Commentary: Climate conversion

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Agreed: We could argue for days on the subject of climate change.

But in the end, we’d be arguing about the impact of an indisputable fact: The burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels. That is what’s responsible for the sudden increase in global production of greenhouse gasses, at least by historical standards.

All of the culprits blamed for global warming—transportation, animal agriculture, industrial activity—are ultimately driven by the burning of coal and oil.

On that much, hopefully, everyone can agree.

But those who deny that climate change is happening at all, or who insist that it has little to do with human activities, have to explain how thousands of scientists from dozens of countries could be dead wrong in their measurements of atmospheric CO2, average ocean temperatures and satellite imagery of mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice. And why and to what end they would perpetuate what some want to believe is a giant hoax.

Hard to convince anyone that all the scientists are all wrong in their data collection; harder still to explain to what end they would fabricate such an elaborate fraud.

The idea that all the research, all the data analysis, all the scientific scrutiny of objective, measureable data points can simply be dismissed because they don’t align with one’s political posture represents a rejection of the same science that supports animal breeding, livestock nutrition and veterinary medicine—the cornerstones of modern animal agriculture.

Yes, there are natural “climate cycles,” as critics are fond of noting, but they occur over centuries, or even millennia, not in the span of a single generation. We are approaching a crisis, even if we turn our backs and pretend it isn’t happening.

What’s known and what isn’t

But before getting bogged down in argumentation, let’s stipulate what we don’t know:

  • We don’t know and cannot precisely predict the extent, the progression or the short-term impact of climate change.
  • We don’t know exactly how warming temperatures in the oceans and across continents will affect weather patterns, rainfall or crop production.
  • We don’t know which strategies would be absolutely the most effective countermeasures to mitigate the growing presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The list above is all a matter of speculation—not as to whether those dynamics exist or not, but as to precisely how and when their impact will be felt.

But what we do know, what we can measure, what is rapidly becoming a scientific certainty is that by doing nothing different in regard to our consumption of fossil fuel we can be guaranteed some extremely serious consequences for food production, national security and energy availability.

That’s because for all the hot air we waste arguing about the extent and eventual impact of climate change (let’s be grown-ups here and get past the idea that climate change is just some big phony fraud), we’re also wasting time. The time it will take to invest in and develop alternative, renewable sources of energy. The time it takes to develop and commercialize food crops able to withstand hotter temperatures, longer summers and drier weather. The time it will take to create and construct systems of transportation, fuel production and energy usage that focus on efficiency and conservation.

Not only that, but every step we take to reduce fossil fuel consumption, every dollar we sink into renewable energy production, every gallon of gas or barrel of oil we don’t burn provides innumerable benefits beyond and besides any slowing down of climate change.

Even if you remain unconvinced that we need to worry about burning up the planet someday, within our own lifetimes we would gain substantial benefits by weaning our society away from its addiction to coal and oil.

And here’s one last thought for anyone who still maintains it’s all a hoax: Do you really believe that the Defense Department, the U.S. military establishment, with its own intelligence apparatus would be clueless when it comes to determining whether climate change is a security issue or not? Would you really make the argument that the Pentagon brass just aren’t smart enough to figure out if a bunch of scientists are conspiring to perpetrate a fraud?

Because they aren’t, and they’re not.

In fact, the Navy is deeply engaged in planning right now for the eventuality that by the end of this decade there will be ice-free sea lanes across the Arctic, and is desperately engaged in trying to determine how that will shape military policy and defense preparedness.

They know what’s coming, even if some us pretend we don’t.

That’s a fact, and you can look it up.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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USA  |  April, 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM

First time I've seen the military's intelligence given so much weight! Climate change does occur. Just ask the wooly mammoths. No wait, you can't! Seems they were grazing an area that's well inside the artic circle and got caught in a blizzard! Here's another earth shocking tidbit of information for you. You know how the dinosaur bones are always found in large groups? Ever watch what cattle do when a storm hits? Our cattle run for the treeline. Seems the dinos did, too! Notice how lightning hits tall things? What was taller than a dino? They learned to run for the low spots. Then the flash flood drowned them. Hey, it's a theory! Just like all these others!

