Conversation with Jeff in Cambridge

I met Jeff while I was walking along the Charles River path in Cambridge. He is a self described conservative Republican.

Jeff: So what are you up to?

David: I’m walking across the country to raise awareness about climate change. I think it’s become too partisan in the past few years. Prior to 2008, Republicans like John McCain and Newt Gingrich were working with Democrats to find solutions to climate change. Now it seems that no Republican can get re-elected if he/she even mentions that climate change might be a problem worth considering. The discussion of climate change is almost non-existent in the political arena.

Jeff: But you know the Democrats have done their part to stifle the discussion of climate change. They keep saying that the debate is over.

David: I agree with you that’s a problem. From a scientific perspective the debate should never be over. We will always need scientific debatet closer to the truth. But I think people have confused scientific debate with the need to act on the evidence we have. A recent study of over 10,000 scientific papers found that about 97% of those papers agreed that climate change is a real problem and that it is human caused. That seems like enough evidence that we should be addressing ways to remedy the problem.

Jeff: So you’re a liberal?

David: I think it’s too bad that we have labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. If I told you I was a ‘liberal’ you would assume many things about me all at once and you would assume you know my stands on a large number of issues. But it’s not as simple as that.

Jeff: It’s the same with the term ‘conservative’. I am ‘conservative’ but that doesn’t mean I agree with all of the ‘conservative’ positions. Unlike many ‘conservatives’, I do think that climate change is a problem.

I like what you’re doing. I’ll talk with some of my friends about it. Good luck to you.

Conversation with Sam in Boston

Sam was a great host the first night of my trek. I owe him alot for helping me to get started and teaching me about

Sam and I had a good conversation the night I stayed with him. Here is a summary of the conversation:

Sam: So why do see climate change as a problem?

David: One of the biggest consequences of climate change is that the polar ice caps will melt and there will be several feet sea level rise making many large population centers around the world uninhabitable.

Sam: When is this supposed to happen?

David: From what I have heard, this may occur as soon as 20 or 30 years from now.

Sam: There is one of your big problems. It will be impossible for people to concern themselves with something that does not happen for 20 or 30 years. People will only address a problem if there are immediate consequences. They need to start seeing the consequences of climate change before they will do anything serious about it.

David: But if we wait to take action until there are more serious consequences of climate change, it will be too late. Many scientists have said that we need to reach our peak of fossil fuel burning within the next few years and begin drastically reducing our fossil fuel burning from that point on. If we don’t seriously reduce our fossil fuel consumption in the next several years, we could see ‘runaway’ climate change may result in many parts of the earth becoming completely uninhabitable. Ultimately that would mean we could not sustain human civilization as we know it. There would likely be mass starvation because we would no longer have the capacity to grow food to sustain us. I’m worried about climate change because I’m worried that I will be leaving a huge problem for my children and grandchildren and future generations.

Sam: You really shouldn’t worry so much. Things have a way of working themselves out. What seems like a big problem now will not be a big problem in twenty years. Just consider the times when scientists were worried about an asteroid heading towards the earth. The asteroid changes course in the last minute and does not hit the earth. The same thing will happen with climate change.

When Climate Skeptics Are Right

I think there’s been some confusion on both sides of the climate debate. Those who are in the ‘climate change is real’ camp think there is no longer any reason to debate climate science. Those in the skeptics camp argue that there are many uncertainties about climate science – so there are plenty of reasons for debate. Not that I’m necessarily wishy-washy, but I would argue that they may both be right – and they may both be wrong. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

The process of scientific discovery requires constant questioning of assumptions. Without that kind of questioning there would never be progress towards understanding nature. Stifling debate would only hinder the process of discovering the truth. In other words, a scientist who stops asking questions and/or stifles debate would be irresponsible.

On the other hand, decision making or policy making requires that you make decisions based on the best available evidence. We never have the luxury of making decisions based on absolute certainty. While there are many questions that can and should be asked in the field of climate science, there is more than sufficient evidence to take action on climate change. In other words, a decision maker (policy maker) who delays a decision by continuing to ask questions in face of overwhelming evidence is also acting irresponsibly.

Personally, I am not a climate scientist, but as a citizen, I make decisions, so I am in the ‘climate change is real’ camp. The vast majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that it is human-caused. For me, that is sufficient evidence to suggest that we need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So, I’m afraid I won’t be debating various aspects of climate science with you but I’d be happy to debate what should be done about the very real problem of climate change.