Heed the warnings: Denying climate crisis is risky
-- Robert Herrick, 17th century English poet
Salt Lake City Tribune Editorial, October 29, 2009
Fewer Americans today -- 57% -- believe there is credible evidence that the Earth is warming than the 71% who recognized the threat 18 months ago, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Nevertheless, while the number of people who see global warming as a serious problem dwindles, polar ice caps, glaciers and Greenland's ice sheet continue shrinking; ocean temperatures continue to rise; more of the American West burns in wildfires; air quality threatens the health of more Americans; and more wells and reservoirs dry up.
U.S. defense and intelligence agencies say the looming effects of global warming are a threat to national security.
It's natural for people to shy away from predictions of future calamity. The biblical story of Noah points out that his neighbors were skeptical. After all, no rain was falling. That's a metaphor for the folly of human nature. We don't want to believe that bad times are coming, and we particularly don't want to admit that our behavior might be the cause and, therefore, should be altered. Not as long as our own houses haven't burned and water still comes out of our taps.
Some climate-change skeptics would even have us believe we are experiencing a cooling, not warming, trend. That idea was debunked by a recent analysis of long-term temperature data that shows a distinct increase, with the past decade the warmest 10-year period of the modern record, despite short-term ups and downs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.
But scientists who warn about looming disaster are not making up the evidence. It's clear and overwhelming. And, 97% of climate scientists agree, human production of massive amounts of CO2 is the most likely culprit.
Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will mean lifestyle changes and rising prices in the short term for most of us. Change is frightening, but often rewarding. A transition from burning coal and oil to using renewable energy sources like wind, sun and geothermal will mean fewer jobs in the extraction industries, but more opportunities for people to invent technologies and distribute and operate them. And fewer tons of greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the rate of warming as well as the volume of air pollution.
Americans' habit of consuming dirty energy without regard to the consequences has helped put the Earth and its inhabitants on the brink of disaster. Refusing to acknowledge the danger won't make it go away.