Why We Need to Get Bad Politics Out of Science Policy

So, hard facts. Nineteen nations have set new all-time temperature records this summer. Federal scientists have just announced that we’ve come through the warmest six months, twelve months, and decade on record. A powerful new study published in “Nature” shows that global warming has cut phytoplankton populations by half in the last sixty years. It’s not left, it’s not right. It’s hot.”

— Bill McKibben, scholar-in-residence, Middlebury College, author most recently of “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet,” and founder of www.350.org, writing in the magazine “Orion: Nature/Culture/Place,” www.orionmagazine.org

One Response to Why We Need to Get Bad Politics Out of Science Policy

  1. Andrew says:

    I find it amazing that McKibben is making that argument; current temperatures don’t mean a damn thing. Next summer could reach a high of 70 degrees in Lowell and global warming would still be the reality. Perhaps it is the easiest way to get the point across to the public, but if so that’s a pretty pathetic commentary on how poorly our public schools have prepared their students for understanding scientific findings.

    We’ve known for over a century that carbon dioxide absorbs heat. We can prove with effectively 100% certainty using three independent lines of incontrovertible evidence that the rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the past 200 years, at a speed far faster than anything observed in the past 50 million years, is due to the burning of fossil fuels. And we know that, baring technological miracles, the Earth will not fully recover from what we have done for the hundreds of thousands of years it will take silicate weathering to sequester all of the carbon we’ve emitted. None of this is controversial. The only “scientists” who question this have yet to perform research that meets the standards required of college undergraduates. In other words, they have no evidence.

    What is controversial is the projections of what exactly will happen. Will it be 6 degrees Celsius of warming or 12? Will it take the ice caps 2 centuries to melt or 4? We don’t know. We do know that, once again baring a technological miracle, temperatures will rise over the next few centuries and will maintain their heightened level for over 10,000 years. We also know that there is no chance at all that the ice caps will not melt, raising sea level by over 200ft; the only question is how long it will take.

    So temperatures don’t matter at all. None of our observations matter. You simply need to understand a middle-school level of chemistry and have an appreciation for time scales longer than the human life to understand what is happening. Record temperatures do not prove global warming; basic chemistry does. To deny global warming is to deny our entire understanding of the physical sciences.