilating over the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). If you read the journal paper you will find that the earliest a significant rise in sea level might occur is in two centuries, and possibly as far off as a thousand years. In the near term (ie. the next century) the rate of rise amounts to 3.9 inches per century. Plus, while the rate of melting varies, the rate of ice formation varies as well. The news media and other climate change alarmists spun this into four to twelve feet of water in the streets of the world’s coastal cities the day after next. This type of catastrophist hype turns people off. Add the bogus claims of more frequent and intense storms, droughts, floods, and wild fire, all of which are contradicted by historical data going back more than a century, and there is little wonder why AGW cheerleaders have no credibility with most of the public. Most people do not understand the science behind climate change (I wrote a book about it, The Resilient Earth, http://www.amazon.com/The-Resilient-Earth-Humanity-ebook/dp/B003DA44TC/ ) yet the tendency to over simplify what is actually happening makes all claims suspect. Is Earth warming? Yes, about 0.8°C per century. Is sea level rising? Over the past couple of centuries sea level has been rising by about 8 inches per century, any additional rise due to accelerated Antarctic and Greenland melting is no big deal. In the past, temperatures have been higher, and sea levels have been higher. No one knows what the future will bring. Indeed, the prognosticating computer models have been a spectacular failure. Humanity must simply be prepared to do what we do best—adapt.
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