The Burning Debate

By Sue Hagan

Is it nobler to ignore someone who advances conspiracy theories or should one take pen against a sea of lies and distortions? Since reading 8th District Republican Committee Chair Ray Rehder’s column two weeks ago (“Environmentalists pose a bigger threat to America than climate change”), I’ve pondered whether to return to a topic I so recently addressed. But Rehder gave his irrelevant and unsupported opinion as if factual, then claimed environmentalists refuse to debate or admit when they were wrong. Let the debate begin!

Let’s start with Rehder calling climate change a hoax started by environmentalists in the 1980s. My answer: it was scientists, not environmentalists, who began discussing climate change evidence in the 19th century, who advanced the science in the 1970’s, and who accumulated so much data that today 97% of  active climatologists agree global warming is real and largely man made. Their data is overwhelming: warmer oceans, melting ice caps, unprecedented fires and much more. National Audubon issued its highly esteemed review of the data in 2014: it showed 2/3rds of USA birds are at risk of survival because of climate change. Environmentalists were following the science, not vice-versa. Sure, pseudo-scientists and politically charged websites dispute climate change and internet searches can be confusing and misleading. For the lay person, take a look at any of the following magazines or their websites: SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN; NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC; DISCOVER. All are reputable. None call climate change a hoax.

No environmentalist would promote a hoax. Insects, reptiles, birds, and trees wouldn’t stop their decline because of a hoax. A hoax wouldn’t make environmentalists rich, famous and respected. Conversely, politicians do reap campaign money from the fossil fuel industry by promoting denialism.

Rehder says Glacier National Park removed public information signs in an admission that climate change doesn’t exist, a story science deniers promote. True, some signs (three, says one source) were replaced. True, they had incorrectly predicted all the glaciers would be gone by 2020. New signs say, “When [the glaciers] will completely disappear, however, depends on how and when we act.” The signs definitely don’t deny climate change. 

The fact is glaciers are melting at Glacier National Park. In 1966 there were 35 active glaciers; today only 26 remain, with an average 40% reduction in size. In very cold winters, glaciers expand, but they retreat as summer progresses. Summer regression now exceeds winter expansion, causing the glaciers to shrink, though not as quickly as was predicted when the signs were installed. What matters is not what happens over a couple of years in selected places but the long-term trends around the world.

And the glacier melting trend is happening everywhere: Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Peru have some of the 5,200 glaciers found to be melting rapidly over the past few decades. Rehder would do well to visit Glacier and talk to staff instead of wasting time on websites promoting dogma over fact. As to his complaint that replacing signs at taxpayers’ expense, I’d wager the sign replacement costs were far less than a single Trump golf outing.

Truly egregious is Rehder’s notion that the tragedy of the Australian wildfires can be blamed on arsonists, not on climate change. To begin with, the numbers of arsonists arrested has been distorted by bots and trolls, according to a Queensland University study. Included were arson arrests before the fire season began and arrests that didn’t result in a major conflagration. Responding to the fake news, Victoria police publicly state there is NO evidence that ANY of the horrific bushfires in their state were caused by arson! Arson is certainly a problem, always has been, but so is lightning. And Rehder makes no effort to explain why 2019’s fires were so vastly greater than in all previous years – have far more people suddenly become arsonists? 

But no matter how the fires started, the catastrophe that followed was definitely a consequence of a warming climate. Australia’s prolonged heatwaves made the country a tinderbox; former wetlands and streams dried out during unprecedented severe heat waves, vegetation wilted, and alterations in wind patterns added new strength to spreading wildfires. Months before the fires began Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported fire-weather dangers were at record highs. Instead of looking at websites producing climate change nonsense, Rehder should examine at what the Australian scientific community is reporting with years of data supporting the conclusions. 

Rehder concludes most “commonsense Americans” think climate change is an unproven theory “aimed at redistributing America’s wealth”. Where does he get this stuff? Breitbart? Donald Trump? In fact, three-fourths of Americans think humans are fueling climate change. Current GOP politicians, like Flat Earthers, are dominated by science denialism; most Americans trust science more than the internet or politicians. As to calling climate change science a wealth redistribution scheme, consider this: failure to help average Americans take advantage of new technologies is paving the way for China’s future wealth as it develops fossil-free alternatives. The USA coal industry is going under regardless (it can’t compete with natural gas generators). Wise investors are turning to clean energy and those good paying jobs to come.

Rehder laments young people are growing up believing in climate change. I am optimistic: our young people are growing up learning how to think scientifically and how to seek reasonable solutions. They know how to separate credible sources from the junk. I readily yield to their judgment.

Leave a Comment