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  April, 10, 2013 at 01:26 PM

First of all, mammoths went extinct about 10,000 years ago, which underscores the historical pace of climate change, as I noted. "Natural" climate doesn't occur rapidly enough to threaten existing flora and fauna in a matter of decades, as appears to be happening now. Second, it is a matter of heated speculation among anthropologists whether it was indeed climate change or whether it was tool- and weapon-making people who were responsible for their extinction. Some argue that humans hunted them to extinction; others contend that it was a combination of shrinking habitat (due to changing climatic conditions) and hunting pressure that did them in. In either case, woolly mammoths are hardly proof that the current and incredibly rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases and the consequent (and significant) increase in seasonal and oceanic temperatures are some sort of hoax. And as for the Navy planning for an ice-free Arctic, my point was this: Even if the Pentagon is a hugely inefficient bureaucracy, it strains credibility to argue that therefore, the entire military establishment got duped into believing that climate change is a fraud. They didn't, and it's not.

BC  |  April, 10, 2013 at 06:01 PM

Rapid climate change can effect species and societies that require long time frames to adapt. Our children and grandchildren will face climate and weather that we cannot imagine. It's not a coincidence. As carbon emissions warm the planet, arctic ice is shrinking to record-lows and oceans acidify and rise. We are facing a huge challenge to human ingenuity. The science is clear that we have a problem. The question is what willo we do about it. The costs of doing nothing is horrendous. Wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and other extreme weather has already taken a toll acknowledged by the insurance industry. The time for finding alternatives is now. Like public debt, this is not a problem to leave to future generations.

Dublin  |  April, 10, 2013 at 10:08 PM

Dan, The science is becoming less and less "settled" The list of thousands of scientists who don't believe in man-caused climate change is getting larger every year and is no longer considered a fringe position. Every falsified data report and every email chain showing research being suppressed adds to the skepticism. Brian and Shaun have already listed some tough nuts for you to crack. There are many other problems with your belief system from a scientific view point.

Dublin  |  April, 10, 2013 at 10:15 PM

Rob, Our grandchildren will face the same types of weather we have seen. Even the Al Gore types have backed away from rivers boiling in twenty years and the earth turning to a dust bowl. The reason is simple and has already been pointed out on Drovers-- If the earth heats up, more heat will be lost to space. There is no natural way to reach a runaway condition. If it were possible for humans to cause a runaway condition then a volcano would have already caused it and we would have been toast for thousands of years.

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 07:41 AM

Dan, The Air Force has also spent money preparing for space aliens and one very important General said on TV after the Ft Hood shooting that the worst tragedy possible from the massacre would be if we stopped promoting diversity. There are all kinds of wacky things that go on in the military to go along with all the good things that they do. The military is basically a reflection of society. The known reserves of oil and coal is greater than all of the biomass above ground in the world. If these reserves (and all the reserves we don't know about or have already burned) are really fossil fuels as you suggest, then they were once all above ground and obviously in a good place where tihngs could grow well. That right there is PROOF that there would be no harm in burning a little bit of them. I also ask you to consider Lee's comment to Rob. The actual science is firmly against your worldview.

KY  |  April, 11, 2013 at 09:19 AM

Brian, the thing about biomass is that it is renewable, so while yes, there is less of it than fuels below ground, it is renewable. Not only is it renewable, but it is also more efficient in the form of biodiesel and ethanol than regular gasoline. Also, coal and oil take thousands of years to turn into a viable source of energy. And for every scientist that thinks it is a hoax, there are ten others which have proven it is the truth. I'm sorry, but the science which has proven this to be fact is solidly against your opinion. Sorry to bust your bubble.

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 09:59 AM

Jordan, Jordan, What metric are you using to measure efficiency? Since it stopped being career suicide to be a "denier", the faithful scientists who believe in man caused climate change being a crisis has fallen to 36% and does not show any signs of stopping there. Don't worry, another "crisis" will be manufactured to replace the dying one.

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  April, 11, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Sorry Dan. All catastrophic agw arguments are speculation, based on laughable assumptions, which are based on flawed, incomplete and dishonest pseudo science. If you really want to get closer to an objective understanding of climate, I have two suggestions. 1) Read Feynman's "Cargo Cult Science" with an open mind. 2) Apply those standards to the extant "settled science," including those studies which lead you to believe what you so strongly champion. If you're serious about understanding the reality of our earthly climate, YOU must apply rigorous objectivity and healthy skepticism to every stone in the alarmist agw narrative you've thus far regurgitated. YOU have to do that. No one can do it for you. BTW, as a retired navy man, I'd strongly suggest you apply those same standards to DOD press releases. You're barking up the wrong ice-free sea lane. And you're doing it to yourself.

