Jeffrey S. Young
The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Andy Caldwell, who recently announced that he is running for Congress, shared his views on climate change in a guest opinion published Aug. 15. Mr. Caldwell clearly does not even attempt to evoke an informed discussion of climate change, but instead throws stones at and belittles those he disagrees with.
His writing expresses his views — that the various factors that make up our climate can’t be understood enough to predict the future or inform us of what happened in the past, that a focus on greenhouse gas concentrations alone is “myopic,” that rising CO2 levels should be encouraged based on his interviews of four “experts,” and that the environmental community is calling for the elimination of fossil fuels in their entirety from the economy.
As we look at his assertions one by one, let’s start with where Mr. Caldwell tells us he obtains his information from. He has interviewed four “experts” on his radio show and that all four “are quick to point out” that mankind should not be concerned at all about rising CO2 levels, but that we should be concerned that these levels are “dangerously low.” A review of these experts’ credentials, from their LinkedIn profiles, reveals strong similarities. None of them have degrees, training or experience in climate or atmospheric sciences. They have not published any peer-reviewed articles on the subject. Neither have they peer-reviewed any such articles. None of them have participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But they all have ties to the oil and gas industry, and all continually testify that climate science is a hoax.
Why hasn’t Mr. Caldwell interviewed a true expert in the field? The University of California has numerous well-qualified climate scientists, including UCSB in our own backyard. Would any of us go to a dermatologist to have a heart problem diagnosed? Of course not. One can only wonder why Mr. Caldwell doesn’t invite true experts in the field on his radio show to provide an informed discussion on climate change for his listeners.
Mr. Caldwell’s “experts” have told him that we would be much better off with CO2 concentrations 10 times what they are now, that the planet “thrived” at these levels and that the planet “couldn’t have been greener.” What else do we know about life on Earth during that time period? Well, dinosaurs and other pre-historic life roamed the planet then. Mankind didn’t exist and was not to appear on the scene for millions of years. Sea levels were 200 to 300 feet higher than they are now.
Just stop and think about this. Encouraging CO2 levels to rise to the levels that existed millions of years ago would result in all of the south coast of Santa Barbara and the Santa Maria Valley being permanently underwater. Six-hundred-million people around the world live in coastal areas that are less than 33 feet above sea level. And nearly 2.4 billion people live within 100 miles of a coastline. Just think about the tremendous impact sea level rise to these levels would have on human lives and our infrastructures.
As for the planet becoming “greener,” just what does Mr. Caldwell think is going to become greener? We have cut down 50 percent of the planet’s forests, which, by the way, were God’s perfect carbon sink. Perfect in the sense that forests bring us so many benefits on an ongoing basis. In addition to storing carbon in their trees, they provide us with shade, wildlife, timber and wood, places of refuge, etc. The fact that CO2 levels are increasing (undisputed) means that plant and tree life on this planet is unable to use all of this extra carbon that we are emitting into the atmosphere. To state this important point differently, the planet no longer has the plant and tree life that could take up this extra carbon. It’s gone — nearly 13 billion acres — and we continue to deforest the globe.
While there are many factors involved in the climate that we experience, scientists have a pretty good grasp of how these factors inter-relate to one another, and in producing the weather we see, and the climate that results over time. What is beyond dispute is that greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane add to the atmosphere’s ability to trap heat and thereby warm the planet.
Models that predicted this relationship are over 150 years old. Ask any high school science teacher. And as we have increased CO2 levels from 280 ppm (1800) to 410 ppm (2019), the earth has warmed just as the models have predicted. In the last couple of years, we have experienced the warmest average conditions ever recorded in man’s existence. Just this month, Iceland announced the loss of its first glacier to global warming; 95 percent of Alaska’s glaciers are thinning, stagnating or retreating, and more importantly, the rate of thinning is increasing.
Greenland, as we speak, is experiencing its hottest summer in recorded history. On Aug. 1, in one day, it lost 12.5 billions tons of ice, more than any day since researchers started recording ice loss in 1950. Glacial ice loss is also occurring on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and throughout the Andes Mountains in South America.
All of this is happening just as the models have predicted. Warmer weather in California will translate into less snowpack through the summer and fall. It is a fact that 30 percent of California’s water supply comes from melting snow that supplies the western Sierra rivers with water for agriculture and urban use, through the balance of the year when it doesn’t rain. Without this snowpack, where could we make up that loss, estimated at 15 million acre-feet of water per year, more than all of the water used by California cities in 2010?
Lastly, contrary to Mr. Caldwell’s assertion, no one is seeking the elimination of all fossil fuels. What is being sought is the elimination of the burning of fossil fuels to supply energy, coupled with their replacement with non-carbon energy sources like solar, wind, biofuels and nuclear power.
Mr. Caldwell’s claim that society would lose the benefits of plastics, asphalt, tires, antihistamines, antiseptics, cortisone, fertilizers, heart valves and thousands of other products displays a misunderstanding of what the goal is. As long as petroleum hydrocarbons are not being burned, their other uses are just not contributing enough to an increase in greenhouse gas levels to be of concern.
Climate change is here now. It’s not coming in 10, 15 or 20 years. It’s been happening for many years. It’s like a slow-moving wave that is building and building as it approaches. We are experiencing its effects now. While we have the ability to tackle this challenge, the question is whether we have the collective will to do so. I believe we can if we come together, start talking to one another, roll up our sleeves and get to work.