Global Climate — Comment and Response

Skidaway Institute Professor Rick Jahnke’s letter to the editor on Politics and Global Climate Change (see below) produced a comment from a reader. Here is the comment and Dr. Jahnke’s response.

tamino Says:
August 3rd, 2007 at 9:04 pm   edit

In what way has Al Gore “politicized” the discussion about global climate change? Exactly what “debate” are you referring to?

This post reads like unadulterated assault on the character of Al Gore, in an attempt to discredit the importance of necessary actions to mitigate global warming. I get the distinct impression that you are laying a foundation for exactly the kind of denial you pretend to disdain.

It sure sounds to me as though you people are the ones attempting to “politicize” the discussion.

Dr. Jahnke writes:

Dear Sir:

First let me say that I wrote that message as a letter to the editor as a private citizen and not as a faculty member of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography – it was reproduced on the blog page and reflects my views only. 

My letter is not a pretense for denial.  I have spent my entire professional life (last 33 years) devoted to studying the environment, mostly focusing on advancing our understanding of the global carbon cycle because long before greenhouse gas, global warming or climate change were household words, I (and many scientists) recognized it as an emerging major human challenge.  Because human population is the foundation controlling the magnitude of the impacts of most human activities, my wife and I made the difficult choice to not have children, minimizing our impact and reducing our legacy carbon footprint to zero.  We changed our lifestyle years ago and the letter was not a pretense for denial. 

In “An Inconvenient Truth” Mr. Gore devotes several vignettes to depict the present administration in a less than flattering way.  His deliberate choice of these is meant to be political.  He could have picked other stories to tell.  For example, in 1997 the Senate had a test vote on the Kyoto treaty (Byrd-Hagel Resolution).  It had 65 bipartison sponsors and the vote was 95 – 0 to recommend that the U.S. not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Although Mr. Gore occupied the office of Vice President at the time, he could not sway a single Democratic Senator to vote for the treaty.  Both parties shared equally in this vote but Mr. Gore chose not to highlight this.  A more positive example Mr. Gore could have related is the leadership shown by the Bush Administration in the creation of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS).  As pointed out by Mr. Gore in his movie, in a changing climate, different areas and countries will be affected differently.  A comprehensive assessment of global change cannot be obtained with data from individual countries of limited area.  GEOSS was initiated in the first Bush term to provide a common framework, standards and database to globally assess the state of the planet.  To date, 71 countries and 46 organizations have joined.  There is much to criticize in all previous administrations (and the current one) on this issue, but the selection of vignettes provided by Mr. Gore in his movie was clearly intended to be political.

 All of the above, however, misses the main point of my original letter, which was to encourage non-political, rational dialog so that our leaders in Washington could take effective steps to mitigate our impacts and facilitate our adaptation to changing conditions which are already occurring.  Without this discourse, this issue has the potential to become so polarized that little will be accomplished.  One needs only to look at issues such as abortion or immigration to see how polarization stymies action.  Quite frankly, from the tone of your comment, maybe we are already there.

Rick Jahnke

0 comments on “Global Climate — Comment and Response

  1. Herb Windom on

    Just to enter the fray on Rick’s side, I offer the following:

    The first research project in which I participated determined the age of the ancient corals which form the Florida Keys. The results, published in 1965, indicated that they formed about 130,000 years ago and their elevation indicated that sea level must have been 10 meters above the present, indicating that the earth was considerably warmer then and most of Florida was under water. When the first ancestors of Native Americans first came to North America about 12-15 thousand years ago, sea level was about 100 meters below its present level. This allowed them cross a land bridge across the Bering Sea which is now under water. In the geologic past sea level has been much lower than this and has been much higher than the 10 meters indicated by the age of the Florida Keys coral, indicating that the earth has experienced much warmer and much colder periods in the past.

    Today, we live in a world with a climate and global temperature we deem to be acceptable. Folks like Al Gore, argue that it should remain this way (even though present conditions are not necessarily the average or norm for the past earth), and that we should do all that we can to keep it that way. The implication is that this is what we consider to be the “natural” state of the earth. A similar logic, used closer to home, has to do with barrier islands. We see the “undeveloped” ones as “natural” and work to see that they remain that way even though they were virtually all used for farming from colonial to reasonably recent times. On others such as Tybee Island, which are develop, we wish to keep them in their present state and spend considerable amounts of public funds in efforts to do so, even though all barrier islands, left to nature, will continually change; erode in one place accrete in another. This will be an unending battle.

    Turning to global warming, I think that efforts to decrease the use of petroleum and other fossil fuels and turn to other energy sources such as nuclear fission make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. I just don’t think trying to control global warming is one of them. Such action, I suspect, would be embarking on a fruitless effort of keeping Nature from doing what Nature always does, change.


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