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A response to the climate scare tactics

| March 6, 2008 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

I'd like to address two recent letters to the editor, “Quite the scare tactics” by Charles F. Woods and Charlotte B. Woods (Feb. 22, 2008) and “Ante up to control climate or not” by Sen. Verdell Jackson (Feb. 27, 2008).

Although it's not directly stated, it seems as though Mr. and Mrs. Woods believe that climate change (a.k.a., global warming) is not caused by humans, and they reinforce this belief by paraphrasing Dr. S. Fred Singer's articles.

While Singer has certainly had a very distinguished career, including acting as Chief Scientist of the U.S. Department of Transportation, it's also important to note that he is intimately involved with the very same “big business” that Mr. and Mrs. Woods warned against. According to the article “Junking Science to Promote Tobacco,” in the November 2001, Vol. 91, No. 11 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Singer was one of several prestigious scientists listed who could write op-ed pieces on “junk science,” defending the tobacco industry's views. Singer partnered with the tobacco companies to create confusion about the role of epidemiology and risk assessment in public policy development and, of particular relevance to the climate change context, create doubt where scientific consensus existed.

His involvement in promoting the agenda (e.g., profit margin) of big business doesn't end with second-hand smoke. According to the article “The Truth About Denial,” by Sharon Begley which was published in Newsweek on Aug. 13, 2007, Singer was actively involved in industry groups' efforts to reposition global warming as theory rather than fact and to sow doubt about climate research just as cigarette makers had about smoking research. The article further states that according to a leaked memo, Singer's group met several industry groups, including Exxon, at the American Petroleum Institute's Washington, D.C. headquarters and proposed a $5 million campaign to convince the public that the science of global warming is riddled with controversy and uncertainty. The plan was to train “respected climate scientists” on media and public outreach with the aim of “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom.'” The plan, once exposed in the press, was never implemented as policy.

Montana State Sen. Verdell Jackson believes that human caused global warming is still open for debate. Is it? He makes a claim that the Assistant Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that there is no scientific evidence that humans are causing global warming. While verifying this claim is difficult due to the lack of assistant director position at EPA (perhaps he meant Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock), however, it is easy to see that EPA's official climate change Web site states: “Scientists know with virtual certainty that:

€ Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.

€ The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.

€ The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.

€ Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

Concerning the validity of climate change, the science behind it, and the question of whether humans are contributing to it, shouldn't we believe the leading scientific body tasked to evaluate the risk of climate change caused by human activity, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which incidentally shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, rather than relying on the rhetoric of paid mouthpieces of industry?

The 2007 IPCC report was written by more than 800 climate researchers and vetted by 2,500 scientists from 130 nations and concludes:

€ Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

€ Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations.

€ Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized, although the likely amount of temperature and sea level rise varies greatly depending on the fossil intensity of human activity during the next century.

€ The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5 percent.

€ World temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius (2.0 and 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 21st century.

€ Sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 centimeters (7.08 to 23.22 inches).

€ There is a confidence level >90 percent that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall.

€ There is a confidence level >66 percent that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides.

€ Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium.

€ Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values over the past 650,000 years.

Much of the U.S. and the world is already acting against climate change. In January 2005 the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme (EUGGETS) commenced operation as the largest multi-country, multi-sector greenhouse gas emission trading scheme world-wide. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, is a cooperative effort by Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to develop a regional strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both RGGI and the EUGGETS reduce greenhouse gasses through a cap-and-trade program with a market-based emissions trading system, much like the highly successful Acid Rain Program which has reduced SO2 emissions from power plants in the U.S. California enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 to help address the threat of global warming through establishing greenhouse gas emissions inventory and mandatory reporting. In addition, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is a collaboration which was launched in February 2007 by the Governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to develop regional strategies to address climate change.

WCI is identifying, evaluating and implementing collective and cooperative ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the region. In the spring of 2007, the Governor of Utah and the Premiers of British Columbia and Manitoba joined the Initiative. Other states and provinces have joined as observers. Let's help Montana do its part.

Both Sen. Jackson and Mr. and Mrs. Woods imply that the cost of mitigating climate change is excessive. The total global cost of climate change has been estimated to be as high as $9 trillion. Obviously the price of coping with climate change is not all going to be coming from the citizens of Montana. But what will be the price if we sit back and believe the world is flat, and what is it worth to you to see that future generations inherit the great Northwest as we know it?

Travis Johnson

Washington, D.C.