Widgets Magazine


The debate on man-made climate change

Ben Kaufman

Who will cave first on climate change: The Right, or the planet?

You really just have to sit back and admire the hole most Republicans have dug themselves into on climate change. The question isn’t whether they’re right or wrong in denying that it exists — they’re wrong, and 97 percent of climate scientists agree. The environment is being changed by human hands, and, as Fox News host Marc Morano recently said, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Of course, he followed that up with “it’s a concept not everyone’s comfortable with” and dove into accusations of Google’s new accuracy-based ranking system somehow being fascist, but the point stands. The sky is blue. The grass is green. Human action is changing the climate. Period. We shouldn’t take those who deny the last claim any more seriously than we would take those who deny either of the first two.

The funny part, as evidenced by the number of Republicans jumping on the “I’m not a scientist” question-dodging bandwagon, is that the GOP’s leadership surely knows this. It just doesn’t seem to think that cutting its losses and moving on is a good move. Republicans’ confession that they don’t know what they’re talking about is clearly a step up from their previous tendency of outright climate denial, but it underscores the fact that their party is simply in too deep to admit fault. The “not a scientist” movement and the attitudes that drive it thus leave us in a race to see which will cave first: the Republican Party or the earth. But if 2013’s government shutdown is any indication, we shouldn’t be so sure that sanity, public opinion or the undeniably real effects of our environmental complacency will be enough to sway the right.

Still, some continue to deny both climate change and humans’ causal role therein. There are those who argue, for example, that human-based climate change is too difficult to predict or examine, making assertions of its existence groundless. Indeed, climate change is extremely hard to predict; a fairly consistent rule, in fact, is that our models have tended to underestimate how bad climate change really is. But to argue that there is some “missing link” between extant changes to our planet and human causality (as Senator James Inhofe has, lamenting, “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He [God] is doing in the climate.”) is, again, completely false. Science has firmly established that humans are not just witness to but are the direct cause of climate change. I challenge you, reader, to convince an Earth Systems major or a professor in the department that climate change is simply too hard to observe for our science to be accurate, or that the work of these scientists is meaningfully negated by the fact that you don’t like it. My email address is under this article. Message me if you succeed.

Then there’s the assertion that our planet has been going through such cycles all its life and that this is simply some puberty-like awkward hiccup in the Earth’s life cycle. Of course, there is little doubt that our planet has known tropical periods and ice ages. But at no period in its history has a quarter of atmospheric carbon (an unbelievably powerful trapper of heat) been man-made, nor has an increase in the Earth’s temperature ever coincided with a decrease in solar activity. Our planet’s surface and lower atmosphere are warming while its outer atmosphere is cooling, a process that is exactly what we would expect to see from human-caused climate change. Climate skeptics have no answer to the question of how greenhouse gasses wouldn’t be affecting our planet if changes being seen now were due only to cycles. Perhaps these pollutants were buried in the sand alongside the GOP’s heads.

Others go on to point out that other countries have done more environmental damage than the U.S., but, aside from the extent to which that argument ignores the previous assertion that man hasn’t altered the environment in the first place, the point is a complete red herring. It’s far too late to quibble about who did it worse; the fact of the matter is that global warming is an absolutely alarm-soundingly urgent issue, and that every single person in the world will be affected by it. Perhaps if Republicans jump ship now on climate denial, they can save some amount of face; surely they could maintain base support by framing the issue as a chance to push for a private-sector boom in green innovation. Is there truly no tax break that could turn this into a conservative issue, no big-government-bogeyman fear-mongering that could make the battle against pollutants a battle for individual liberty? Is it not one already? Isn’t it a shame that the survival of our race is coming down to such petty political calculations?

Or perhaps global warming denial will simply be added to the Conservative Hall of Shame, taking a spot alongside resistance to civil, women’s and gay rights. I hope the museum isn’t close to sea level. Maybe they’ll add a water slide.

Contact Ben Kaufman at bkauf614 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Wyatt Smitherman

The changing climate?

Good morning, Stanford! It’s another beautiful day out here on the west coast: sun shining, skies blue and balmy, temperature in the 60s and, well, about perfect. Yes, it’s certainly easy for us to forget the terrible winter storm pounding up and down their side of the country. Apparently it’s a real doozy this time, striking as far south as Texas with sub-freezing temperatures while winter storms Juno, Remus and now Thor blast New York and New Jersey with ice and snow. Even the inner states (Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas) aren’t immune this season.

And now the same thought just crossed all of your heads: Surely it must be due to global warm— climate change.

