97% of scientists believe carbon warming is real

There are few topics more polarizing or politicized than climate change. Everybody seems to have an opinion, as if science were up for a popular vote. A perfect illustration of this was in Mr. Irby’s emotional response of “Man-made climate change defies statistics,” to my column “Carbon tax is the solution to climate change.” Ironically we do share some common ground. We both “support real progress on climate change, which include educating the public on the true scientific facts regarding climate change.” Beyond facts by definition being true, I am all for learning what they really are

When it comes to facts on climate change, NASA is a great starting place. NASA’s official position is that climate change is happening and it is caused by greenhouse emissions.  NASA also debunks the solar flares theory that Mr. Irby referred to. Solar flares occur during storms on the surface of the Sun. During these storms, intense magnetic activities produce massive amounts of energy that bombard the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, called the thermosphere. One such event took place in March of 2012, coinciding with a heatwave in the Eastern and Central U.S. This caused speculations that perhaps global warming is caused by solar flares, not fossil fuels. This theory was quickly dismissed. Solar flares shoot out streams of energetic particles. These particles reach the Earth’s thermosphere (outer layer of the atmosphere, far from the surface) and warm it up. The Earth magnetic field reflects much of this heat back to outer space. As Martin Mlynczak, associate principal investigator for NASA says, “The extra energy from this storm is on the order of 100,000 times less than the energy we normally get at the Earth’s surface. It’s so small that you wouldn’t even notice it.” The effects of solar flares that we do observe on Earth are instead beautiful interplanetary light shows, known as Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.

Life on Earth is possible because of the solar energy that actually reaches the lower atmosphere and the surface. This solar energy is visible ultraviolet light. The rays travel through all atmospheric layers all the way to the surface. When they reach the surface, some are reflected back into outer space, while some are trapped by a layer of greenhouse gasses. These greenhouse gasses have always been around, acting like a blanket that keeps the surface at just the right temperature to sustain life. As of late, human activities have thickened this blanket. Burning fossil fuels increased heat capturing gasses, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) by 40 percent. The increase in CO2 concentration leads to more heat being trapped and to global warming.

These views are held by NASA and 97 percent of climate scientists (https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/). This evidence is also convincing to the Harvard University president, Yale University researchers, 65 Nobel Prize winners (including 35 in scientific fields ranging from medicine to chemistry), and many highly respected Republican leaders (already mentioned in my earlier column) such as James Baker III (Secretary of State under H.W. Bush, Secretary of the Treasury under R. Reagan and White House chief of staff under both); George Shultz (Secretary of State under R. Reagan, and Secretary of Treasury for and Labor under R. Nixon) or R. Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobile and Secretary of State to President Trump. Yet, Mr. Irby dismisses facts as “hysteria.”

This is condescending insult to the distinguished names above, and not an argument. Because he is an engineer, perhaps this will resonate better: If 97 percent of engineers told me a bridge was collapsing, I wouldn’t drive over it, and I’d support decisions to fix it, wouldn’t you? Climate change is a bridge we are all crossing and hopefully it won’t give out before we take action.

With the breadth and expertise of people concerned about climate change, why then do some still claim that the evidence is somehow manufactured, misrepresented by manipulated graphics, or even that it is bought for “billions of dollars” as Irby claims in his comment?

One plausible explanation is “solution–aversion.” Some reject climate change as a problem, because they believe that solutions are more damaging than climate change itself. Many worry that acting on climate change means not only switching to ridiculously expensive energy efficient lightbulbs, but also giving the wasteful government a free pass to destroy the energy sector and the rest of the economy. 

 

This may be why Mr. Irby referred to the carbon tax proposed by the Republican “Climate Leadership Council” as “income redistribution.” This notion is often used by libertarian leaning conservatives who believe that any form of taxation is damaging to the economy and it works like Robin Hood. Government takes money from the rich and gives it to the poor. This discourages people from getting wealthy and stunts growth.

In practice, taxes can be sophisticated mechanisms, and far from one fits all. The only redistribution that occurs under a revenue neutral carbon tax is collecting unpaid bills from the fossil fuel industry to cover the external costs the industry imposes on everybody else. Greenhouse emissions, like all pollution, are examples of market failure. These are rare cases where the market misses some of the costs of production, and lets producers get away without paying. It is comparable to a farmer making money by secretly growing crops on state land, and then selling it for less than farmers who paid for their farmland. It is unfair competition with the costs ultimately paid by our children and grandchildren.

Dominika Parry is a Yale PhD environmental economist and Jackson chapter leader/state coordinator for the Citizens Climate Lobby. (http://citizensclimatelobby.org).

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