Kansas  |  April, 11, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Brian: "In a Forbes op-ed, James Taylor takes a study that prominently reveals the anti-science influence of oil and gas companies, and spins it to suggest that serious, substantive disagreement exists among relevant scientists on climate change. This could not be further from the truth, as evidenced by the very study he cites, as well as numerous other studies that have surveyed climate scientists." - Science Watch

Illinois  |  April, 11, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Dan, you are becoming quite the master of hyperbole, aren't you? There are hoaxes, as you like to say, and there are conspiracies, of course, but neither is invoked by us "deniers". There is also wishful thinking and fabrication mushrooming out of a thousand independent sources whose very livelihoods depend upon selling the panic of global warming. Then there is the small army of gullible sheep like yourself who pick up the bullhorn to trumpet this foolish extreme opinion that the world is ending unless we all stop consuming and do exactly as the anointed "experts" say. Your cadre of "experts" have always been wrong more often than they have been right and you know it. You, sir, may take cold showers in the dark, if you please. And you will emerge from your cave in a few years to find the world very much alive and well...and you may then claim credit for single-handedly having saved it. Please take your bullhorn and tambourine into the cave with you when you go. Go preach this nonsense to someone who has time and temperament to fool with it. We have farms to run.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Wash.  |  April, 11, 2013 at 10:43 AM

There remain many unknowns regarding the extent, the pace, and the impact of climate change. No question. But there is no denying the objective data -- that you cannot dispute (unless you want to pretend that meteorologists or oceanographers can't read thermometers and satellite photography taken from space is all faked). We know that the hottest years on record (admittedly only going back a couple hundred years) have all occurred in the last 15 years. We know that mountain glaciers around the world are shrinking at a rate such that most will disappear by mid-century. We know that ocean temperatures are rising -- dramatically -- in the space of the last two decades, and that's unprecedented. We've already experienced two "superstorms" that caused hundreds of billions in damage as a result. And we know from measurements and from our own observations that humanity's pumping millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere from burning coal and oil. You can dismiss the data, you can argue that maybe this all just some naturally occurring cycle, or that even if the climate changes, who cares? It just means that Canadians will be able take up surfing instead of hockey as their national sport. My point is this: Instead of fighting over whether climate change is a hoax, or whether military intelligence is, in fact, an oxymoron, if we take steps to deal with conditions AS THEY NOW STAND, we will reap significant benefits. Energy conservation, better fuel economy, development of renewable energy and biofuels, and a revenue-neutral system of carbon taxes and credits -- whether or not you think climate change is a threat -- would be valuable and positive investments in our future security and prosperity. What's wrong with that?

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Hank, The 36% comment is an accurate representation of the report. If you accept ISI, the numbers were 75% from 1993-2004 and fell to 45% from 2004-2008. The numbers continue to fall as reflected in the peer-reviewed study I referenced. I have no doubt the percentage of believers remain high in the religously invested.

Pennsylvania  |  April, 11, 2013 at 11:05 AM

You conveniently forget to mention the down side Dan (like every other smug pushy global warming alarmist selling sizzling fear of the unknown). Sure, there may be some advantages to conserving more fuel (we've been working at that successfully for decades) but won't those efforts be counterbalanced by disadvantages? Isn't that always the case? How about predicting for us a few of these impacts of global warming nanny state oppression: Loss of American manufacturing Reduction in efficiency of American Agriculture Final irrevocable offshoring of remaining American industry, agriculture and jobs to foreign countries Inflationary impact of adopting inefficient overpriced technology and anti-technology Loss of livelihoods when displaced workers discover everyone cannot become rich and famous fermenting hemp into magic jet fuel or selling parsnips to yuppies Burden placed upon our children and grandchildren to unsnarl the mess of bass-ackward Luddite innovations designed to snuff every morsel of progress or enjoyment out of American entrepreneurship The real cost in real dollars and real cents for all this warm, fuzzy feelgood fluff intended to rescue a planet that is hardly in danger of imploding upon itself Those are just a few of the alter-realities you need to somehow weave into your alarmist schtick Dan, if you are to be convincing. We need the whole picture. We will not settle for your cherrypicked portions of the fairy tale; beginning with Chicken Little running to tell the King and ending with Polly Anna imagining you can save the planet...or that it even needs saving. What make you think these yuppie turds can control climate, that they can reverse it? It is an absurd notion Dan. We're not falling for i

