Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Liz Durkee has done our Island community a huge service with her informative and well-researched articles in the Gazette on global warming and climate change. Her passion is to get us thinking on how to prepare for this inevitable future. If you have missed them, check them out on the Gazette Web site. They serve as an important wake-up call.

I would like to supplement her good work by focusing on the politics of global warming. The place to begin is with the science that explains the problem.

There is a broad consensus among scientists that global warming is occurring because of human activities. The basic science is simple to understand. The burning of fossil fuel has increased the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 40 per cent since the beginning of the Industrial Age. This carbon dioxide acts like a blanket by refusing to allow heat to escape. This increased heat adds moisture to the atmosphere and increases the energy in the climate system which incites extreme weather. During the 20th century global surface temperatures have increased by 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit. Computer models suggest that by 2100 the global surface temperature will rise an additional two degrees Fahrenheit at minimum with a maximum possible gain of 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I suggest above, there is a broad consensus among scientists regarding these basic facts. There are 3,500 climate scientists with PhDs from credible universities who study this problem. Ninety per cent of them accept the basic science I have outlined above. No scientific body of national or international standing has taken a dissenting position.

But there are lots of dissenters the global warming deniers like to point out. Yes, that is true. Again, you will note above that scientists differ as to the severity of the problem. Their models predict a wide range of consequences from a rise of two degrees to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years.

There are mitigating factors that complicate the scientific study of this problem. The biggest one is cloud cover. Increased moisture in the atmosphere adds cloud cover which blocks the sun and cools temperatures. But don’t be fooled. Very few credible scientists (10 per cent) disagree with the basic premise that human activity is causing global warming. The dispute exists over how bad the problem will be. Make no mistake about it. Even a rise of two degrees Fahrenheit will be highly disruptive.

People in most countries in the world agree with the scientists. According to a recent Gallup poll, the one significant exception is the United States. The Kyoto Protocol which seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions has been signed by 192 countries. The two holdouts are the United States and Afghanistan.

This is a disgrace. Global warming deniers are mostly Republicans. They prefer to listen to the noise from Fox news, the “clean coal” industry, and some electric utility companies than to the findings of the scientific community. They remind me of smokers in the late 1960s and 1970s who fell for the propaganda emanating from tobacco companies that there was no proof cigarette smoking was harmful to your health. Sadly, many of those science deniers died of lung cancer.

Most Democratic voters accept the science of global warming, but their leaders are weak-kneed and afraid to act. They fear they will be punished in the next election if cap and trade legislation leads to a 10 per cent increase in electric utility bills. Sadly, the failure of the Democratic party on this issue will guarantee a greatly diminished world for our children and grandchildren. It’s time we all wake up.

Rick Herrick

Oak Bluffs

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