Other Voices: Global warming column riddled with half-truths, omitted facts | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Global warming column riddled with half-truths, omitted facts

This is in response to Russ Steele’s column on March 6 that argues climate change is the result of natural cycles rather than human activity.

Mr. Steele’s column should have been labeled political commentary. It certainly was not the result of any degree of journalistic rigor. He relies on half-truths and conveniently omitted facts to reach his conclusions.

I was initially surprised that he was willing to conclude that all of the work of scientists looking at the nature and cause of possible climate change is suspect simply because a few scientists were imprudent enough to argue that evidence that did not support the conclusions they reached should not be published. That shows bad judgment by those few, but does not negate the work of hundreds of others. Given this, I was interested to check the authorities Mr. Steele provided on his Web site for the facts he asserted.

He quotes an interview with a climate scientist, Dr. Phil Jones, for the proposition that the periods from 1975 to 1998 and 1999 to 2009 do not represent a significant increase in world temperatures.

To begin, these are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Jones found on a Web site with a bias similar to Mr. Steele’s. Given that amount of prior editing, it is hard to say what the original interview would tell us if reviewed in its entirety. Still, from the portions of the interview included on the site, Dr. Jones explains that given volcanic activity and the level of “solar influence,” a slight cooling would have been expected in the last decade. In fact, there was still a slight warming.

Mr. Steele failed to note that Dr. Jones stated in the interview that he was convinced the available data supports the conclusion that Earth will warm because of human activity.

This demonstrates the danger of a layperson, such as Mr. Steele, or me, or a writer out to make a buck reaching conclusions from isolated “facts” cherry-picked from incredibly complex data.

While there are plenty of differing opinions on the timing and degree of climate change at this early stage of the research, there does not seem to be a reputable climate scientist who would conclude we are not facing the reality of a warming planet. Mr. Steele quotes none.

The “Medieval warming period” referenced by Mr. Steele is a nonstarter. As Dr. Jones pointed out in his interview, there is no evidence that was a global phenomenon. It may have been limited to the North Atlantic and possibly portions of Asia.

Moreover, looking back 1,000 years to reach conclusions about something as elusive as planet-wide temperature averages can’t be particularly easy. I could not find the single sea level rise number that Mr. Steele references on the site he relied on. It appeared from that site that there has been, in fact, a wide variation in sea level change from area to area.

Mr. Steele is right that wind and wave action seemed to be the immediate cause of the break up of sea ice in the Arctic as reported on the NASA Web site. He neglected to state, however, that the article explains the reason the ice was subject to such action was because the Arctic Ocean is now dominated by ice that is much thinner than it was previously, making it susceptible to being broken up and pushed around.

Given the complexity of this topic, I believe it is irresponsible for someone who enjoys the pulpit of the local newspaper to call on parents to challenge their children’s teachers based on a simplified, narrow and biased presentation of an extremely complex topic. I am much more inclined to trust that our teachers will make every effort to present an unbiased view of the science known at the moment.

Good teachers will expose children to the full range of facts, pro and con, encouraging them to think critically and openly about this and other controversial topics without telling them what conclusion they should reach. This is not a topic that should be swept under the rug. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that climate change is not assured, but merely possible, it is the children of today who will be required to wrestle with the environmental and policy implications.

Michael Kluk lives in Grass Valley.

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