This is not about what to 'believe'

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Denying science because it may threaten the status quo poorly serves posterity.

IT'S ONE THING to debate possible strategies - what's do-able, what's affordable - related to evidence the planet is exposed to accelerating risk from climate change.

It's quite another to dismiss the whole premise based on nothing more than a personal preference expressed by, "I don't believe it."

But that's how President Trump has responded to a congressionally-mandated new report, the National Climate Assessment, compiled by hundreds of top U.S. climate scientists both inside and outside the federal government, based on more than 1,000 in-depth research studies. The report - buried, by the way, with a Black Friday information dump - looks only at how climate change will impact the United States this century. The scientists conclude climate change is here, it's now, it's occurring more rapidly and with more intensity than expected, and it will create enormous damage to the country America's children and grandchildren will inherit. Rising seas will threaten coastal areas. Crops will face weather-related failures in the bread basket. Drought and wildfires will worsen. Hurricanes will be more frequent and more severe. And on, and on.

The scientists, however, are not hopeless. They say it's still possible to undertake efforts to lessen the impacts, but those efforts must be accelerated and doing so will be tough and painful and require some sacrifices.

THERE ARE PLENTY of things people can choose to "believe" or not. Religious faith, of course. Positions on moral standards. Whether the Packers are a better franchise than the Bears.

But facts do not change based on whether one believes or not.

We've said this before: We have no expertise in climate science, so we're ready to cede that territory to the trained experts who have spent their lives studying and preparing to scientifically analyze complicated data. Whether we like what the analysis concludes is beside the point. Emotion is irrelevant in the face of facts.

We also know human beings, scientists included, are not immune to error, especially when it comes to predicting the future with all its variables. Whether the Earth looks exactly as scientists may predict 50 years from now, though, is also beside the point.

What matters - and what is incontrovertible - is that climate trends are moving in a dangerous direction, and human activity is at the very least a contributing factor. One can argue over how much blame to pin on humans, but that, too, seems beside the point.

The real question is this: What are humans going to do about it?

APPARENTLY, NOT MUCH, if that stunning phrase - "I don't believe it" - carries the day. The phrase represents more than just words. It represents science denial. The administration is pulling out of the Paris Accords, dumping on international efforts, and rolling back regulations in this country designed to support climate adaptation.

Look, the why is easy to identify, even if our leaders prefer to dodge an honest answer.

It's all about money. Changing human behavior not only would be hard, it could be spectacularly expensive and disruptive to current economic models. It would effect every country, every business, every household, every person. Bottom lines could suffer. Economies would be stressed, and when economies shudder people get hurt. We humans are not particularly comfortable with the concept of sacrifice, especially when a problem seems distant and can be kicked down the road. And politicians know, when people get hurt they're apt to take it out on their elected representatives.

Besides, if America made deep changes and the rest of the world didn't, would it even make a difference? Keep in mind America has been the world's leading economy - and the world's leading consumer of resources - so whatever this country does, or does not, choose to do is impactful in both real terms and as an example for others.

HERE'S HOW WE SEE IT. Could the scientists get some of this wrong? Sure. But are expert scientists in a better position to discern the truth than Donald Trump? Of course. That's not even a serious question.

If scientists are wrong it's more likely to be about certain details - maybe better, maybe worse - regarding conditions decades down the road than the trajectory of deep dangers developing along the way. They might miss some specifics; they're unlikely to miss trends.

So here's the real dilemma: How does humanity try to adapt? Can people - and their governments - embrace change sufficiently to mitigate worst possible scenarios? Can planners - and, yes, scientists - devise strategies that allow civilizations to better cope with changing conditions? Can inventors be unleashed to do things like create cars that run on water, or daylight, or some other more forgiving fuel? Can coastal communities be protected from rising seas?

Before any of that can happen, of course, people must get past, "I don't believe it." Starting, we should all hope, with our leaders.

What a person believes is a choice. Facts, on the other hand, are facts.

Our children and grandchildren will live in the world we leave them, and they won't have a choice or a voice. That's not a belief; that's a fact. Think about that.

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