Rhetoric does not trump science

earth warmingCal Thomas is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts, to paraphrase wise words attributed to the late Senator Daniel Moynihan. In Thomas’s commentary, “Ice breaking climate change fears” (published in the Peninsula Daily News on 19 September 2013), by egregiously cherry-picking data and misrepresenting facts and/or, perhaps, simple ignorance, he represents a philosophy of denial that fails to acknowledge accumulating scientific data. These data, collected by investigators in universities and governments worldwide, uniformly support the conclusion that environmental changes are occurring, human activities are measurably responsible and the changes are significant and potentially threatening to life on earth.

Thomas claims climate change, aka global warming, “is losing evidentiary support.” He brushes aside evidence of increasing severe weather by claiming “these weather phenomena have existed for centuries.” In addition to his ignorance regarding the relevant time frame (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts have occurred for millions of years, not just centuries), his failure to recognize increases in severity seems the result of self-inflicted myopia. His complacent view shows little awareness of climate effects on residents of recently flood-impacted northern Colorado, the hurricane-stricken east and west coasts of Mexico, typhoon-shattered regions of Asia or inundated low-lying land in Bangladesh. His implied logic that adverse weather has occurred previously and therefore no change is occurring amounts to a non-sequitur.

A “record return of the Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60 percent in a year” is cited as evidence of climatic stability in apparent ignorance of knowledge that the ice cap grows and shrinks seasonally. In addition, recent increases in sea ice consist of thin ice which is dark and less reflective than thick, white ice and more absorptive of energy. A simple recitation of ice area increase fails to recognize the significance of decreased reflection.

Thomas ridicules the “assertion by some activists that the current tensions in Syria might be linked to climate change.” Too bad he didn’t have the advantage of a recent article in the journal Science, “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict,” which demonstrates that small changes in temperature and rainfall are linked to substantial increases in human conflict. Future work will investigate the potential roles of climate changes on migration, urbanization, decreased productivity, real or perceived inequality, and competition for limited resources. A Google search for “climate change human violent conflict” reveals a large body of scientific research on the subject.

Cal and others on the far right fringe seem to think scientific research is just another opinion to be argued away with contentious rhetoric more compatible with a comfortable status quo. Objective conclusions based on rigorous analyis of relevant data represent the best available basis for predicting the future in our changing world.

Elton R. Homan, PhD, Port Angeles, WA