Steamboat Springs While it always is interesting to discuss climate change issues with Henry Savage, I have to take issue with his letter to the Steamboat Today of Aug. 6, "Balance Needed," regarding the uncertainties of climate change. To undercut the overwhelming evidence and credible scientific opinion that carbon dioxide is causing substantial changes to the global climate, Henry is employing a tactic that the literature calls the Scientific Certainty Argumentation Method - SCAM for short. SCAM capitalizes on our innate sense of fairness, i.e., innocent until proven guilty. Why stop burning fossil fuels and generating huge amounts of CO2 if we're really, really not sure it's causing global climate change?
The absence of absolute scientific proof that human activity is changing the climate leaves a lot of room for mischief. Indeed, one can cite, as Henry does, a growing number of skeptics of global warming without saying who they are or what their credentials might be. One also can cite unreferenced and unverified temperature data sets to raise doubts about the warming of the planet, this in spite of extensive, peer-reviewed scientific studies to the contrary. What these spurious arguments serve to do is to create doubt in the mind of the public which then translates into delayed action to abate or adapt.
Delaying action can and will be devastating. Most people I talk to just think global warming will cause a rise in sea levels. The greater concern is what Paul Hawken termed "global weirding": extreme weather events and unexpected shifts in temperature and rainfall that our ecological systems and our infrastructure cannot handle. I teach courses nationally on sustainable engineering. In them, I advise the students to change their design philosophies, accounting more for extreme operating conditions rather than previous averages. (Remember Hurricane Katrina?) I also tell them that responding to climate change is, in part, about working smarter. Reductions in fossil fuel consumption through conservation save money. Shifting a company's energy portfolio to include alternative energy sources is a better way of managing business risk.
The real balance that's needed is offsetting the serious consequences of climate change with sound strategies for mitigation and adaptation.