Sustainability: It’s not rocket science

Dr. Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama and a former NASA scientist who specializes in climate research.  I am a first-year college student with an undeclared major whose science knowledge extends very little past the minimum curriculum requirements of high school.  Thus, it’s a bit daunting, to say the least, to oppose publicly what Dr. Spencer has to say about climate change.

On Wednesday, February 24, Furman’s Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow (CSBT) presented its annual Environmental Lecture Series, hosting Dr. Spencer as the guest speaker.  Throughout his presentation, titled “Climate Confusion:  The Implications of Global Warming Hysteria,” Dr. Spencer emphasized that “for the last 2,000 years, global warming and cooling have been the rule, not the exception.”  In other words, he is unconvinced, based partly on his own scientific research, that humans are a main contributing factor to rising CO2 levels.  Changes in data collection methods and skewed portrayals of data, he argues, have allowed scientists to present misleading arguments about humans’ impact on the earth, thus creating an unnecessary frenzy across the globe.  While communities, companies, and countries work to lower their carbon footprints, Dr. Spencer fights to prove to the world that the rising CO2 levels are simply a part of earth’s natural climate cycle.

Fair enough.  Scientific data does, in fact, show that the earth has experienced phases of extreme temperature conditions, such as the ice ages and the Medieval Warm Period, during which humans’ environmental impact would have been minimal.  If he is arguing, however, that the recent climate changes are solely a result of natural cyclical patterns and that humans aren’t at all contributing to the climbing CO2 levels in the atmosphere, then I take issue with Dr. Spencer.  

Dr. Spencer discussed his discontent with media companies who showed no interest in publishing his research that helps disprove humans’ environmental impact.  He explained that because his interpretations of scientific data represent a minority in the science world, his scientific conclusions and opinions tend to get drowned out and overlooked.  Well, there’s a reason.  One can read through the numerous reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and study the overwhelming amount of evidence proving that humans are, in fact, a major contributing factor of rising CO2 levels.  For anyone who questions the reliability of the IPCC, consider the following joint statement that was compiled by sixteen world science academies in 2001:

The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognize IPCC as the world’s most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes, and we endorse its method of achieving this consensus. Despite increasing consensus on the science underpinning predictions of global climate change, doubts have been expressed recently about the need to mitigate the risks posed by global climate change. We do not consider such doubts justified.

As Dr. Spencer described, the earth does go through natural and inevitable changes on its own.  I was shocked, however, when he told the audience that because such changes are going to occur anyway, we shouldn’t be so worried about our potential impact on the environment.  Dr. Spencer suggested that if we need certain resources for survival and advancement right now, we should go ahead and use them without concern for the way our actions will affect the ever-changing environment and climate.  This reckless and ignorant position completely disregards humankind’s responsibility to protect and preserve critical resources for future generations.

I respect Dr. Spencer for recognizing that he “could be wrong,” and I do believe that all who are in on the climate change debate should regard this possibility themselves.  If Dr. Spencer is right, though, and humans accept climate change as an inevitable disaster to find that it’s truly not, we will have done nothing to protect ourselves or the environment.  On the other hand, if we actively work to lower our environmental impact and later learn that we actually have a very minimal effect as humans, we will be left with a healthier earth and a more stable economy.  It doesn’t take a NASA scientist to recognize the better alternative here.

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