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Environment

A Climate For Discussion

June 9, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 23

With the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the National Climate Assessment, and headlines about the irreversible melting of the polar ice caps and devastation to coral reefs and other sea life from ocean acidity, the editorial “Action on Climate Change” was a ray of hope (C&EN, March 17, page 3). It is time to (re)energize ACS members and affirm our commitment to advocate for action on climate change.

Citizens Climate Lobby advocates for a steadily increasing, revenue-neutral carbon tax imposed at the source (the wellhead, mine, or port of entry) with 100% of that tax returned to households on an equitable basis. Under this plan, 66% of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend check than they would pay for the increased cost of energy, thereby protecting the poor and middle class. A predictably increasing carbon price would send a clear market signal that would unleash entrepreneurs and investors in the new clean energy economy.

Economists are almost unanimous in supporting a tax on carbon. It’s not the science or solutions that are lacking but the political will to take action. We can all do our part to reduce our carbon footprints, but we need our government to level the playing field and provide access to renewable energy to the same extent that we have enjoyed for so long with heavily subsidized fossil fuels.

If all ACS members would write, call, and visit their representatives in Congress, it would spur the political will that is needed to make real change.

Elizabeth Fisher
Pleasant Hill, Calif.

I read with disbelief “Affirming Impacts of Climate Change” (C&EN, April 7, page 8). The statement by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that “the current rate of ocean acidification … is unprecedented in the past 65 million years” cites no proof to support the claim.

Sixty-five million years ago was when Greenland began to separate from Europe, Antarctica from Australia, and Africa from India. The great mountain systems of the Alps, Himalayas, Rockies, and Andes were formed at the same time. The Atlantic Ocean expanded, and eventually South America attached to North America. Rifting occurred with associated volcanic activity in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Antarctica. In the late Cenozoic era, the Cascade Range of volcanoes, which extended from southern British Columbia to Northern California, had a new volcanic arc superimposed on an older one. Volcanoes emitted millions of tons of ash and acid gases into the atmosphere and oceans worldwide. Nevertheless, according to the UN experts on IPCC, it did not affect the oceans.

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred about 55.8 million years ago, was a significant global-warming event. Following the sudden temperature spike, sea-surface temperatures rose between 9 and 14 °F over a period of just a few thousand years. Warm tropical conditions extended from pole to pole, because polar ice sheets were smaller and sea level higher.

However, 49 million years ago, the Cenozoic era experienced a period of long-term cooling. Global sea levels dropped more than 50 meters (150 feet) during the Pliocene period because of an increase in glacial ice at the poles. This increase created a global climate that was relatively dry and cool. Yet at the end of the Pliocene period about 12,000 years ago, further expansion of glacial ice occurred at the poles, which led to another decrease in global temperatures, causing an even further drop in sea levels around the world.

This most recent climate-change event is the time period that many people have labeled the “Ice Age.” Even though a new phase of “global warming” is now being addressed and attributed to humankind, it is nothing compared to the global warming 56 million years ago, which occurred without human intervention and ocean acidification monitoring.

Armin Wolfgang Brahm
Lake Charles, La.

Many people joining the climate-change debate have commented on the increasing use of the term “denier” to describe one side. Rather than cite relevant facts, they list how many “experts” support their position, they remark about the stature of groups supporting their argument, or they stigmatize their opposition by using insulting labels. I was disappointed to see this pattern in your “Climate Change Revisited” editorial (C&EN, April 21, page 3).

People in the U.S. are skeptical regarding climate change, and they ought to be. Many dire predictions have been made, first about global cooling, then global warming, and now about the frequency and severity of storms. But our personal experiences do not suggest that anything has really changed. Even worse for the predictors, hard scientific data do not suggest that any of their predictions are consistently coming true (remember the famous hockey stick chart of temperatures). It seems that nobody associated with this debate can create a predictive model with any confidence. Maybe nobody really has the answers at this point.

The world may indeed be warming, with some of it due to fossil-fuel use. None of this is clear. Moderate warming might even be bad for those living on the planet, but probably not; an ice age would certainly be worse. And even if warming is happening and is bad, the consequences of using sufficiently less fossil fuels to make a difference would be worse.

Rather than discouraging debate, preeminent scientific societies ought to encourage it. The issues I’ve mentioned are far from settled. Have confidence in the ability of our members to judge a scientific debate, and please don’t label as “deniers” those of us who are skeptical of wild predictions.

Greg Reid
Groton, Mass.

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Comments
Chad Brick (June 10, 2014 11:55 PM)
"I read with disbelief “Affirming Impacts of Climate Change” (C&EN, April 7, page 8). The statement by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that “the current rate of ocean acidification … is unprecedented in the past 65 million years” cites no proof to support the claim."

I can find nowhere where the IPCC makes such a claim. It is almost certainly a typo on C&EN's part, conflating "65" with "56". The rest of the argument that follows is a non-sequitor. Yes, catastrophic climate change occured 56 million years go without any input from man. That doesn't mean we should go about repeating it.

Here is a link to a news article about the relevant science, with a link to the primary article therein. Like as is almost always the case, the IPCC is understating things.

http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2951

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