by Leigh Pomeroy and Christopher Ruhland
Dr. Christopher Ruhland teaches and researches plant physiology and terrestrial ecology, especially in relation to climate change, at Minnesota State University Mankato. Leigh Pomeroy teaches film at Minnesota State University Mankato, is president of the Mankato Area Environmentalists and sits on the Region Nine Renewable Energy Task Force.
Within the past year our local newspaper, the Mankato Free Press
, has published several op-eds on climate change containing statements that are scientifically inaccurate. This is unfortunate for readers who are interested in finding the truth on this most pressing issue.
This is especially made significant by the just-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body that puts together, evaluates and represents the peer-reviewed climate change research performed by climate scientists across the planet.
In short, that report reiterates even more strongly than previous reports the consensus of climate scientists that:
- The earth's climate is changing in ways that cannot be explained by natural fluctuations alone.
- Overall the planet is warming.
- The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic.
- Severe weather events are becoming more frequent.
The reason for these aberrations, according to the climate scientists, can only be attributed to humankind's impact on the atmosphere through the transfer primarily of carbon but also compounds like methane and nitrous oxide from the earth to the atmosphere.
Human effect on the environment is not new. Civilizations have risen and fallen due to human intervention in natural processes. Local weather (even climate) has been affected by humans draining bodies of water (like the Aral Sea in Russia) and the burning of prairies (as in the western U.S.). But only since the onset of the industrial revolution, which has brought about the wholesale transfer of carbon from natural resources like coal and oil to the atmosphere, have we seen mankind's effect on worldwide climate.
This research has been verified and acknowledged by such U.S. agencies as the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
It has also been confirmed by nearly 200 scientific organizations worldwide, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Geographic Society, the American Meteorological Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.
Because of the stress that climate change puts on the world's water systems, such highly regarded research institutions as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have expressed grave concerns about the future of our oceans and the life therein.
Further, many U.S. and worldwide health organizations have called for action on climate change, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
Business interests, which have historically been conservative, have taken climate change into account in their future planning and called for government action. These include the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Reinsurance Association of America, and the World Bank.
Thus, those saying that climate change is not occurring or that, if it is, mankind does not have a part in causing it are a tiny minority.
Of course, scientific denial is not new. Galileo was imprisoned for asserting that the earth rotated around the sun instead of vice versa. And there are still those today who claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old or that evolution does not exist.
Because the consensus on anthropogenic climate change is so recent — that is, within the last couple of decades — can we thus blame the denialists for attempting to mislead the general public? Some we certainly can, for example:
- Business interests whose profit motive exceeds their concern for the planet's future.
- Politicians whose election depends upon donations from those business interests.
- "Think tanks" whose funding likewise comes from those interests.
- Pundits and authors whose income depends upon their writing or broadcasting climate change denialism.
The Free Press might assert that by publishing "both sides of the issue" the newspaper is only being fair. But there is a fine line between being fair and being accurate. Part of the media's job is to verify the accuracy of their contributors' sources. Unfortunately, in the world of today's media circus, accuracy has too often fallen by the wayside.
This battle will continually be fought as long as we have media. But at least one major newspaper has taken a stand on the climate change issue. Paul Thornton, the opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times, recently clarified his paper's policy
: "Saying ‘there's no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy."
To this we very much agree.
(A slightly edited version of this piece was published
in the Mankato Free Press on Tuesday, April 22.)