A good writer need never explain himself.
I don't know who first said that - it wasn't me. Maybe I heard it in one of the many classes on writing and composition I had to take as a young person. The bottom line being that if you write clearly enough, you need never write a subsequent essay explaining an original treatise.
Some years have passed since I first wrote the piece Michael Crichton, Ted Scambos, and the Battle Against Scientific Stupidity, and some years have past since a fervent rebuttal to my essay was researched and posted right here on e2. It seems enough time has gone by that I might resurrect my discussion. I would say - "at the risk of opening a can of worms," but that would just betray a subconscious fear I'd have of once again being misunderstood, which is probably why I spend a lot of time writing more first person and diary style pieces that are more poetry than truth.
At first I truly wondered why I felt "rebuttal" was necessary after all these years. Hadn't I made my point well enough?
The point I was making in that first piece was apparently embarrassing enough to my friend the scientist that he also issued a rebuttal, for which he later contacted me to let me know what he had said to someone apparently writing an article about him that would also mention me. I assured him those years ago I was okay with anything he said, as I have always been. I am not a public personality, and he is.
Lots of water has run under the bridge and I feel the urge to make a statement about my node of seven years ago. It is a bald truth that I did not consult my geologist friend before writing about him. I thought then that the hallowed halls of e2 were traversed only by a few, and that neither he nor anyone of import would come across my node, which I felt was entirely complementary to him and his science.
Alas. Such are the thoughts of a rank amateur.
The truth is, I am a witness to climate change as much as anyone who has been to Antarctica. I was there when icebergs the size of small states separated from the continent and threatened the lifeline of the station down there. I stood under waterfalls of glacier melt that hadn't been seen in the history of the program, and according to those who measured the runoff, were unprecedented in the million year of history that they could divine through geology of the dry valleys.
And my point in writing about it here in e2 was that in the face of all this evidence, at that time, the scientific community was still gathering data and formulating a hypothesis. It seemed to me that Antarctica was burning and that Nero was fiddling.
But science runs on its own time frame. That's the way science works. It's not science if your theories and experiments aren't clear and can't be reproduced by others. And it's not science to run into a lecture shouting, "holy shit, the whole place is coming apart down there - can't you see it?"
All of which is why I juxtaposed my friends the Antarctic climatologists with the famous global warming denier, the late great writer, Michael Crichton. I figured it would make the point clearly. Crichton used the scientific method -- or should I say -- his perception of the LACK of scientific method -- to suggest there was fallacy in those theses he disagreed with.
I was impressed with the courage of my Antarctic friends, who despite the possible political fallout, waited until they had enough solid evidence before going in front of the microphones to announce that there was a direct correlation between variables, and that man made carbon dioxide was causing the earth to warm at the poles. Interestingly, they also pointed out that there were places in Antarctica that had gone an average temperature DECREASE at the same time they measured the warming. But the average, it was warming and the evidence were there.
In fact, the team with which I was acquainted had put up a satellite which had photographed and measured major Antarctic ice shelves dissolving. They had discovered the mechanism, and were at that time - 2004-2005, getting ready to publish the fact that these ice shelves which had existed for millennia could disappear in time frames measured in weeks or months.
And I sat with those scientists at dinner before the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco where they showed me the data that related human carbon dioxide emission to world weather patterns since the 19th century. The effect on climate started with the industrial revolution, not with the introduction of the superhighway in California and the suppression of legislation to prevent the construction of public transportation in major Californian cities in the early parts of the 20th century.
Now, possessing that information, gleaned from actual evidence from planet earth itself, a non-scientist might go screaming into the microphones that the world was on fire and all was lost. Some pundits have. But the scientists didn't, because that's not science. That would have given Michael Crichton a hammer to clobber them with. Instead, they showed the data.
Which remains irrelevant, denied, and lambasted by lots of people.
I realize, of course, that one of the definitions of "faith" is belief without concrete, reproducible, objective, physical evidence. And lots of people have "faith" in various things. Today, people with ulterior profit motives manipulate the populous by distorting the elements of faith in our community.
But science does not require faith. It does not require belief without evidence. It is not a thing. Science does not demand this or that, it does not harbor unsubstantiated belief, it does not vote, it does not brainwash our children. It is not a religion. It is not a thing. Science is the process of proving physically and consistently how our world works. Grainy UFO pictures, angels, miracles, claims of extraterrestrial intervention, and one-time physical phenomena are not part of it. It can be ignored. It can be supported. It can be denied. But it cannot be made to not be because the essence of science is that any human, any place, at any time, can perform the same measurement in the same way and come up with the same information.
So take a thermometer, go to Alaska, put it on the glacier behind the Safeway in Juneau - or what is left of it - take measurements every week for ten years, and see what you come up with.
This does not require a difficult and impossible trip to the south pole. This does not require worrying that biased scientists are skewing or fabricating data for their own purposes. You can get there via Alaska Airlines, any of 6 flights per day. You don't need a dogsled. You don't need a snowmachine. You don't even need to rent a car. Catch a cab for $20 to the trailhead and walk the rest of the way there. Don't forget to pick up a thermometer at Don Abel's Ace Hardware on the way.
