Response to climate change denial

To The Editor:

Your recent editorial of April 17, 2013, entitled "Climate Change," did a significant disservice, not only to the public, but also to a newspaper that presumably is attempting to establish itself as a credible source of information.

It is important to understand that, far from being the "scam" that you describe, the vast majority (in excess of 95%) of the scientific community, 97% of the experts in the field of climatology, and every single scientific professional organization, agree that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that man-­�made effects are responsible for a great deal of this warming. This is a truly remarkable consensus of opinion, one due to an overwhelming body of evidence, from a variety of sources.

The paper by Marcott, et al, that you refer to, as well as his subsequent explanations, did in fact explain that the methods used to analyze temperature trends over the past 11,300 years were not able to conclusively demonstrate the existence of the "hockey stick." However, this is precisely because the large time scale they explored required them to use methods relatively insensitive to changes on the order of 100 years or so. More importantly, reproducing the "hockey stick" was not the goal (despite your assertion to the contrary), if for no other reason that a large number of other studies focusing on shorter time scales have already established the existence of a recent, rapid upswing in temperature with high reliability. Marcott's study shows that the general upward trend in temperatures, regardless of the existence of a "hockey stick" type phenomenon, is truly alarming.

The article in "The Economist" that you refer to does, in fact, summarize recent findings that suggest that global temperature increases in the past decade might be smaller than expected. However, the conservative commentator (and no climate scientist) Rich Lowry, whom you quote, draws inferences that the editors of the "The Economist" never intended. The smallness of the increase is puzzling -- but the editors point out that this small increase should be no cause for celebration. A puzzle such as this is typical of normal scientific process. Current articles in scientific journals no longer bother to address whether man-­made global warming is real -- it has become accepted science. Rather, articles such as Marcott's and the one cited in "The Economist" focus on the details -- how fast, how much, the factors that affect the trends, and so forth. As understanding increases, questions about the details also increase -- that's how knowledge continues to grow. (Indeed, the article in "The Economist" refers to a study that points out that deep ocean layers have been absorbing heat, which might provide an explanation, albeit tentative, for the "temperature hiatus".)

Lowry's commentary, and by extension yours, follows a pattern in recent years of some people of a particular political stripe disregarding factual evidence to promote a controversial agenda. Other examples of this include the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the persistence of the "birther" movement regarding President Obama's origins, and the internal polling results that misled Mitt Romney about the likely results of the recent election. It would be wonderful if credible sources were routinely used to correct this tendency.

You end your editorial with a quote from "The Economist" suggesting that "if climate scientists were credit rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch." However, you neglected to include the next sentence: "But it would not yet be downgraded." Rather, the actual quote that best represents the magazine's point of view (in a parallel article) is this: "There is no plausible scenario in which carbon emissions continue unchecked and the climate does not warm above today's temperatures ... If the world has a bit more breathing space to deal with global warming, that will be good. But breathing space helps only if you actually do something with it." This is hardly the "retreat" that you describe.

I for one would like my children and grandchildren to grow up in a world that somewhat resembles the one we live in. The evidence strongly suggests that we will need to change some of our ways to accomplish this goal.

Bill Vinton

Waterford, Vt.


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