Answering questions about climate change

Human-caused climate change - myth or reality?

Why are we even debating this? And why is it important to us on the Central Coast?

For the past 100 years, scientists have believed that burning fossil fuels might increase Earth's average surface temperature. Decades of research has proven this, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the organization set up by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to advise the government on science, engineering and medicine. Members serve in the organization only if they have distinguished themselves and continue to conduct original research.

"The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for most of the climate change currently being observed," according to NAS in its 2012 publication, "Evidence, impacts and choices: Answers to common questions about the science of climate change."

A survey of nearly 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts from 1991-2011 show that 97 percent of scientists who expressed an opinion on the cause of global warming endorsed the position that humans are causing the problem.

There is consensus among the leading climate scientists worldwide. However, only 67 percent of the general public in the U.S. believe there is global warming, only 42 percent believe warming is mostly caused by humans, and 43 percent think scientists have not come to a consensus.

Why the schism in perception? Perhaps because there has been a coordinated effort since the early 1990s to deny climate change.

A report on this - "Closing the consensus gap: Public support for climate policy" - cited the following: In 1991, the Western Fuels Association spent more than $500,000 on a campaign to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact) ..." In the 2000 presidential election, political consultant Frank Luntz told Republicans to cast doubt on the consensus, arguing that should the public come to believe the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. And, a study of conservative columns published from 2007-10 found that the most-repeated climate myth was "there is no scientific consensus."

People are less likely to support policy to mitigate climate change if they believe scientists are not in agreement. But reputable climate scientists do agree. So, let's put that misconception to rest.

Ice cores show that CO2 concentrations are higher than any point in the past 800,000 years. They rose from 280 parts per million prior to the

industrial revolution, to 400 ppm now, a 43-percent rise in 150 years. Forensic-style analysis proves this CO2 is from burning fossil fuels, not

from living ecosystems.

Some people suggest sunspots are causing our current climate change. While they may have contributed to warming at certain points, satellite records show the Sun's output has not had a net increase during the past 30 years.

Although we don't know everything there is to know about climate change, we do know it poses serious risks to water resources, coastlines, infrastructure, human health, food security, and land and ocean ecosystems. Some species will be pushed beyond their ability to adapt or move.

In California, as elsewhere, heat waves will increase, there will be more droughts and fires, food production will decline, and numerous other impacts are likely.

This is why local environmental advocates continue to urge the county Planning Commission to require that most, if not all of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the Santa Maria Energy Project be mitigated.

Published September 13, 2013 in the Santa Maria Times. Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday in the Santa Maria Times, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.