Yes, the first label’s somewhat fallen out of fashion by now. The most recent satellite data lists a lack of any sort of warming trend since 1997, when the recurring El Niño weather pattern drove global temperatures up approximately 0.3 degrees above the previous average. In the past decade or so, we’ve hovered around or slightly below this point, even as worldwide carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise. Despite all the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) computer models predicting a three- to four-fold temperature increase over this same period, the Earth has stayed a pretty even course, barring the fluctuations typical of any large, complex and still not fully-understood system.

So then, climate change. A much broader, more ambiguous label encompassing not only predicted temperature variations but also environmental anomalies that, while no scientist or researcher ever thought might occur, can nonetheless be sheltered under this umbrella term and pointed to proudly as another unfortunate result of carbon abuse. Ignoring that the U.S. has been fairly constant in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 and actually reached a peak in 2007 (pat yourselves on the back), it seems there is no acceptable solution to some environmentalists other than to throw the full weight of public policy behind the ultimate goal of a zero-carbon footprint. Which then leads to cap-and-trade, risky federal investments in green energy enterprises and a general feeling of shame for anyone who dares drive unaccompanied to work.

I can understand the motivations behind these techniques, if not their methods or goals. Ours is a beautiful country, with resources meant neither for neglect nor exploitation, but instead for management and cultivation. It’s a balancing act, as are many ideas within our system of government; on the one hand are the tree-huggers and green crusaders, on the other hand are the clear-cutters and strip-miners, and out of their bitter dislike comes that magic word we all champion: sustainability. We harvest, but we replant. We mine, but we refill. We do things like attach scrubbers and baghouses to our coal-fired plants, the dirtiest means of power generation, and go above and beyond the call of duty.

However, the latest effort by the EPA seems a bit too much. In September 2013, an addendum to the Clean Air Act was put forth that proposed newer, more stringent carbon pollution standards for future power plants. With this, the EPA essentially classified carbon dioxide — odorless, flavorless, non-toxic to humans and absolutely vital to the existence of all plant life on this Earth — as a pollutant. Last year, more ambitious plans were announced to apply such regulation to existing power plants, with an option to comply or shut down. It’s directed mostly at the coal-fired plants that provide 39 percent of the U.S.’s electricity, in particular in the Midwest region, where this figure approaches a higher number. But coal is cheap, and thus electricity from coal is cheapest of all sources (notwithstanding natural gas). The result? Skyrocketing energy prices and a huge blow to our economy.

Let’s move to a bigger scale. Though climate change is championed as a global problem, other superpowers seem to be doing very little at the moment to match our rather strenuous efforts. China in this respect immediately comes to mind, though not with any idea of hope attached. In 2007, they overshadowed the U.S. as the largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, and while our numbers have dipped since then, theirs have only grown. This past year, China pumped nine billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into its skies, along with particulate matter, soot and other toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur dioxide that the U.S. has long since heavily regulated but that go unchecked across the Pacific. The air quality in larger Chinese cities is practically legendary (once described by the U.S. Embassy as “crazy bad”), and others cities like New Delhi are not too far behind them. Unfortunately, the borders of a country don’t matter much to smog and smoke.

It seems that, once again, we’re asking the wrong questions. Rather than, “How can we force ourselves to curb our already decreasing carbon dioxide levels, regardless of the economic impacts on a cheap energy-dependent country?”, it should be, “In what ways can we adapt to a continuously changing environment?” No one doubts that the Earth’s temperature is in a state of oscillatory flux; even without any kind of ice-core data listing its repetitive cycles of heating and cooling, the evidence of the most recent Little Ice Age demonstrates how such century-wide fluctuations are common to our planet. Some of them are more distressing than others, causing mass freezes across farmland and locking down transportation. Others are gentler. Do we prepare for them, or do we vainly try to stop them in their tracks?

It is a great folly to assume mankind can control something as complex as weather, and one only slightly less to presume we know everything there is to know about it. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases may influence the Earth’s meteorological systems, but the evidence to such is inconclusive at best and downright manipulative at worst. A better understanding, an unbiased understanding, should always be pursued before major, potentially damaging policies are enacted across our country (which tries hard enough as it is). There is no religion here, only science. Let us treat it as such.

Contact Wyatt Smitherman at wtsmith ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • 9.8m/ss

    Scientific knowledge is advanced when scientists compete by “busting” each others’ mistakes and distortions. When that doesn’t happen for a long time, it’s a sign that either nobody’s working on the big research problems in that field any more, or nobody can find anything really wrong. We’re pretty sure about radiative thermodynamics these days. Nobody’s finding big holes and everybody can replicate everybody else’s experiments. After a while you can call that consensus or even “settled.” It’s not how the science advanced to that point. It’s how the science can advance past it.

  • Gordon Chamberlain

    Some humans are causing extensive damage to our environment, ecocide.

    Has your political rep acted with negligence in response to the threats posed by climate change more accurately extensive damage of our
    atmosphere, our environment, ecocide?

