Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Climatologists vs. smoke blowers

   Snow blessed Colorado's Front Range last week, roughly a month later than normal. This was not a surprise in what is shaking down as the warmest year on record.

   Even less surprising is the forecast: dry — not just in precipitation, but in any hope of Congress addressing the No. 1 issue facing the planet.

    Any climatologist will tell you not to put too much stock in temporal temperatures when the big picture is the issue. We will have our early blizzards, late deep freezes, oranges sprouting icicles.

    Other indicators are not so temporal — like the incessant, insatiable gorging of pine beetles in the Rockies. The only real remedy: a week or two of 40 below zero where they dine. That isn't coming any time soon.

    Another indicator: reddish summer snowpack way up high, from the dust of increasing desiccation — soil erosion, desert expansion — around the globe. Dirt blown from another hemisphere leaves a telltale film. The ruddiness causes the snow to absorb heat more readily. Summer runoff accelerates.

    Those things have nothing to do with when noses will grow red in Fargo or Tampa. The symptoms up high are the real deal, the real story. The earth is warming, Bubba.

     I may not be able to convince you. Every time my fingers sing this tune, I can expect to be lectured electronically that global warming is a myth. Period. Someone will mention concerns about global cooling back in the '70s. Someone else will cite a list as long as Macy's Parade of scientists who dispute global warming. Check it out, they'll say — the Petition Project. Actually, I have checked it out. It is the work of a bare percentage of actual earth scientists, fluffed up by the names of many who have other areas of expertise entirely.

      The doubters don't want you to know this: The American Geological Institute polled every earth scientist in its Directory of Geoscience Departments who doing actual research on the climate. It found that 97 percent agree global warming is real, and that human activity plays a role.

      Now, 700 climate scientists in the American Geophysical Union have committed to shed clinical anonymity and take that message public whenever and wherever.

      This is going to put new demands on a mobile strike force financed by industry, one so nimble that it inspired Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's new book: "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming."

       I observed these scientists-to-go at a climate conference a few years ago at the University of Texas. They tumble off another jet plane with charts and graphs in hand, thundering down to the microphone just in time to get their allotted rebuttal. Then they'll pop up at another conference the next day, and on Fox News that night. The per diem obviously is good, and the face time can't be beat.

         These practitioners were hoping the other day that the U.S. Senate would fall into Republican hands so that Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — he says global warming is a hoax — could again chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe had that mighty fulcrum for four years until a Democratic majority supplanted him in 2007. In that period, he made sure that the handful of credentialed doubters who have helped keep an entire political system in denial had a ready microphone under the brightest lights.

         Whatever they say, the truth lies up there in the snow, with less of it being forecast in the winter ahead. A winter is temporal, of course, but so is humanity under certain circumstances.

         Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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