Climate Change

Letter to the Editor from the East Hampton Star, 15-Oct-19

October 10, 2019

To the Editor,

The most effective lies are those that begin with something that is true. The letter in the Oct. 3 Star by Mr. Walter Donway is a case in point. He states that the climate has changed in the past, before humans were emitting greenhouse gases. That’s true but the conclusions he draws are false. Past climate changes, obviously with natural causes, generally took many millennia to play out, and they were often accompanied by mass extinctions.

In the present case, the scenario is playing out over decades — much shorter periods of time. And now we have more than seven billion human beings who have occupied every niche that the existing climate could support. Many of the most populated regions will become less able to support humans, and this will result in mass migrations that will make the refugee crises of this decade seem puny by comparison.

This is a big reason why our military is very concerned about climate change. It’s also why 66 Republicans joined the Democrats to defeat an amendment to the last defense appropriations bill that would have prevented the Pentagon from considering climate change in its strategic planning.

Mr. Donway also takes aim at climate models. Here again, he starts with the truth that models have shortcomings. If the only evidence for climate change came from models, I’d be a skeptic, too. Models are just one piece of the puzzle. The precisely measured increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, its correlation with the emissions from combustion of fossil fuels, the steady increase in global temperatures, and the shifting of the ranges of many species as they attempt to adjust to the changing climate, are solid pieces of evidence that have nothing to do with models.

What models contribute is an understanding of the complex mechanisms that together influence the climate. Models also tell us which uncertainties are most important and which ones can be safely ignored. The role of clouds in the climate system is one very important area where we need to refine the science, but the uncertainties here only lead to uncertainty about whether climate change will just be very bad or downright catastrophic.

It is quite possible that Mr. Donway really believes what he is writing week after week, just as many an isolationist in the 1930s really believed that Hitler was not a threat, but their beliefs didn’t change the reality. It’s probably too much to ask him to reconsider, but the rest of us don’t have to follow along.

Our young people have the most to lose, and they are beginning to lead the fight for sanity. Thank God for them.


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