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A New Tactic in the Climate Change Debate

The old tactic in the debate on climate change was denial. Some skeptics claimed that the Earth’s temperature was not rising while others claimed that any increase observed was not from man’s activities. However, the mounting scientific evidence from many fields of science can no longer be effectively denied. The latest IPCC report (1) shows that the Earth’s mean temperature is rising, that the temperature increase is changing the environment, and that the changes are caused by man’s activities. Scientists are concerned that politicians are not getting the message and every major scientific organization in the world has endorsed a statement concurring with the IPCC’s conclusion. Clearly, denial was no longer an effective option and a new tactic was needed by those profiting from the status quo.

The new tactic is being championed by Lord Nigel Lawson, a British politician who fought for years to keep British Parliament from supporting the Kyoto Treaty (2). His new book on the subject, An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming, admits global warming is occurring and that man is responsible. However, he claims that it is impossible to do anything about it, that to try would cost too much, and that a little global warming is actually a good thing. That might be true for those who live in damp, dreary England, but the book overlooks or minimizes many of the problems associated with climate change. Lord Lawson says that we shouldn’t worry as we and the Earth will adapt: “Over the past two-and-a-half-million years, a period during which the planet’s climate fluctuated substantially, remarkably few of the earth’s millions of plant and animal species became extinct. This applies not least, incidentally, to polar bears, which have been around for millennia, during which there is ample evidence that polar temperatures have varied considerably.”

The book is highly touted by some but it blithely ignores the work of many scientists and ecologists who conclude: “Many plant and animal species are unlikely to survive climate change.” (3) A recent study at Harvard “suggests quite decisively that non-native and invasive species have been the climate change winners. Invasive species can be intensely destructive to biodiversity, ecosystem function, agriculture, and human health. In the United States alone the estimated annual cost of invasive species exceeds $120 billion.” (4) As to polar bears, they have recently been put on the threatened species list because their habitat, the Arctic ice, is disappearing. Polar bears have become uniquely adapted over many thousands of years to survive and hunt on the pack ice. It is unlikely that they, and many other species, will have time to adapt to the climate changes predicted to occur over the next century.

Even if a warmer Earth were a good thing, it is not good that our oceans are becoming more acidic, that the glaciers and polar ice caps are melting, that species are becoming extinct and invasive species are proliferating. Our use of fossil fuels is putting 30 billion tons of CO2 into the air annually along with mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and radioactive isotopes of radon. Those end up in the air, the water, and the food chain. We are now finding mercury in fish where there are no natural sources and many places have limits on consumption. The oceans are now 20% more acidic and the coral, fisheries, shellfish, and oxygen-producing plankton are threatened. Ignoring those problems will not make them go away.

So, the new tactic is just a call to inaction. Rather than addressing climate change, Lord Lawson wishes for us to ignore it and adapt to it. He does miss one small thing that might become important to England. The large amounts of fresh water from the melting ice sheets may cause the Gulf Stream to shut down. Without the heat being brought across the Atlantic by the Gulf Stream, England may plunge to glacial temperatures with average winter temperatures of -25°C. England might have a little trouble adapting to that. No one knows the future, but we will be better off fashioning it rather than just letting it happen to us.

2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Lawson
3) http://www.nature.com/nature/links/040108/040108-1.html
4) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100203111626.htm

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