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Readers In Defense Of Rudy Baum

November 10, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 45

I am saddened by the views of those readers who oppose Rudy Baum’s editorials regarding climate change. The latest batch of letters under the heading “Tackling Rudy Baum” is particularly distressing (C&EN, Aug. 11, page 4).

First, Thomas Smith argues that cattle emit lots of methane and that we should be more concerned about that than carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel use. I concede that point. We should stop consuming products made by cattle, while also reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Next, Kenneth Peters seems to argue that models of reality are not accurate for various reasons—in particular, the “best” values for various inputs are not accurately known. I assume Peters would be similarly assiduous in his objections to modeling if one were modeling infectious disease transmissions if a case of smallpox were to appear in Boston. Perhaps it would be best to wait and see how infections spread before trying to manipulate the outcome, since our models are not completely accurate.

Joseph Colaruotolo seems to argue two points: that the U.S. will not be competitive without the continued use of fossil fuels during the time remaining prior to a collapse of civilization caused by resource wars and civil unrest resulting from frequent extreme weather events, and that taxes on carbon are bad. I’m not sure how to address Colaruotolo’s first point. His second point is contradicted by a majority of economists, who would argue that raising taxes on bad things is a good thing. This is particularly true for conservative economists, who argue that a carbon tax is the most free-market-friendly means of addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon taxes (or methane taxes), ­however, would be objectionable if you simply don’t believe that carbon dioxide and methane exhibit physical properties that could conceivably affect Earth’s ­climate.

Richard Scott Johnson
Mercer Island, Wash.

C&EN has again published letters ridiculing and attacking Baum for his persistence in calling for efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. Being a scientifically literate chemist does not make someone competent to critique the findings of climate scientists.

One can quibble as much as one wants about the amount and time frame of warming, but the law of conservation of energy ensures that the steady increase of CO2 results in steady warming of the planet, not to mention steady acidification of the oceans.

Mihaly Mezei
New York City

Rather than framing the continuing contentious debate in C&EN and elsewhere in terms of “climate change,” I suggest that we broaden the picture to “environmental change.” Many of us have observed, or read about, striking phenomena in the environment that are of concern: higher acidity and mercury levels of oceans, with concomitant scarcity of various marine species; more rapid melting of polar ice and rising sea levels; encroachment of land species beyond previous geographical boundaries; and a greater incidence of asthma in the general population.

If you believe that these events are part of an ongoing cycle of nature, then, by all means, set aside money for better insurance. However, if you believe that the events are harmful by-products of the burning of fossil fuel, then push your community and the government for a greater percentage of renewable energy sources.

Above all, you don’t have to buy the implied message of various “denier” groups.

Harvey W. Yurow
San Diego

Amid all the theoretical arguments about global warming, our colleagues need to know that the real effects are already upon us. The seas are rising because of melting glaciers and polar ice caps as well as the expansion of water with increased temperature.

Low-lying cities along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico now encounter frequent flooding at high tide, just like Venice, Italy. Those worst hit include Atlantic City and Sandy Hook, N.J.; Philadelphia; Annapolis, Md.; Norfolk, Va.; Washington, D.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Miami; and Port Isabel, Texas.

See the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s report at­tions/NOAA_Technical_Report_NOS_COOPS_073.pdf. Or just ask your friends in those towns. Even the greatest skeptics are well advised to sell their beachfront property and move to high ground. Yes, it is happening now.

Eric Wickstrom

In his letter, Thomas Smith takes Baum to task for referring to carbon dioxide as a “pollutant” (his quotation marks), arguing that as a necessary metabolite for plants, it cannot be. Upon reading this argument, my mind immediately went to the bacteria that feed upon hydrogen sulfide and even cyanide. Should these poisons be reclassified as innocuous as well?

Quantity is as important as quality in determining whether or not something is a threat. Were Smith to come home to a flooded basement, he might find water is not as docile as he once believed.

Stephen Griffin



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