Robert E. Megginson: Climate change no hoax |

Robert E. Megginson: Climate change no hoax

Robert E. Megginson
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mathematics
University of Michigan

I am a week-long visitor to Breckenridge every summer, and always look forward to my time here and to the wonderful, free Summit Daily News, which I grab early each day from the distribution boxes before it disappears. I noted from the edition of July 27 that there seems to be a discussion underway in the letters section about global warming, with phrases such as “the human-caused global warming/climate change hoax.” I wanted to put in my two cents’ worth, since I am doing some academic work in this area.

I fervently wish human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming were a hoax. As with almost anyone who has spent time understanding the frighteningly conclusive, rock-solid science underlying climate scientists’ current understanding of the state of our planet, I’d give anything if they were wrong about anthropogenic global warming, but they are not. Their case is just too solid. For those who doubt the case, I would urge the following:

First, those worried about this problem (and we all should be), but who are concerned about who is right in an apparent scientific controversy about it (which there really isn’t), should quickly get hold of one of the popular books written by scientists actually working in this area and read it. I highly recommend either Mark Bowen’s “Thin Ice” or James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren.” Both authors ask the reader to take the time to understand the argument made there, which is just too extensive to make in a newspaper article or a letter to the editor; however, by the end of either book, the reader should see that the case has been made, and just how much trouble we really are in. Bowen’s book should be particularly interesting to readers of this newspaper, since it has some local interest in its mention of the concern of climbers such as Colorado’s Gerry Roach about the destruction of important climbing routes by global warming.

Second, as already mentioned, the case really is based on extensive and careful analysis, so people should watch out for simple anecdotes and examples that try to disprove anthropogenic global warming. A favorite one making the rounds recently has been that global warming must be a myth since summer 2009 was actually unusually cool in the U.S. Midwest. It is true that it was unusually cool there, but we are talking about somewhat less than 1 percent of the Earth’s surface, and when you toss in the rest of the world, last summer was the second hottest on record.

Third, people should above all watch out for ad hominem attacks. We cannot destroy the planetary legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren because we don’t like Al Gore’s politics and want him to be wrong. I, too, would like for Al Gore to be wrong, but he just isn’t; the science, rather than political opposition, has settled that beyond doubt.

There is a saying, often credited to a 1960s television show but containing wisdom much older, that only a fool fights in a burning house. We live in a planetary house that is burning (and in places such as wilderness near Los Angeles, quite literally), and if we keep fighting rather than doing something about it, the fire is going to leave a house that our children and grandchildren will not be able to live in.

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