Houston, We Have a Problem

By Bill Trueit | Sep 15, 2017

A Gary Larsen cartoon set in a dungeon once included the text that said, "Beatings will continue until morale improves!" Beatings will continue to sensitive areas of our planet in the form of severe weather events until we have faced the reality of the climate crisis and spent the considerable time and effort needed to solve the problem.

What a summer! We had very little rainfall, and our weather set a record streak of 63 days straight with temperatures over 70 degrees. The long-range forecast was for this dry and warm trend to continue through September. Then there was Houston.

The numbers from Hurricane Harvey were historic. In four days, the storm dropped trillions of gallons of water after setting a continental U.S. record of over 50 inches of rain from a single storm. More than 50 people died in the storm. The cost to repair and rebuild was estimated by Business Insider to be $75 billion. Over 100,000 homes were damaged. As many as one million cars may have been damaged as well.

Was this event the smoking gun proving once and for all the proof of global warming? No, but as the list of events locally, nationally, and internationally grew, it strengthened the case that these events made the issue self-evident.

Even more severe flooding has occurred this summer in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, killing 1,200 and displacing millions. Time magazine reported that entire towns in Nepal were totally destroyed. Schools and businesses were closed in Mumbai, the largest city in India, after being under a foot of floodwaters. Crops throughout large areas of agricultural land were destroyed in these storms. A heat wave in Europe this summer was so oppressive it was given the nickname "Lucifer."

Scientists have been saying for a long time that human activity could influence the climate. How long? Around 300 B.C., the Greek philosopher Theophrastus concluded that clearing forests near Philippi warmed the local climate.

In 1907, with the publication of “Worlds in the Making,” Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius was the first to conclude that the burning of coal could result in a significant increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, resulting in an increase of temperatures worldwide.

In the 1950s, U.S. scientists Roger Revelle and Charles David Keeling were predicting increases in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, likely to result in significant increases in the warming of the Earth's climate. President Johnson understood the science well enough to publicly state the connection scientists tested repeatedly.

"This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale," Johnson said. He cited the cause as, "a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels." While the executive order focused on controlling water pollution, it was the result of a 1965 science advisory committee report.

Scientific American was one of many publications to report in 2015 on the release of documents from Exxon Mobil. According to the article, Exxon scientists concluded in 1977 that the use of fossil fuels was responsible for significant increases in the warming of the Earth's climate.

Company executives decided the only reasonable way to maintain their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders was to become actively involved in disproving their own scientific conclusions! Exxon contributed millions of dollars to create and support the Global Climate Coalition started in 1989.

The organization also was supported by the American Petroleum Institute, Shell Oil, Atlantic Richfield Coal Company and other business corporations. Before disbanding in 2002, the Global Climate Coalition successfully challenged scientific evidence on climate change through lobbying Congress.

The book “Merchants of Doubt,” published in 2010, documented how climate deniers used tactics learned from the debate on the effects of cigarette smoking and applied it to global warming. Some of the very same scientists who challenged the harm caused by smoking were later employed by corporations to challenge peer-reviewed studies on the climate.

Remarkably, those who have opposed climate change research conclusions have never completed any peer reviewed research that has been accepted by the scientific community to prove their counter-arguments. Instead, they have simply challenged research with unproven accusations. Because they have been funded by corporations benefiting from the status quo, their accusations have been well funded, persistent and made news.

In the battle between the truth and a lie, history seems to have favored the truth. Overwhelming evidence has made issues seem self-evident. The world revolves around the sun, and the Earth is not flat. Unfortunately, some have learned how to perpetuate lies for long periods of time. We have already lost 50 years of action to solving the problem by continuing a debate that most people consider to have been settled.

Once the dust settled over the health effects of smoking by the 1990s, public policy was strengthened to combat the problem. Education, taxation, and regulation protected the public well enough to greatly reduce the overall percentage of people who smoke in the United States. Sadly, research called for action in the 1940s and 1950s.

According to an Aug. 25, 2017, article in Time magazine, "So far, scientists have not found an extreme weather event that could not have occurred without climate change, but they have found several instances where it multiplied the odds of one that occurred." You could never tell when Ken Griffey, Jr. was going to hit a home run, but you did know that he was much more likely to hit one out of the park than anyone who has ever played shortstop.

Perhaps the best evidence has come from day-to-day records. According to NOAA, there were 2,495 record high temperatures in the United States in June of 2017. This represented 814 record-high temperatures with 1,681 being record-high low temperatures. The NOAA report also revealed that July temperatures in the U.S. were 2 degrees over the 120-year average, making a 10-day period in July the warmest in 120 years of record keeping.

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