Climate change is not good

This opinion piece by WHRC President Dr. Philip B. Duffy was published in the Newport (R.I.) Daily News on July 3, 2017. Dr. Duffy was responding to an op-Ed published in the same paper by Princeton physicist William Happer, who claimed that climate change is “a problem that does not exist.”

William Happer’s widely-published op-ed supporting US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement (“Trump is right to withdraw from this international sham”) is a stunning sequence of false and misleading statements supporting the absurd proposition that climate change is good (“a problem that does not exist”). Happer is wrong about the agreement, and so wrong about the science that it is shocking to contemplate that the author of this fable may be in contention to be the president’s Science Advisor.

It would take far more space than is available here to rebut point by point each of Happer’s deceptions. One particular whopper is the suggestion that it would be perfectly fine, if not beneficial, to let the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) rise to 1,000 or 2,000 parts per million (ppm), compared to 280 ppm in the pre-industrial age and 400 ppm in 2017. Those higher levels are so far beyond what climate scientists normally study that we probably don’t know all of the damaging consequences that would ensue. Even at today’s CO2 concentration we see increases in extreme weather events, reduced crop yields, more wildfire activity, and increased water scarcity—all of which have been attributed to human-caused climate change (and all of which Happer falsely claims are not seen). It may be of further interest to note that during past epochs when carbon dioxide was as high as 1,000 to 2,000 ppm, sea level is thought to have been about 200 feet higher than it is today. That would literally alter the landscape, obliterating coastal regions—including major cities—everywhere. (As a resident of Cape Cod, I would hate for my community to disappear.) This enormous prehistoric sea level rise resulted from disintegration of the major ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, which is beginning to happen again now. That is why, contrary to Happer’s assertion (“There is no sign of the accelerated rate of rise predicted by alarmists”), the rate of global sea level rise has in fact nearly doubled in recent decades.

Looking beyond the nonsensical pseudo-science Happer propounds, one has to ask, if global warming is beneficial, then why did virtually every country on earth make an agreement intended to stop it? Even Trump himself, in announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement, did not try to argue that climate change is not a problem. Indeed, he implicitly acknowledged that it is, by promising to “negotiate our way back in to Paris.” That plan, by the way, makes no sense, since national commitments under the agreement were not negotiated in the first place. Each country simply decided what it was comfortable with in terms of a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reported that commitment to the UN. If Trump truly feels that it is too difficult for us to meet our Paris commitments, he can simply change them, with no need to negotiate anything with anyone.

Instead of pretending that climate change is not a problem, or that it is too difficult to solve, our so-called leaders should be heading the effort to address it. China, realizes that addressing climate change furthers its self-interest, and is making enormous investments in renewable energy. That’s why China appears to have already met its primary commitment under the Paris agreement, 13 years ahead of schedule.

Instead of promoting the false hope that we can revive the coal industry, whose decline is a result of cheaper alternatives rather than Obama’s Clean Power Plan —which never went into effect, we should aggressively develop and deploy cleaner alternatives, as China and other nations are doing.

Fighting climate change is in our self-interest, and it’s also in our interest to be part of the international process for doing that. Only Syria and Nicaragua are not involved, and Nicaragua refused to join because they view the Paris agreement as too weak! Rather than advancing pseudo-science about the supposed benefits of warming, our scientific community should be promoting a healthy and informed debate about the best policies for limiting it.