Year 3, Month 9, Day 3: Vernacular, As Opposed To Classical, Gas)

The Welland Tribune (Ontario) runs an Op-Ed by David Suzuki, summing up the state of the situation, with special reference to Mr. Muller:

Most North Americans know that human-caused global warming is real, even if political leaders don’t always reflect or act on that knowledge.

According to a recent poll, only 2% of Canadians reject the overwhelming scientific evidence that Earth is warming at alarming rates — a figure that may seem surprising given the volume of nonsense deniers (many of them funded by the fossil fuel industry) spread through letters to the editor, blogs, radio call-ins and website comments.

Polling indicates more deniers live in the U.S., but they still make up just 15% of that population.

It’s getting harder to ignore the evidence: record high worldwide temperatures; increasing extreme weather events; devastating droughts, floods, and wildfires; animal and plant species turning up where they’ve never been found before; record ice loss in the Arctic and Greenland; melting glaciers …

The trends are exactly as climate scientists predicted.

Meanwhile, one of the few “skeptic” climate scientists, Richard Muller, recently reversed his thinking.

Muller and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, studied climate data dating back to 1753, then looked at possible causes of the unusual warming observed since the mid-1950s. (Ironically, the study was funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, founded by climate change skeptics with heavy interests in the fossil fuel industry.)

Their conclusion? It’s not the sun. It’s not volcanoes. The most likely cause is humans spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. This isn’t news to most climate scientists.

Muller is a little disingenuous, methinks. Sent August 28:

While it’s true that erstwhile climate-change “skeptic” Richard Muller recently reversed his position on the existence and causes of global warming, it’s worth pointing out that Dr. Muller has only caught up with the state of climate science as of, say, 1990. After releasing the final version of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature report in which he acknowledged that those worried climatologists have had it right all along, Muller segued effortlessly into advocacy of natural gas, which he asserts is a cleaner alternative to oil and coal.

Well, maybe. Oil and coal were “cheap” until we began taking into account all the externalities associated with these fuels, like their long-term public health and environmental impacts (to say nothing of all the expensive wars they seem to require). Natural gas is only cheap if we ignore the fact that it demands both a massive industrial effort for the drilling process along with huge investments in infrastructure for pipelines and other delivery mechanisms — to say nothing of the devastating consequences of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) as a means of extraction.

Muller’s “conversion” is certainly welcome news. But we need to be skeptical about the impact of his corporate affiliations on his public utterances. Natural gas is the planetary equivalent of a nicotine patch — a slightly less smelly way to deliver the same poisons. Ultimately, the only way to reduce our greenhouse emissions is to burn less fossil fuel — and that is something we shouldn’t be delaying for another minute.

Warren Senders

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