A rebuttal to climate change skeptics

Without changing course humans will be the dominant cause of the next mass extinction

To the Expositor:

The letter to the editor ‘Climate change and the fog horns” (October 14) begs a reply. The author claims that warnings of climate change are based on “voodoo” science. Let’s check the basic science. Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides absorb heat, a discovery made by John Tyndall in 1861. In the atmosphere, these gases prevent heat from escaping into space as it would otherwise. That’s why they were dubbed “greenhouse gases.”

Ignoring the basic science, climate change skeptics cherry-pick observed data or misrepresent research to make their case. It reminds me of the controversy in the 1960s over whether smoking causes cancer. The fact is that greenhouse gases act like a blanket around the Earth. And burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases.

Some skeptics admit the climate is changing but say the greenhouse gases we create are insignificant. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sifting through thousands of scientific studies, concluded it is extremely likely that human activity has been the dominant cause of global warming (my emphasis). In plain words, the climate is changing and we are the main reason. Why? Mostly because we’re burning huge amounts of fossil fuels and have been for decades.

Left unchecked, global warming will profoundly affect life on Earth. People can prepare in a myriad of ways, from air conditioning to new irrigation systems to levees along coastal cities, to accepting refugees from flooded or drought-plagued countries. We can and should prepare to mitigate the consequences to society. But we can’t prepare nature. Left unchecked, climate change will doom many species to extinction.

So we also need to tackle the problem at the source. Ignoring the source is like putting on a life jacket in a leaky boat instead of plugging the hole. And there is a tipping point. Already feedback loops are starting to accelerate the rate of global warming. For example, white polar ice reflects the sun’s energy back into space, but when it melts, the water and land exposed absorb more of the sun’s heat, adding to global warming.

I think most people now recognize the connection between greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change. But there is a huge disconnect between what we know and our actions. We know that fossil fuels are the problem, but at the same time we blithely use more and more. Do people realize the connection between climate change and the extinction of species? Do people feel powerless? Or is it that we just don’t care?

We need to stop using fossil fuels and invest in alternatives. In Canada we need to stop expanding the tar sands and ditch plans for more pipelines. We need to push our new Liberal government for action at home and at the international conference on climate change in December.

If we don’t act, we humans will become the dominant cause of the Earth’s next big extinction event.

Jan McQuay