Letter to the editor – climate change

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Dear Editor,

In the 16 October Times, under the heading of “Settled Science?” Jim Bertram affirms that “it is only those who are relatively independent financially, or retired like me, [who] are able to make the comments that I bring forward,” and that “if a young PhD candidate…wished to pursue an unorthodox line of thinking vis-a-vis the unsettled climate debate… the hammer of climate diktat would descend.” Of course it’s well documented that fossil industry money flows in vast amounts to the climate change denial community, while, in our case at least, researching global warming and environmental abuse has only led to the assessment that we’re too independent-minded to be employable. It was in 1989, in reference to preventing the logging of old growth forests on Haida Gwaii, that we were first warned, in a letter to the Editor of the ‘Queen Charlotte Observer,’ that we were being lucratively paid to work for ecological integrity, but thirty years later none of this hypothetical money has yet shown up.

Jim then critiques our handout for the 27 Sept climate march in Bishops Mills, which was meant for discussion at the march, sent to the Times as background for reporting on the march, and published on 9 October (“Historical Aspects of Global Warming,” North Grenville Times 7(41):9) as worthy of public interest, without our having a chance to revise it for publication.

The first point we made in the handout was that the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide had been a settled matter of physical chemistry ever “Since the day that [Swedish scientist Svante August] Arrhenius first did the math” in 1909 (yes, I quoted from a song I wrote in 2015, which others wouldn’t have heard – this was a handout for discussion in our kitchen). Jim discusses the tentative nature of scientific theories, (without mentioning the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide) in terms of Einstein’s relativity having refined Newtonian gravitation, without mentioning that this was a refinement that didn’t change the calculations of the interactions of matter and light among everyday objects. The “beauty and stability of the Newtonian system” was not “gone” – it was enhanced by a greater beauty and stability for high speed and exceptionally massive events.

It’s certain that science progresses because, as “faith in doubt,” it’s always self-correcting, but the other side of this is that, because nobody can know everything, one trusts the conclusions of ones colleagues. It’s not scientific scholarship to cherry-pick isolated facts while ignoring the tree they grew on. Climatologists struggled through the 1970s and 1980s to come back to the conclusion everyone had assumed before the lull in warming that was brought on by particulate pollution from 1945-1975. There was no funding from any establishment for coming to this conclusion, which would necessarily lead to at least considerable turmoil in the established order of things. We know that climate scientists working for oil companies came to this conclusion, which was suppressed by their employers.

Most of Jim’s discussion was about our saying that “The ‘Little Ice Age,’ which culminated in the ‘year without a summer’ of 1816, is now regarded as being due to reduced carbon dioxide levels following the regrowth of Central and North American forests after introduced diseases killed tens of millions of native Americans.”

He complains that the “Little Ice Age” wasn’t really an Ice Age, but the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t really Maple leaves either. Locally, we need only think of the disappearance of the agricultural St-Lawrence Iroquoian settlements immediately after first European contact, and then the massive burning of the regrown forest by Loyalist settlers, into potash for sale to England, to see both aspects of this scenario.

This new theory, which originated with thoughts about the regrowth of Central American forests after the collapse of the civilizations there by the Spanish, is based on the measured levels of carbon dioxide and the archeological understanding of the extent to which the agricultural civilizations in the interior of North America were decimated by disease. Because this is a new theory, explanations from older theories are still out there, and they likely played a part in the circumstances of the cooling. Our reference to “the year without a summer” was included to show that we understood that this coldest episode of the Little Ice Age was triggered by the explosive eruption of Mount Tambora.

Without commenting on our concern about positive feedback loops that might release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, or that “evolutionary psychologists affirm that… there’s always been selection for focusing on the present moment and discounting of the future,” Jim veers into political classifications about the “hysterical and financial claims of the Left…” and urges the reader to “take a hard look at what the NDP, Greens, and Liberals are saying, and use your imagination. It’s not hard to see where their economic non-policies lead.”

We suppose this is a commentary on our assertion that “If climate change is to be controlled, we’ll need to change the whole tenor of society to think more globally… and, as energy sourcing is decarbonized, also to work towards the incorporation of what’s now atmospheric carbon into living trees, agricultural soils, and wetlands.”

This is the whole point: between the fossil & organic carbon released by the technology of the industrial revolution and the population explosion released by the germ theory of disease, actions directed by personal or national self-interest are now dangerously obsolete. Recognizing this obsolescence will be a big change, which may well upset “those who enjoy their current economic status.” Humanity has, however, come to the point where we need to find ways to think and act as a species for the good of ourselves and the other species that make up the ecosystems we live in.

Fred Schueler
Research Curator

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you Fred for your excellent research and writing. Luckily we have researchers like you to help us make sense of the complex world around us.
    Unfortunately Jim’s remarks often drift into supposition. I personally am exhausted with the absence of science and the upwelling of personal belief. But hey. Part of what makes it a conversation.
    Well done.
    Kelvin Hodges

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