OPINION—Guest Post: Climate change is not a matter of ‘belief’

By BOB DORSETT, MD
Special to the Herald Times

RBC I Ms. Hemmerich’s guest post last week is an unfortunate lesson in misinformation, partial information, and logical fallacy. I will be brief in response. I hope your readers will take the time to review the summaries of valid climate science published in your pages last year. (The Science of Climate Change, Climate Models and Global Warming, Evidence for Climate Change, A Climate Update)

Ms. Hemmerich cites Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon as her primary reference. His realm of expertise is aeronautical engineering. He is a part-time research associate of the Smithsonian Institution working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He received more than $1.2 million compensation from Southern Company, a holding company for coal-burning power plants, Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel moguls for his climate disinformation campaign (Gillis, 2015).  Soon’s claims have been disproved by rigorous, independent, and unbiased climate research. He was reprimanded by the Smithsonian Institution and by his publishers for failing to disclose his financial connections, and his misrepresentation of climate science has been repudiated by the Smithsonian (Smithsonian, 2015).

With reference to the climate effects of carbon dioxide, Ms. Hemmerich invokes the argument of incredulity. Carbon dioxide is a very small percentage of atmospheric gases, so how could it cause global warming? “Golly gee, Mr. Wizard, it’s just not possible.” Well, Billy, it certainly is possible. The science is absolutely established. Increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere drives global warming. Other gases, such as methane, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas and in even smaller concentrations than CO2, also contribute. Yes, water vapor also traps infrared radiation. That’s why it’s generally warmer at night when there’s a cloud cover. But that’s weather, not climate. A warmer atmosphere, resulting from increased greenhouse gas concentrations, holds more moisture. Water vapor increases because of warming due to increasing greenhouse gases, not the other way around.

Polar bears. Ms. Hemmerich claims the polar bear population is increasing. Which population? There are 19 distinct populations circling the Arctic and the fact is we really don’t know how many bears there are (Amstrup, 2018; WWF, 2019). More importantly, we don’t know how many bears there were 50 years ago for comparison. What we do know is that the Arctic Ocean ice pack is diminishing because of warming. Polar bears hunt seals from the ice pack. Without the ice, bears are forced to seek food elsewhere, including inland garbage dumps where they’re more likely to be counted.

Re: her ‘historical record’ of climate. The events to which Ms. Hemmerich refers — the Little Ice Age, the Dust Bowl, glaciation cycles, etc. — are well understood in their own specific context. What we are witnessing now is also very well understood: global climate change caused by human activity. 

For those who really want to understand global climate, two recent reports provide essential summaries: IPCC Summary on Global Warming of 1.5    and the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Other summaries were published in a series of articles in these pages last year, and I repeat some of their key references below. Those reports represent the consensus findings of the scientific community. I hope Ms. Hemmerich and you, dear reader, will take time to study them. There is no doubt in the scientific community that global temperatures are rising, that rising temperatures are changing earth’s biosphere, and that human activities, especially burning fossil fuels, are the cause.

I’ve been asked why I “believe” in climate change. It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of data. The truth is in the measurements: Air and ocean temperature records over centuries, proxy temperatures over millions of years. Sea level measurements. Ice volume measurements. Atmospheric gas concentrations. Climate models tested against historical records. It’s data. It’s science. If we ignore that, we are lost. My only hope is that there are open-minded, conscientious people out there who are willing to study the facts and try to solve the obvious problems.

References:

Amstrup, Steven C. 2018. Are polar bear populations increasing? https://polarbearsinternational.org/research/research-qa/are-polar-bear-populations-increasing-in-fact-booming/

Gillis, Justin and J. Schwartz. 2015. Deeper ties to corporate cash for doubtful climate researcher.  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/us/ties-to-corporate-cash-for-climate-change-researcher-Wei-Hock-Soon.html?auth=login-email&login=email

Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. 2018. Global warming of . https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. 2019. The ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate. https://report.ipcc.ch/srocc/pdf/SROCC_SPM_Approved.pdf

Smithsonian Institution. 2015. Smithsonian statement on Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon.  https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/smithsonian-statement-dr-wei-hock-willie-soon

U.S. Global Change Research Program.  2018. Fourth National Climate Assessment.  https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

World Wildlife Fund. 2019. Polar bear population. https://arcticwwf.org/species/polar-bear/population/

 

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