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Dan, The north end of our globe in 2013 has seen the third largest increase in ice mass ever recorded and hasn't stopped growing yet. The south end has continued to grow over the past year as well which means that we now have more ice on earth than we have had for some time. Economically, there are zero benefits to carbon credits which would be bought and sold making some people rich who don't produce anything. It is a pure transfer of wealth mechanism. Carbon taxes are a deterent to producing and can only dampen the economy. Look at what has happened to Spain over the past several years to see what a green inititave economy does. Ask Spain why they had to give it up.

Texas  |  April, 11, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Who out there remembers the warnings in the '70s about a coming Ice Age? The 1970s that is.

Rapid City  |  April, 11, 2013 at 01:03 PM

Dan, Brian and Shaun, Why do you continue to spew canned, cherry-picked “facts” that have been repeatedly debunked? Are you one of the paid professional climate deniers who search discussion forums for opportunities to cynically select data solely to mislead those who are predisposed to mindlessly accept their pseudo-science? Or are you just uninformed, naive victims who accept misleading, incomplete information because it reaffirms your political and economic biases? Preparing for the impacts of increasingly numerous and severe weather events doesn’t have anything to do with politics, a carbon market, or a carbon tax. Preparing to face an increasingly-uncertain future is just common sense. Being prepared often costs little compared to the potential loss of critical assets. Being efficient doesn’t mean cold showers and dark rooms. It means good insulation, planning for alternative water resources for humans, animals and crops, installing irrigation systems that improve yields, and cost less to operate, precision technology to place fertilizer where it creates the most income, using cattle bred for higher feed efficiency, finding ways to decrease animal mortality, installing vegetation buffer strips and channel ling runoff in ways that increase soil moisture and store water against the erosion from a “gully-washer” that would otherwise destroy fertility. It means using the available data on soils, weather and crop varieties to make better short-term predictions and to plan customized, high-resolution management strategies to achieve increased profitability.

KY  |  April, 11, 2013 at 01:22 PM

Seeing as we're not going to change your opinion and you aren't going to change ours, we pretty much have to agree to disagree. However, I do think that market forces are going to pull us into producing more sustainable sources of fuel and energy anyway, so it's not really a fact if we move to more environmentally frienly practices, but when.

Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 11, 2013 at 01:42 PM

Jordan, I agree with both of your comments, Thanks

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 01:51 PM

PZ, Completely ignoring facts such as the growing ice sheets on both poles is not a very effective way of debunking them. Nine extra days of heavy rain over a 60 year period works out to less than 1 extra day of heavy rain per year which is not exactly numerous OR severe.

Kansas  |  April, 11, 2013 at 03:08 PM

Brian: Data does not support your claim that ice sheets are growing. "Arctic sea ice extent in March 2013 averaged 15.04 million square kilometers (5.81 million square miles). This is 710,000 kilometers (274,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average extent, and 610,000 square kilometers (236,000 square miles) above the record low for the month, which happened in 2006. Continuing a trend in recent winters, ice extent was near or below average levels throughout most of the Arctic, with the exception of higher extent in the Bering Sea." National Snow and Ice Data Center

VA  |  April, 11, 2013 at 03:19 PM

Ice on the south pole has been increasing for some time now and it appears that the north pole ice sheets are growing now as well. This does not bode well for the Church of the man caused climate change...

Virginia  |  April, 11, 2013 at 03:46 PM

Embrace change!

Rapid City, South Dakota  |  April, 11, 2013 at 04:45 PM

You might not believe that human-caused climate forcing has occurred and is continuing to increase, and you might not believe in evolution. However in any case natural selection will take care of the problem. You will either adapt or disappear.

Ohio  |  April, 11, 2013 at 07:28 PM

I Do!!! &, when I reminded a colleague of that, he blanched a bit & had to agree . . .

kansas  |  April, 11, 2013 at 07:35 PM

Mr. Murphy has "evolved" with the consensus of opinion. Much of this "consensus" is from the same people who predicted an Ice Age just 35 years ago, and said we would all be starving to death due to the Population Bomb a few years earlier. (Buffalo Commons Mr. Murphy?) He also now sees that the U.S. military leadership, that was not prepared for insurgent warfare, terrorist attacks and any number of other changes in the world scene for most of the last 50 years, is a lot smarter now and knows the Future! Mr. Murphy is correct that the climate changes (the weather even more so - surprise!). And he's correct in that we really should continue to seeking other forms of fuel just as Mankind moved away from cutting down forests for fuel. However, as with the forest thing, our nature can and will move us to change, not AlGore and The Sierra Club. Or Huge Carbon Taxes. Or Huge Subsidies for bio fuels. A little more skepticism of pop-sci snake oil and more faith in your species Mr. Murphy, please.

