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Climate change science settled, politics, not so much [Commentary]

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The scientific consensus on whether human beings are causing global climate change is largely settled – we are causing it.

The politics, however, are far from settled; a slew of people, many who are politicians or political commentators on the right side of the political spectrum, dismiss climate change.

Their views vary; some state that Earth's climate is too complex to be changed by humans, others call it a plot to install a socialist, one-world government that will destroy national sovereignty, confiscate resources and make a few people rich through carbon credit trading schemes.

Those on the side of battling climate change/global warming often cite the figure that nearly 100 percent of climate scientists agree that people are causing the earth's temperature to rise by a few degrees in the coming decades through emissions of carbon dioxide.

The more gases released into the air from vehicles, factories, power plants and livestock operations, the greater the amount of heat that is trapped in the earth, and the likelihood of catastrophic storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy rises, along with melting of the polar ice caps, greater sea levels, longer droughts and the ensuing battles for scarcer and scarcer resources.

The authors of the paper "Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature," which was published in May 2013, reviewed 11,944 scientific papers that included the topics of "global climate change" or "global warming" and were published between 1991 and 2011.

Their work can be found online at iopscience.

The authors noted the writers of 66.4 percent of those papers "expressed no position" on climate change."

Their surveys of the more than 4,000 papers where authors did take a position showed 97.1 percent of those authors "endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming."

Despite the extraordinarily high level of agreement among scientists writing about climate change, many politicians and commentators and everyday U.S. citizens dismiss it as gobbledygook from a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, suggesting and that former Vice President Al Gore dreamed up the issue for his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" to make himself rich.

Recently, candidates for the Republican nomination in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina were asked by a debate moderator: "Is climate change a fact?"

All four candidates stated unequivocally, "No," and one added, "God controls the climate."

What a relief! People have no control over the climate, so one must reason, we cannot affect it, no matter how much we pollute!

I am not a scientist. I am a reporter – a member of the public, like the rest of you, who happens to be in a position to ask questions of policymakers on your behalf.

The question I would put to those who deny people can have any impact on the Earth is this: even if you're right, even if climate change is just a figment of the imaginations of those on the left who want to rule us all, how can we NOT have an impact on our environment?

If I pour a carton of drain cleaner into a river filled with fish and plant life, guess what, it will KILL that aquatic life and foul the water for future generations of aquatic life!

Our planet is a closed system; everything we put out comes back to us in some way. Something we put in the air or water will blow away on the wind or float out with the current, and we say to ourselves, "out of sight, out of mind," but it will affect someone downwind or downstream.

It seems that it is the threat of global catastrophe that has spurred people to think green and pursue alternate forms of energy that do not emit pollution.

Those who deny climate change are right on one score: we will have to make major changes to the way we live, if we want to leave a better planet for our children and grandchildren.

It could mean less driving, less use of energy to heat and cool our homes, changes in home design and construction, and on a more extreme level, significant restrictions on industries that are major polluters, and as a consequence, economic growth.

Questions that need to be answered include, can we make an equal swap of clean jobs for dirty jobs and how do we enforce it on a global scale?

Some countries are leaders in fighting climate change, others are business as usual and still others are going after fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow.

Do we create a world body, or empower the existing world bodies such as the United Nations, with the ability to enforce planet-wide standards?

Those are questions that have not been answered, and they concern even this climate change believer.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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