Column: Climate change is science, not opinion

On the Record

David A. White

Maroon Staff

David A. White

David A. White

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I begin with three provocative quotations.

First, “Climate change sparks battles in classrooms: The U.S. political debate over climate change is seeping into K-12 science classrooms, and teachers are feeling the heat,” from the Aug. 4 Science magazine.

Second, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident,” by Arthur Schopenhauer. A recent university honors student of mine scribbled the quote on the evaluation form for the Human Ecological Science course I teach to further compliment me for its content and pedagogy.

Last, the conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

The first quote is absolutely the truth. But both Schopenhauer and Leopold use hyperbole and emotion, respectively, to make poignant points that are worth a thought or two. Understandably, not everyone would see these last two quotes for what they really say to me and, I wish, to all others.

This column in The Maroon is billed as an “opinion” piece. I have been asked several times over the years to write one. I have become sufficiently internally certain of my convictions to be willing to accept the task now. I am billed as a scientist, a wetland ecologist and a regional natural historian.

Our society in the United States today is utterly confused (an opinion) as to the difference between opinion and what science offers after information has been gathered, modeled and tested. We are digging a deep hole — maybe a very deep, loose sand pit — that will require more and more effort to crawl out of, in large part because of the “systems” of ideology, politics and information technology we now wallow in (another opinion).

New Orleanians have learned that hurricanes hit an area with “probabilities,” and now associated with them are highly informed “spaghetti plots”; both of which originate from science modeling. Hopefully, the one in a 100 year storm doesn’t mean to you that since Hurricane Katrina came and went, we are now free from another similar storm for 94 years! “I don’t believe in the information in spaghetti plots,” you say; then, during our current hurricane season shut off your television, laptop, and cancel all other outside communication and live like we did 100 years ago!

Climate change is real (truth — not opinion), and slowly more people in this country are accepting this reality. The preponderance of data shows it is a fact. At least that is the case for most folks willing to follow the data and facts logically — or they trust that others do so. But what is also true is anthropogenic global warming, or AGW. Mentioning AGW causes something in the minds of many to break down: “What do you mean humans are causing the planet to warm up? That’s ludicrous!” A lot of mental squirming often goes on in the public around the facts of AGW and so there is a lot of disturbing blogging, lobbying and pontificating. The vast majority of these folks do not know the evidence, do not understand its preponderance (over 95 percent agreement) or intentionally ignore it because of their agenda. It’s not funny and it approaches “sad.”

I teach an introductory Ecology and Evolution course. Both subjects are sub-disciplines in the science of biology. Scientists should hesitate to make romantic statements like Leopold’s “world of wounds” quote even if it reflects good science, and it does.

In my opinion, you should have concern for the wounding. There are a lot of reasons why, but not the least of which is because we humans are so dependent upon nature. We continue to mess with her at the peril of many within the next 100 years. The truth is that the majority of the dire issues related to AGW will come because of what the highly respected biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said early last century: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Most will never understand this.

Also from the science article I read not long ago is this quote: “The issue is acute in Louisiana, which enacted a law in 2008 that lists climate change along with evolution as ‘controversial’ subjects…” The science I know makes me at least 99 percent confident that climate change, AGW and evolution are currently happening, as in the past.

Science matters, and explains how these “truths” can be so, at least with as much certainty as anyone should need.

David A. White is a biology professor. He can be reached at [email protected]

On the Record is a weekly column open to any member of Loyola’s faculty and staff. Those interested in contributing can contact

[email protected]

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