It’s time for us to unite for self-preservation.
I spent years in graduate school learning ecosystem modeling, then used that expertise for decades to analyze interacting environmental impacts of man’s activities on our ecosystems. I abandoned it all to teach English in China for 11 years before retiring in 2007.
That was the year Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change. In China, I’d barely heard of global warming. It fit my preconceptions about ecological systems and man’s insults to them, but I needed to learn more. When I sought information from the internet, I was overwhelmed by the plethora of disinformation. It did its intended job: It thoroughly confused me.
I couldn’t distinguish between truth and falsehood. I couldn’t decipher graphs with scales and timelines that differed, depending on how authors wanted to spin their stories. In September 2014, I enrolled in an online climate change course from the Wilmette Institute. By mid-October I was convinced. I offered to teach an evening course, “Understanding Climate Change,” for Pullman’s Parks and Recreation Department beginning in January 2015. I’ve never looked back.
The effect of carbon dioxide on atmospheric heating was first described by Eunice Foote in her scientific paper presented in Philadelphia in 1856. Contemporary denialists undermine 165 years of incontrovertible evidence. Are there errors in the data? To be sure. Do models work? Sometimes they work exceedingly well. Are scientists infallible? Of course not. Yet despite imperfections, science has improved our lives since before Francis Bacon’s 17th century empiricism. That empiricism provides the self-correcting mechanisms of science.
A week into my Parks and Rec class, Science published “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet,” a 12-page synthesis with 18 authors from 17 institutions and organizations in 11 countries. It begins: “The planetary boundaries approach aims to define a safe operating space for human societies to develop and thrive, based on our evolving understanding of the functioning and resilience of the Earth System.” Note the explicit recognition that science “evolves.” That article underwent five months of peer review before publication.
On the same day Science published that article, a 2000-word “rebuttal” appeared on the internet: “Forgive Us Our Transgressions.” It attacked the “grade-school level IPCC regurgitated pablum masquerading as science” before concluding, “It is this kind of Chicken Little alarmism that has destroyed the reputation of climate science … unadulterated garbage appearing in Science magazine … .” The writer’s credentials for making these claims? A bachelor’s degree in psychology and a massage certificate.
Two weeks ago, on Aug. 9, the latest IPCC report appeared, the integrated results of peer-reviewed studies by thousands of international scientists. World media trumpeted dramatic headlines because the report corroborated widely recognized existing trends.
On Aug. 10 a reader emailed me promotional material about “The UN’s ‘Code Red’ climate report.” The opening sentence read: “The UN’s latest climate science report is out and (surprise, surprise) has abandoned science in favor of ramped up threats of apocalypse.” Citing “implausible computer simulations,” the material stated, “the IPCC’s solution this year is to go all-in on ‘attribution science,’ which in effect means blaming natural weather events on human activity in an attempt to frighten us all into compliance.”
The anti-truth movement continues to thrive and sow doubt that undermines our best science with scurrilous claims, whether about climate change or the pandemic. Yet we’re affected by both. Most of us have children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, who will face interlocked, interacting disasters that remain largely unfathomable, even with the best scientific projections. A good example is the effects of climate change on development and spread of the coronavirus. Epidemics, extreme weather, and natural disasters in general don’t respect political borders. The sooner we recognize we’re all in this together, that working together is the only solution to current problems, the less trauma our descendants will suffer.
Our human genome demonstrates we are one people. Photos from space confirm that we share one planet. We are borrowing irresponsibly from future generations. It’s time for each of us to recognize these facts and act accordingly.
The time is now.