Dublin  |  April, 11, 2013 at 08:51 PM

How could we forget that raving lunatic Paul Erhlich and the population bomb? These madman keep running the same play thinking that people will vote for baseless fears against their wallets. I find a lot of humor in seeing the false idea in its death throes supported only by socialists, journalists, lunatics and fake scientists...

kansas  |  April, 11, 2013 at 09:56 PM

This, for one, is what's wrong with that - The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And look up ahead for the coming harvest of Unintended Consequences.

KY  |  April, 12, 2013 at 11:24 AM

I know this won't change anybody's mind who thinks all of this was made up by radical liberals (a group that doesn't include this Republican) in our government, but here is a small ist of organizations who believe in this hogwash: *American Society of Agronomy *Crop Science Society of America *Soil Science Society of America *American Association for the Advancement of Science *American Medical Association *World Heath Organization *American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians *American Institute of Biological Sciences *Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies *United States National Research Council *Royal Society of New Zealand *The Royal Society of the United Kingdom *African Academy of Sciences *European Academy of Sciences and Arts *European Science Foundation *InterAcademy Council *International Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences *American Chemical Society *European Physical Society *American Geophysical Union *European Federation of Geologists *European Geosciences Union *Geological Society of America *Geological Society of London *International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics *National Association of Geoscience Teachers *American Meteorological Society *Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society *Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences *Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society *Royal Meteorological Society (UK) *World Meteorological Organization *International Union for Quaternary Research *American Society for Microbiology *Institute of Biology (UK)[ *Australian Coral Reef Society *American Astronomical Society *American Association of Petroleum Geologists *American Geological Institute *American Institute of Professional Ge

shaun evertson    
Nebraska  |  April, 12, 2013 at 01:30 PM

Really? That's all you've got? Non sequitiur, ad hominem, and insult? Q.E.D. baby. You're making it too easy.

NV  |  April, 12, 2013 at 02:21 PM

I think Jordan is just validating his/her point. Some sarcasm involved, but still making a valid point.

SD  |  April, 13, 2013 at 03:33 PM

I've been does the man made pollution compare with

SD  |  April, 13, 2013 at 03:50 PM

Who can give me an accurate answer to a climate change q. that has intrigued me? What is the difference by volume and by 'danger' between human produced pollution and that spewed out by volcanoes each year? Don't those volcanoes have quite damaging soot and devastating gasses? I've wondered if we humans aren't a bit conceited by our 'prowess' at producing danger when compared with 'kindly old Mother Nature'? Meanwhile, I take comfort in recent news that states, probably provinces, too, surrounding SD have been experiencing winter tempertures several degrees less than 'normal' the past few years. But, with global warming, I could get a favorable zone 5 climate instead of this difficult zone 4.....without leaving home!!!!

NV  |  April, 15, 2013 at 11:33 AM

First off, volcanoes put out around .2 Gt (200 million tons of CO2) per year while humans put out on average around 27Gt (Twenty Seven Gigatons). So the two really don't compare. Secondly, average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia. This has been proven my numerous studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850. So, its not just the past couple of years, it's over the long haul of things.

VA  |  April, 16, 2013 at 01:12 PM

Nick, Which hotter years did they leave out of their analysis? 1997? The hotter years in the 30's? Are they counting years in the 2000's with questionable data modification? Are you sure your volcano information is accurate? Because volcanos cause changes that can actually be seen over a long period of time.

NV  |  April, 18, 2013 at 11:37 AM

They're counting the progression of years. Yes, some years have been cooler that others in the past few decades, but the overall trend of things is increasing temps. The fact that this has been proven many times by different organizations using their own data is not a coincidence. It seems the only organization who doesn't believe in this is the AFB.

Pa  |  April, 24, 2013 at 09:29 AM

The ice sheets at the poles are not growing. They are shrinking. If you could see it with your own eyes would you believe it?

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