Climate Contarianism

Five answers from a 'Scientific' American


Concerned over polls suggesting a possible rise in climate contrarians, the Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign recommends an article by John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American. Using exerpts from Rennie’s longer article, “Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense” (Scientific American, Nov. 30, 2009), I have contrived a five-answer version, introducing Joe Bob, the Climate Contrarian. Here it is, with apologies to John Rennie and Scientific American.

Joe Bob: What’s all this about cars and coal plants increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere? There’s very little of the stuff to begin with, and most of it was shot up by volcanoes!

Rennie: Human activities account for 30 billion tons of CO2 annually. That’s 130 times more than volcanoes produce. Although CO2 makes up only 0.04 percent of the atmosphere, that small number says nothing about its significance in climate dynamics. Carbon dioxide absorbs radiation and acts as a greenhouse gas. Fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are the primary reasons that CO2 levels have risen 35 percent since 1832, from 284 parts per million (ppm) to 388 ppm—a remarkable jump to the highest levels seen in millions of years.

Joe Bob: Dude, It’s the sun! Look at Mars. It’s heating up, too!

Rennie: In defiance of the naysayers who want to chalk the recent warming up to natural cycles, there is insufficient evidence that enough extra solar energy is reaching our planet to account for the observed rise in global temperatures. The increase in human influence on climate exceeds that of any solar variation.

Joe Bob: You guys hide the truth about global warming by locking away data!

Rennie: It is virtually impossible to disprove accusations of giant global conspiracies to those already convinced of them. (Can anyone prove that the Freemasons and the Roswell aliens aren’t involved, too?) Let it therefore be noted that the magnitude of this hypothetical conspiracy would need to encompass many thousands of uncontroversial publications and respected scientists from around the world, stretching back through Arrhenius and Tyndall for almost 150 years. (“Carbon Dioxide and Climate,” by Gilbert N. Plass, for example, was published in Scientific American in July 1959.)

Joe Bob: You climate guys are making stuff up just to get money!

Rennie: If climate scientists are angling for more money by hyping fears of climate change, they are not doing so very effectively. According to a 2006 Government Accountability Office study, between 1993 and 2004, U.S. federal spending on climate change rose from $3.3 billion to $5.1 billion—a 55 percent increase. (Total federal nondefense spending on research in 2004 exceeded $50 billion.) However, the research share of that money fell from 56 percent to 39 percent; most of it went to energy conservation projects and other technology programs. Climatologist’s funding therefore stayed almost flat while others, including those in industry, benefited handsomely. Surely, the Freemasons could do better than that.

Joe Bob: Why caps on carbon?

Why can’t technology fix it?

Rennie: Technological innovations in energy efficiency, conservation and production are exactly what caps or levies on CO2 are meant to encourage. The relevant question is whether it is prudent for civilization to defer curbing or reducing its CO2 output before such technologies are ready and can be deployed at the needed scale. The most common conclusion is no. All in all, counting on future technological developments to solve climate change rather than engaging with the problem straightforwardly by all available means, including regulatory ones, seems like the height of irresponsibility. But then again, responsible action on climate change is what the contrarians seem most interested in denying.

Sonoma County Library