Jeffrey S. Young
The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts. Part II will appear in the Sunday, Nov. 10 edition of Voices.
Given my interest in climate change, I paid particular attention to Joe Armendariz’s recent four Guest Opinions that ran in September. I was curious to see what Mr. Armendariz was adding to the climate change discussion. He raised a number of points that I looked into for more information.
As a starting point, I looked at his LinkedIn profile to see what background he has that might color his views on this subject. His profile states that he “is among the most respected and effective leaders in Santa Barbara County, especially in promoting oil and gas development.” After reviewing his articles and doing some research, it was easy to conclude that Mr. Armendariz undermines climate change by spreading misinformation and doubt about this important global issue. Perhaps Mr. Armendariz doesn’t understand the science behind climate change, or if he does, then he is simply writing to promote the use of fossil fuels. Here’s why I say that.
In his Sept. 5 opinion, Mr. Armendariz advances two propositions. The first one takes a statement Albert Einstein made, that if his Theory of Relativity was wrong that it would take only one scientist to disprove him. Mr. Armendariz then leaps from Einstein’s statement to the conclusion that “Einstein put to rest that when it comes to science, consensus is necessary or even important.” Leaping further, he concludes that “when 100% or 97% of scientists agree on something, and one cranky scientist tests that consensus theory against their own set of alternative theories and models, the theory embraced by the consensus can be and often is disproved.”
Mr. Armendariz does not provide us with any examples in support of this statement. His comparison to the Eugenics debate 100 years ago is misplaced, as the scientists then were not wrong on the science; they were wrong on the morality of Eugenics during a time when the Nazis were perverting its use.
So Mr. Armendariz believes that scientific consensus is unnecessary, that it isn’t important and is often disproved. His reference to the “97% of scientists” attempts to connect the 97% of scientists that have concluded that mankind is contributing to climate change to the 3% that didn’t draw that conclusion in peer-reviewed articles from 1991 to 2011. Mr. Armendariz does this with the hopeful expectation that some readers will accept and believe that the science of climate change is suspect and could be disproved at any moment. However, the greenhouse effect is not a theory to be disproved. Neither is man’s contribution to increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The greenhouse effect, first identified in 1850s by Eunice Foote, is caused by certain atmospheric gases. She discovered this effect by conducting laboratory experiments. Scientists have replicated her work and repeatedly confirmed that gases like CO2 and methane have the ability to absorb heat. The more of these gases in the atmosphere, the greater the atmosphere’s ability to trap heat. Kind of like adding layers of clothing on to keep you warm in the winter. These scientists also determined that neither oxygen or nitrogen, which make up 98% of our atmosphere, have this ability. They also calculated how much of these greenhouse gases would be required to raise the temperature of the Earth. They derived a formula.
In the 170 years since the greenhouse effect was identified, not one scientist has disproven the science supporting it, while continued research has affirmed and refined its existence. While there are a few scientists that don’t agree that man’s activities are contributing to global warming, not one has disproved the fact that the extraction, processing, transportation and burning of fossil fuels coupled with worldwide deforestation since 1850, has increased CO2 levels beyond those levels that we have experienced in the last 800,000 years. The increase is a very significant 46%. Increases in average global temperature tracks the increase in CO2 levels, just like the formula predicted. The old adage that “Too much of a good thing can become harmful” rings true here. CO2 is good for plants, but plants can use only so much. CO2 and methane have become harmful as they continue to increase the heat-trapping ability of the atmosphere.
As to Mr. Armendariz’s view on consensus, it’s one thing to have a contrary opinion and another to have facts to disprove something you disagree with. We all have opinions, but facts matter. Looking at it another way, if you had a medical condition and consulted with 100 doctors, and 97 told you that you had to change something you were doing in order to save your life, would you listen to the three doctors that disagreed with the 97? Most of us that are serious in preventing harm to ourselves would follow the advice of the 97. Holding your breath and waiting for the 97 to be disproven would very likely be fatal. Not a wise or commonsense response.
Mr. Armendariz’s second argument from his Sept. 5 Opinion uses a February 2019 NASA article that he believes stands for the proposition that the greening of the Earth supports continued burning of fossil fuels. He states “…CO2 is popular with plants… It is so popular, in fact, that when fed to plants in large quantities, it makes them grow faster and taller — in other words, healthier. And that is why planet Earth today is experiencing a widespread greening effect. It is because of the increase in CO2 that human activity is responsible for. The amount of greening on Earth, according to NASA scientists, is now equivalent to the size of the continental United States” including areas in China, India, Russia, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.
Well, I read the entire 17-page NASA article, and the authors make no claim that increased C02 levels are causing the greening or that their findings support the continued burning of fossil fuels. The research conducted in the NASA study compared greening through satellite imagery since 2000. The study does state that up until their research, climate change and CO2 levels “seem to be the dominant drivers” for greening. However, the NASA study found that the greening is being primarily caused by the planting of trees and increases in multi-cropping in agricultural production. And the increase of greening in China and India “is being facilitated by heavy fertilizer use and surface/groundwater irrigation.”
Doesn’t this make sense? If you want your grass to look greener, what do you do? You throw on some fertilizer and water it. You don’t need to give it more CO2. There is something else to be aware of when it comes to intensive agriculture — fertilized soils and animal waste, which involve the creation of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. This greenhouse gas is 300 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat, and its levels are also increasing in the atmosphere. This is why climate science has identified modern agricultural practices as contributing to climate change.
If Mr. Armendariz is truly concerned about “emergency government action and higher taxes,” as he puts forth in his article, I recommend that he and others like him put forth climate change solutions for discussion, because the longer we put off the implementation of solutions, the more likely we will see emergency government action declared without their input — something he laments as a bad idea.