Canon: Connection between climate change, human activity is inarguable
Regarding my responses to both Charles Starr and Allen Vanderzanden in my letter on Feb. 27, 2019, when I said I don't argue with climate change deniers, I don't. I have no false illusions I could possibly change either of their minds or the views of other deniers. For them, this is political. If science hasn't done it, I sure can't.
However, Mr. Vanderzanden's attempt in the March 13, 2019, edition of this paper to go with a scientific argument (sun spots) does need a response. I was happy to see the paper insert within his letter that science does credit human activity as the cause. That's the truth. In the interests of the greater good, I will expand on what science knows and why they are concerned (to put it mildly).
Mr. Vanderzanden cites going back 400 years to prove climate change is a natural phenomenon caused by sun spots. For the benefit of those who can be convinced and may be confused by his false premise, please consider the following.
I can do better than 400 years. Ice core samples go back 800,000 years. From those samples, we can know both carbon dioxide levels and temperature going back that 800,000 years.
Temperature and CO2 follow each other, as proven in these ice cores. When CO2 goes up, so does temperature, and vice versa. Over that period of 800,000 years, the fastest rise in CO2 was 20 parts per million (ppm), and that was over a period of 1,000 years. CO2 levels stayed between 200 ppm and 300 ppm over that entire 800,000-year period until recent times.
Since the industrial age, CO2 levels have gone up over 120 ppm. And today's CO2 levels are over 405 ppm. Science measures these figures. There is no debate, at least in the scientific community, about these measurements. Neither is there debate about temperatures following CO2 or CO2 following temperature rises. They go together. We have no record of CO2 levels going up this suddenly by 120 ppm because it's never happened in 800,000 years. And the figures are rising still! This means, logically, that we are going to feel some substantial increase in heat.
To most people, this is enough to cause concern. But some people deny human activity has caused this rise in CO2. For them, consider that 200 years ago, there were no cars or trucks or trains. There was no electricity and no coal-fired power plants. We didn't drill for oil on anywhere near the scale we see today. We burned whale oil for light.
We know burning oil, coal and gas makes CO2. Now picture the freeway at 5 p.m. All that's new. There was nothing like this activity 200 years ago. So they believe human activity has nothing to do with the 120 ppm rise in CO2 over the last 200 years? Huh?
Additionally, consider population. In 1800, there were around 1 billion people worldwide. Today, there are 7.7 billion of us. We use energy today like our ancestors could not imagine, and most of the energy we use, even today, results in the release of CO2.
I can also go into what happens when the world warms up. It will get hot like we seldom see today, and some areas of our planet will become uninhabitable. When that happens, people move. If you are worried about the migrating people we see today, imagine the numbers we will see seeking a place to resettle because of drought and excessive heat.
Temperatures in the last 30 years have not gone up as much as we might expect, because our oceans have absorbed tremendous amounts of the heat. In fact, science tells us our oceans have absorbed 93 percent of the heat generated by CO2 emissions. The mean ocean temperature since 1900 has gone up 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also continuing to climb.
Oceans have also absorbed CO2 to lessen off what we see in the atmosphere. Twenty-six percent of CO2 released by human activity has been absorbed by the oceans. Twenty-eight percent went to plants, and 46 percent wound up in the atmosphere.
Does it seem logical to you that sun spots are the culprit? It doesn't to me, either. It goes without saying the scientific community doesn't kid itself with the premise that sun spots are the problem.
Responding again to Mr. Vanderzanden, there is indeed money involved in climate change. We see what fires, mega-storms and drought cost us — billions and higher insurance rates.
Does comfort have a cost? What do you do when it gets really hot? Air conditioning costs money, as it removes heat from our homes and businesses and transfers it outside. Agriculture will feel the effects. The cost of water is going nowhere but up as it gets scarce.
But there's good news, too. Doubling our clean energy capacity would create 500,000 jobs. We could save $97 billion in air pollution health costs and $161 billion in climate damage reductions by getting away from coal. The health benefit savings and climate impact cost reductions of clean energy would be over $1.1 trillion.
Climate change is the number one problem facing human beings today. It is deadly serious, and it could be solved had we started 30 years ago. It's too late now, but in no way does that mean we should sit on our hands. Human beings are remarkably clever and resourceful. We need to act and treat this like the emergency it is to reduce the consequences for our children and their children. We need to vote like it matters, because it clearly does. And we need to confront deniers when they speak their nonsense.
Eric Canon is a Forest Grove resident.
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