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Op-Ed: Science, Panic And Politics Of Climate Change

By Dr. Richard Kaplan

Over the last several months, there have been a spate of Commonwealth, national and international Reports that describes the data showing the reality of climate change and the consequences of this change. 

The press has been following this.  Such items are exemplified by the February 17 opinions in the Philadelphia Inquirer--“The Real Emergencies”--and in the New York Times—“Time to Panic.” 

These editorials add their voices to the continuing stream of scientific studies and reports of the rising danger of climate change, impacts of which we are already seeing here in Pennsylvania. 

For example, the “Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment Update” for 2015 says: “the overall warming trend will increase heat-related deaths.  .  .  . By 2100, the number of excessive heat days is expected to increase by a factor of 10 in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.“

The Institute for Public Policy Research (UK) calls the global environmental breakdown a “crisis.” 

Major reports integrating hundreds of studies by the international consortium of countries known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (their latest report in 2018, “Global Warming of 1.5° C”) and by 13 US Government agencies (the National Climate Assessment (2017, 2018)—all state that climate change is having destructive effects which will accelerate. 

These are not isolated reports; there are 195 countries that are members of the IPCC; thousands of scientists have worked on and authored the IPCC reports.  And there are many more reports from reputable organizations.  

For example, the World Economic Forum’s 2019 “Report on Global Risks” has lack of climate change mitigation as its second highest “impact” risk bested only by weapons of mass destruction and as its second highest with regard to likelihood.

Such changes that have been studied include rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, increasing carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, increased severe storms and heavy rain downpours, flooding and droughts, and even anomalies in the polar vortex. 

These studies generally predict worsening conditions with some dire consequences that could affect world food supply, population centers, mass migrations, and increased conflict. 

Scientists generally work alone or in small groups in individual laboratories and/or facilities.  They are competitive and debate--consensus is not easy for such a population of individuals. 

Studies are not considered really valid unless they have gone through peer-review and editorial review and then can be published in quality journals.  The studies that are performed are often complex requiring an in-depth knowledge of the requisite subject matter. 

I think that the complexity of the sciences involved in the analyses of the climate and its changes is daunting and therefore quite abstract for a lot of the public. 

Models that evaluate how climate works can comprise hundreds of pages of code using complex and difficult mathematical formulas.  But models’ predictions are run against real data over time; a number of these models, which predict greater and greater climate disruptions, have been validated by actual data.

There are a number of individuals, including some scientists, who do not ascribe to the findings noted above, but they constitute a small minority. 

A number of studies published in reputable journals demonstrate that approximately 97 percent or so of climatologists support the findings in these reports, and their researches show it.  And these are an international group of scientists, not just located in the USA. 

Regarding this gathering storm of dire consequences, we must ask what our current Administration in Washington is doing. 

The latest disregard for the studies and findings of a number of sciences, such as climatology, etc. by the current Administration is to create an ad hoc Federal advisory council of those who oppose the well-established link of carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change, according to the Washington Post.

The Administration is spending taxpayer dollars to attempt to refute the well-established science of climate change. 

Instead of taking heed of government agencies’ risk assessments and the reports noted above as a basis for making plans to ameliorate these risks, the Administration has rolled back EPA programs and ignored international climate agreements, such the Paris Accord. 

The voting public should not tolerate such a waste of taxpayers’ money and the displays of willful ignorance.

It is a very provocative question to ask as to why the Administration and others believe a small number of individuals but discount the findings of such a large majority of scientists. 

When we vote in this country, the majority rules, but that is not really the point. 

There are a number of possibilities as to why the great majority of scientists and their works are ignored or even denigrated. 

Some are economics—the power and profits of the fossil fuel industries, the economic well-being and jobs these companies provide; some are philosophical—the largesse of the federal government and its regulatory powers, the infringement of freedoms; some are rooted in a distrust of science. 

As much has been written about the economic and philosophical reasons for doubting science, I shall only speak to science distrust briefly. 

Before the Industrial Revolution, travel was by horse or by foot, medicine was by herbs and poisons, water for drinking and bathing was often the same as for waste disposal, the list can go on and on. 

The scientific revolution started in the 1700s and continuing today has changed all of this.  Consider how medicine has changed. 

Until about the 1930s, many bacterial infections were eventually lethal, often with horrendous symptoms.  Once science developed antibiotics, many of these infections disappear after days of treatment.  Science has been a boon to human civilization and life. 

But one can’t cherry pick which sciences to choose and which to ignore as all of them—biomedical sciences, chemistry, biology, and, yes, climatology all proceed by the same processes and evaluations. 

As has been said many times, would you go to an auto mechanic who has a new theory about cancer? Or would you go to a surgeon specializing in cancer?  I choose the expert climatologists every time.

Dr. Richard Kaplan is an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA, a volunteer for PennEnvironment and a retired pharmaceutical environmental executive; from Fort Washington, he can be contacted by email at

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[Posted: March 21, 2019]


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