    Because you cannot see the 400 parts per million of CO2 does not mean it is not damaging the atmosphere and causing global ecosystems

    Look up the next time you are outside, damaging the atmosphere and ecosystem is immoral, is a crime is ecocide.

    It is crucial we ask our political, environmental reps and corporate leaders, are some humans causing extensive damage of our environment, the web of life, to fish, forests, water, soil species, ocean and terrestrial ecosystem, to our planet’s atmosphere. Are they committing immoral, criminal acts ecocide?

    Criminal radical socio ecopath religious and atheists capitalists are capable of ecocide, it hate to tell you!

    The BP toxic ecological disaster is ecocide.

    The toxic ecological damage in the Gulf of Niger by the petroleum corporations is ecocide.

    The toxic ecological and climate destabilizing disaster in the tarsands is ecocide.

    The toxic ecological and damage to the atmosphere by
    China is ecocide The legacy of climate damage by the Christian west is ecocide

    The depletions of the Ogallala aquifer is ecocide.

    The destruction of mountain ecosystems from coal mining
    is ecocide.

    The plundering of fish, tuna, whales, sharks, elephants,
    and rhinos is ecocide. Building fleets of Hummers and less fuel efficient
    vehicles as we tried to address climate destabilisation is ecocide

    Sabotaging the development of electric vehicle in California in 2000 is ecocide

    Making the oceans more acidic is ecocide.

    Causing extensive damage of our planet’s atmosphere is ecocide a threat to the web of life on our planet.

    Hiding from responding to the concern that some corporations are committing ecocide is negligent a threat to national security.

    Britain’s most powerful politicians agree fighting climate change is a jolly good idea By Ben
    Adler on 18 Feb 2015 2 comments

    “Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing
    the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our
    national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.”

    Ecocide like the corporate crimes of the subprime scam threatens the global economy

    We need a law to end such immoral, criminal conduct to end ecocide.

    Find out about that campaign at Ecocide is a Crime and http://www.EndEcocide.org
    There is not yet and End Ecocide U.S. it may not be necessary if Env leaders step up or do they need to be lobbied to lead also

    Gordon Chamberlain
    End Ecocide Canada

  • Anderson

    Congressive, you present a truly useless post. Do you think stupidity is going to convince anyone about anything?

  • Anderson

    Jason could you provide some support to your 99.9% claim. Usually when someone resorts to extreme exaggeration is means this lack confidence in their position.

  • Anderson

    Kaufman, surely you can present something better than Fox news and Republicans are bad. Better approach would be to present some facts. You give vague generalities, the standard liberal claptrap and unsupported opinion, but very little in the way of convincing science.

  • Nik Deems

    I’d personally shy away from citing sources such as the NYT and WSJ when writing a “scientific” piece, and steer toward peer-reviewed journals. Oh, and wikipedia?? Really??

  • congressive

    Rumsfeld’s rules: you can explain smart to smart, stupid to smart and stupid to stupid, but you can’t explain smart to stupid.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Thanks for the graphic illustration c..
    For non-scientists such as myself it puts the whole question and debate into perspective, and it puts the phony answers and red herrings presented by the Bill Kleinsturns of the the world, into the stuffed pillows of their own coffins..
    Hopefully, we won’t be forced to join them.
    Thanks again.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Well done mancorn. Thank you. Not that i think we can expect Mr Kleinsturn and his ilk and their crones to change their reified minds. Not from anything he’s said here anyways..
    I mean, I’m skeptical, but check this out : My brother-in-law, who works in the oil industry here in Ca. and has been a long-time supporter of the industry’s methods and practices, was recently recruited by BP for a project in Louisiana, near “Nawlins” (that’s New Orleans). He came home for a break just this week and was completely confounded by the general willingness there to dump and pollute poisons into the swamps, the sloughs and the grounds all around the plant, on the levies and dikes, or the nearby seas…
    He’s a tough old guy, whose ways and allegiances don’t/won’t change easily.. but there he was describing a scene, a meeting of project managers, with him criticizing their handling of toxics, suggesting safer alternatives.. It brightened my day to hear such a song, i just hope it’s not too little, too late.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    DUDE ! (Thunderous applause)

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Dada Lives
    itz dire directly.
    in the name of Dog
    stop actin’ like humanz
    killin’ us all

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Read on, Anderson… and don’t forget, the Pukes AND the Dums, are Both Bought off by klans of korporate kings.. “enlightened” kings tho… sooo.. you have a choice of corporate party A, or corporate party B !
    or don’t vote at all.. witch most don’t because at least subliminally they sense.. the joke of Democrazy
    here.. itz foundations in savage slavery, indigineous genocide, mass extinctions of wildlife and all life..
    but please read on… there’s to more reveal inside..

