Let me throw a little more gasoline on the fire, since that seems to be the guiding leadership principle at the moment.

A study recently published by a team of climate scientists verified — as thousands of scientific studies have done in recent decades — that the Earth’s surface is heating, but it also indicated the warming is occurring faster than predicted so far. “We find,” the authors of “Nonlinear climate sensitivity and its implications for future greenhouse warming” say in their introductory summary, “that within the 21st century, global mean temperatures will very likely exceed maximum levels reconstructed for the last 784,000 years.”

What this means: By the year 2100, the temperature of the atmosphere is likely to climb higher than it’s ever been in the last 784,000 years. The cause is an increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. This increase has been acute in the last roughly 200 years.

Other recent studies have turned up similar evidence that warming is accelerating. How does this study differ from those? The scientists approached the situation from a historical perspective that takes into account a complicated array of information “from marine sediment cores, ice cores, and computer simulations covering the last eight glacial cycles,” the lead researcher, Tobias Friedrich, said. The bottom line of the results, for us, is that it looks like global temperatures by 2100 will probably rise as much as about 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures. Pre-industrial means before the last roughly 200 years, when humans started spewing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The temperature increase matches the upper range of estimates already predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If you can think in a straight line, this is an alarming forecast. If the Earth’s surface heats up too much too quickly, ecological, social and, yes, economic disasters will virtually certainly follow because of rising sea levels, drought, warming waters, melting glaciers, extreme weather events. All this has been detailed in thousands of scientific studies, not to mention moral observations.

But for reasons that seem hard to understand, some people — notably people who are about to take charge of the U.S. government — don’t believe any of this. Or anyway, they say they don’t.


How you could believe in the science that has resulted in computers, spacecrafts, lights, automobiles, radios, chain saws, jet airplanes, MRIs, penicillin, heart surgery, cellphones, satellite TV, pulleys, high-powered rifles and gasoline generators for when the electrical lines to your mobile home off a dirt road in the woods go down, but not believe in the results of that same science applied to the chemistry of the atmosphere, is hard to understand.

So, back to school.

In the Middle Ages, what we’d call the “science” of the time tended to start with generalities and work its way down to “facts.” In other words, they had general assumptions they took to be self-evidently true, and they deduced facts from the (seemingly) self-evident generalities. So for example, it seemed self-evidently true that large objects fall faster than small objects. So from that generality you could logically deduce that if you got up on a building and dropped a brick and a pencil on your enemy’s head, the brick would hit first. That would be a specific fact deduced from the generality.

In the 1600s, Galileo decided to find out if the fact about the brick and the pencil matched what really happens. He made tests and discovered that, contrary to the self-evident generality, large things and small things fall at the same rate. (With some exceptions — for example a bed sheet, which is large, does not fall as fast as a BB, which is small, because of air resistance.)

The scientific method of building generalities from facts — instead of assuming facts implied by generalities — turned out to give extraordinarily accurate descriptions of the physical world. One result of that description is that we all have electricity.

Deducing facts from generalities holds up only if the generalities are actually true. For example, say you believe a generality such as “global warming is not happening.” Like in the Middle Ages, your facts about global warming would follow from your generality. For example, I got an email last week explaining to me that global warming is not happening, and the proof is, it still gets cold in winter. Cold in winter is a fact that follows from global warming is not happening. Nice, neat deduction. The email was not phrased this politely.


Following this reasoning, when scientists say Earth’s surface temperatures are rising, you know from your generality that this can’t be true. In other words, since you already know global warming is not happening, then therefore the scientists have to be making up the information about rising temperatures. The number of scientists who appear to be lying implies that global warming is a large-scale hoax. Now you have another generality you can deduce “facts” from: Global warming is a hoax. If global warming is a hoax, then so is science.

There are a lot of zigzag logical errors and ironies in this reasoning, not the least of which is that the claims of science being a hoax are communicated largely by use of electronic devices created from science. But the main error is that it disregards the reams and reams of observed facts from the real world that all lead to one general conclusion: Global warming is happening.

Big things do not fall faster than small things. Measurements from reality show it. Because of our understanding of it, we have airplanes.

Earth is warming, and we are making it worse. Measurements from reality show it. Because of our understanding of it, we might still have a chance to get the plane flying in a straight line again. Unless, of course, crash and burn is what you’re hoping for.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His book “Summer to Fall” is available from North Country Press www.northcountrypress.com/summer-to-fall.html. You can contact him at [email protected] Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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