Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Junk Science?

This is a repost of a blog I published on June 14, 2011.  In light of the Iowa Caucus this came to mind.  Also, Chris Mooney has an excellent post at DeSmogBlog on Rick Santorum.

Recently a republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, claimed that there was no such thing as global warming.  Speaking on a radio talk show he called global warming "junk science."  He went on to say that climate change science was simply a "beautifully concocted scheme" to allow the "government to come in and regulate your life some more."  Santorum has made similar comments before.

In a recent book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, called Merchants of Doubt, the authors state that the term junk science was used by the tobacco industry "to discredit science it didn't like."  As they explained beautifully in their book the term was extended to include climate change science.

Deniers have used a tactic of making claims, but never substantiating them.  There is no evidence that climate change science is junk or that there is some conspiracy behind it.  Yet, they persist in making the claim hoping that if it is repeated often enough, people will believe them.  They seem to be using the old adage "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."

The story behind global warming has been unfolding for 187 years ever since Joseph Fourier first proposed an idea of the greenhouse effect.  Recently the evidence has been mounting at an unprecedented pace.  It is now at the point that global warming is considered unequivocal.  There is no doubt that it is occurring.  Every major academy of science has proclaimed that it is occurring and that man is the primary cause.  The most recent report from the IPCC in 2007 states the same thing, but its projections turned out to be conservative.

Two recent reports make the case that we know enough to act and that action needs to be immediate.  The first of these was published by the United States Global Change Research Program and is called Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.  The second was just published in Australia by the Climate Commission in a report called The Critical Decade.  The website Skeptical Science has an excellent overview of the report:
    The Critical Decade - Part 1: The Science
    The Critical Decade - Part 2: Climate Risks
    The Critical Decade - Part 3: Implications for Emissions Reductions

The final paragraph from the Climate Commission report may be the most important in summarizing the situation we face.  It reads as follows:
    "As you’ve read in this report, we know beyond reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Australia and around the world with less than 1 degree of warming globally. The risks of future climate change – to our economy, society and environment – are serious, and grow rapidly with each degree of further temperature rise. Minimising these risks requires rapid, deep and ongoing reductions to global greenhouse gas emissions. We must begin now if we are to decarbonise our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. This decade is the critical decade."

This is what climate scientists are saying worldwide.  We know beyond a reasonable doubt that the world is warming and that man is the primary cause.  This is no longer debated among climate scientists, because the evidence is overwhelming.  Only outright deniers continue to make unsubstantiated claims.  It is not junk science and there is no worldwide conspiracy.  The only conspiracy is by those intent on creating doubt for as long as possible.

It is high time that Rick Santorum and other politicians listen to the climate scientists and not the pseudo-scientists.  The climate is changing and often in ways we can not predict.  Some of the changes are occurring faster than our climate models are projecting.  This may be a sign that the feedbacks are kicking in.  We need a plan of action not demagoguery.