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    The 4 days of silence from Mike Soja is deafening, definitely… especially after all the guffaw ewes n moonbat barks.. jus’ sayin’

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Dominick writes, “I am an independent moderate…”
    Fine. ..but what if moderation at this point of degeneration, in an epoch of moral hibernation, is too little, too late ?
    …and especially in an era when we’re spending multi-beaucoup-billion$$ annually, approx. half the Federal Budget, on war and war-related expenditures, all of which is a million times more needed for world-wide habitat and micro/macro-environmental restoration..
    As an expert in madness, i say that’s the definition of madness.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    That is not the definition of toxicity.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Paranoid much?

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    > just after the hottest year for 6000 years

    What a joke. You’re delusional.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss
  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    What a spectacular scientific argument.

    Well done, you lose.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    The “climate alarmists” solution would make the 2008 recession look like a boom age.

    The 97% consensus is a myth.

    We have hundreds of years’ supply of oil and we can manufacture more. It will never go away.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    There is no undenaible evidence. There is not even a 97% consensus. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11191-013-9647-9

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    And your proof is…?

    Save us the embarrassing conspiracy theories.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    The climate is far too complex to prove such a thing. We can’t even prove whether there is climate change, let alone what may or may not cause it. Check out something called chaos theory.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    You obviously know nothing about the Koch brothers except what the left-wing propagandists tell you.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    > If the level of CO2 in the atmosphere rises the climate warms.
    > Always has – always will.

    False. The usual pattern has been that CO2 went up after climate warmed, not before.

    > If
    you increase the percentage of heat-trapping gases on the atmosphere by
    40% it is physicaly impossilbe for the Earth NOT to warm.

    Nonsense. If, for example, the source of CO2 emits enough ash to cloud the atmosphere then the climate will cool.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Rubbish. Climate scientists didn’t teach that, geological scientists did.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    > Human impacts have completely transformed the planet

    Rubbish. In most places you will struggle to tell the difference from 20 miles up.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Get a grip.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    CO2 is good for agriculture. Ever heard of a greenhouse?

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Sure there isn’t. Because you said so.

    Here’s an article in the scientific community that proves you flat wrong.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! What unmitigated rubbish.

    The two main official records of world temperatures as measured by
    satellites, Remote Sensing Systems and the
    University of Alabama, Huntsville, agree that 2014 was far from being the hottest year
    ever, ranking it only sixth in the past 18 years, and that there has
    been no upward trend in world temperatures since 1997.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss


  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    There is a reason that it cuts off 800 000 years ago. Not nearly as dramatic when you see how much lower current levels are than they have been in the past.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Climate scientists have nothing to gain from climate research and everything to lose — if it is shown to be insignificant. QED.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    > we humans have nearly ruined the planet in a couple of generations.

    Delusional thinking.

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    Really, it isn’t worth my time either, but I happen to have an example right here:

  • IgnoranceIsBliss

    What a great scientific counter-argument, Scotty.

  • Dadamax

    Well, you certainly live up to your moniker. Venus must be a lush jungle with all that CO2.

  • Dadamax


  • There is no debate, kook, unless you want to debate exoplanets. Planetary astrophysics has moved far beyond global warming and left your naive undergraduate perceptions in the dust. Think exotic states of high density matter. Stanford University really needs to do something about this, you are embarrassing the institution. REALLY embarrassing Stanford.

  • PdxClimber

    Exactly how do you manufacture oil? You do not, idiot.
    The next generation of billionaires will be in sustainable energy. Be in or be left behind.
    The thing you and the church of stupid is not accepting is that all the Carbon you are pouring into the atmosphere is changing our planet in ways that will difficult if not impossible to adapt to. The adults are moving forward regardless of you politically message drunk fools. Have another drink of idiocy, shut your eyes, quit thinking and buy all the land you can get your hands on in southern Florida.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    There’s a reason your comments are saturated with incredibly high levels of bliss…

  • PdxClimber

    Clearly you live up to your avatar name.

  • Nick

    If climate scientists were to disprove anthropogenic climate change, we would still need climate scientists. Why would we stop monitoring the atmosphere? I don’t see their jobs going away anytime soon, climate change or not.

  • Dr. Science

    Kaufman’s entire thesis rests on the shoulders of a study with a whopping 11 years of data

  • Jim Robinson

    You mindless follower of pop culture, if the amount of CO2 had increased by 40% you would be dead.

  • john clayton

    Well, if liberals wish to convince us of their lies concerning the climate, maybe they should stop lying 24/7 on every subject under the sun…”If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”, “Stalin was a man of the people”, illegal immigrants help our economy”, etc., etc.

  • rattboo

    The global cooling in the 70’s and 80’s was bs. I Googled it and found this: