by Whit Gibbons

July 10, 2011

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2010 State of the Climate report released last week, "The year 2010 was among the two warmest years globally since the . . . late 19th century." The statement has qualifications and caveats, but the point, according to the American Meteorological Society, is that "Earth's atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are rising unabated" and "the world continues to warm."

Despite the report from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, some people will reject the idea that global climate change is a problem. First, some will reject the body of data because the information comes from a "government agency," automatically making the data suspect. Second, the information is collected by scientists, and some people are inherently distrustful of the scientific community, suspecting conspiracies or data manipulation or both, especially when the scientific findings are unpopular. (This is not a new phenomenon. The Vatican refused to accept Galileo's assertion that the earth revolves around the sun because it seemed to contradict the Bible.)

Negative opinions about the NOAA report will also come from those who dispute that today's global warming is caused primarily by atmospheric increases in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial and other commercial sources. In other words, temperatures are rising around the world but humans are not responsible. The earth was warmer eons ago than it is now, so why fret? (Is it worth noting that humans did not live during those times?) Others accept the fact that temperatures are rising and that human activity is the root cause, but they stubbornly oppose any proposal to ameliorate the situtation.

One global warming denier is Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has declared that "the threat of catastrophic global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I can certainly think of a hoax or two that would challenge concerns about global warming for "the greatest." Nonetheless, Inhofe has proposed legislation that would limit the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. I am certainly not a proponent of all government regulation, state or federal. But supporting the EPA's authority to curtail pollution that is profiting a few and doing serious harm to the rest of us seems like a no-brainer. When a U.S. senator outright opposes that authority, I wonder what his motives are.

In case you do not recall the documented changes that are a consequence of global warming, here is a sampling: in the Arctic the winter season has been shortened, melting the icy habitat that is essential for survival of polar bears. Individual polar bears have been reported to have lost weight and be producing fewer cubs. According to the American Meteorological Society, commenting on the NOAA report, "The Arctic warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the world, reducing sea ice extent to its third lowest level on record." Many species of plants unquestionably bloom earlier each year, and many animals indisputably breed earlier in the season now than they did a few years ago. Whether you think these facts are worth worrying about is opinion; whether you trust the federal government to look out for our best interest and try to alleviate the problems is a political position. The changes themselves, however, are real regardless of how you feel about government reports or scientists.

Global warming, aka climate change, is an emotional issue involving politics, commercial interests, environmental positions and personal egos to such a point that no clear consensus will be reached and no uncontested resolution will be forthcoming in the near future. I appreciated the comments of Mike Huckabee when he was considering running for the Republican presidential nomination. He said, "We have to be good stewards of the earth." And although he said he was not convinced that climate change was driven by human activities, he contended that we should put controls on the emission of greenhouses gases anyway.

Some issues we just cannot afford to be wrong about. Most scientists believe that global climate change is one of them.

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