Average temperatures are increasing at the poles of the earth. Faith is not required to accept this. One can simply refuse to acknowledge it and go on with life, and most probably no harm or benefit will be realized by the individual. But it's a fact which is observable by anyone with some gumption and a thermometer.
It seems to me that those who have been prepared to fight climate change on the basis of being told this or that by cable TV pundits are now softening slightly. Many climate change deniers are prepared to meet fact with the thought -- "Yeah, it's warming. But we don't know WHY..."
At the time of my e2 node, 2004, the "why" of the temperature rise had not been articulated. The scientific community suspected there was a cause in atmospheric chemistry - but to go into that discussion with a bias toward man-made carbon dioxide would distort the findings.
Which is why I wrote what I wrote. The scientists I know would not distort their findings through personal biases. So they kept thoroughly open minds, until the evidence was clear. They did not attribute the climate changes to CO2 until they had cold hard cruel fact to back them up. And when they had it, a year or so after 2004, they came out with it. As I said, I sat with some of them the day before their findings were announced at the AGU conference, during a US government administration which was openly hostile to those findings, which would threaten their livelihoods by cutting off their funding.
The weird thing to me is that this is not a religious argument any more than the earth circling the sun. Though, the world's great religions fought that fact as well. Now we've got a different sort of Inquisition - because the interests of the oil industry is at stake by blaming burning hydrocarbons as a cause for climate change, and because our stature as a world power is literally at stake with China and India coming on line. To make their point deniers have turned a scientific theory which adds to man's understanding of the world into an attack on the soul of America.
It's not the first time this has been tried. Sun orbiting the Earth. Comets as messengers of evil. That man should not be going to the moon while children are starving in Africa - these notions almost always result in badness. Wars. Poverty. Economic collapse. But proof of the resilience of the American spirit is that we try out lots of ideas. The same nation that elected GW Bush elected Barack H Obama. Inevitably, we'll admit as a nation that global climate change is a man made reality.
By then, of course, it will be too late. In fact, truth be told, it may have been too late fifty or a hundred years ago. Ask the scientists what can be done to reverse the trend - and they'll certainly tell you pumping less CO2 into the atmosphere will help. But it's been going on for 150 years. And even if all CO2 emission by people were to stop tomorrow, no one really knows what will happen, what has been triggered in the environment, which dominoes have started to fall and can't be stopped, if we're already too far gone. Our scientists don't seem so vocal on that point, and obviously so. There's no way to collect that data because it hasn't ever happened before.
Still, is that a reason to continue the destruction? If anything, we should be taking climate change and the evil political situation with the middle east as impetus to strengthen our nation with alternate fuel sources. We put men on the moon - we should be able to make wind and solar power economical substitutes for burning hydrocarbon. That will shift economic power, which won't be given up without a huge fight and name calling, and all sorts of innocent people burned at the figurative stake so the rich guys can stay rich.
So, what's new about that?
Moving to alternative energy is inevitable. Oil will run out. It already is. Ask the Saudis, or the UAE, who are investing billions in building their infrastructure in electronics and - wait for it - alternate energy research. I know - my old employer was one helping them. But the US can lead the way to alternate energy, the way we did with computers, cars, and space flight. This will have the dual benefit of reducing our reliance on people who hate us as one of their core beliefs about what God wants in this world, and helping the environment, at least as much as we can alone.
China and India who will inevitably far exceed our excess do not have the internal political or cultural wherewithal to reverse the trend. They're following in our footsteps - even using that as an excuse. We poisoned the well making ourselves rich, who are we to tell them they can't do the same?
I've got no clever solution for that.
The scientists say the oceans will rise a meter in 50 years, perhaps 2 in 100 years. That will be the end of low lying nations like the Solomon Islands and Nahru. Millions of people will lose their homelands. Lots will die in stormsurges of big hurricanes. Rising oceans will submerge parts of all our coasts. But world will not come to an end under massive Hollywood waves or killer freezes. The coastlines of everywhere will just move in a couple generations.
Parts of the southwest will become parched and uninhabitable. The north will become more balmy. The geopolitical face of the planet will change as the oil is used up in greater quantities by countries with populations four times our size.
Moral of the story - don't buy beach front property. Put up a windmill. Take your money out of Chevron stock and invest in companies inventing high efficiency solar technology.
Keep some pails around to bail.
The world is not coming to an end. But power is shifting, and climate change will help it along.
I will post this as a daylog. It serves in my mind to right some imperfect thinking I have spawned in the e2 community that I am somehow on the side of those who would deny the obvious. And I have nothing but affection, respect, and awe for my scientific colleagues and scientist friends.
They did not blather on about the connection between man-made CO2 and climate change until they had proof that could be backed up with scientific rigor.
And it was purely ego on my part that I thought my node was written well enough that the thesis spoke for itself.