Published: Good Men Project (February 5, 2015)
Matthew Rozsa reminds us that man-made global warming is a fact, and we as a species need to grow up and take responsibility.
The Paris climate summit is showing the early signs of failure. “2C is an objective,” insisted Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union’s climate chief, referencing the dangerous threshold of having the average global temperature increase by more than 2 degree Celsius by the end of the century. “If we have an ongoing process you can not say it is a failure if the mitigration commitments do not reach 2C.”
While I understand that Canete has a tough job, I politely beg to differ.
…the human race has yet to accept its most basic responsibilities. We are like an adolescent who, having tasted the sweet fruits of adulthood, has yet to accept the bitter obligations that go with it.
The problem isn’t simply that the United States, China, and the European Union could always back down from their carbon emission goals (and it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t commit to staying below 2C unless they wanted wiggle room to do precisely that). On a deeper level, the issue is that the human race has yet to accept its most basic responsibilities. We are like an adolescent who, having tasted the sweet fruits of adulthood, has yet to accept the bitter obligations that go with it. Although it behooves us to recognize that we share the same planet and need to be mindful of its health, we still insist on disregarding the consequences of our actions until the last possible second.
Before proceeding with the ethical argument at the heart of this piece, it is first essential to make one point clear: People who are skeptical of man-made climate change are not operating from a place of legitimate and intelligent disagreement. For a variety of economic, cultural, and/or political reasons, they refuse to accept indisputable scientific facts. The problem isn’t that they haven’t been presented with a sufficiently persuasive argument, but that they aren’t open to persuasion.
97 percent [of scientists] accept as concrete that the cause of global warming is man-made.
The mechanics of global warming are simple enough to understand. “Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases,” writes Professor Michael Ranney of How Global Warming Works, a website dedicated to making the complexities of this phenomenon as accessible as possible (a more detailed explanation can be found here). “When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly—raising Earth’s temperature.” The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the planet is heating up, with NASA listing rising sea levels, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, a spike in extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and decreased snow cover among the many proofs that the world is getting warmer. More importantly, 97 percent accept as concrete fact that the cause of global warming is man-made. “CO2 has increased by nearly 50% in the last 150 years [since the explosion of fossil fuels] and the increase is from burning fossil fuels,” writes Skeptical Science, adding that the “energy being trapped in the atmosphere corresponds exactly to the wavelengths of energy captured by CO2.”
The word “persuasive” doesn’t do justice to this evidence. It is so damning that it should be universally regarded as an inviolable scientific truth, akin to our knowledge that a water molecule is composed of hydrogen and oxygen or that the speed of light is a little shy of 300,000,000 meters per second. Not accepting the truth of man-made climate change is more than an erroneous opinion. It is an unforgivable character flaw.
Not accepting the truth of man-made climate change is more than an erroneous opinion. It is an unforgivable character flaw.
For a particularly eloquent explanation as to why, I turn to Adlai E. Stevenson (my political hero), whose last speech warned against the dangers of nuclear war in language that can be applied without alteration to global warming:
We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.
Whether we like it or not, our species has reached a point in its collective development wherein we have the power to transform the very planet we inhabit. When Stevenson uttered those words in Geneva fifty years ago, he was discussing the danger that our war-like instincts would trump our better judgment and result in a nuclear apocalypse. Thankfully, so far the nations of the world have succeeded in curbing their belligerence in the name of self-preservation, but it appears that they are struggling mightily to do the same thing when it comes to the cupidity and/or reactionary disdain for science held by many of its citizens.
If the human race is to survive, this mistake cannot continue to be made. Just as it is unethical for an individual adult to continue disregarding his own welfare and that of others when he has every reason to know better, so too is it wrong for those whose words and deeds will impact the future of our species to ignore irrefutable science for … well, for any reason whatsoever.