Physicist Richard Feynman defined science as “what we do to keep from lying to ourselves”. It is the method humans use to explain environmentally natural and human cultural conditions as opposed to mythologies and cultural views that are not always grounded in measurable terms. The business of science transcends culture and works to explain events and behaviors that can establish a level of veracity that enables us to make decisions on how best deal with each other and our futures.
Knowledge is power so determining how correct that knowledge is falls on the scientific community. Scientists are dedicated to a standard that separates them from all other human and social institutions like religion and economics. The ultimate goal of scientific research is to provide hard evidence that gives the strongest credence to a claim and that holds up over time through repetition of the data used to explain that claim.
Our dynamic world will challenge the theses and theories that science establishes and as conditions dictate the parameters of each will adjust to the new found evidence. Science should never be guilty of stating as other social institutions do that their views are sacrosanct or absolute. What science provides are indicators as to how, when and why the natural conditions of our world seen through the human senses occur as they do. The speculative reasons outside this tangible realm is left to mystics and philosophers.
CLIMATOLOGY AND ITS IMPERATIVE
The institution of science encompasses many specialties engaged in a multitude of physical disciplines living within our living ecosystem. One of these, CLIMATOLOGY, focuses on the data that reveal nature’s secret’s about the forces we often refer to as weather. Simply put, it’s goal is to establish “a quantitative description of climate showing the characteristic values of climate variables over a region.”(1) Factors involved in determining this focus on historical data and those causations that impact climate – natural and man-made (anthropogenic)
The focus on climatology and that which has been given much public attention in recent decades centers around factors that are related to a condition Dr. James Hansen introduced in 1988 referred to as “global warming”. Global warming is a condition by where the overall temperature of our planet has been steadily increasing at a rate that most scientist recognize as abnormal. It is not an unknown occurrence but in times past when global warming has occurred it did so at a rate slow enough to allow plant and animal life to adjust to these dramatic changes with their habitat.
The consensus of climatologists who study this phenomena is that the rapid increase in heat is due to a condition known as the green house effect. This occurs when chemical gases like methane, CO2 and chlorofluorcarbons accumulate in our atmosphere at a level that begins to trap the suns rays like a blanket, thus creating a warming effect that negatively impacts land and sea masses. In the past this would occur as a result of some natural consequence like volcanoes and asteroids hitting the earth.
These chemicals can be found in nature and are in fact essential to life on this planet in relative proportionate amounts. But the climate science has revealed that over the last two and half centuries there has been a rapid increase in CO2 in our atmosphere that correlates to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
The unnatural occurrence of CO2 transferring from below the earth and the oceans to the atmosphere as a result of burnt energy sources that come from oil and coal appears to have negatively enhanced the natural patterns by which the earth heats and cools itself. The scientific data to support this perception has become more abundant and detailed over the last two decades to the point where the preponderance of scientists who study this phenomena feel convinced that man-made global warming is a reality.(2)
CHALLENGES TO THE CLIMATE SCIENCE
As was stated earlier, all science is open to question and scrutiny and scientists themselves will tell you there are seldom any absolutes in their findings. What has basis for acting on the research discovered by those in the field of climatology however is the compelling weight and wealth of information that makes it too strong to deny the reality of anthropological warming.
And yet there remains a component of skeptics on this subject that refutes this weighted evidence for reasons that seem self-serving. Most of the skeptics lie well outside the field of climatology and those who do have scientific credentials and allegedly sign on to the anti-global warming view are in unrelated fields that don’t routinely study the climate data. What handful of climate scientist that continue to challenge the scientific consensus do so with dated information that has been debunked(3) and who are on the payrolls of Big Oil(4) and Big Coal(5).
The litany of bogus charges aimed at climate scientists and their research and data has been aptly dismissed on numerous occasions. When stolen e-mails allegedly exposed a cover up by climate scientist to suppress pertinent information it was later discovered that oil corporate friendly supporters within climate skeptic camps were a part of this and proceeded to disseminate cherry-picked information from these purloined e-mails to create this illusion. Following an investigation by a body of scientist and educators it was found that the charges made by those who had stolen the e-mails were unfounded.
The belief by some that the planet is cooling rather than heating has also been dismissed. Usually the information skeptics use is limited to a shorter time period and based on works that are not peer-reviewed within the scientific community.(6)
What’s disturbing about all of this is that time is of the essence. As the accumulation of CO2 exceeds a controllable level of 350ppm (currently we are at 390ppm) the increased warming trend is impacting an increase in climate disasters from the 1000 year floods in Tennessee to the rare fires in Russia.(7) New data is showing that greater floods and droughts will occur as earth’s hydrology cycle is altered from increased temperatures, leaving fewer people with adequate supplies of food and water to survive.
Science is being threatened by those who would portray it as just another institution that serves a select few. The motive behind those who challenge the climate science appear to be connected to economic conditions that affect the vast fortunes of multi-national corporations, especially those related to the carbon producing chemicals found in coal, oil and natural gas.
WHAT WILL BE OUR LEGACY TO FUTURE GENERATIONS?
The need to keep science out of the clutches from those who control the political and economic machinery of civilization is vital to the welfare of this “small blue dot” in the universe we call home. The information we have at our disposal that weighs against the use of fossil fuels must be viewed not as an alternative but as the best reliable source we currently have at our disposal.
When humans hesitate to use the vast knowledge of their experiences and learned capabilities the consequences are often tragic. Acting on our best estimates is not an irrational plan of action. Inaction from uncertainty has lost many a battle.
Being susceptible to the self interests of a minority is counter to Feynman’s insight of using science to prevent us from lying to ourselves. When’s the last time your choice to follow the whims of people who hold political and financial power was proven to be in your best interest and the interest of the general public?
(1) NOAA’s Climate Glossary
(2) Is there a scientific consensus on global warming?
(3) Do 500 scientists refute the consensus?
(4) Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine
(5) Exxon-Mobil Secrets
(6) Rebutting climate science disinformer talking points in a single line
(7) A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice