Friday, June 01, 2012

I Am Not a Leftist, Right-Wing, Environmentalist Denier!


The discussion over climate change, global warming, anthropogenic or natural, is polarized along several lines that create needless misunderstanding, obfuscation and dissent.

On the one hand, vocal proponents of anthropogenic global warming/climate change often accuse those who do not accept this view without question as being "deniers," driven by an overwhelming right-wing, oil company-funded propaganda campaign.

On the other hand, those who question the reality of anthropogenic global warming/climate change often accuse the proponents as being leftist environmentalists seeking to redistribute wealth and destroy civilization by promoting wind generators and solar panels.

Of course, both of these extreme positions are misleading. There are principled, independent scientists and activists who are not Right-wing, who are not funded by oil companies and who question the claims of human causation of climate variation. And there are principled proponents of human caused climate change who are dedicated environmentalists who are not Leftists and who do not seek redistribution of wealth and who are genuinely concerned about the effects of human development on the natural world.

More troubling is the right-wing, property rights, fossil fuel/nuclear power propensity of many self-avowed climate change "skeptics." A recent article, The Cost of Running the World on Renewable Power, by Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, suggests that a shift to renewable energy sources is overwhelmingly expensive, unattainable and unnecessary. This is far more of an ostrich-in-a-hole viewpoint than the "denier" accusation. It's abundantly clear that fossil fuels are finite and will become uneconomic to produce long before they "run out." It is also abundantly clear that we have no solution for the problem of  dispersing nuclear waste materials that will remain radioactive and toxic for centuries, even if there were unlimited sources of nuclear fuel. At some point, we will change to a renewable energy economy. Why wait for the crisis? Change now and avoid the rush!

I am one of those caught in the middle. I have been an active environmentalist for over forty years, working to limit, as much as possible, pollution, habitat and biodiversity loss and unlimited economic growth. I am also skeptical of claims for human caused climate variation. I've studied climate science, as an archaeologist, since 1991, and the case for human produced CO2 climate change causation is not supported by the evidence. Yes, humans do affect local weather and climates, but these effects do not result in global climate variation. There are many natural factors in climate variation that far overwhelm the contributions from human technology and behavior.

My problem is I am tarred with both the "denier" and "Leftist" brushes, even though I am neither. When I write about natural factors active in climate variation, I am called a denier and accused of accepting money from oil companies. When I write about the necessity of limiting pollution and habitat and biodiversity loss, I am accused of being a warmist and part of the United Nations Agenda 21 sustainable development conspiracy.

I can't win. I hesitate to identify myself in either camp, as I am marginalized and ignored by proponents and opponents alike. Between Scylla and Charybdis, I swirl in the whirlpool of universal obloquy.

The truth is I'm a scientist, albeit a semi-retired, unfunded, independent and non-academic scientist. I read the literature on both sides of the climate change debate and draw my own conclusions as the the  relevancy of the evidence and methodology with respect to the conclusions of the publications' authors. I have gone back and forth in my conclusions, at first convinced by the data that humans are indeed causing significant climate change, then, over the years, reversing that position to conclude that, while human activities do influence climate variation, they are but one of many influences, human and natural, both positive and negative forcings and feedbacks, that result in a highly complex, chaotic and largely unpredictable global climate system.

It seems that the tide may be turning, slowly on its own cosmic timetable. But I am fearful that the withdrawal of public attention from climate change will take with it support for traditional environmental defense and activism, as I have cautioned for many years. Throughout all the global warming hyperbole, pollution and habitat loss have continued unchecked, to have far greater and much more immediate effects in our lives today, not in some computer modeled, hypothetical future.

The natural world doesn't know Left or Right, Deniers or Warmists.

"Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog,
It's just little old me...  Underdog."