We need a more honest, civil discussion on climate change. Let’s start by passing judgment on the issue with more insight than a mere glance out the window. Winter once again came to pass this year, and to some folks that is proof enough that climate change is a myth. As if the existence of seasons proves Earth’s thermometer remains status quo.
The denials are strongest when frozen precipitation falls. On social media, along with pictures of snow-covered deck furniture and frantic reports from grocery stores, are the assured proclamations: “What global warming?!” The pendulum of irrationality will swing another direction in about five months or so. I’m from Arkansas and this summer will be my first in Fort Worth, but I don’t think it takes a Farmer’s Almanac to predict that it will become uncomfortably hot here. Some liberal tempers will rise with the mercury. A hurricane’s formation in the Gulf of Mexico will be blamed on Texans’ penchant for pickups or energy companies’ opposition to carbon offsets.
Our political discourse on climate change lacks a key component: science. Not the science of sophisticated climate models or allegedly falsified research, geologic ice samples or hoped-for ice cap recovery. I mean basic science, the kind that should be known and understood not just by Al Gore but Al Bundy. We learn in elementary school that climate measures meteorological variables over long periods of time and weather dictates if we wear a jacket tomorrow. These days, however, nearly every warm front or cold front gives some ideologue smoking-gun evidence that something is or is not happening to the planet. Go online around this time of year, and you will find that conservative websites suddenly have a great interest in tomorrow’s forecast. Headlines from The Drudge Report read like they are from The Weather Channel. Indeed, it still gets cold in the winter, and a season’s worth of snowstorms proves nothing. To be sure, the left and right are both guilty of tying specific weather events into larger narratives about climate. On Feb. 14, when he delivered aid to drought-stricken California, President Obama cautioned that similar consequences would occur in other parts of the country if we do not change our carbon-emitting ways. Never mind that global warming climate models tend to predict California getting wetter in the winter, not drier. Climate scientists quoted by the less-than-conservative New York Times chalked the drought up to natural variability.
When climate change believers attach individual events to harbingers of doom it only undermines their valid larger argument. That’s right, I called their argument valid. Full disclosure, I believe the globe is warming and that it is likely the result of human activity. I find it easier to buy into the consensus of the vast majority of scientists than the notion of an international conspiracy with impossible reach. My beliefs are in line with most other Americans; 58 percent say they worry a great deal or fair amount about global warming, according to a Gallup poll last year. That is up from 51 percent in 2011 but down from 72 percent in 2000. Not coincidentally, average temperatures in the U.S.’ lower 48 were down slightly from 2007 to 2011 before going up in 2012, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Bob Dylan may contend that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but apparently that’s all Americans need to form opinions about the long-term future of the planet. This is bad news for environmentalists because in much of the country 2013 was cold (bet you didn’t need a weatherman to know that), colder in fact than all but two of the past 15 years. Secretary of State John Kerry probably did not win many hearts and minds when on Feb. 16 he called skeptics of climate change members of the “Flat Earth Society.”
Besides unfailing honesty, global warming warners must embrace humble civility. It may be possible to win an argument on paper while demonizing the other side, but you are unlikely to bring them around to your way of thinking. Again, I believe the globe is warming and that we need a measured approach to addressing it, one that weighs both long- and short-term economic consequences. So I hope we can turn climate change from dogma to discussion. These days, however, the weather and global warming’s loudest campaigners just aren’t cooperating. Chip Taulbee is president of the Fort Worth Business Press. Submit InMarket ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org