The recent Aug. 9 article published in the Statesman “Should Americans heed the pope’s warning about climate change?” presents a 50/50 proposition. We can: (1) Go with the pope’s encyclical accepting that climate change is anthropogenic (human-caused), is real and happening now, and there is a moral imperative that we tackle it. Or, (2) reject the pope’s findings because he is not a scientist (he has a master’s degree in chemistry), and rely on the work of scientist John Christy, a known climate-change skeptic.
Option 1 is off-putting, as it could result in diminishing our American lifestyle, and may cost money. Option 2 is appealing, as it affords us unmitigated fossil fuel consumption with a clear conscience.
But the article is misleading. Whether to accept man-made climate change as real and requiring immediate action is not a 50/50 proposition. It is actually 97/3. According to NASA, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Approximately 3 percent of climate scientists are in the denier/skeptic category. John Christy is one of them.
This false portrayal by the media of the weight of the scientific consensus on climate change was recently highlighted in a YouTube video by John Oliver of the HBO program “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” The video showed three climate denier scientists on one side of the debate podium, and 97 believer climate scientists on the other. That visual more accurately portrayed the prevailing scientific view of climate change.
The Industrial Revolution, beginning around 1750, was the advent of the use of fossil fuels for energy, leading to advancements in human standard of living, but also changing the makeup of our fragile atmosphere. At that time the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around 280 parts per million. As humans poured carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, in 2012 the atmosphere registered 296 ppm, and as of July 2015 is 401 ppm. The last time CO2 levels were this high, humans did not exist. James Hansen, formerly lead scientist with NASA, who is labeled by the Cato Institute as “the Paul Revere of climate science,” has opined that 350 ppm is the upper limit of what is a safe level of carbon in the atmosphere. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
Oceans absorb 30-40 percent of CO2 emissions. This leads to ocean acidification, which has reached a point unprecedented over the last 300 million years.
Many who have recognized a climate crisis have identified natural gas as a “bridge fuel,” and a fracking frenzy began. But natural gas is methane, another serious contributor to global warming. Methane in the atmosphere dissipates faster than CO2 (after around 100 years), but its greenhouse effect is at least 25 times more potent than CO2. There are natural sources of methane emissions, but human sources comprise 60 percent. Such sources include natural gas leaks, animal agriculture and landfills. Some climate scientists fear an “abrupt methane release” as warming temperatures degrade permafrost where huge amounts of methane are stored. The Great Dying extinction event around 250 million years ago is thought to have been due to a massive methane release into the atmosphere.
It is going to take an extreme global effort to turn this around. With an overload of climate deniers in Congress and the Idaho Legislature, it is going to take citizen action. Let’s get started.
Alyson R. Martin, of Boise, is a Climate Reality leader for Climate Reality Project and founder of doingwhatwecan.org.