Texas Climate Scientist Katharine Hayhoe Responds To Rick Perry

Our guest blogger is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor at Texas Tech University and director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center. With her husband Andrew Farley, a Christian author and pastor of an evangelical bible church in west Texas, Dr. Hayhoe has written a book about what climate change means to people of faith.

ThinkProgress asked Dr. Hayhoe to respond to Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) argument that climate science is a “contrived phony mess” based on “so-called science” in a “secular carbon cult.”

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

The science of climate change is based on fundamental physical principles that we’ve known about for several hundred years. Every time we burn coal, gas, or oil, it produces carbon dioxide. By digging massive amounts of these fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them, we are disrupting the natural carbon cycle and causing carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas; its properties can easily be measured in a lab (and I have done it myself). As it builds up in the atmosphere, it traps heat, raising the average temperature of the earth.

There are many lines of evidence we rely on to document the long-term warming of the earth in response to human activities. Thermometers and satellites are just two of these. For many of us, we only have to look in our own backyards to see the evidence with our own eyes. Trees are blooming earlier in the year, winters are getting warmer, summers are getting hotter, extreme heat is becoming more frequent, birds, insects, and other animals are moving northward … in all, more than 25,000 independent lines of physical and biological evidence point to a warming world.

None of us are happy with the idea that humans are altering the average conditions of the planet. If I had my druthers, I know that I would much rather it be a natural cycle that we couldn’t do anything about! But the truth is this: if our planet were being controlled by the sun, or by natural cycles, it would have cooled over the last few decades as we’ve received less energy from the sun than we did before. Instead, the planet has only gotten warmer.

Shooting the messenger who brings bad news is an old habit; but we all know it does nothing to change the news itself. In the same way, dismissing hundreds of years’ worth of science because it doesn’t give us the answer we want to hear will not change the facts.

Humans are altering the average conditions of the planet. So what can we do?

We can continue to challenge the reality of the issue; or we can seize this as an opportunity to wean ourselves off our dependence on the old, dirty, inefficient, and limited fuels of the past. Instead, we can make wise choices — conserving the resources we do have, and investing in our own economy to develop clean sources of energy that will not run out on us and will ensure a better lives for our children. Who doesn’t want that??

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