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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/14/15

Should Climate Scientists Tell the Full Truth?

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Science writer Elizabeth Kolbert warned that our "technologically advanced society" is now in the process of "destroy[ing] itself."

Pulitzer Prize-winner Ross Gelbspan wrote that global warming "threatens the survival of our civilization."

And Lonnie Thompson, Box's former Ohio State University colleague, said that, although climate scientists are "not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies," they are speaking out because "virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization."

However, because of the lack of publicity for these statements, probably not one person is a thousand has been aware of them. The media, focused on increasing their revenue from advertisements, daily convey the message that our civilization will continue indefinitely. The sponsors insist on this, primarily because they are, sadly, more concerned with their own wealth than the welfare of the planet.

Even the best of the news programs, such as those headed by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, devote most of their time to daily and weekly crises, rather than the crisis of civilization.


Moreover, only a small percentage of the leading climate scientists have come out with statements like that of Lonnie Thompson. A recent study, pointed out Richardson, showed that climate scientists have been led by the relentless campaign against them to avoid statements that might get them labeled "alarmists."

This is understandable. But in certain situations, such as when your building is on fire, being an alarmist is the only responsible behavior.

Of course, when climate denialists refer to climate scientists as "alarmists," they mean that they are saying alarming things that are not based on facts -- that they are crying "wolf" when there is none.

But climate scientists know that their worries about the survival of civilization are fact-based. So their message to the rest of us should be: "If you are not alarmed, you do not understand the situation."

The truly alarming state of the planet can be illustrated by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which is Box's area of specialization. If it were to melt completely, it would raise the world's average sea level about 23 feet, which would, Box pointed out, "destroy all the coastal cities on earth."

How much warming beyond the global temperature in the 19th-century would it take to begun the process of "irreversible loss," which would lead to complete meltdown? Startlingly, Box said: "The answer is between 2 and 3 degrees [Celsius]." This is sobering, contradicting the claim of some pundits that civilization could survive a 4-degree increase.

But even if the process of irreversible loss begins, it has widely been thought that the complete meltdown will be far in the future. However, Michael Mann, probably the world's best-known climate scientist aside from James Hansen, said to Richardson:

"Maybe it is true what the ice-sheet modelers have been telling us, that it will take a thousand years or more to melt the Greenland Ice Sheet. But maybe they're wrong; maybe it could play out in a century or two. And then it's a whole different ballgame -- it's the difference between human civilization and living things being able to adapt and not being able to adapt."

(Moreover, whereas the Greenland ice sheet is now melting much faster than experts had expected, the same thing is also happening to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which if totally melted will add another 20 to 25 feet to the sea level.)

However, while being forthright about the dire situation we are in, Mann balances the warmings with developments that provide hope:

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David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written 30 books. His most recent book is Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity (more...)

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