Denying the hard truths of climate change  

Jim Shultz

When was the last time that cities in Iowa and Illinois faced temperatures as cold as last week? Never. When was the last time that people in Algeria faced last summer’s high temperature of 124 degrees? Never. When was the last time that Earth’s oceans recorded temperatures as high as they have been for the past four years? Never. When in human history has Earth experienced years as hot as the last four in a row? Never.

Welcome to the opening acts of global climate change and the perilous planet where our children and theirs will live their lives. What else does the Earth need to do to get our attention?

Nonetheless, the "silly season" of climate change denial is upon us once again, led by the current U.S. President. Here is what he had to say, via Tweet, last week as deadly record-cold temperatures descended upon much of the nation:

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”

Unfortunately, the President’s understanding of climate science is no more accurate than his spelling of the word warming, or his previous proclamations that climate change is a clever Chinese hoax.

Here is what climate scientists tell us about the polar vortex. Earth’s overall temperatures have risen almost two degrees in the past 50 years, but in the Arctic region that warming is almost double as the glaciers melt and the oceans move in. That in turn alters the historic wind streams that tend to keep arctic air in the arctic. Now with increasing frequency that sub-zero winter air heads south. One effect of climate change, among many others, is creating these moments when the Arctic exports its weather in our direction.

Climate change denial and proclamations of "I know more than scientists" have become their own small but loud subculture in the United States (in recent national polling fewer than 10 percent of all Americans doubt the scientific conclusions). When I posted something about climate change recently on Facebook, here were some of the local comments in reply:

“Global warming and cooling is a natural Thing!!”

“But Al Gore told us the Earth was WARMING, so how can a Polar Vortex exist?”

“Truly, is there ANYTHING Global Warming cannot do? How did we EVER have a hurricane or major snowstorm WITHOUT it!?!”

History has always given us people who deny science because they didn’t care for its conclusions. When explorers set out across the Atlantic by ship, some warned that they would fall off the edge of a flat Earth. I’ll bet that for decades there were people who dismissed concerns about the dumping of chemicals into Eighteen Mile Creek. Now we have a local EPA Superfund site where families have been told not to let their children or pets play in the dirt.

There will always be flat Earthers among us. The problem is when we let them make the decisions for the rest of us.

The science of climate change is not hard to understand. For 200,000 years human beings released carbon into the atmosphere with our fires and chopped down the trees that take in that carbon and store it. The amount of all this was so small as to be meaningless in the vastness of an entire planet. Then the human population swelled into the billions and humanity spent a century relentlessly cutting down the world’s forests for land and pulling oil and coal out of the ground for fuel. That changed everything in the course of just decades, the blink of a planetary eye.

When was the last time that Earth had the quickly rising levels of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere that we have today? More than 800,000 years ago. That carbon dioxide traps in the sun’s heat, like a wool sweater worn in summer, and that makes all kinds of weather, hot and cold, more extreme.

Are heatwaves and hurricanes, sub-zero temperatures and wildfires something new in the world? No, we have always had them. But we are making them more frequent, more extreme and more deadly. Think about it this way — it is like taking a guy with a really bad temper and then getting him drunk on top of it. It’s a bad, bad idea.

NASA, the scientific agency that studies our planet, writes, “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 extremely likely due to human activities.” I’ll take NASA’s word any day over President Trump’s tweets or the silly rants of people who think climate change is a hoax designed to make them walk to work.

What can we do about climate change if we really mean it? Plenty, and we ought to be debating that, not the reality of the crisis upon us. You can’t solve a problem until you recognize there is one. Here are the hard facts: Elvis is dead, men really did walk on the moon, and human-driven climate change is a direct threat to our children’s future. The time for denial is long over.

Jim Shultz, founder and executive director of the Democracy Center, is a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at: jimshultz@democracyctr.org .