The Obama Administration’s early leadership on global warming seems to have stirred up the climate skeptics, cynics and deniers again. Now they’re trying to discredit not only climate science, but the climate scientists President Obama has appointed to advise him.
But none of the squabbling in the media matters. Once the science debate moves outside our laboratories, classrooms, science journals and that part of the blogosphere that knows what it’s talking about, it becomes not about science but about entertainment.
For those of us who are not scientists, action is what’s important. We need not let the science debate put us off. Why? Because climate change is an issue where you don’t have to agree on the problem to agree on the solutions.
There are other reasons not to be distracted from bold and timely action.
One is the well-known Precautionary Principle. It was either Gore or Arnold Schwarzenegger, I believe, who explained the Precautionary Principle with this analogy: Suppose your daughter is sick. You take her to 10 doctors. Nine of them diagnose cancer; the tenth disagrees. Do you treat her for cancer? Responsible parents would say yes. We can argue about the prognosis, we can differ on our estimate of how quickly the cancer is progressing, but we need to treat it.
Another reason is what we might call the Wealth of Benefits Principle, the basis of my statement that you don’t have to believe in climate change to accept that taking action is a great idea. The prescription for fighting global warming – a shift from fossil fuels to low- and no-carbon energy — has so many benefits that we’d have to be misanthropes, anthropomaniacs or Armageddonites to argue against it.
To illustrate, take this test: Do any of the following appeal to you?
1. Dramatically reducing childhood asthma and suffering from other illnesses caused by air pollution from vehicles and power plants.
2. Lowering the strain those illnesses put on the health care system and its costs.
3. Ending the subsidies we send to terrorist organizations with our purchases of gasoline and other petroleum products.
4. Plugging the massive hole in the national economy, in which we transfer huge amounts of American wealth to oil-producing nations.
5. Creating the equivalent of new tax-free disposable income for every energy consumer (that’s all of us) by improving the energy efficiency of our vehicles, homes, businesses and communities.
6. Unhitching the economy from supply disruptions and price volatility associated with fossil fuels, including extortion by unfriendly oil-producing nations.
7. Ending the many other damages to humans and the environment caused by fossil energy production, including oil and slurry spills, groundwater contamination, the dumping of mine wastes into waterways, the demolition of mountains, and the loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat to drilling.
8. Minimizing the loss of life and property in the U.S. and worldwide to drought, wildfires, floods and record-breaking hurricanes.
9. Reducing traffic congestion so we have more time to court our spouses and play with our kids.
10. Living in communities where the essentials are no more than a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute bicycle ride away.
11. Being able to eat fish without fear of mercury poisoning.
12. Making it far less likely that we will have to send our children to war to seize foreign oil supplies.
13. Creating millions of green jobs that can’t be exported overseas.
14. Making much of our own electricity on our rooftops rather than paying utilities to do it, and powering our cars with green electric energy rather than paying Exxon Mobil and the other oil companies to do it.
15. Traveling between cities on modern, high-speed trains rather than waiting in airport security lines, being frisked by TSA, suffering delays and missed connections, and losing our luggage on airlines.
16. Helping the poor in America and in other nations achieve a decent and sustainable standard of living.
17. Creating a national energy system that is less vulnerable to terrorist attack, sabotage and outages caused by natural disasters.
Some critics of the majority opinion on climate science are making an honest attempt to challenge what we know so far, and to advance that knowledge. But other protagonists get their kicks by jumping into the public arena to play smash-mouth over climate science. Some do it for attention and media play. Some have been paid by the carbon industries to discredit the work of their colleagues. But don’t be distracted by the show.
Whether you’re a true believer, an atheist or an agnostic on climate change, we have a common job to do and it’s time to get to work.
– Bill Becker