OPINION: More than a debate

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Dr. Bob Dorsett

MEEKER I Ms. Hemmerich has wrapped up her climate denial. Here is my response to her fourth guest post, published last week, and a hope for what our community might do in response.

The Herald Times has been more than generous with its print space. The findings of climate science are established facts, and they shouldn’t require defense in issue after issue after issue. We are fortunate to have this newspaper in our community, dedicated to public discourse and the search for truth.

In response to Ms. Hemmerich’s latest claims: Yes, it is true that major volcanic eruptions eject dust and gases into the upper atmosphere that can block sunlight and cool the planet. But that’s off the point. The climate is on a long-term warming trend despite volcanic eruptions. It is also true, as Ms. Hemmerich says, that the ozone hole over Antarctica is repairing. That’s not because of changing volcanic activity. That’s because the nations of the world agreed in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 to reduce CFC’s, the chemicals that deplete stratospheric ozone (Solomon, 2016). In fact, recovery from stratospheric ozone depletion is a major argument for international cooperation on climate: it is the cooperative effort of governments and industries around the world that has solved the ozone problem. That global effort provides a blueprint for what can be done to address the problems of climate change (and it would be a major setback if the United States withdraws from its commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement).

There are broader lessons worth noting from the back and forth in these pages over the past four weeks.

Among them, accurate information can be swamped by our technology. Social media enable organizations such as Cornwall Alliance and the Heartland Institute and even lone individuals like Willy Soon to broadcast false or misleading information, at the tap of a finger, to hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe. Those purveyors don’t necessarily have the public good in mind. Many of them serve corporate interests and profit handsomely. Energy companies, big pharma, and Wall Street bankers, among others, have billions of dollars to gain if they can persuade the politicians and the public. Their marketing divisions are really good at persuasion, using all the tricks of social psychology. (See e.g. Kahneman, 2011). Some examples: Frame the problem as purely economic: “we will lose millions of jobs if we switch to alternative energy sources.” Play on fear of loss: “you will lose your job if we switch to clean energy.” Play the gambler’s fallacy: “we’ve already invested so much in our energy infrastructure that we can’t abandon it now.” Flood the media with your message: if you hear all the echoes bouncing around social media — from Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity and Heartland Institute — that polar bears are in fine shape, then there must be no problem. Make it an us vs. them issue: put climate denial in your national party platform (as did the Republican National Committee) so it’s team Red vs. team Blue, no science necessary. But most of all, make it easy for people not to think. Think for them. Make it super easy to access the message you want people to hear. Make sure your message is at the top of the list in a Google search so people don’t look for the actual research on down toward the bottom of the web page.

Despite the noise, accurate and updated information is readily available for those who want to keep up with climate science research. Among the sources publishing updates are primary research journals like Science and Nature (see links below). You will find copies of review journals like Science News and Scientific American at the town library. You can search catalogs like Yale Climate Connections with a mouse click, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration regularly updates climate data (NOAA, 2020).

I doubt I’ve changed any minds with these articles. We live in a community where many are by temperament suspicious of science and of ‘government interference.’ I only hope that people who are willing to study the science and work toward its recommendations will take courage to act. Climate change is real. It is disrupting the web of life on earth. It is already damaging human infrastructure. It is already threatening vulnerable communities. It is caused by human activities, especially burning fossil fuels. And we need to act, and act soon, to minimize the damage and accommodate to what’s coming. Some of us are offering education programs to help displaced miners and oil field workers find employment in the new economy. Hopefully the community college can expand such programs. Towns and county governments can anticipate, and prepare for, changes in water supply, economic base, and public health. The big energy corporations have enormous clout; they must face up to the reality and their responsibility to help build a clean energy future. Public service organizations and churches can help to educate their membership. It’s going to take all of us and each of us. And it’s past time to start.

References:

Kahneman, Daniel. 2011. “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Doubleday.

Nature. https://www.nature.com/

NOAA. 2020. Climate. https://www.noaa.gov/climate

Science. https://science.sciencemag.org/

Solomon, Susan et al. Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer. 2016. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6296/269

Yale Climate Connections. https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrtyq84eM6AIVEMRkCh2v_gYqEAAYASAAEgIzDfD_BwE

BY DR. BOB DORSETT
Special to the HT