By JOHN HENRY BEYER, Ph.D., geophysicist | Moonshine Ink
In his opinion piece in the March edition of Moonshine Ink, Rep. McClintock states, “No one denies that our planet is warming, carbon dioxide levels are increasing, and ocean levels are rising.” But the salient issue is aggressively addressing climate change as the evidence demands. McClintock uses irrelevant snippets of science to justify inaction. He avoids the relevant science, which invariably highlights the urgency of taking action.
Earth’s temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have varied throughout its history. Antarctic ice core data show that over the last 800,000 years, temperature and CO2 levels were never above those reached in 1860. Since then, CO2 has risen from 300 to 408 parts per million and temperature has risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit, with the past four years being the hottest on record.
McClintock suggests continued debate of global warming. Never mind the IPCC and U.S. National Climate Assessment reports of late last year, both calling for urgent action to avoid severe climate change impacts.
Never mind that 97 percent of climate scientists agree: Global warming is real, it’s happening now, and human activities are the primary cause. The 97 percent has been validated in studies. Among scientists, the issue is settled. For comparison with the 3 percent of deniers, 2 percent of Americans believe the Earth is flat.
Many deniers receive funding from the fossil fuel industry. People seldom bite the hand that feeds them. Opensecrets.org Center for Responsive Politics cites McClintock receiving $138,950 from oil and gas over five recent election cycles.
McClintock says modern sea level rise does not correlate with CO2 levels. Of course not. It takes time for ice sheets and glaciers to melt, and for warmer surface water to circulate deep into the ocean and produce significant thermal expansion.
Aside from regularity, it is the severity of tropical hurricanes that is the important issue. Hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean surface water. Heat is energy. Higher temperature also means more water vapor picked up by storms. Thus, higher wind speeds and heavier rain. Then add higher sea level and storm surge.
McClintock states that California wildfires pumped 68 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, somehow “making a mockery of CO2 restrictions.” Why a mockery? It underscores the importance of constraining emissions from sources we can control.
McClintock makes possibly useful proposals for climate change adaptation, but his proposal for mitigating climate change is nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams.
Nuclear power, which produces 20 percent of our electricity, has divided the environmental community. Many working on global warming solutions conclude we need to keep existing nuclear plants operating until we, first, replace fossil fuel plants with renewables, then replace the nukes with renewables. However, some nukes are closing early because of high operating costs and are being replaced by coal and natural gas.
Regarding hydroelectric dams, is it realistic to build more Hoover Dams? What about drought? The Lake Mead water level behind Hoover Dam is at its lowest level since it was filling in the 1960s. We have more open land in windy or sunny areas than appropriate free-flowing rivers.
Wind generation has grown to more than 6 percent, and solar is nearly 2 percent. We have a long way to go. A federal price on carbon, with the money returned to citizens to offset increased costs, would spur development, be market-based and revenue-neutral. This could be accomplished by passage of the bi-partisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763), the product of years of effort by Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan, volunteer-driven organization. Many scientists and a bipartisan coalition of former Federal Reserve chairs, economic advisers to presidents, and Nobel Prize-winning economists have endorsed such a plan.
McClintock derides the Green New Deal. The GND is largely aspirational. It’s an ambitious outline for addressing climate change and creating a more just society. Proponents say it would produce jobs; strengthen America’s economy; generate 100 percent of our electricity from renewables within 10 years; upgrade the energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure; invest in green technology R and D; and provide training for jobs in the new green economy. It may be difficult to achieve all the GND goals, but we should try. It does not bode well for our country that the goals seem anathema to many politicians on the far right.
~ John Henry Beyer has a Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of California, Berkeley. He retired from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a climate change mitigation research manager. Previously, at the California Energy Commission, he oversaw research on reducing emissions from power generation systems. He has no financial interests related to the topic of this article.