Warming or Not, Carbon Glut is Core Problem

Global-warming deniers take liberties with the truth while oceans die

Arctic sea ice defied predictions this winter and reached its largest extent since 1979, and Tennessee experienced its first normal winter in more than a decade. If you are old enough to remember normal winters, you may recall that in the late 1980s, as year after year of record and near-record global temperatures piled up, global-warming deniers stressed how important it is not to draw long-term conclusions from a single year of data. Or two, or three or five. They were right then and their caution holds true today, but now they are the ones ignoring statistical principles.

We have names for people who cannot heed their own advice, and those declaring this winter proof that climate scientists are wrong deserve whichever name you choose. They understood statistical caution when it worked for them but gleefully threw it on this winter's chill winds. Certainly it is not the first time deniers have lied or been proven wrong. It won't be the last, because their position is founded on the false premise that carbon dioxide levels are only worth worrying about if warming theories can be proven.

Atmospheric CO2 has risen more than 50 parts per million since scientists first became concerned about the build up a half century ago, and the effect on our planet's temperature has become so apparent hardly anyone argues anymore that warming is an illusion. Instead, they argue that warming is occurring but not man's fault, or at least they did until this winter. Now they are back to saying warming is an illusion.

Their argument misses the point entirely. The carbon glut is our core problem, and global warming and climate impacts are just some of the threats posed by all our gaseous waste.

Excessive carbon emissions have caused observable increases in the acidity of the ocean. CO2 in seawater tends to attach to calcium, stressing living things that depend on calcium (which is literally all living things). Bones, shells, and cartilage all derive stiffness from calcium, so everything from coral to fisheries have declined in response to ocean acidity increases.

Vinegar is a durable food preservative because it is acidic enough that cellular life cannot survive, and we are slowly pickling our oceans. Regardless of how much faith you place in climate models, present CO2 levels are already a clear economic danger that demands response. An emissions market is a fair source of revenue for government and a valid way to finance recovery from the huge wealth drain financial deregulators caused, and a president who recognizes this is a breath of fresh air. Obama plans to let a green economy grow in our economic void, reinflating the stock market and producing new jobs. An emissions market does double-duty as direct revenue and as an incentive for cleaner energy.

This winter may prove to be good news. Perhaps the climate has some adjustment mechanism we have so far failed to notice. Maybe the best-case scenarios are more likely than the worst. Instead of a tipping point, maybe our pollution will trigger a natural adjustment. Yet even if we take the dishonest glee of deniers as truth, we still have acidity in the seas to worry about.

Maybe this winter will prove anomalous and another stretch of warmer, drier years will visit East Tennessee. Who can say? Climate scientists don't make short-term predictions. That's a job for meteorologists looking days and weeks ahead as storm systems approach. Climate scientists deal with broader topics: water and carbon cycles, cloud formation, trapped and reflected sunlight. They trace climate history through ice cores, tree rings, geology, and fossil deposits, and the evidence suggests it has been several million years since Earth had as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as it does now.

Whether current or future CO2 levels might alter weather patterns is now a secondary consideration. Our emissions are weakening the oceans. There is no denying that seafood is critical to human prosperity.