Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2013, 6:00 am
Denying signs of global warming
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By Don Wooten
Yet another powerful winter storm swept through the Midwest last week, grazing the Quad-Cities with a layer of snow, but sparing us the worst: the heavy ice that hit to the south and southeast.
You'd think that, by now, even the most obstinate denier of global warming had yielded to the evidence. Our climate is changing. And, yes, human activity has been a contributing factor. Even George W. Bush conceded this during his presidency, albeit in a brief public statement, not in a legislative initiative.
It has always puzzled me that, while we know that a single beaver can change its environment in a generation, we have a hard time comprehending that billions of people around the globe, at home, at work, and traveling between the two, put more pollutants into the air in a year than all our volcanoes.
It's true that public perception of the situation has been shaped, to a considerable extent, by the unrelenting propaganda generated by oil and gas industries and related corporate interests. They have spent millions to keep contrarian advocacy groups and researchers in business, working to convince us, through the media, that weather research is inconclusive.
The Feb. 22 issue of the Guardian highlights the prodigious amounts invested anonymously in two conservative clearinghouses in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.: Donors Trust and Donor Capital Trust.
The tally by 2010 was $118 million distributed to 102 think tanks and action groups. While wealthy donors support varied, sometimes contradictory, interests from this pool of "dark money," they are united in opposing public awareness of, and regulatory action on, climate change. We are stuck with their success.
Weather extremes are becoming more pronounced, a predicted result of earth's steadily rising temperature averages, and we well may have passed the tipping point at which it can be moderated. Climatologists insist that it is still possible to slow things down, but they are looking solely at physical evidence. They don't factor in our government's inability to take decisive action. Congress remains in thrall to the people with pockets deep enough to keep them on a leash.
My interest in climate dates back to the 50s, when I was asked to handle the weather portion of the evening and nightly news for WHBF-TV. I was given time to study each day with the staff at the Quad City Weather Bureau during a time when the climate was relatively stable and predictable.
It was also a time of increasing research, when we seemed to learn more each year about how this incredibly complex and intricate weather machine operates. Upper level jets were not discovered until World War II. Low level jets were detected in the following decade. Back then, scientists were still trying to work out exactly how clouds and raindrops formed.
Later came revelations about the enormous effects of El Nino and La Nina; of Saharan sands impacting the Amazon forests and Caribbean islands; of micro bursts, tornado structure, and the rivers of atmospheric moisture flowing into California.
But the major finding was that human activity was steadily pushing global temperature averages upward, causing most glaciers to melt, oceans to rise, and weather activity to be pushed into extremes. The end result of it all is still being argued: ice age or runaway tropics.
This is what science does: investigate, measure, double-check, and theorize. It's important to remember that a theory isn't a wild guess. It's the best general explanation for the meaning and working of observed phenomena. The minute it's disproved, it's dropped. The theories of subatomic structure and of evolution work. And, thus far, so does that of global warming and climate change.
There is now a dawning awareness that we have been deliberately misled by the politically powerful who put short-term, financial interests ahead of the general welfare, something promoted in the Preamble to our Constitution. But is there a consensus -- or time -- for corrective action?
Here's a personal one.
Two weeks ago, noting the passing of Gail Brown, alias Margaret Frazer of medieval mystery fame, I got two facts wrong, according to a valedictory article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her early collaborator was Mary Kuhfeld, not Marion Pulver, and the two of them cooperated in producing six volumes of the Dame Frevisse series, not two.
My mistakes arose from a hasty telephone conversation and obviously erroneous notes. Frazer's books remain popular, especially in England, but may be getting hard to find in this country. They are worth the search.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster; email@example.com.