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Don’t ignore the simple facts
Editor’s note: This letter was addressed to Gazette columnist Bertha Cooper.
I am writing to express my appreciation for your recent column “Fact? Fiction? Fabrication” that appeared in the Sequim Gazette on July 2. I hope that many readers pay heed to it.
I am a retired physicist who carried out space research at NASA for 35 years. Like all scientists I try to understand the world in terms of rational evidence-based ideas and share your dismay at the pervasiveness in our society of notions based on superstition, prejudice, misinformation/disinformation or outright lies. The sheer volume of fuzzy “facts” generated by advertisers and politicians and spread by the media is amazing.
As one might expect I am especially troubled by the all-too-widespread rejection of scientific facts, which can have deleterious consequences on the broader society. Denial of evolution may lead to a perversion of educational systems. False fears about vaccination may lead to outbreaks of infectious disease.
But perhaps the grandest, most destructive anti-science wave is the denial of climate change associated with global warming. Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels right now (we will not), by 2050 the Earth’s average surface temperature will be about four degrees Fahrenheit higher than at present. By 2100, at our present pace, this will be a different planet. I am in my seventies and don’t expect to be around to see what happens late in this century, but my grandchildren and their children will need to cope with that world.
Yes, anthropogenic global warming and resulting climate change are scientifically very well-established:
(1) Fact: The mean global temperature has been rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
(2) Fact: The cause of this temperature increase is increased concentration of “greenhouse gases” (gases more transparent in visible than infrared radiation, which therefore modify the re-radiation of energy received from the sun back into space). The most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, though methane and other gases play some role.
(3) Fact: The increase of carbon dioxide is due to human activity, namely, the burning of carbon-based fuels (coal, gasoline, natural gas, etc.).
(4) Fact: Polar ice caps, arctic sea ice and mountain glaciers are rapidly melting.
(5) Fact: Global sea level is rising because of this rapid melting and because of thermal expansion of the warming ocean waters.
These facts are extremely well-documented in many places. One useful source is the series of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports; their most recent Summary for Policy Makers may be found at ipcc-wg2.gov.
The general warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
Anyone who claims that there is substantial scientific controversy about the five fact statements above is either ignorant of the evidence or is lying.
Again, thank you for your excellent column. At least we can hope that it is an incremental nudge in the direction reason and objectivity.