Ships can now pass through the Northwest Passage that was permanently iced in when Henry Hudson tried to find it four hundred years ago.
Glaciers are melting rapidly.
The climate is changing. That’s an observation anyone can agree with.
Human activity causes global warming and the only way to combat it is a gigantic international effort to reduce greenhouse gases. What’s that? Science? Or not?
We continually hear that climate scientists all agree that that burning fossil fuels and other human activities are causing the glaciers to melt and that it bodes catastrophe unless we take drastic action. So what does it mean if someone disagrees? They must be some kind of wacko nut case.
The American Physical Society has a policy statement that “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.”
Last September, Ivar Giaever, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist, resigned from the APS because of that statement. In January, 16 distinguished scientists wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a growing number of scientists disagree with the need for drastic action on global warming. Are they wacko nut cases? But among other things, they present some reasons why scientists seldom voice dissent from the conventional wisdom.
Although the number of publicly dissenting scientists is growing, many young scientists furtively say that while they also have serious doubts about the global-warming message, they are afraid to speak up for fear of not being promoted—or worse. They have good reason to worry. In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years. The international warming establishment quickly mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas removed from his editorial job and fired from his university position. Fortunately, Dr. de Freitas was able to keep his university job.
This is not the way science is supposed to work, but we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union. Soviet biologists who revealed that they believed in genes, which Lysenko maintained were a bourgeois fiction, were fired from their jobs. Many were sent to the gulag and some were condemned to death.
Apparently Dr. de Freitas is such a wacko nut case that “real” scientists thought he should be silenced. Punishing heretics is not the business of science. It has historically been an abuse of power in religion. Now it happens all the time in politics. Can anyone say RINOs? Meanwhile, projections of global warming issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) appear to be based on a particular computer model that has consistently failed to predict what real measurements show.
What does this have to do with sustainability?
Sustainability means finding an equilibrium where people can use the world’s resources indefinitely and to everyone’s benefit. As a consequence, it means we need renewable energy. It means that we need to stop polluting the air, water, and soil of the planet.
It means that we need to stop wasting resources, and we need to stop wasting land for burying our wastes. It means that people who live in undeveloped parts of the world ought to have a chance at the same amenities that we in the US enjoy.
The religion and politics of global warming have given us top-down international agreements like the Kyoto accords. Much of the world endorsed the Kyoto accords, but no one actually attempted to put them into practice.
They would have meant economic ruin for rich countries. They allowed rising economic powers like China and India to pollute without any real restraint. They contained nothing to lift the world poorest people out of abject poverty.
None of the subsequent international meetings have produced anything any more workable. Nor can they. Most of the countries at the table know nothing about the social and political structures from which any of the truly imaginative solutions are likely to come. Even American and European governments are not likely to come up with policies that will foster sustainability.
For example, European governments backed a large solar power projects using parabolic mirrors. After a particularly large one went on line, they decided that in the current economy they couldn’t afford to continue. A blow to the environment? Hardly.
It might take years to recover from the environmental costs of building such gigantic projects. Solar power ought to be sustainable, but not if the environmental costs of generating it cancel out or even outweigh the benefits.
Real sustainability will require communities working together to do what they can both for themselves and to help the less fortunate.
It might mean a river-front town cleaning up the river and developing parkland along it. It might mean churches helping African villages to dig wells and take control over their new supply of clean water.
Let’s stop arguing over whether coal-fired power plants are making glaciers melt and find a way to make them obsolete. That will certainly require regulatory changes at both the federal and state level, but government action alone won’t get it done right.